I think I might be more focused on age and maturity than the average person. That’s because, ever since I was little, I’ve felt younger, or “less mature,” than my age. While I am by definition an adult, people mistake me all the time for being a teenager. It doesn’t help that my voice is very high pitched and my personality is most often described as quirky and energetic.
I wish people’s opinions didn’t affect my self-image, but then again, I’m human. So having had people tell me I look and seem younger than my age my whole life, makes it difficult to feel like the adult I’ve become. Through the lens of this insecurity, it’s hard to avoid pegging my maturity to constructed career and relationship benchmarks for my age.
Are Careers Longitudinal?
For example, once I began working, I was convinced that joining Peace Corps at the ripe old age of 25 would set me behind in the giant race that is life. Some people think Peace Corps is only for young, wanderlust post-grads who don’t know which career to choose.
After working for a whole three years (such a long and illustrious career, I know), I didn’t want to fit into that constructed trope. I was also worried that I wouldn’t find anyone to connect with, since all the other volunteers would be naïve, party-hard 21- and 22- year olds that lack my refined wisdom and sensibility (please read that with sarcasm). Shocker: my age has not hindered or affected my experience here at all, and there is a wide age range among volunteers.
Same (Wedding) Song, Different Story
In addition to career benchmarks, the tendency to peg maturity to relationship benchmarks followed me into my 20s and into Morocco. Once I moved back to DC a year out of college, I found myself in a lot of conversations around dating and marriage.
“When’s the average age for people to get married?”
“It’s so weird to see my friends getting married.” “Wait ‘til your friends start having babies.’
“I don’t want to get married until I’m at least 30.”
“I can’t imagine being ready to settle down, like her. I’d rather see the world, I’m not done exploring.”
“I’m swearing off dating. I never want to get married.”
The people I’ve talked to in both the U.S. and Morocco are equally focused on marriage, regardless of whether you are on the marriage train or consciously avoiding the dating world. The norms and discourse surrounding marriage might be different, but it has still been a focal point of conversation about and among women during my time in DC and my short time in Imouzzer.
In both Morocco and the U.S. (and in any country, for that matter), there are plenty of women who are past the average age of marriage, without a relationship. And I’m 100% sure that those women have had to explain their marital status or lack of significant other at least once. People constantly discussing marital status and motherhood might make unmarried women and not-mothers question their own maturity in the context of womanhood and age.
Are Mothers More Mature?
It’s made me question my own maturity, anyway. In the U.S., there are some people in my circle my own age who are married or getting married. In Morocco, I have two host sisters, one is my age and has two kids, and one is 21 years old and has a toddler. I feel like I connect more with my 18-year-old host sister. Because of my age insecurity, my engaged and married friends back home and my host sisters with children here make me wonder if my own maturity level is where it should be.
Does getting married or having a child make you more mature? After posing this question to my CBT group, there was a consensus that maturity cannot be gleaned from facts on paper. Being married or having children raises expectations and responsibilities, but the presence of those responsibilities does not automatically make someone mature.
Maturity is Invisible
If I got married or had babies right now, I’d probably rise to the occasion, depending on my circumstances. But I can still be mature even if I’m childless, single, and constantly goofing off. A 50-year-old that doesn’t know their next career move, or a 25-, 35-, or 77- year-old Peace Corps Volunteer, can be just as mature or immature as anyone else. Likewise, a married 20-year-old is not automatically oppressed or disadvantaged (slight digression).
I’m not going to sit here and try to define maturity, but one thing I can say with some definiteness is that I need to stop trying to measure my maturity by the way I look, what I’m doing, and who I connect with.
In an op-ed, pundit David Brooks observes that “our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.” Indeed, to prepare my resume, I’ve always been told to quantify my achievements and use specificity to set myself apart from the crowd. I’m clear on the career- and relationship-based expectations and assumptions for where I “should” be for my age. But maturity is independent of these benchmarks.
Recognizing that relationship- and career-related maturity indicators are constructed helps me understand where my insecurities about my own maturity come from. And having made the decision to join Peace Corps despite these insecurities helped me liberate myself from them.