What does “being an adult” mean?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2009

I’ve noticed that when people speak of the mindset associated with “being an adult”, they are referring to either A) the setting aside of childish ways; or B) a rebellion against the lack of freedom of childhood. Basically opposite approaches: responsible adulthood and irresponsible adulthood.

The A people feel that being an adult means eating healthfully, being financially responsible, dressing to meet the expectations of others, flossing regularly, servicing your vehicle regularly, etc.

Folks who take the B approach feel that adulthood means that you can eat candy for breakfast, drink too much, fail to keep careful track of your finances, stay up late, play hours of video games a day, skip dental cleanings for three years, order the steak instead of the salad, etc. [Note: This isn’t to say that these people are irresponsible to the point of being lawless, although that is sometimes the case. It just means that when it comes to actions that have an impact primarily on themselves, they don’t always make the “best” long-term choices.]

There are likely a whole host of personality traits and such that can be determined to varying degrees of accuracy based upon a person’s answer to this question (even if it’s “sorta A and sorta B”): emotional maturity, political party affiliation, age, gender, intro/extroversion, Myers-Briggs personality type, marital status, and so on.

So which type of adult are you?

Reader comments

Jamie ReidSep 02, 2009 at 1:21PM

Type A, all the way.

Chris RorieSep 02, 2009 at 1:25PM

Doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other. I think “work hard, play hard” is an equal combination of both, which is me.

jkottkeSep 02, 2009 at 1:26PM

I’m a responsible adult striving towards irresponsibility. But since the irresponsible adult seldom strives, I appear stuck in A-land.

craigSep 02, 2009 at 1:27PM

I’m an A. But then I’ve been a parent for 20 years. You can’t tell the kids to eat their carrots and do their homework while you’re watching the Simpsons and eating Doritos.

elliottSep 02, 2009 at 1:28PM

I’m somewhere in the middle- I’d hate to be only one or the other. That sounds either A) entirely boring, or B) reckless.

NickSep 02, 2009 at 1:32PM

Depends what day you catch me on. Monday is quite different from Friday night.

MichielSep 02, 2009 at 1:43PM

I think this is very relevant: http://xkcd.com/150/

I’m that kind of adult: I have recently replaced my sofa with a giant hammock.

Tanner ChristensenSep 02, 2009 at 1:46PM

As a child, growing up I wanted to be a type B adult.

Now, in my early 20s, I’m finding myself to be the ideal type A adult. In-fact, I’m just about to go get my car’s oil changed… because it feels like the right thing to do every 3,000 miles.

ThomasSep 02, 2009 at 1:46PM

When I was in a destructive relationship, I was totally B, but since then I have been a lot of A, or at least trying to. I still think I am essentially the same in a lot of ways like when I was kid, like introverted study of things that interest me.

Alvin LucierSep 02, 2009 at 1:48PM

I’m the type of adult who gets a case of the screaming fantods everytime I hear [or see] someone use the phrase “work hard, play hard”. Make of that what you will.

MaxSep 02, 2009 at 1:48PM

A = adult
B = grown up

That’s how I’ve always thought of it. (i.e. A is an adult’s idea of an adult, and B is a kid’s idea of an adult, “a grown up.”)

PappySep 02, 2009 at 1:49PM

Being an adult means embracing A while knowing to savor the rare moments of B.

Emily WKSep 02, 2009 at 1:49PM

B, but with less irresponsibility. I’m more of the “I don’t have to go home at 9pm because I don’t have to answer to my parents” and “I can pick up and travel when I want to because I can afford to do that” and “I can eat when I’m hungry and not worry about “ruining” my dinner” variety. Plus video games. But less with the irresponsibility.

JenniferSep 02, 2009 at 1:51PM

I’m definitely a responsible adult. The first time I ever felt that way was when, faced with a very tight grocery budget, I bought organic milk for my kids and standard milk for my husband and myself.

So that’s now how I define adulthood: being willing to make whatever personal sacrifice necessary to give my kids a better life.

jkottkeSep 02, 2009 at 1:55PM

Max, I like your adult vs. grown up comparison.

