The Anticipation of Adulthood

The Anticipation of Adulthood

It’s a cliche to say it, but being a new adult is hard. For the last eighteen years, my life has been divided up into education and not-education. Everything was always temporary: I was at school, or I was at home, and sooner or later that would reverse and I’d be at home, or I’d be at school. When I was at uni, the year was divided into term time and non-term time, and I knew that wherever I was living at that particular moment, it was only for a couple of months, and then I’d be somewhere else.

The temporary feeling didn’t always suit me. I hated moving in and out of my rooms at uni; hated the fact that most of my books were at home and I was away and didn’t have access to them, and could never find exactly the thing I needed because it was inevitably in the wrong city. Having lived in the same town for the majority of my life, I had to adjust to putting down roots elsewhere, only for them to be dug up almost immediately.

But now that I’ve graduated, I’m finding it hard to shake off that feeling that everything is somehow temporary. It feels as if I’m living in anticipation of a change — that this will one day end and that will happen, except I don’t really know what this is, and I have even less idea what that might be.

It’s difficult to think in terms of permanence. Partly, that’s because I don’t want to think in terms of permanence; I don’t plan to live at home forever, or to stay in this job for the rest of my life. But I don’t have an end date for those things, either, so this sense of future is vague and ungraspable, and living in anticipation of it makes me feel somehow lost.

I don’t have proper metaphors for how I feel. I keep looking for them, but they’re eluding me. I feel like I’m at a train station, waiting, but I don’t know which train I’m waiting for, or where it’s going, or how long it’s going to be. I feel like an unresolved key change from an unfinished piece of music. I feel like the perfect word that’s on the tip of somebody’s tongue but never quite found or spoken.

Maybe it’s because I’m between projects — as I wait for news of Pitch Wars, I’d planned to work on Death and Fairies b2, but research and bad pain days have got in the way, and so far my hands haven’t been up to short stories, either. I haven’t been dancing much, either; a break in classes for the summer, a burst blood vessel in my foot, and general fatigue have meant not a lot of practice has happened recently, despite an upcoming competition.

I feel directionless. Anticipatory. Unfulfilled. Life seems at once incredibly short and incomprehensibly vast. This is it. I’m not waiting for term to start, because this isn’t a holiday. The only structure to my future is one that I’ll make for myself, and I haven’t yet figured out how to do that.

I imagine it’s normal to feel lost in these months after leaving education; I’m under no illusions about being special. And I suspect that’s partly why so many of my friends have gone on to further study, putting off the inevitability of the vast, unstructured future. Maybe one day I’ll do the same, but academia isn’t what I need right now, and in the meantime, I’m left with this. Bewilderment. Uncertainty. Anticipation.

I think it would be easier if there were books. I have read hundreds, possibly thousands, of books set during the protagonists’ school years. A handful that dealt with going to university. Virtually none that dealt with what comes immediately afterwards, the early 20s between YA and adulthood. Most adult books still seem to focus on characters older than me, with struggles and interests that I can’t identify with. Characters my own age are few and far between, and usually have magical powers or some other crisis to give structure to their existence.

I need narratives of adulthood to help me figure out how to navigate it, but the conventional social narrative isn’t one I can see myself fitting into. I don’t foresee romantic relationships in my future. Milestones like engagement and marriage not only seem distant, but non-existent — yet when that’s how people quantify adulthood, how am I meant to know where I’m going?

I don’t have a lot of role models who look like me: happy to be single, more interested in books than sex, but unwilling or unable to live alone forever. And the absence of examples and narratives makes it hard to imagine my own future. I want to believe I have a future. I want to believe I can be happy without changing some aspect of who I am. I want to believe that I’ll find friends I’m comfortable living with, who won’t couple up and leave me alone again. But I find it hard to imagine, because I don’t see it very often.

This is where I wish NA was a real genre. Not just YA + sex. If anything, that’s what I actively don’t want. I want books that give me alternative models of adulthood, visions of the future I might be able to live, experiences to aspire to. I want stories that help me to understand myself, and where I’m going. But I don’t know where to look for them. I don’t even know if they exist.

I feel like I’m waiting. I don’t know what I’m waiting for. Maybe for a book to write that’ll take over my brain fully enough to stop thinking about everything else. For the energy to practise dance until I’m shaking and have no energy left for feeling too much. For the pain in my hands to finally, finally go away, so that I can actually do the things I love, and be the person I want to be.

It’s like waiting for term to start, except it’s never going to.

5 thoughts on “The Anticipation of Adulthood

  1. I hate waiting so I feel for you. 😭It absolutely spikes my anxiety if I don’t know what’s going to happen or if I’m not looking forward to something coming up. (Although anticipating things can ALSO spike anxiety but heyyyy life with anxiety!) And I also agree that I WISH there was a proper NA genre?! Like the YA + sex grew very tired very fast (clearly since it disappeared and publishers don’t even bother with it anymore) but like…people in their early 20s figuring out life?? That would be nice….

  2. Do you feel like you’d be able to write a book like that at some point in the future? I had 8 months off between and school and uni (northern and southern hemisphere timetables don’t match) and it was so weird but definitely good for me. And now I love academia while I’m studying, but I do intend to *do* something with my life at some point, not just be a student forever. I’d love more books about teenagers who peak AFTER high school, ya know? Anyway, this was very thoughtful and eloquent, so thank you for writing!

    1. A few of my ongoing projects deal with that kind of age group, though so far none of them are contemporary / realistic. Maybe one day I’ll write one that is — though I feel I might have to wait a few years until I’m old enough to have some perspective on it.

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