Here is a story.
We always had cats growing up. (For those of you who are now mad at me for being a cat person, we also had a dog later on.) My dream was to have a Cat named Cat when I grew up, just like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And so when I finally moved into an apartment without allergic roommates at 22, I was resolved to get one.
When I finally brought Caterine Hepburn home, it was probably one of the best moments of my life.
Part of it was the obvious cuteness of the new creature in my life, but a big part of it was also that this was the first decision I had really made for me, without anyone else’s input or encouraging. It was a self-constructed rite of passage; for years I had told myself that when I was an adult, I would get my own cat. It was a hallmark of independence for me.
Looking back, it was probably not a good idea to base the barometer of my ability to be a successful adult on the ability to keep a pet alive.
Especially because a few months later, she got sick with some genetic kitten disease. Completely panicked, I spent $2000 I didn’t have trying to figure out how to save her.
And she still died.
Look, I know what you’re thinking: it’s a fucking cat. And it’s not like I hadn’t experienced the death of a pet, or even of a family member, before. But something about this was different – not worse, but different. It completely shattered any of the confidence I had in myself. Because all of a sudden, when faced with the decision or when to put her down, I turned into a crying five year old begging for someone else to handle it. But there was no one. Because Cat was my responsibility. And it was my decision.
And I then had to live with that decision.
I binge watched The Haunting of Hill House in two days. I refused to sleep in the bed she cuddled with me in for a week. I cried daily. A month later, instead of having a birthday party, I decided to throw a Cat Funeral, where I got too drunk and cried during a slideshow primarily photos of her and my cat selfie-obsessed roommate.
Is it completely ridiculous? Yes, probably.
Will you find yourself in a similar position at one point, having to deal with something far before you expected to – whether it’s an unwanted pregnancy, an injury, unemployment, or a breakup? Will you find yourself feeling 5 years old again, crying and wishing someone else could handle things for you, only to realize there’s no one?
Will it destroy your image of your own capability; will it destroy the fragile confidence of being able to handle adulthood that you have built over the last couple years? 10000%.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build up that fragile confidence; in all honesty, it’s the only thing that will carry you through everyday adulting. But I also want to caution you that even as you build it, you must know it will not be enough to carry you through when shit hits the fan. Which is, unfortunately, often what we base our idea of our own capability on.
Everyone falls apart when shit hits the fan. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re not an adult, or all your hard work at independence was simply a mirage.
What we should be building our confidence in ourselves on is our ability to handle the little stuff. AKA, just keeping yourself healthy and alive.
I think everyone feels this way right when they exit college, or move out on their own – this sort of, “oh, shit, I actually have to take care of myself.” I remember one of my roommates perfectly describing this: one night, she went out drinking. She came back and accidentally broke a glass in the bathroom. She was kind of drunk, and really tired, and all she wanted was to go to bed. Only we lived in a 2-bedroom, 1 bath with 5 girls. She couldn’t simply leave the floor littered with broken glass. And she could not call her mom or anyone else to come help her. We were all asleep, and it was her problem, after all. So she swept it up.
Similarly, when I first moved into an apartment after college, food was no longer readily available. Oftentimes I would be too lazy or clueless or busy to cook, and then I would be starving with no food in sight. Maybe I’d had a long day, and all I wanted was some food before bed. But there was no one to make it for me. So I simply had to go to bed hungry or make dinner myself.
It’s tempting to use simple hacks. Maybe you’ll cover the glass with a thick rug until the morning. Maybe you’ll order takeout or eat 5 granola bars for dinner. Hey, whatever works – God knows I’ve been there, and am still there half the time. But I think dealing with that smaller stuff is the best way to at least know when the shit hits the fan that you are a capable adult outside of whatever crisis is happening. And one day looking back on things like break-ups and putting your cat down will hurt, but they will feel so much smaller than they did at the time.
Adulthood is far too big to ever conceive as a whole. Just focus on making yourself dinner, and the rest will come in time.