Now I'm not saying that there aren't any other weird times in a person's life. The last ten years of old age when you've already written your will and planned your funeral have to be crazy, as do the middle "Men of a Certain Age" years when you realize that you aren't young in any stretch of the word any more. But young adulthood, real young adulthood, is truly bizarre.
For my purposes I'd like to define this period as ranging from the last couple years of one's terminal education until settling down stage. There are probably other indicators, but this is the the strange vagrant period between youth "being on track" (fourth grade comes after third grade, school follows summer, the people you see every evening around you are your family) and adult "being on track" (one year at your job follows another, you acquire seniority and climb the ranks, the people you see every evening around you are your family). We're unsettled gypsy wanderers, and what's more, we're starting to get sick of it.
The up-in-the-air of it can be kind of fun and kind of startling, but also exhausting. A year ago from the beginning of this month, I had no idea what state, or even country, I would be living in by now. If all had gone according to the plans of nine months ago, I'd be living with L. C. right now, but a year ago this week she met a boy. Now she's married and has a baby in the belly. If all had gone according to the plans of three months ago, I'd be moving out of this apartment to live closer to campus with E. R. Instead, she's decided to quit her PhD, take a job in translation in Germany, and pursue a boy she's long loved from afar (several time zones, in fact). I make my own plans, three year ones, in fact, but it's shattering how shaky such plans can be.
I'm fortunate to still be in my grad program. Many around me are finishing up school, poking around for jobs, wondering where they should settle. One friend told me that she's going to just move to Seattle. "Seattle seems like a cool place and I could a get a job there as well as anywhere," she said. Why not? I know several people who moved to Austin for the same reasons. And if you settle, do you settle?
If you take a job in business instead of becoming a writer, are you denying the muse, as Mom's old professor once said? If you buy your own house, or move out of the singles' ward, or get a cat, are you consigning yourself to spinster/bachelorhood? Is it possible to be considered a grown up without a 401(k) job and a family of your own or are you still just drifting along until the next cool job teaching English overseas, or moving to a cool new town, or backpacking service trip, or going back to school for another couple of years?
And you know what? That gets old. It'd be nice to have a real, permanent home of your own. (Because when you stay at your folks' place for longer than a week or two, your old friends are busy with their jobs and families, the family ward asks why you're still around, and your family start to suggest ways for you to get out and about.) It'd be nice to have a sense of stability, know where you were going to be, and with whom you'll be living in a year. I know nothing is certain in this world of change, but it's even less certain in the world of honest-to-goodness young adults.
In some ways, we're crippled by our capacities. We're smart. We're good. We had a strong sense of the need for dedication and duty to something, but we don't know what. We're full of potential in a world full of excellent opportunities, worthy causes and good choices. It's so difficult to choose something and go with it, and what if it doesn't turn out? Was it the wrong choice and we should go in another direction? These questions haunt us as we try again and again to figure out our identities and missions.
I'm not saying it's entirely gloomy; in fact, it can be a little exciting at at times. I'm just pointing out how weird it is, even from the inside. So be nice to us. Don't ask us awkward questions about things that we know we need to do (get married, get a job) because we want to do those things. Don't make us feel guilty about wanting to go backwards a little and enjoy the stability of home or school again, because we already do. And if we think we know what we want to do with our lives, for heaven's sake, help us to it, because we have enough doubt and second-guessing anyway. Our lives are weird, and we know it.