Growing up is not for the faint of heart. Adulthood isn’t for children. Responsibilities, bills, family drama, work drama, free time, saving money, planning for the future, cleaning, cooking, having repairs made, morning traffic, afternoon traffic, coordinating schedules, career goals, and generally being held accountable at every turn can be quite stressful. By and large, adulthood is great, with the caveat that the freedom that makes adulthood great leads to the responsibilities that make adulthood so stressful sometimes.
I’ll give you an example. I don’t know any adults with a bedtime. You want to stay up until 3:00 a.m. playing video games on a Wednesday? Go for it. But you shouldn’t do that unless you know you have time to recover from it the next day, right? And because you’ll want to get up and get to work so you can get paid enough to buy more video games, you probably won’t stay up until 3:00 a.m. because by now you’ve learned that waking up well rested is almost always better than whatever you were doing that kept you up so late anyhow.
See what I mean? Freedom, but responsibility. Adults can and do have fun, but everything is tinged with a little bit of stress because you have things you’re responsible for and people or institutions that will hold you accountable.
Perhaps most strange about adulthood is how the balance between freedom and responsibility creates new moments of joy. Those are the moments I want to talk about here, because being an adult sucks sometimes and it’s okay to take an unusual amount of joy from the small moments that don’t suck. If you’re still not quite with me, just keep reading and things should become clearer.
Appliances and Rejoicing
We’re starting with a big one: getting new appliances. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a washer, dryer, stove, oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, deep freezer, television, or basically any important appliance that replaces an old one you’ve been putting up with for too long.
Recently my wife and I got a new washer and dryer because the machines we had were old and starting to get a little too temperamental for our liking. The washer was mostly fine but the dryer was terrible. It overheated easily, it took forever to dry clothes, it was incredibly loud, and sometimes it would just shut down in the middle of a drying. We got it as a hand-me-down before we got married, and frustrating as it was it did still dry clothes, so we just dealt with it for as long as we could. But finally we decided that enough was enough and we got a new set.
And you know what? That rocked. We were so excited. We are still excited even though it’s been a few weeks now. The first loads of laundry that went through almost made us hysterical with joy. We watched, amazed, as the front-load washer did a huge load of clothes and got them nice and clean in 42 minutes. Then we watched in nothing short of stunned awe as the dryer dried that same load of clothes, quietly, in 45 minutes. I thought my days of the hour-and-a-half load of laundry were behind me, and watching those clothes tumble around through the glass door of the dryer made me feel alive again.
That joy is limited to adults. No kid gets excited about a new washer and dryer. Maybe this is just because kids generally don’t have to do their own laundry, but I think it’s really more about kids not understanding the high level of stress that results from simply existing as an adult. When life is stressful, you have to take your wins where you can get them, and if that means finally getting new appliances, then that’s perfectly fine. What’s even more adult about my situation is that we actually paid the extra $30 per machine to get them in dark grey instead of the standard white. Now our machines are pretty.
Having Plans Canceled
There are two nuanced parts to this, so allow me to expand just a bit. First, we’ll deal with making plans. I think the joy of making plans must be some sort of parabolic function. When you’re young, it’s great because you have time and someone else is normally fitting the bill. That means that if plans get canceled you’re going to be upset because those plans were probably the most exciting part of your day and there’s almost literally never any other stress for a kid in that situation.
Similarly, I think that a certain point much later in life that feeling comes back. When you’re older and retired but have the money to do stuff, then plans become highlights again rather than just something else you’re having to squeeze in that week. My grandparents play golf and bridge and I think see their friends regularly, and I think that when their plans do fall through it can be upsetting.
But that middle area of life—the one where you have a demanding job and pay taxes and are figuring out how to function as a grown up—that’s when canceling plans really comes into its own. It’s become fodder for memes, but seriously sometimes the best thing in the world is when your weekend plans get canceled. They are normally plans made at a time when for whatever reason you forgot how tired you are at the end of the week and you really want to go out and do whatever. Then as the date for the plans approaches, you start to dread. Your internal monologue starts saying, “Okay, if we’re going to be at the Standard Pour at 8:00, we need to leave by 7:30, but parking in Uptown sucks so maybe 7:20 so we have time to find parking. That means I’ll need to get home from work by 6:00 so I can eat and take a quick shower. Once we’re at the bar we need to leave by 11:00 so I can hopefully be asleep by midnight because tomorrow we have to be in Fort Worth no later than 7:30 in the morning, which means we need to leave by 6:30, which means I need to be up by 6:00, and if I get less than six hours of sleep I’ll need to get a Red Bull to have while my coffee is cooling down, so really I should run by the 7-Eleven tonight, which means I’ll need to leave work by 5:25. . .” and it just goes on and on like that. An endless loop of mundane plans. But then you get that text that drinks at the Standard Pour are out because of whatever reason, and you find yourself smiling as 8:00 comes and instead of looking for parking in a hipster neighborhood you’re in your sweats eating pizza and watching sports.
Which brings me to part two of the nuanced joy of plan canceling: When you’re not the one who cancels. How great is it when your plans get canceled and you weren’t the one who canceled them? Right? When that happens you have some plausible deniability if anyone asks you about it. “You were probably happy the plans fell through, weren’t you, Ben?’ “What? No! Hell, I was already putting stuff in my hair and thinking about where I could park.” In reality, of course, when that text came through canceling I did a literal happy dance. By the way, this is important: The joy of canceling doesn’t come from not seeing your friends. It comes with all of the stuff around it. The traffic, the parking, the crowds, the loudness of bars, the expense of the drinks, watching how much you drink to make sure you can drive home, trying to get a bartender’s attention, the unruly SMU fratboy idiots who crowd those bars, etc. Seeing your friends and actually having a drink is great. It’s the rest of it that’s terrible.
