I was twenty when I first officially moved out. But even a few years before that I was living with my grandparents who were pretty invalid, so by all standards I should’ve learned how to function as a self-sufficient adult fairly early. Suffice to say, six years on and now living with my boyfriend, I still have moments of total incompetence.
I can cook. I can clean. I pay my bills on time. I do the dishes. I wash my clothes. I change the sheets on the bed with far more ease than Steve has ever managed. (How hard is it to turn the quilt cover inside out, match the corners, and give it a good shake?)
But I doubt myself constantly. I’m always questioning whether I’ve done something “right” or not. How much water needs to go in the rice cooker? How do you know when the chicken is cooked all the way through? Should I air-dry the dishes, or towel-dry? How the hell do I stop my clothes from shrinking in the wash? Does it even look like I mopped the floor? Don’t even get me started on the mini freak-out I had when Steve explained the cashless economy to me one day (that needs its own post entirely).
I’m filled with insecurity about whether my skills will be up to the standards of other adults who appear to adult better than me.
I blame my parents, partly, for my fears. My mum didn’t even teach me how to turn on the shower myself. I was eight years old and my step-mother was horrified when I would visit them for the weekend and ask my dad to turn it on. To be fair to my mum, getting me and my sister to actually shower when we were younger was a difficult enough task in itself (as was getting us out once we finally got in). She would usually keep it running from my sister’s turn, and then scream at me to hurry up and get in.
My dad was just as bad. Given that he saw us so infrequently he wanted us to be his “baby girls” for as long as possible, so spent most of his time treating us as such, trying to impress us (and usually missing the mark as most parents do, sorry Dad), or insulting my mother (see: trying to impress us).
My step-mother wasn’t much better. Although I’ll admit, in between berating me and letting her sons mock me, she did teach me the majority of my skills when it comes to being an adult. From a) turning on the shower myself to b) making my own bed, including the quilt cover trick I mentioned earlier, all the way to z) tea towels are for drying dishes exclusively, and not for wiping up messes. A rule I thwart in secret to this day and constantly fear I’ll be chided for should anyone catch me in the act.
When I’m on my own, like I have been today, I can cope quite well. I wanted to do nothing today but watch the footy and lie on the couch, but I found myself thinking, “Oh, I suppose I’ll put on a load of washing,” and “Well, since I’m up I may as well do the dishes.” Let’s not forget, “I better do the vacuuming and mop the floors so I don’t have to pay attention to this disgraceful display from Port.”
But the moment others are involved, I fall apart. I think back to when I lived with one of my friends, Paige, who I’ve known since I was twelve years old and have effectively grown up with. I remember how she used to tell me off for the way I cut vegetables. They were too big; how did I not know how to cut vegetables properly? This is coming from a girl who, to this day, doesn’t even like eating vegetables unless they are in a stir-fry — and God help you if they’re not cooked through to the point of mushiness. At the time it never occurred to me that this was simply a preference thing due to her fussy nature with food, not actually a right versus wrong thing. Same with when my ex-boyfriend scolded me for the way I stirred the pasta sauce. Apparently this was not a “You’re doing it wrong,” situation, but rather an “I’m really anal-retentive” situation.
Given I’d grown up with parents who’d taught me nothing, a step-mother who chastised me for not knowing anything, and two step-brothers who constantly teased me about everything, it’s no wonder I developed a complex about whether I was “adulting” right. I like to think nowadays that if someone were to tell me I wasn’t doing something correctly when it was obvious that their opinion was entirely subjective, I’d be quite comfortable enough to tell them I didn’t give AF. But then again, given how frequently Steve has to put up with my anxiety over how I’ve stacked the dishes, or what outfit is appropriate for the day, perhaps not.
I’ve only ever had two panic attacks in my life. The most recent one was in relation to breaking up with the above-mentioned ex-boyfriend. The first one was in 2012 when I was living in England and studying at Keele. The university was kind enough to give all the exchange students a lift to the local grocery store the first morning we were there so we could stock up. We walked into Morrison’s and I remember walking down the aisles and realising that nothing was familiar. Their brands were all weird looking. I remember watching everyone else confidently make their selections and proceed to the checkouts. I remember my chest feeling tight. I remember feeling hot and cold all over. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs; I was going to pass out.
