“This knife is really dull,” I said, exchanging it for a slightly sharper-looking one. More washing, but worth it if the larger knife could actually cut through the skin of a grape tomato. It couldn’t.
“That one almost works if you use it right next to the handle,” Michael offered.
I tried, and it didn’t not work. I bruised my knuckles on the counter a few times when the tomatoes suddenly gave under the almost-not-dull part of the blade. In the end, the tomatoes were no longer whole, though more bludgeoned than cut.
“Where are your measuring cups?” I called into the next room a few minutes later. It’s my turn to cook because Michael has been doing the brunt of that domestic labor in the past couple weeks. It’s his turn for an evening off, finally, so he’s playing Dragon Age Inquisition while I search through the kitchen drawers for anything that isn’t a 2/3 cup.
“How about I do this part?” Michael suggests, appearing in the kitchen doorway. He plucks the cup out of my fingers. I narrow my eyes in suspicion. “How much do we need?”
“One and a half cups. You don’t have any other measuring cups, do you?”
“Nope!” He grins and kisses me on the cheek.
“I’ll do it,” I insist. “Just tell me the math. How many—?”
“Two and a half of those. I love you!”
I am at once, both furious and happy. I declare I’m never cooking food at his apartment ever again, and I mean it. In a couple months we’ll be married and moving into a home we will share the way we already share cooking and laundry duties. We’ll probably have a new set of knives by then and, at the very least, our single 9×13 pan will be only a shelf away instead of fifteen minutes’ drive away at the other person’s house. Lasagna status: always frustrating.
We’ll both have health insurance by then, and we might even schedule appointments when we feel sick. We’ll talk about house down payments, and I’ll have to learn (and stop forgetting) what a 401k is. We’ll fight over debt instead of the necessity of measuring cups. We’ll hoard PTO days and forget to watch Last Week Tonight because “something came up at work.”
The trappings of adulthood don’t scare me, exactly. They are more depressing than anything else, the stink of conformity or settling or limitation latent within the concept. Waiting to rear their ugly head of discontent after ten or fifteen years of silence.
Responsibility is fine: the weight of decision-making a familiar (if scratchy) scarf. “Live the questions,” Rilke advised the young poet. Adulthood seems to say there are no questions anymore: only answers, a path you took that you can’t un-take. One life to live. Limitation. Finite civilization. The wild world retreating from our minds, giving up on us. Too much safety and certainty. Too much knowing, not enough guessing, reacting, and being wrong all the time.
I feel it happening in the silly things like measuring cups in the kitchen. Right now we “make do” and it makes a joke of us. I can feel older, more sensible people telling me the laughter will become an argument in a few years and it isn’t worth it. Just buy a couple of damn measuring cups. Problem: solved. Lasagna: un-frustrating. You know what to do and you do it. Or you don’t and it’s not a joke: it’s your fault, a problem you could and should have prevented.
There is power in naming our fears, so here it is: I fear that sort of adulthood. The knowing sort. I fear it because it is a foolish and finite sort of adulthood.
True adulthood is measured more by willingness to let others know you. It is the death of rationalizations. It is the slow and deliberate tearing down of defensive fortifications around our hearts. True adulthood is choosing not to fix that problem, but rather to play with it.
“It is hard,” Margaret Guenther writes, “to be heavily defended when engaged in true play. It is also an excellent way of shedding our masks and letting ourselves be known.” Guenther says that true play, the kind that lets us know one another in humility, has a kind of “holy uselessness” to it.
There is no point in limiting ourselves to dull knives and a 2/3 measuring cup. And I can’t explain how Michael and I know one another better after that exasperating day in the kitchen. The knowing kind of adulthood will always be attractive to me. It is practical. Logical. It is much less frustrating.
And much more dull.
Elaine Schnabel (’11) spent her twenties traveling, blogging, and earning various master’s degrees. Now earning her PhD at the University of North Carolina in organizational communication, Elaine researches and writes at the intersection of religion and communication. You can find her blogging at Religious (Not Crazy).