JakeSep 02, 2009 at 1:55PM

Type B. I think I’m responsibly irresponsible. I think the distinction Jason made of decisions that impact primarily themselves is important because if what you are doing negatively impacts others you are just being a jerk. I say I’m responsibly irresponsible because yes I’ll eat the whole box of six raspberry-filled Kripsy Kreme and enjoy every minute of it but I’ll also know I should probably do a little exercise the next day. There should be a fan site devoted to raspberry-filled Krispy Kremes by the way, sooooo delicious.

AugustSep 02, 2009 at 1:58PM

I’m mostly type B, but it’s not for lack of trying to be type A. (And I’m extremely type A about my job.)

I have found that it’s easier to be type A when you have some money in your pocket, though. I make next to nothing, so films, cable TV, galleries and museums, concerts, bars, vacations, gadgets, etc are all out of my price range, and little things like eating ice cream for dinner can take a lot of the edge off not having access to those other things that the ‘type A’ me would rather be doing.

MaureenSep 02, 2009 at 2:02PM

Go, Pappy! I’m with you.

CalvinSep 02, 2009 at 2:03PM

I’m a blend. I’m pretty financially responsible, try to stay healthy, do regular car maintenance… but that doesn’t mean I don’t take too long to get oil changes, eat perfectly, or dress perfectly. I’m enough of A to be safe and healthy and enough of B to be happy.

Emily Sep 02, 2009 at 2:04PM

I’m mostly A. I think when I was a kid the idea of not being able to eat junk food for breakfast made it more desirable. Not to say I never do it.

The most interesting thing about this post, to me, is realizing I tend to date B type guys. Clue to my eternal frustration? I think so.

WilliamSep 02, 2009 at 2:05PM

“Being an adult” means taking responsibility for your actions and your decisions. Column A is the “responsible” choice, column B is the “I’m a grown ass man, I do what I want” choice.

When you were a child it was your parents’ goal that you be act as in column A, and their problem (i.e. responsibility) if you fell into column B.

As an adult, it is your responsibility to choose if you want to be in column A or column B. In either case the consequences are yours alone to deal with.

(I will for now ignore the tangent of what happens when Column A or Column B people have children)

Personally I try to be in column A, and sparingly enjoy the freedom to be in column B (which my car knows all too well).

AlainSep 02, 2009 at 2:10PM

What does “being an adult” mean?

Choosing A) despite the freedom to choose B). And when you do choose B), doing so with a full understanding of the consequences.

AprilSep 02, 2009 at 2:14PM

Type B, childfree. I’m okay with that. Just turned 30. I’m not irresponsible, but I have fewer constraints.

NickSep 02, 2009 at 2:15PM

More B than A. Except that I do a lot of the things in category A because they make me feel good for doing it: I eat small portions and moderate my sugar and meat intake because I have more energy and feel better about myself (I feel more attractive after a week of vegetarianism than unmitigated omnivorism). I take my car to the mechanic regularly because I have immense sympathy for it, and I know I won’t be able to go 90 down the interstate at 3:00am if it has cruddy oil and bad brakes. I haven’t been to a dentist in years because they terrify me: my childhood dentist was a gum stabber and that’s alway stuck with me.

JJSep 02, 2009 at 2:15PM

I suppose being an adult is getting to decide for yourself whether you want to be responsible or irresponsible today. If I decide to spend the evening sorting out my finances, then I can feel grown-up because I did something responsible without anyone forcing me too; if I spend the evening eating chocolate cheesecakes, I can feel grown-up because I was able do something stupid without being yelled at. It’s the freedom to be responsible or irresponsible as I choose that makes me an adult.

At the same time though, the thing that first comes to mind when I think about being an adult is Calvin’s dad’s thoughts from an old Calvin and Hobbes strip:

“It’s funny, when I was a kid, I thought grown-ups never worried about anything. I trusted my parents to take care of everything, and it never occured to me that they might not know how. I figured that once you grew up, you automatically knew what to do in any given scenario. I don’t think I’d have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I’d know the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed.”

