You know, guys, I’m turning 20 in a few months. And it’s scaring me—the thought of no longer being a teenager, specifically. The presumed stupidity of adolescence is a hell of a buffer to have surrounding your behavior. Think of all the times you’ve driven a golf cart through some hedges, or run across a highway with a traffic cone on your dome, or had unprotected sex knowing that the worst consequence would be ending up on MTV. For seven years, that’s all fine.
And all those opportunities seem to disappear when you turn twenty—or “drop the deuce,” as I call it. I’ve also dropped the deuce in another sense by coming back here for a second year. This time last year I was still a greenhorn to the U of C lifestyle (i.e. I still had time to do things that I enjoyed and/or would later regret). Of course, as the year went on, I found better, or, at least, more adult ways to spend my time. But now there’s no grace period: I know what I’m doing. And really, to pretend otherwise would confer a death sentence upon my GPA. (And, in turn, on my sense of self-worth. Do you wish I were kidding? I wish I were kidding.)
So, it shouldn’t really be so hard to leave behind the licensed frivolity of youth in the context of my day-to-day life. I have a pretty good/unhealthy bed-class-Reg-bed thing going on, and it gets right in the way of any teenaged shenanigans. I’m mad responsible, is what I’m saying. Next stop: 401(k).
The thing is, though, while all signs point to money market accounts and tax brackets and all the other serious things that come with bona fide maturity, I don’t yet feel like I’m quite up for that stuff. And feelings are important, right? My teenage years may be coming to a rapid and anticlimactic close in the temporal sense, but my time at the U of C has cut short some of the freedom they could have afforded me. I think that’s why I feel so lopsidedly mature: The quarter system, as only this place can do it, really sneaked this whole being a man thing up on me—so much so that I feel like it’s superficial; like everything about me as a person, having-my-shizz-togetherness aside, will remain full-on teenager, perhaps in an exercise of most futile protest.
That’s when I decided that, following in the footsteps of the venerable Mulan, it was time to make a man out of me.
Admittedly, having immediately referenced a Disney princess movie, I was off to a bad start. Also, I feel like I owe it to you to admit that, currently, my laptop is flanked by what can only be called a nest of Pixy Stix, and a friend sitting beside me is playing and singing along to “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne. (Can I make it any more obvious that I was singing too?)
My point is I had a lot of work to do if I was going to catch Ajay Batra, the alleged man, up with AjBatron 3000, the outlining, note-taking Android.
Naturally, the first thing I did was google “increasing your manhood.” After sifting through a lot of smut, I found that a good place to start might be my confidence. The quiet self-assurance of grown-ass men has always impressed me. Unfortunately, however, my social awkwardness is so powerful that it occasionally wakes me up at night, causing me to stutteringly apologize to my duvet cover for no reason.
Moving on, I reasoned that the problem might lie where I live—could the Pierce dorm life be cramping my blooming manly style? I mean, we did receive a talking-to recently about not bringing beers into the bathroom (true story). Surely grown men shouldn’t live where people can afford to set aside so much toilet time that they need refreshments. But, what, was I supposed to get on the property ladder? I know it’s a buyer’s market, but, honestly, I don’t even think I can afford a down payment on a house. Thanks for nothing, CAPS.
This wasn’t going very well. In a desperate moment I considered going out and picking a fight, alpha male–style. But as I was buttoning up my most menacing slim-fit polo, I realized something: If I got into a scrap with the sort of person who gets into scraps, it would look almost exactly like Squidward trying to play patty cake with a freshly cattle-prodded Brock Lesnar.
There seemed to be nothing I could do to rush my transition to adulthood (I even tried listening to Boyz II Men more than usual). And that bothered me—often as I walked to class, wondering how a real adult could possibly justify being a minute late, or not quite finishing a reading, or losing focus in lecture, or—
An interjection mercifully derailed my panicky train of thought. It came from a woman walking through a door I held open for her on the way into Harper. How nice! Not everyone says thank you to a held-open door; as a devoted holder-open of doors, I know this well.
That’s always really bothered me, when people do nothing to acknowledge that someone’s held a door open for them. It doesn’t always have to be a thank you—a smile, an up-nod, or pretty much anything in-between will suffice. I was always taught to throw a little something back at those who act right—and to act right myself, of course. Such, I’d argue, is the way of the gentleman.
And aren’t I already a scholar?
No, this little thank you didn’t finally make me feel like a for-reals adult. But it did get me to stop thinking about it so much. As with academics, I’m gonna have to keep my head down and keep doing the right things. Then, hopefully, this change will sneak up on me, too.
Ajay Batra is a second-year in the College majoring in English.