Saturday, February 9, 2013

Always growing, never older

"Nobody feels like an adult. It's the world's dirty secret."

I've written about Josh Radnor's Liberal Arts before. Because he is one of my favorite directors, his works hold a special place in my heart - not just as a mode of entertainment, but as an existential telescope through which I can peer into my life: past, present and future.

Radnor's (two) movies have managed to make me rethink my life in various ways. I haven't made any drastic decisions as a result, but I do believe that it's little influences - like a line in a film or the feeling you get watching two characters fall in love on screen and then have to let go - that give you a much more dynamic perspective on how you live. This time it was a quote.

It's always troubled me that I haven't been able to properly grow up. I'm very much a child at heart. This manifests itself in a love for Disney (movies, theme parks, music, television, etc.) and a passion for other children's media texts. Those things may put me in a different class from the rest of my age group, but they don't necessarily alienate me from humanity. On the other hand, as I've realized recently, I have a tendency to take on a childlike notion of dependency in times of need.

I'm in a time of need right now.

Due to the fault of no one in particular - except perhaps me - I've been allowing myself to feel depressed about issues that I would rather just let go of. I've turned to friends, confidantes, family (specifically my dad and my grandma), in the hopes that their little sage pieces of advice would help me through trauma and pain, leading me into a better tomorrow.

My expectations have been met, of course, because I've been lucky enough to be surrounded for most of my life by numerous people who care about me. But I feel that, despite the love I feel and my recent efforts toward empowerment, I still don't necessarily have the ability to strengthen myself on my own terms.

And it's because, as Liberal Arts reminded me, I'm not an adult. Or at least I don't like to treat myself as one, nor do I usually believe I am one.

In many ways, naïveté guides my life. It doesn't often burden me, because I think of it as a way of being more in touch with my inner child - something I've never been ashamed of. Yet I can't help but feel terrible that in my time of need, I can't look inwardly, but rather I must look outwardly. Is this an affliction that only I possess?

I know so many strong people, so many wonderfully intelligent people, who don't rely on others to confirm their thoughts, to help them through rough spots. They deal with their own problems and they come up with their own solutions.

So why have I never been able to possess that ability myself?

Well, I could explain this on the grounds that I'm not an adult. I don't feel like an adult. I don't treat myself like an adult. I don't expect to be treated like an adult. I may be 20, but when I interact with others I still strangely expect them to deal with me as if I'm younger, more delicate, more impressionable.

This can't be reconciled with humanity. Once you're 20, you no longer look or act or speak like a toddler. Therefore, you can't get by as one. I think I'm learning that - slowly.

This occurred to me a lot when I was in London during the fall and early winter months, especially when dealing with money. If I was counting change in front of someone working a register, I'd feel ridiculous. I'd rifle through my wallet, talking to myself as I reasoned about whether a coin was worth five or ten pence. It was frustrating and it made me feel infantile.

In so many areas of my life, I feel like I'm in need of maturation. Physically and emotionally, I always see areas of improvement. I never feel like I've peaked, like I've reached an acceptable level of adulthood. And it makes me feel like I'm alone, functioning in a world that inexplicably makes sense to everyone but me.

Here's where I come back to that quote - the one at the top of this entry. In Liberal Arts, the protagonist, Jesse's, mentor (Professor Peter Hoberg), is in conversation with him when he makes this blanket statement. I'll remind you of it: "Nobody feels like an adult. It's the world's dirty secret." He tries to explain to Jesse that his age and his level of self-awareness may seem frighteningly mismatched, but this is a problem that everyone faces. It's not just his issue.

Am I to believe this? Granted, Josh Radnor wrote this screenplay. It came from his mind, and it doesn't necessarily reflect all of humanity. But the idea is something I want to embrace and that I think inherently makes sense.

Maybe as much as we (as in the collective mankind) like to pretend we can handle ourselves - that we can deal with our emotions, solve our own problems or count our British money on our own - in our hearts we all still struggle with the feeling that maybe we're just not mature enough, maybe there's another level of adulthood that we've yet to achieve. We're getting there, perhaps, but we may never feel mature enough to meet our own unfounded high standards of grown-up-ness.

I don't know if it's true. Maybe some people would watch this movie, hear this line, and talk about how they've seen so many troubles in their lives that they don't even question their adulthood. Experience could alter my perception, but I can't help but think that when I am at an age that can be firmly considered grown-up, I will still be struggling with the distinction.

There's nothing wrong with that, though. Not in my opinion. Everyone struggles. We all have problems that need to be worked out. We're never fully matured, we're always learning. Some people may be more infantile than others, but is there anyone who's really exempt? Who would want to be, anyway? Saying that you're a full adult essentially means taking responsibility for all of your actions, all of your feelings and all of your choices. To me, that's a scary prospect. If I'm being fully honest with myself, I will always need a shoulder to cry on, a wise elder or companion to give sound advice.

I feel no shame in this. Perhaps that's what makes me more grown-up than anything. I've accepted I can't know everything, can't ever feel fully mature, and I aim to fill those gaps.

We all need ways to fill gaps in our lives, and just because they exist doesn't mean we're not on our way to becoming functioning human beings. Being an adult however, is not an immediate requirement of human nature. We're free to approach that precipice in due time and when we're ready, and even then there's leeway. After all, it's never right to silence the kid at heart.

So maybe I'm not an adult, and maybe I never will be one. I guess I may never feel the confidence that other people feel. I may always want my mommy, my daddy, my grandma, my sister, someone to hold my hand and guide me through when I'm feeling lost. Maybe that makes me immature, but I like to think it just increases my chances of success. There are strength in numbers, and if adulthood means feigning lone strength then I don't want that fate anyway.

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