So I grabbed a pre-made tuna salad, a jar of Nutella and a loaf of bread, and hightailed it out of there. I ate the salad for dinner alone in my room and then spoon-fed myself Nutella, feeling utterly miserable at my abysmal failure. The next day I’d sufficiently calmed down enough that I felt ready to make another attempt. I went back, alone, shopping list in hand, and succeeded in my quest to purchase groceries in a foreign country.
I’m not sure if I ever fully recovered from that ordeal. Even today, four years later, I have to bring a shopping list or I end up wandering the aisles aimlessly, and take far too long to make decisions on what to purchase. Nutella will almost always make it into the basket at times like this, with no pretence about how it will be consumed.
This nearly happened today. I’d been doing so well. Cleaning, relaxing, ignoring the bias footy commentators and listening to Mumford & Sons. So when I decided to head to the shops to get something for mine and Steve’s dinner, I had led myself into a false sense of security, and didn’t pre-plan. (To give myself some credit, it was 4:30pm and I only had thirty minutes until closing time).
While on the way there, I tried to decide what to make for dinner. I messaged Steve and asked him what he felt like. He said he didn’t mind. This was not what I wanted to hear as it left the ball entirely in my court and I am notoriously indecisive (see: insecurity about being a functioning adult). I spontaneously decided on minute steak and sourdough rolls. Simple, but delicious. Not a bad solution for a Saturday evening meal.
But of course I had to make sure that this was okay with Steve. Now that I had chosen to involve another adult I needed constant approval that I was making the right choices. I waited for his response. Sure, he replied. He didn’t mind. Lamb or beef? Whatever I felt like. I couldn’t find any lamb steaks, only chops. Why don’t I try the butcher? I didn’t even know where the butcher was located, and once I’d been directed there it turned out they didn’t have any either. Argh. Back to Coles, and now I had to decide between beef or pork. Steve once again advised whichever I preferred. I didn’t know what I preferred, but I went with beef on a whim. And now there was only ten minutes until closing time and there were no mini sourdough rolls left. But it didn’t have to be sourdough, Steve pointed out; any roll would do. I couldn’t find any rolls at all. They were all sold out. I was beginning to lose hope and noticed I wasn’t too far from where the Nutella was located when, as if by divine intervention, I spotted a loaf of sourdough. I hastily picked it up and headed for the checkout, Nutella still safely on the shelf, and not in my basket.
As I was driving home, my trip successful albeit somewhat stressful, it occurred to me that the poor guy was trying to work while I was nagging him about the fact that I couldn’t find mini sourdough rolls and had to pick beef steaks instead of lamb. This isn’t an isolated issue, either, and he has never shown himself to be fussy with food… or anything in general, so it is totally unwarranted. In fact, he is endlessly patient with my neurosis, and regularly indulges my need to make sure I am doing things up to this imagined “adult” standard.
I had an epiphany as I reached home. It doesn’t matter if you use tea towels to wipe down the bench tops, or if you don’t follow a recipe exactly. Who cares if one of your friends washes her towels separately and you don’t? But more importantly, I can’t be the only one out there that has this anxiety. Surely I’m not the only person in her mid-twenties who is struggling to find the balance between doing what needs to be done, and making sure every other adult doesn’t know you have no idea what needs to be done. I once saw a meme on Facebook that I think sums this up:
So it turns out that being an adult is mostly just googling how to do stuff.
Basically, we all have no idea what we’re doing and we’ll always need help with things now and then. There’s no real rulebook on this sort of thing. At the end of the day, while I may get anxiety around other adults or am particularly neurotic when it comes to making any sort of decision, I’m mostly doing okay. I won’t say I’m a total success, but I’m certainly more than just-functioning. So I’m going to leave this here, and go enjoy my minute steak, and probably thank my boyfriend for putting up with my frequent need for instruction.