- Flickr / Fabien LE JEUNE
If you’re among the many 20-somethings who worry that you’ll never, ever find someone to share a life with, take heart. The statistically likely outcome is that you will.
But if you could catch a glimpse of your 35-year-old self, you might be shocked as to what you’d see. Why does future you have her arm around someone with blonde hair and a Yankees baseball cap? Your dream partner is brunette – and you hate the Yankees!
Perhaps the greatest surprise of all would be this: Future you is happy. Future you is in love.
I recently spoke with Jeffrey Arnett, Ph.D., a Clark University psychologist who’s studied the experiences of emerging adults (between ages 18 and 29) as well as established adults (between ages 25 and 39).
He’s found that one key marker of the transition to adulthood is accepting, and being content with, reality.
“Part of what it means to be an adult is you make your choices,” and you stop constantly hoping for something better, Arnett told me. “You realize that the range of possibilities that is open to you is not unlimited.”
In other words, you may never find the ideal mate that you always dreamed of, but you’ll find someone great. At some point you’ll realize you could be happy starting a life with this person, in spite of her apparent flaws.
The same idea applies to your search for professional fulfillment. You may never land your dream job, but you’ll find a position you enjoy enough that you’re no longer spending every free second on job-search sites.
“By the end of their 20s, most people have made those choices, and it works out pretty well for most people,” Arnett told me. “They compromise, as people have to do. They realize they can’t get exactly what they wanted, and so they decide that what they can get is good enough. People are not traumatized by it.”
According to a 2014 Clark University survey, 74% of established adults are either married, living with a partner, or have a close boyfriend or girlfriend. A whopping 87% of them say they’ve found their soul mate.
The survey also found that 65% of established adults have kids, which proves to be both a positive and negative experience. While two-thirds of parents said they’ve suffered more financial stress, overwhelming majorities said they’ve experienced more joy (90%) and more meaning to life (89%). Just 15% said they’re having less fun than they were before parenthood. (Respondents could select multiple options.)
With regard to work, about half of established adults have been in their current job for at least five years. Things admittedly look a little dimmer on this front: About half also say they haven’t been able to find the kind of job that they really want.
Still, Arnett’s found that there’s often “a lot of relief” as people inch closer to age 30 and make those personal and professional commitments. “People get tired of changing jobs all the time and changing partners all the time, and they really yearn for that stability by the time they reach about age 30.”
What’s more, Arnett said, people who haven’t yet made those commitments often feel that they’ve been “left behind” on the path to adulthood.
At least when it comes to relationships, Arnett said, being an adult is about looking at your partner and thinking, “‘This isn’t quite what I imagined in a partner, but I love this person and I want to build a life with him or her and I want us always to be together.’
“That’s when most people say, ‘My dream is one thing and the reality is the other, but I think the reality is great.'”