To house or not: what makes a grownup?

Here's my friend Kris, buying a house the year we turned 30 (maybe 29). And me visiting her in Madison and falling in love with that house, deciding in a single afternoon:

Here's a house.

Here's a grownup.

I want to be a grownup. I need a house.

The sophisticated turn of the thought process was only the first indication that adulthood was not close at hand. The second: actually quitting my job in Chicago weeks later and moving back to Madison in order to put my life on the same path that would one day get me that house, or a similar house, or any house. Not understanding that what I wanted wasn't the house in any real sense, or even the home; it was the solid ground of the choice she had made—the idea of having settled, even semi-permanently, on something permanent—and having laid down the cement required to gain it. (Yippee! Puns!) Most of my friends had made similar choices by that time, home, marriage, kids, while I floated along at almost-30 with nothing real to show for it, no forward >momentum, no lasting ties, no wedding ring, stretch marks, or mortgage.

I want to be a grownup, too.

Ugh. Reader! Need I tell you? I was miserable. I had no business trying to lead her life. No business packing up all my worldly possessions to try to make the choices she had made, or imagining they would have the same effect for me—or even that those same choices mattered to me in any fundamental way. They didn't, as a matter of fact. And I paid the price for that assumption by moving those possessions 200 miles north and then—after six months of confusion and boredom—repacking and removing them 200 miles south to start all over again.

Nearly ten years have passed since then and people keep saying to me, aren't you lucky! You get to live in New York City, you get to fly to London for the weekend, spend a week in Paris, work at home, go to the theater whenever you want to, eat Fritos with bacon for dinner if you like!

That's not luck; those are choices. Those are trials and errors and successes and consequences, as are your spouse and your children and your neighborhood, the socks you pulled on this morning and the make and model of the car you trusted to get you where you needed to be. This way go, that way stay; for you one and for me the other, and in the end, each of us is right. Anything could happen, but only one thing will. Understanding and accepting that? That's being a grownup.

P.S. I do not eat Fritos.

(Further reading, tangentially: The Mommy Problem and The Referendum.)