I still feel like I’m ad-libbing pretty much all of the time. Something along the same lines: http://xkcd.com/616/

Paul KottaSep 02, 2009 at 2:18PM

Your type B is basically a kid in an adult’s body—they want what they want RIGHT NOW. They don’t think “To hell with the consequences”; they don’t even think of the consequences. They’re essentially little kids without a parent figure to stop them from having candy for breakfast. I have a family member like this. He’s grown up physically and in some ways emotionally, but definitely not when it comes to impulse control or delaying gratification.

GrantSep 02, 2009 at 2:25PM

I’d say I’m always striving to be a better A, and like Pappy, throw a bit of savoring the “B” in there… but you caught me on dental check-ups. Although I know there’s a bit of fear + no-dental-insurance that gives me a nice excuse.

pbSep 02, 2009 at 2:46PM

I like Neil Postman’s traits of an adult vs. child in his book The Disappearance of Childhood: “…tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order.” That sounds like A, and it’s something I’m striving for.

capitalnSep 02, 2009 at 2:50PM

I no longer fight the temptation to eat Cookie Crisp at all times of the day!

Type A, woot!

jon_hansenSep 02, 2009 at 2:51PM

I think if you see yourself as B, then you first need to master A to be able to drift into B to experience the freedoms and carefree ways of B. I still like to go out, indulge, and have a good time, and not take myself too seriously, so I think I’m B. But I wouldn’t have gotten here without learning to be A first.

MTSep 02, 2009 at 2:52PM

i can make my own choices and live with my own consequences (where applicable), yay! - B

Steve ClancySep 02, 2009 at 2:54PM

This made me immediately think of one of my favorite quotes from Arrested Development:

“They’re adults. They’re allowed to have fun whenever they want. We’re kids, we’re supposed to work.” - George Michael Bluth

JoshSep 02, 2009 at 2:55PM

I would say that the way a person sees “being an adult” it is a direct response to the kind of upbringing the individual had. If they felt restricted, being a B is growing up because you shed your restraints. If they were sheltered and care free, they have to become an A to grow up.

I was raised by very responsible parents who at the same time let us wander without much restriction. When I eventually experimented with B type behavior I felt stupid, not grown up.

annSep 02, 2009 at 3:01PM

I’m a little of both.
Sometimes I do things just because I can- ie because I’m now an adult and I pay the consequences of what I’ve chosen to do. Most of the time, I’m pretty responsible and ‘do the right thing’… on the other hand, doing the right thing because it’s what people expect of you as opposed to doing it because you really truly want to do it because it’s right- well, that sounds more like jr high school than adulthood.

BenSep 02, 2009 at 3:04PM

I just want to have a good time. Many things on the A List are not fun. Many things on the B List are possibly fun in the short term, but will lead to disaster even less fun than what you have going on in the A List. So, I’m striving for good times that can last. I’m not going to buy a boat or a fancy vehicle when I could instead pay off my house. Owning a home is freedom. The sooner I can bail out of 8:30-5 the better. I want minimum responsibility, so I have taken on only the essentials and I’m plotting my escape. I’m not irresponsible, I just do not take on non-essential responsibilities that clutter up other lives. I think I am mostly list A right now, but I think a lot of people but more on that list than is really necessary.

JamesSep 02, 2009 at 3:13PM

I still feel like the kid moving into the dorm room sometimes. The parents pulling away in the minivan, and feelings a mixture of “yippee” and “holy shit, I have to do everything myself now”. That was twelve years ago.

DarrylSep 02, 2009 at 3:15PM

Jason’s A description is both a reduction of what I think an adult is about and is reductive, meaning he has simplified too much something that is a bit more complicated in real life in my opinion.

That isn’t a smart ass comment because being an adult (if you are doing it right in my opinion) means harnessing mature ‘energy’ that makes you stronger not weaker. You could say that Winston Churchill was a better man than Hitler, other than in moral terms, because Churchill had more “adult” and mature energy, and Hitler was very childish and weak it turned out - holding morality separate I stress! To ultimately “blame” Jews for internal German problems was a sign of that weakness. To spend resources on that tragedy was not only evil, but pretty childish and foolish, a waste of resources (of course the immorality dwarfs my comparison, but bear with me!). The fact that many of those Nazis turned out to be addicts, characterless was a loose proof of my little theory, as the Allies found out at the end of the war.

