When I was young, probably in elementary school, I thought being an adult meant having a cell phone. At home, when my mother wasn’t looking, I’d snatch her flip phone and play with it. I had a whole routine. Standing on top of a flight of stairs on the second floor of the house, I would open the phone with my thumb and put it to my ear. “Yes, Mr. President, I’m on my way,” I would say all professional-like. Then, I’d clap the phone closed with one hand and while holding an open umbrella in the other, I’d leap down five or six steps onto a carpeted landing. (I knew both James Bond and Mary Poppins were adults, so I assure you, this combination made perfect sense.
In high school, my idea of adulthood was molded by Greys Anatomy and Sex &the City, so naturally I thought being an adult was composed of extensive dating, high heels, witty gossip with close friends and writing newspaper articles on a laptop from a sunny Manhattan apartment with a Jacuzzi-sized coffee in hand.
It’s not so much that I’m afraid of being an adult so much as I had assumed it would be different. I don’t know how to do my taxes, I don’t have a dog, I ride a bike instead of driving a car, I fall short of 5’4’’ and, contrary to my grandmother’s predictions, I have not grown out of this wearing-all-black “phase.” However, I am reasonably financially responsible, I wake up before dawn for work, dress business professional when I teach classes in the financial firm or Petroleum company, I eat my vegetables and I do, in fact write on my laptop with the sun and the coffee and the apartment I pay for and all that. The fact that the apartment is in Bogotá and not in some big city in the states— that I didn’t plan.
I’m going to go off on a tangent for a moment. In one of my Cultural Studies classes, we discussed the process of reality being falsified by living in a world framed by screens. We see a movie that takes place in Rome and feel like we’ve been there, yet when we go to a party, our actual physical presence feels cheap and unreal if we don’t take pictures of the event. If we can’t see ourselves existing, what proof do we have that we actually are? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to Instagram it, how can it POSSIBLY get any ‘likes?’ Technology having rooted itself into our lives, we feel safer trusting models of the ideal as presented to us by the media than trusting our instincts. Camera angles, tabloid exposure and social media popularity show us which kinds of lifestyles are deemed acceptable, which aren’t, and which aren’t even represented. It’s understandable why I have a hard time considering myself an adult: I’ve never seen any rom-com sitcom that takes place in Bogotá. Where is my fictional stock character role model to show me who to be? To give me a sense of approval?
Today, I have my own cell phone but I don’t call the president and I can’t even call my closest friends or my parents from it when I feel scared or alone. I think some people think that a person who lives abroad is one who refuses to grow up, someone who has run away from responsibilities. I would argue, however, that we are the ones who have the courage to rewrite our definitions. I think being an adult, like a real one, means deciding what’s right and what’s wrong for you. It means encountering situations which you have never even considered or seen played out in any movie or book you’ve ever seen. It is not marked by any sort of milestone, but by how scared life makes you and by how little you let that stop you.
This isn’t the life I had pictured for myself. I can’t walk in heels and I don’t have any plans, but at least this way I won’t trip trying to get to wherever I’m going.