Friday, September 19, 2014


I’m 25 years old, and last month was the first time in my whole life I’ve lived alone. I’ve somehow managed to live with my own family (perhaps not very surprising), roommates and housemates of all walks of life in the US and Ireland, amazing host families in France, Costa Rica, and Rwanda, and survived life in a convent for the last two years at my Peace Corps site.

And here I am, at a quarter of century years old, living in a beautiful three-bedroom house on the shores of Lake Kivu, just me. I wasn’t sure how I would like it, and was slightly anxious about returning to an empty house after my trip home to America. Would I be lonely? How much food should I even cook for dinner?

            So far, so good. I might have gone a little crazy with the overwhelming sense of freedom. YOU GUYS, I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT. In the three weeks I’ve been living alone, I have slept in every bed in the house for no reason at all, done yoga in my kitchen, had solo dance parties, tried on all my clothes and put on a fashion show when I had insomnia at 3 am, and had nothing but popcorn for dinner more than once. Just because I can. (Well, for that last one it might have also been because I was too lazy to cook. But you get the picture). 

            There’s no one to stop me from spending an entire Sunday on my hammock on my front porch reading books and taking extending naps and gazing at the Congo mountains across Lake Kivu. I can put far too much salt in all my food and drink milk straight from the carton. I can make my bed and do the dishes if I want to, or not. I can save or spend my own money. I painted the walls of my house the exact colors I wanted, and I sing along to whatever song I want to sing at the top of my lungs. But there’s also no one to tell me to stop torturing myself with Top Chef reruns, ask how my day was when I get home, or nudge me to go for a morning run. It feels like my life is totally and completely in my hands. It’s all kind of…liberating.

            I've decided that 25 is a pretty great age to be in general. It's after acne but before wrinkles, after living in dorm rooms but before mortgages and decreasing property values. It's after the post-graduate depression subsides, but before I start worrying about whether I can afford to send my own kids to college. It's after I've stopped caring what judgments other people place on my body and started appreciating it for the amazing thing it is, but before it starts to break down and I start losing control of my bladder. It's after the zealous idealism and perhaps over-optimism of my teenage years have faded a bit, but before I start bemoaning why everything can't be like the good old days. I've settled in, but I haven't settled down.

It’s interesting to me how different cultures assign the word “adulthood” to various life milestones. In Rwanda, I’m still an “umukobwa”, or girl, until I get married, when I’ll be an “umugore”, a word that means both wife and woman in Kinyarwanda. You can have a job, have a house, and still be a girl here. In America, it seems far more ambiguous, and particularly for the millennial generation. Standard milestones that my grandparents had achieved by 25 (getting married, buying a house, and having babies) currently seem far off and much less salient for many millennials straddled with college debt and in a difficult job market.

I recently read an article that confirmed these suspicions. Titled "What Millenials Around the World Actually Look Like", it profiled young adults across the globe on what they see as adulthood. Some were forced to grow up at a young age, others are older than me and don't yet consider themselves adults. I particularly related to a young Australian woman (coincidentally also named Claire), who gave these responses:

I never felt like a real adult when I studied abroad, or graduated from college, or when I got my first job in Boston, or joined the Peace Corps. So I guess this is all to say that I finally feel like a real adult now.

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