I believe that nature favors the mature as life goes along, and with many of those characteristics (facing reality and not running from it, showing courage, facing fears, and many other characteristics we can name as others do) you are ultimately better off, and as nature intends.

MelaSep 02, 2009 at 3:44PM

I’m both.
In privacy: B
In society: A

Judy JacksonSep 02, 2009 at 3:50PM

I think the answer is in the question. It might be fun to indulge in the illusion that there is a difference in the ways of being. If the question which type is responsible or irresponsible, how does one ultimately know which is which? Playing video games all day possibly provides the player with a peaceful nature. This peaceful nature may open more energy to be used in offering kindness to others when that player is visiting the village. The kindness touches the villagers and they come home and are then kind to their families.
This reminds me of the “Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“May be,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“May be,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“May be,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“May be,” said the farmer.”
- From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; edited by Paul Repps

PatSep 02, 2009 at 4:11PM

this feels like a stupid Facebook quiz.

JohnnyLASep 02, 2009 at 4:13PM

I really, REALLY, get steamed when I keep seeing over and over:

video games = childishness or irresponsibility.

Why doesour culture accept men watching other men playing sports like football, soccer, baseball etc., or the sports news, for hours a day but when it comes to playing games, No, No, No..he’s now “irresponsible”


It’s a valid entertainment medium and people need to get used to it.

As for my take: I’m both A and B. I pay taxes, eat healthily, work out, update the house, and try to contribute to the community. I also play video games and stay up late once in a while.

JeffSep 02, 2009 at 4:22PM

Thank you, Darryl, for fulfilling Godwin’s Law.

As for me, I’m definitely a balance between the two extremes, which I originally thought would put me in a select group of people, but from the majority of the answers so far that looks to not be the case. I have an equal fervor for both healthy and entertaining lifestyles.

jkottkeSep 02, 2009 at 4:23PM

JohnnyLA, I could have easily substituted “soccer” for “video games”. It’s not the activity that is “irresponsible”, it’s the seeming overindulgence of it.

LizSep 02, 2009 at 4:26PM

i’d like to think im a pretty healthy mixure of the 2 a/b

Andrew SimoneSep 02, 2009 at 4:34PM

I have always been of the opinion that adults are just kids playing dress-up which, I suppose, puts me in the “B” camp. Although, successful B-ers (as in they don’t self-destruct) have a certain quality of A-ness that helps them sustain themselves.

This is sort of a corollary of my paradox of lethergy which argues that there is a very fine line between being efficient and being lazy.

Also: Heh. I said “A-ness.”

JohnnyLASep 02, 2009 at 4:34PM

Ahh..that makes sense. Sorry for the blow-up. :)

I just have a knee-jerk reaction sometimes since I see a lot of the “video games are for children” in many opinion pieces on different sites and maybe read into things too much..

I do say one thing. I’ve seen some of my friends succumb to World of Warcraft and it’s no joke. They are almost like junkies and it’s pretty irresponsible. One of the reasons why I’ll never go near the game.

PiersSep 02, 2009 at 4:53PM

I think there’s a different distinction. My dad (externally type A, off-the-record type B), always told me to try to be an adult rather than a grown-up. “Being a grown-up seems so resigned somehow.”
So I try to be both A and B, but not a grown-up.

sarahSep 02, 2009 at 5:12PM

i think this question is more about attitude thatn teh specific tings you do in the way you live your life. so in attitude, i’m an A, but i’ll let things slip (eating an entire bag of cotton candy in 2 minutes is fun but ultimately gross). And I image people who are type B can be type A in practice about some things (e.g. work).

LindaSep 02, 2009 at 5:35PM

I’ve always been type A, even when I was an older child (difficult family situation). Never had a problem delaying gratification. Wasted youth in the law library. No debt. Good marriage of relatively long standing, good health. Always finished on deadlines. Don’t find the “I’m really just a big kid” thing charming at all.

