When did you grow up?

The expression came of age generally refers to a culturally prescribed time; the law says you can be tried as an adult; your religion says you’re a voting member of your community; your parents make you pay rent. Most people can answer the questions “When were you born,” and “When did you graduate from high school,” with a high degree of precision. I’m curious about people who say “I grew up in the ‘50s,” (or ‘60s, or whichever decade they deem appropriate). What do they mean?

What constitutes growing up? It’s not a vertical measure. Is it a moment in time, like when you came of age; when you started high school, had your first kiss, stole your first car? Is it open to interpretation or is there a rule for it?

If I grew up in the ‘70s can someone else my age have grown up in the ‘80s? I liked the ‘60s but can I claim to have grown up in the ‘60s if I was only eleven when they ended?

It’s not unusual to hear someone volunteer, “I grew up in the x’s,” but when was the last time you heard someone ask, “When did you grow up?” I think we shy away from that question because it’s too vague. We know no one will respond, “I grew up at 8:15pm, November 13, 1974,” so rather than ask we triangulate an assumption from dates like birth and high school graduation; questions easily asked and answered.

Growing up is a process. It can cover multiple decades. I was born at the tail end of the ‘50s, highly influenced by the events of the ‘60s, went to high school and college in the ‘70s and didn’t start to figure it all out until we tipped into 2010. I’m still not convinced I’m a grown-up.

So I ask you, when did you grow up? And perhaps more pressing, when will I?

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3 responses to “When did you grow up?

  1. I don’t think I grew up until I met you. Yeah, I already owned an overcoat. But you got me to buy a car.

  2. I have never really liked the decade granularity. I think there’s a late-60’s/early-70’s thing that is different from either the mid-60’s or the mid-70’s. Music seems to move at a rate that is not that well connected to the decades. And now that I mention music, I think the music I listened to when I was between the ages of 13 and 18 was one of the biggest “coming of age” influences on who I am now.

    So let’s see: I think there are a bunch of influencers that kick in during those five years between the onset of puberty and going to college. Music is a big one.

    The cultural attitudes about how much independence from parents you can have is another big one, like how late you’re allowed to stay out, whether you can go to concerts without adults, whether your parents can veto your friends, whether you may close your bedroom door when you have a visitor, that sort of thing.

    What’s going on politically in the world, maybe? Like in the Vietnam era, it was more ok to question authority, then in the 80’s not so much, and now it’s cool again?

    The longer I’m around, the more convinced I am that I go through all the phases of life but not always in chronological order. For example, right now, finally working on music software, I’m revisiting my high school and college years when music was at the center of my life. And it seems absolutely insane that it took me that long.

  3. I think we grow up when we outgrow our family of birth. For me, that was at about 13. For my 11-year-old son, I hope it’s 30-ish.

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