The Hard Facts: I’m An Emerging Adult

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.


The 20s are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. …  The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again.” (“What Is It About 20-Somethings?” New York Times Magazine, 8/22/2010)

I am 28. The tail end of the 20-somethings, but I’ll still have the label for another two years thankyouverymuch. And I must say, I thought this cover story about “emerging adulthood” was spot on.

My highlighter couldn’t keep up with all the interesting tidbits.


“One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married.”


“During the period he calls emerging adulthood, [psychology professor Jeffrey] Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background.”

If emerging adulthood is about “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and…a sense of possibilities,” then maybe this local BFF search is my manifestation of that. It was born of that in-between feeling, after all. Wanting childlike friendships in an adult life. And this is certainly the most identity exploration I’ve ever pursued—it’s amazing how much I’m learning about myself in a quest primarily focused on other people.

And the sense of possibilities? If I’m on the search, I must believe I can find The One.

Is looking for a BFF my way of eschewing adulthood?

I would argue it’s my way of holding on to childhood, but also my attempt at trying to create the life I hope to have as an adult. I’m not so much rejecting the growing up process, I’m simply trying to control it.

The quote at the top of this post says that the 20s are when most people meet the friends they will keep. I may be unusual, but I met almost all my closest friends in the 10-19 decade. Friends from camp, high school, even my college friends I met freshman year. That’s when I met my husband too. But even if, at the end of this search, I don’t have a new and local BFF, I’m confident I’ll have Friends. Capital F. Ones who will live close enough that our friendships can continue to evolve.

Maybe one day I’ll grow up and think about my 20s and tell my daughter “My 20s were when I found X and Y and Z. In fact, I went looking for them.”

If you’re in your 20s, do you see yourself in the description of “emerging adults”? If your 20s are behind you, would you say they were the formative years of your adult life? The stem cells of your human development? And did you meet the Friends you have today back then?


Filed under The Hard Facts

15 responses to “The Hard Facts: I’m An Emerging Adult

  1. megan

    I’ve heard the 20s called the “quarter-life crisis” and my experience has shown that to be true. I’m worried that I won’t find The Friends or career everyone is talking about since I’m still so painfully directionless and don’t feel I’ve found MY group yet…

  2. I’m in my early 50s and yes, I agree that the friendships I formed in my 20s have stayed with me for a lifetime. Oddly enough, friends I met in my 30s (when my children were small) did not make the cut when I moved out of state.

    Now, having moved again, and in a new marriage, I find myself in a new city and on the quest for local friends. In my 20’s, it just seemed to happen. Now, it needs to be a concerted effort. Not necessarily a bad thing; just one that requires some thought!

  3. What an interesting article! I’m even closer to the end of my 20’s (at 29), and I can say I’ve done just about everything that your quotes say we 20-somethings do, with the exception of moving back home with my parents. I think a lot of the people I’ve met while in my 20’s will make the cut into my 30’s, 40’s, etc. but then I thought the same thing about some of my friends from earlier in life, so I guess only time will tell there.

  4. Betty

    In my mid-20’s, I met the most important person in my life who then became my husband. Because we were so compatible, we spent practically all of our free time together. As a result, I didn’t make a strong effort to socialize as much with others, and because it’s true that you reap what you sow, not all, but many of the friendships I did have didn’t really last through time. Then, marriage, career, and 2 kids came along which required my ongoing focus, attention and nurturing which didn’t leave me much free time to meet tons of brand new people.

    Now that my kids are older and less dependent on me, I’m now making a stronger more concentrated effort to expand my social network. We’re also in a brand new state, so that adds a bit of a new challenge for me too.

  5. I have almost no friends that I made in my 20s (read: college and grad school) — and I’m just shy of 35. I mean, I am Facebook friends with a lot of them, but that doesn’t count. (Does it?)

    I also moved across the country when I was 28, so most of the friends I made in my 20s don’t live near me any more. I was in regular (once a week or more) touch with one until he got a girlfriend 😦

    But even the friends I made after moving are not friends any more. I married after moving, and he’s still around, but that’s all.

  6. Being freshly out of the “20s” this year, I can look back and see a lot of formative things that happened during that time. And the quarterlife crisis definitely occurred for me at about 26-27. However, at 30 years old I find myself suddenly feeling the urge to start all over again down a different path entirely. Maybe it is because in my 20s, I was too scared to truly commit to a direction, and now that I am past that fear, I don’t really give a what anymore. Or maybe I feel that I finally know myself well enough to know what I want and need out of a career and life in general.
    So I think the 30s might be just as big of a self-exploration adventure as the 20s were–just with less insecurity and fear (hopefully). At least I think that will be my aim.