I used to wish I could loosen up more, but over the past year or so I’ve been very, very glad to have been a frugal, responsible adult.

carlSep 02, 2009 at 5:36PM

For 30 years I was type A, responsible to a T (or R?). I’m now a B and have enjoyed my life much much more.

BryanSep 02, 2009 at 5:38PM

I’m some of each.

Type A=Watch health carefully, exercise, keep weigh in check, keep good finances, am a good worker.

Type B=Drink more than I should, eat fast food (with no consequences), watch cartoons, see concerts, get excited about new bikes, clothes, and music. Plus, I basically dress 10 years younger than I am.

I like to think I’m an adult when it matters.

OmerSep 02, 2009 at 5:49PM

I think I am more of an A in public and a B in private.

Mark JaquithSep 02, 2009 at 5:57PM

Type A
For correlation purposes, I’m a libertarian/minarchist. My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ. I’m 26, male, and married.

NickSep 02, 2009 at 6:03PM

All this talk of A and B reminds me of a particular number in The Mikado: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drtP0VU6WPU

The lyrics are really blurry, so you can sing along here: http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/mikado/webopera/mk208.html

Mike HSep 02, 2009 at 6:13PM

I just flossed my teeth for the first time in a year.

Judy JSep 02, 2009 at 6:33PM

… although to really answer your question, I am definitely a B with A envy.

Tim CarmodySep 02, 2009 at 8:19PM

A big one for me, and something that’s particularly important for college students who are on this threshold, is what you do when you’re facing a problem with another person. Do you:

1) Ignore it;
2) Get someone else to handle it;
3) Pick a fight/throw a tantrum;
4) Whine about it;
5) Address it directly, and with maturity, by yourself —

— only #5 is being an adult.

The point is that adulthood, like so many other things, is less about who you are and more about what you do. We frequently slip in and out of it. I cringe when my wife calls her mom to help her bug the cable company or the day care or whomever, but then I remember that I’ve already passed the buck to HER, so I shouldn’t really complain.

WillSep 02, 2009 at 8:23PM

To me, being an adult is not about following one path or another. It’s instead the opportunity to make lots of choices that, together, become a path.

But it’s good to floss.

ChrisSep 02, 2009 at 8:23PM

Up until recently ive been mostly B with a little A.

Now that i have a son, im mostly A with a little B.

to continue with the xkcd theme - here is my favourite B example:

Kelsey ParkerSep 02, 2009 at 8:46PM

I completely agree with Tim’s notion of adulthood through conflict resolution. While I’ve fluctuated between A and B for most of my life, I’ve always addressed interpersonal problems head-on. Often to the point of oversharing.

The happiest and most fulfilled I’ve been is while I’m an A. But every time I’ve been that in control of myself, A hijacks B and becomes anorexia. I’ve spent much of the last two years trying to be A with enough B to keep my pants on.

Speaking of oversharing.

Dave VogtSep 02, 2009 at 9:09PM

I’m definitely pretty firmly in column B, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince my coworkers of it.

woubieSep 02, 2009 at 9:44PM

An A in some respects. A B in others. Overall A- or a B+.

JayCruzSep 02, 2009 at 9:45PM

Adulthood is a human stage modern psychology has named. Yeah, what’s meant is being responsible and mature, but responsibility and matureness aren’t always at the expected level they’re suppose to be when we’re adults. You can find a 65 year old who farts on purpose and laugh, and you can find a 12 year old who plays chess and mows the lawn every 2 Sundays without fail… and flosses. With the exception of infants, because they crap themselves and don’t know how to use spoons, everyone else has to be responsible and has to mature. It’s impossible not to. Of course, some mature and develop faster or slower. It’s not that people are or aren’t “behaving like adults”, it’s just that some are smarter than others.

Les StevensSep 02, 2009 at 11:11PM

I’m type A, and I don’t like being around Type B.

John LampardSep 02, 2009 at 11:14PM

Type A I guess. Does that mean I’m an Alpha adult?

