I’m an unmarried adult.

I don’t have a husband.  Or even a boyfriend.

But I am an adult.  I’m thirty-one.  I have a full-time job.  I pay rent, buy my own gas and groceries (and everything else).  I am emotionally mature.  I make my own choices.

So why have I heard twice recently that marriage makes someone an adult?

First a coworker said to Matt (the groom), “You’re getting married!  That’s awesome.  Welcome to adulthood, buddy!”

And someone at the wedding said tearfully of Des (the bride), “Wow, I can’t believe she is finally an adult!”

I was offended both times.  Marriage is not a magical door to the land of Adulthood.

So what do you think: am I too sensitive or do people speak too thoughtlessly?


19 thoughts on “I’m an unmarried adult.

  1. While you are right that marriage is not a synonym for adulthood, I think your expectations were high when you assumed that people aren’t idiots. Those are dumb things to say, but it might be more offensive if it comes from people you respect. My guess is you and the unnamed lady are probably not going bowling this weekend, but you may value the opinion of the co-worker. But all in all, people say stupid things and it is the grace of God that keeps us from busting a cap.

  2. Oh boy! I feel a little hot under the collar after reading those comments. I’ve been living on my own for so long that if someone told me I wasn’t an adult at this point I think I’d snap! You are NOT too sensitive and yes, people speak too thoughtlessly. I’m right there with you!

  3. You are definitely not being sensitive here. Though I am in a long-term relationship I am also 31, living alone, paying my own bills and making my own choices and I am an adult. Getting married is only one of MANY choices adults make and is, as Karl pointed out above, not magic and does not zap you instantly into adulthood. I think that people just don’t realize the implications of the things they say and would probably, if they were confronted about it, admit that they didn’t really think about it before it popped out of their mouth.

  4. Hmm . . . so does that mean having a baby makes you an adult? I doubt the speakers of those thoughtless comments would agree! 😉

    I could not agree with you more – far from magically turning me into an adult, marriage showed me just how much growing up I have to do. I think those comments are part of a larger assumption that we can somehow “arrive” at adulthood through external circumstances – buying a house, getting married, landing that “great” job. The way I see it, adulthood is determined by a) how well you care for yourself, and b) the graciousness and respect with which you treat others.

  5. I think people talk without thinking …….you have been through so much in your life that you are more of an adult than many other people. I could see how you’d be offended, though. Being married has nothing to do with being an adult.

  6. I would say I was an adult long before I met my husband (and then again, sometimes I STILL feel like a teenager, go figure). Chances are that the people who made those comments were just trying to find a cute way to say “congrats” on a milestone. What can we do but have mercy? Like other folks here said, I know plenty of married people with kids who still don’t act like adults. And I doubt the people who made those congratulatory remarks truly believe that marriage is a gateway to adulthood (at least I hope they don’t!). I don’t think you’re too sensitive though 🙂

  7. Coming out of the same Christian college that you did, I definitely was frustrated with how the people in that setting treated marriage–a “must” that proved you were moving on into the stage of life that was too often assumed to be the only next option.
    Cue a long theory:
    I think there’s another part to what is making people equate marriage with adulthood in this way, though–it’s our culture’s lack of real respect for other people. Sure, we’re being encourage to be “nice” and “tolerant,” but does that mean that we actually realize that they are just as much of an individual person as we are? For a lot of people, they just don’t treat the people around them like adults (with the current maturity level of society, I admit to sometimes thinking that same way…). Easier to look at them as just another kid in the big, jolly party of getting-older-without-maturing. To see them getting married is to be forced to see that they are capable of making life decisions that we attribute to adults (not that all adults do it wisely). In that context, what is more likely–that the observer will say “Oh, I was wrong–they WERE a fully functional individual!” or “Oh, I guess that NOW they’re an adult!”? I’m not saying this is why it happens in every case, but I’m wondering if it’s a factor.
    You deal a lot with teenagers through real life and fiction–do you think that the way people fail to take teens seriously might be bleeding over into a failure to take young adults seriously?

  8. You are definitely not being too sensitive. Those people are being insensitive and also wrong. While it’s nice to think that everyone that gets married is an adult, that is not always the case (re: teenagers and people in their 20s, 30s, 40s etc. that still act like teenagers). Marriage does not magically change immature people into adults and you definitely don’t need to be married to be an adult.

  9. Um, yes. I see all sorts of married people who don’t act in any way like an adult, while also seeing all sorts of unmarried people who are definitely adults. I think those were just thoughtless words…

  10. I think the thing to realize here is both times this happened two specific people were being addressed. No one is telling you personally or in a large group setting that you’re not an adult. It’s a quip. It’s a life milestone that isn’t necessary for everyone/anyone, but would generally be acknowledged this way toward someone facing marriage. Within the context of both of these A-B conversations, it is not offensive to them. It’s more like, “your life is changing significantly, which adults deal with” not “MARRIAGE AND
    ONLY MARRIAGE is making you an adult.”

    • That arguably makes it offensive not to me but to the bride and groom, who were both adults long before engagement.

      I know that neither of the people I spoke of meant it to be offensive, but that doesn’t change that I still think it was.

      • True, but it’s the tone of the conversation that makes it offensive or non-offensive. “Adulthood” isn’t a license you get, it’s a social construct that is different for every person. Marriage could mean adulthood for one person and not another. Both are correct, rather neither is incorrect.

      • Point being, you can be offended, but it’s misplaced if you’re offended toward the people talking to Matt and Des.

  11. I’m so glad you wrote about this, because I’ve experienced the same thing and wondered if I was overly sensitive. I think those comments sting because I DO so desperately want to be married, and the idea that because I’m not married I haven’t yet reached the threshold of adulthood pokes at the wound–I feel like a double failure, at least by society’s standards. I try to build myself up by thinking about the adultish things I HAVE accomplished that many married people haven’t, but then I wonder if that’s pride talking. It’s a sticky issue, so I applaud you for bringing attention to it! You are not alone.

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  13. I myself find that a little offensive too. I don’t think everyone has to get married and one can be a perfectly functioning ADULT without being married.

    It reminds me very much of the comments often made to a couple who announces they will be having a baby soon. “Oh that’s so amazing! You’ll finally be a family now!” And I just think ummm… wasn’t a marriage the creation of a new family unit in the first place? The vows define that not the children.

    Eh. I guess it’s not a big deal but it does bring a sense of mild irritation with me personally.

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