    On the friend topic–I met the most meaningful ones in high school, found a few gems in college, and have some good ones slowly coming around to deeper connections now. However as I get older, the HS ones are starting to fade a bit, and only a few from college are still strong. I wonder if the ones now will end up shining brightest into my later years? Or maybe there is a new BFF out there somewhere waiting to become closer? Guess I will see what unfolds…

  7. Most of my best friends were people I met in college, around the age of 19-22. I have met other people since then, of course, but the core friendships are college ones.

    The whole ‘most people meet their spouse in their 20s’ freaks me out a bit. Because I am 29 and that has not happened. Tick, tock, tick, tock goes the clock…… I know I can’t stress about it, though, because it’s out of my control…

    • Lisa

      I totally feel this way too. I’m 31, just ended an engagement to a guy I had been with for 6 years in January. Now I’m seeing someone else but feel SO MUCH pressure to define how I feel about him immediately. The feeling is, “Yeah, this was fine when I was 25, but I don’t have time to dick around for another 6 years with someone who isn’t going to end up as my husband.” I think that the pressure is coming from inside myself but I don’t know how to stop it and just be. It’s like that awareness of time is a catch 22…you have to be cognizant of biology if you want a family but the very fact of being aware is crazy-making and makes you less likely to be your true self.

    • Megan

      “Most people meet their spouses in their 20’s” has to be becoming less and less true as the average age of marriage in this country is 29….

  8. megan

    The average age of marriage in this country is 29 so that means that “most people meet their spouses in their 20s” is less and less true…

  9. Erin

    I am smack dab in the middle of my 20s and unfortunately I know the “friends” (bc I don’t have any) that I am making now I prob will not speak to or see after graduation (even if we are in the same city). I am in med school and am surrounded by people that I know I would not miss if I had never met. You know the kind I am talking about. The ones that make high school dances worth going to or trips while you’re in college fun so you can get away. I have met the man I know I will marry but other than that my 20s were just for educational purposes I guess. Once I move to a residency I’m pretty sure I will make some friends there (it’s sorta like school and work so I hope that goes well.) I have tried to make friends not in school but my schedule does not allow me to keep them for long. They get frustrated and stop returning my calls…great….All and all I guess I’d have to say that I am with the person who said they spent most of their time with their now husband, but in my case, he is truly the person I want to spend all of my time with. Yea it would be great to make some friends but I’ve kinda given up on that for now and I think that’s ok (we’ll see how i feel in a week 🙂 ).

  10. Jessica

    I’ve just exited my 20s and so far, couldn’t be happier.

    I had a difficult childhood which resulted in spending most of 20s under a veil of chronic depression. I was angry, confused and didn’t not always treat others with the respect they deserved, mainly because I didn’t believe that I deserved any happiness. Consequently, I lost all of my high school friends and lacked the skills to maintain friendships with the gems I met in university. And no boyfriend, of course.
    All the friends I’ve made in the last few years are work friends, which comes with its own sets of issues not inherent in the friendships we make in our youth. Many of them already have their circle of friends and I’m on the periphery. More of a casual friend, since most of them have already found their BFFs.
    Though I’m doing much better and trying not to let my past define my future, I do long for those “Sex and the City” type friends. Can we still make them in the post-school era? I also wonder how to explain my lack of close friendships with any man I might start dating. Will he think I’m strange? Am I strange? How many friends is enough when I keep looking back on all the great people I let slip away?

    • Hi Jessica,

      I don’t think you’re strange at all. The questions you are asking are so many of the same ones I asked when I started this blog. I think you CAN make the types of friends you are looking for, but I think it most definitely takes a lot more work and initiative on your part than it did back in the day. At least, that’s what I’ve learned.

      Also, I know what you mean about work friends. On weekends, they’d probably rather hang out with their own friends than people they see every work day. But as people switch jobs, and you become more friends than coworkers, that changes. I really believe that, from experience. So don’t give up!

  11. Jessica

    Thanks, Rachel. I won’t!

    I’ve been learning new ‘tricks’ for making friends, mostly from reading this blog and others. I think the main barrier is the mind games we play with ourselves (Am I smart enough, interesting enough, fun enough, etc… to have friends?) that don’t really exist when we’re children. At least, from my experience, that’s what I’ve found.

  12. I have just over a week left of my 20s (eek, but I’m going to Thailand to celebrate my 30th, so I don’t think it will be too painful). I have been lucky enough to have spent this entire last decade travelling (I left New Zealand when I was about to turn 20), and even though it might seem that a lot of the friends I’ve made would be transient, I have managed to make some solid, lifetime sort of friends (I hope, anyway, there is hopefully a long way to go). The most solid friendships I have are from when I was 21-23, and that may have been because I was settling into a comfortable place in my personality (if that makes sense. I was becoming pretty confident in who I was and my place in the world around that time).

    I also thought that I would never find a long-term relationship while in my transient 20s phase, but in the last year or so I have managed to find a wonderful guy who moved around the world to be with me. JUST managed to scrape in at the end of my 20s. 😀

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