Mike VigilantSep 03, 2009 at 2:43AM

I’m a “B,” but I wish I could make it to “A” status. Trying so hard to get myself there but still coming up short. One day soon I hope to get there.

blakeSep 03, 2009 at 4:20AM

I don’t know what it means to be an “adult.” Being 21? I think it means exercising judgment in particular circumstances. This means being a type A when you don’t to do, and being a type B the rest of the time.

immaSep 03, 2009 at 4:43AM

I’m mostly a B - *can* do things like eat candy for breakfast & doing something from that list occasionally is a good thing to remind you that you’re not forced to be an A person, though picking which and when may be important.

Live first, but try not to die from it

FuzSep 03, 2009 at 5:04AM

I think I’m transitioning from B to A. Well, at least I hope I am. Sick of spending recklessly and waking up with hangovers.

SamSep 03, 2009 at 5:05AM

Thoroughly B.

Let’s party!

Paul "The Pageman" PajoSep 03, 2009 at 5:22AM

I’m probably Type A - this is a psychometric inventory waiting to happen

MikeSep 03, 2009 at 6:00AM

B. All the way. Sucks to be all you boring A’s. Quit your jobs and get a real life!

RabbitSep 03, 2009 at 9:30AM

I agree that both type A & B probably stem directly from childhood. But having been a B for the first half of my twenties, hanging out with alot of other B’s I think that when the type B reaches an extreme it is about unconscious suicidality. The whole Live Fast Die Young thing the type B’s tend to reach toward is indeed about not wanting to live, choosing not to. It could also be considered a childish way to make the”adult” decision of suicide.

VincentSep 03, 2009 at 9:34AM

Having experienced relative unencumbered freedom as a child—no nagging parents, passing grades without really trying—I can only place myself in the A category. But not a happy A, as there’s plenty of nagging and effort involved in being an adult.

grantSep 03, 2009 at 9:44AM

i like to B me, living to A regime seems like a waste of a life.

AJ KandySep 03, 2009 at 10:19AM

Framing adulthood in this kind of binary isn’t really helpful…I think people exist at different points on the spectrum at different moments of their life. I do find it amusing when someone (like Paul Kotta) objects strenuously to a strawman archetype of a “B” personality. In following a lot of political discourse, you see self-defined conservatives and libertarians repeatedly claiming they are the adults in the room, while consistently exhibiting the characteristics we associate with young children (“I didn’t do it” disassociative untruths, the kind of egocentrism you associate with a 2-year-old’s view of the world, inability and unwillingness to share, intolerance of others, bossiness, “i don’t WANNA, you can’t MAKE me” attitude towards things that would be objectively good for everyone). Meanwhile, those people that learned their lessons in kindergarten - share your toys, tell the truth, be kind and polite to others - and live out those values by trying to advance progress, are in my mind far more adult than the Very Serious People who dismiss them for being “naive.”

On the point that pb brought up, Postman’s “…tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a preoccupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order” - some of that, sure, but then again as Sir Ken Robinson notes, we’re only now starting to realize there are multiple kinds of intelligence, and we’re taking kids that don’t fit into our ‘WASP Ivy League PhD’ stereotypes of what Good Thinking is, and drugging them up because they won’t sit still.

BrianSep 03, 2009 at 10:57AM

I think it’s a BS choice frankly. The real choice is how you take to discipline and integrity to self. At 41 I am remaining steadfast to my own sense of fashion, which I adjust to the social matter at hand so as to not outright offend, but do not avoid foregoing a particular personal rebellious flare. I exercise regularly, keep my car well maintained, watch what I eat. I save more than I spend. I read often and deeply without being told it’s good for me. I have kept my younger self’s musical choices intact and up to date (heavy metal, punk, blues and free jazz) while realizing that Sinatra, Willie Nelson and Mozart are incredibly deep. I still go to rock shows where I am twice the age of the usual people (I go see Gojira, not the Van Halen reunion) and enjoy the fact. I have given up beer for single malt scotch, and have found that there is some wisdom to be found in overindulgence. Some. I understand the value of measured and calm discourse. I approach my profession with passion and curiosity. I volunteer. I understand the fleeting nature of failure and victory, and treat their attending emotional baggage the same.