Having Plans and Seeing Them Through (Sometimes)
Have you ever seen someone contradict themselves as quickly as I just seemed to do? I promise that’s not really what this is. Just let me explain.
Sometimes when you’re dreading plans or an event, you have to actually do it. Your inner monologue anxiously plans all the steps, you wait until the last possible second to get ready because you’re still hoping that someone will cancel, but that text never comes and you have to make your way to Uptown for a drink. Then you get there and it’s awesome. You’re shooting the breeze, having a few drinks, getting caught up on gossip or news about mutual acquaintances, listening to that one friend who still parties regularly talk about it and secretly both admiring their dedication to the lifestyle and thinking about how terrible it sounds, and generally having fun until you look up and realize it’s 12:45 a.m. You’ve been at it for almost five hours! And even though you have to go to Fort Worth in the morning and you know that drive is going to suck because how tired you’ll be, that doesn’t bring you down because you’re having such an awesome time.
That’s very adult. Extremely adult, really. It’s like voluntarily eating vegetables or working out or saving money. Those are things that are important to do that people generally dread but then always feel great about doing. Maybe that’s what adulthood is: doing things that you know are good for you even though you don’t feel like doing it then taking extreme joy in having done that thing.
There is a huge caveat with this one, though. Sometimes, and perhaps even a majority of the time, it doesn’t work out that way. The whole experience sucks for the exact reasons you thought it would suck, and even though you’ve only had one drink and it’s not even 9:00 yet you’re trying to figure out if there’s an easy way you can leave without arousing any suspicion. I worked with a guy once who would discreetly text his wife who would then call him and have some previously-agreed upon reason he needed to get home pronto. Those are the times where you get home and by the time you’re going to bed all you can think about is what a waste of time it was going to Uptown, circling the blocks for fifteen minutes to find parking that was too far away, paying $18 for a bourbon, then driving home. But when it doesn’t happen like that and you do end up having fun, well, brother, you just can’t beat that.
This is still my biggest personal obstacle. When I was growing up I played sports and was always doing something active, so I could generally eat like complete crap and not face too many repercussions. Then I got to college and I kept eating like crap but instead of working out six days a week I worked out about five times a month and the weight came on quickly.
Now I’m in my thirties and, like many other Americans, I’m still struggling with weight. The problem is that I have no real oversight and it’s just so easy to eat junk. But occasionally (and, I’m happy to say, more frequently now than ever) I choose healthy. I’ll have a salad. And yeah, it’ll be a Caesar salad, but it’s still healthier than a burger and fries. Or maybe I’ll make pasta with zucchini noodles. Or perhaps I’ll opt for potatoes or bread instead of potatoes and bread. Maybe it’s as simple as making sure I don’t get snacky at 8:00 p.m. It could even be that I choose chicken breast instead of beef or even dark chicken.
But whatever those choices are, I always end up feeling a little bit adult. When I open the fridge and I see cucumbers, celery, leafy greens, carrots, and asparagus I feel like an adult. If I could go back in time and show high school Ben my current crisper drawer, he would probably be confused because those were not the kinds of foods high school Ben ate voluntarily very often. But it is nice now. I always feel that pang of hunger for something fatty and rich, but by denying myself that I can take solace in the fact that I’m making the healthier choice. Plus the next day I normally feel better because I don’t wake up with that bellyaching that comes only from overeating way too late in the day.
The point is, once again, that these little victories make you feel the joy of being an adult. Life is hard enough without these little moments, so there’s no shame in just enjoying what you enjoy, unapologetically.
Cleaning the House
I’ve saved perhaps the most perplexing of these little moments of adulthood for last. Cleaning sucks. It just does. And yeah, I do it all the time, and yeah, I hate a dirty home, but cleaning still sucks.
To begin with, there’s the decluttering. Every house has at least one spot where stuff accumulates. We actually have a couple different places, and I’m sorry to say that almost all of the clutter in our house is my fault. My wife comes from a huge family where I don’t think everyone got all that much personal space, so she doesn’t clutter much. I, on the other hand, have a lot of things and seemingly never have enough room for it. I probably need to go full Marie Kwondo, but whatever.
After you declutter the surfaces that needed it, then you have to actually clean. Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, disinfecting, washing, scooping, replacing, and all the other verbs that you do when cleaning. It takes time, it can be quite tedious, and there are at least two or three moments when you think you’re finished then you remember you need to do the baseboards downstairs. By the end of it your back is a little sore, you’re weirdly sweaty, and you almost don’t want to do anything else because you don’t want to ruin the cleanliness too soon.
But after a few minutes, probably about halfway through that first post-cleaning drink, you start to feel really good. Everything is so clean. The house smells good, the glass on your TV stand doesn’t have a thick layer of dust on it, the floors are a little shiny from the mopping, and the stovetop is free of burnt crumbs. It feels great. It feels very grown up. It actually feels a little juvenile, too, because you always seem to get that urge to show off how clean everything is like when you were a kid. Do you remember doing that? You’d clean your room then show your mom how clean it was because you were weirdly proud of it? Weird, right?
Anyhow, there are many other moments of adulthood like that, but those are my favorites. Being an adult is stressful. Everyone has stuff going on and it ebbs and flows like most other things in life. Sometimes it can be difficult to find the joy, and these little moments provide that. Have a great Monday and an awesome week, and I hope you get to experience at least one of these things this week.