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Etymology: In the ’80s, “adulting” was used, according to Merriam-Webster, “as a jocular verbal form of the noun adultery.” By the late aughties, Twitter users had begun to use it in its current incarnation—to describe adults doing the quotidian tasks that adults are expected to do.

Meaning: Although adulting has appeared on social media since 2008, it arguably entered the mainstream through the work of American writer Kelly Williams Brown and her book Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. In 2014, it was added to the Urban Dictionary and has been popping up with increasing frequency, employed by brands including AmEx and Amazon, ever since.

Fortunately, adulting has stayed largely online. Rarely spoken, it often appears in tweets such as: “Adulting is having your day ruined because you couldn’t find your Tupperware” or, simply, “adulting is hard.” As a hashtag, it follows remarks about doing laundry or cooking pasta, or—with irony—an admission of having cake for breakfast.

This depiction of adulthood as a performative state—a thing to do rather than be, but never for long before boomeranging back to suspended adolescence—has been read as a device for millennials to laud their status as adults while simultaneously distancing themselves from it. But this mix of self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation plays into the hands of those set on millennial-bashing; this “lost generation” can’t even pay their taxes without Snapchatting about it.

There’s a gender dimension, too. It is used more often than not by young women, employed in a way that has been described as “self-referentially ironic.” But in feeding a Pinterest vision of adulthood that’s cutesy and twee—“I’m done adulting. Let’s be mermaids,” declares one cloying meme—it opens the door to the belittlement of women, millennials or—jackpot—millennial women. It is, wrote one Washington Post journalist last year, “a self-infantilizing rejection of female maturity in a culture that already has almost no love for grown-up women.”

We are living in an era where many of the traditional markers of maturing are being impeded—inflated house prices and an insecure job market conspire to keep young adults young. Writing in The Lancet recently, scientists declared that adolescence, which used to end abruptly at 19, now extends to 24. As such, the concept of “adulting,” though irritating, becomes a sometimes sad, sometimes cathartically funny reminder of the often enforced stunting of a generation’s growth.


This story is from Kinfolk Issue Twenty-Nine

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