So, all the stuff you offered in Choice B to me isn’t “adult” at all. It’s refusing to grow up. It embraces neither self discipline, awareness or integrity. The choice to maintain health, wealth and curiosity of mind are what mark an adult whether that person is an investment banker or a punk rocker. The choice to ignore reality and it’s attendant effects and to think of oneself as a special snowflake, immune to the world is to remain a child.

AJ KandySep 03, 2009 at 12:23PM

Oh yeah. I don’t know how to drive, might learn one day, but it’s my steadfast goal never to own one. I’m lucky that I live in (or rather, I’m wise to stay in) a city where public transit makes this possible, but interesting that car ownership / dependence is still seen as a marker of adulthood. Not going to knock people who have no choice, but looked at the macro level, I think car-centric societies magnify the “childish” tendencies; solipsistic egocentrism, disconnect from others, “i wanna go where i want to when I want to and I don’t care if this makes the urban / natural environment worse”…isn’t it more adult to look at the long-term issues, and stop making excuses for ‘convenient’ compartmentalized thinking?

CobaltSep 03, 2009 at 12:44PM

If you’re gay like myself, there are certain development issues involved and a certain degree of hedonism valued over responsibility, which is reinforced in gay “culture” both as rebellion against straight social mores and because most of us don’t have wives and children to take care of. No one is going to care if I’m up half the night doing my own thing.

I used to be more B type, partly because of my upbringing. Now I’m more A type. I have some B type characteristics that are more habitual and based on childhood learned behaviors than anything. Other aspects of the B personality type I’ve just grown out of.

Yet why does it matter what type I am? Seems to me that A types are, after all, the ones who criticize B types because they are more often repressed and concerned about maintaining a certain status quo.

StephanieSep 03, 2009 at 1:45PM

I’m an A and INFP.

Judson Sep 03, 2009 at 3:17PM

It’s the ‘turning into an adult’ that is most important. A lot of so called adults never turned. They have all the trappings of an adult, job, car, relationships etc. but none of the philisophical understanding of what an adult really is.
I was an older guy in room full over fatherless boys. Many of my social peers not in my age group were raised by their moms and it shows. They are now in their 30’s but lack courage and conscience. From a male standpoint I chalk it up to not having a father around during the formative ‘turn’.
Me….I’m a creative A.

DarrenSep 03, 2009 at 3:38PM

Being an adult means having the emotional and psychological maturity to understand that behaving ‘type A’ most of the time grants you the freedom to behave ‘type B’ on occasion with very little consequence.

People who are ‘A’ all the time aren’t “being adult”, they’re being what children think of as “adult”. People who are ‘B’ all the time are being what children *want* to be as an adult. Really *being* an adult means understanding that moderation and balance allow you to “be a kid” sometimes - and the price for doing that is behaving responsibly at other times.

By way of example, I hold a solid job, and I am extremely thrifty in my day-to-day life (type A); by virtue of this, I can afford to take a week off at a moment’s notice and take my wife to Vegas for a good time (type B).

AdamSep 03, 2009 at 9:56PM

A = adult
B = grown up

Funny how the definitions are reversed when we talk about entertainment. “Adult entertainment” is generally understood to be porn, where I can imagine using “grown-up entertainment” to describe NPR to kids.

Also interesting: this study claims that type A adults are more likely to regret not being more type B during their lives than the reverse:


jacobSep 04, 2009 at 3:24AM

For me the knowledge that I can choose to be a B if I wanted to, makes me more comfortable to be the A I am.

NickSep 04, 2009 at 9:28AM

Sometimes the internet feels like being trapped on a library tour with a librarian who has a sheen of indifference to people but the power to classify all that is written about them.

grantSep 04, 2009 at 10:59AM


AnnaSep 06, 2009 at 7:44PM

Brian: thank you for your depiction of your life, and how you act “grown up” on your own terms. You’re exactly the type of adult I’m trying to become.

When this was first posted, I wanted to say something, like you did, about how type B seemed to be a refusal to grow up, and that growing up CAN give you the freedom to do what you really want to do (and have unprecedented amounts of fun, I’m discovering), but couldn’t find the right words at the time. When I came back to try again, you’d already gotten it exactly right. :-)

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.