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When the End Isn’t Sure and the Present is Intimidating: "New Girl" and the Delayed Adulthood

By Mike Roorda | Think Pieces | May 28, 2013 | Comments ()


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By all accounts I appear to "have my sh*t together." I rarely actually feel like I do but if you looked at my life from the outside it probably would appear that I have a firm grasp on my future, my life and where I'm headed with both. The evidence is all there. I've found someone to spend my life with, have a career in my chosen field, and generally have enough money to both pay my bills and go out for the occasional dinner at places where sneakers aren't allowed. Despite all of this, there are times where my life feels like I've begun a circus act without actually knowing how to juggle. The balls are in the air, the audience is watching, and I've even managed to catch and toss a few back up, but I'm probably going to miss the next one and they'll all come crashing down and then everyone will know that I've been faking it the whole time. "New Girl" is my support group and Nick Miller is my sponsor.

I blame my neurosis largely on an acute case of delayed onset adulthood. Like Nick, I had a difficult time figuring out what the adult version of me looked like. There were half starts and failures. I worked a variety of unfulfilling jobs, always hoping the next one would provide the sense of closure on my childhood that I was looking for. When I couldn't figure it out, I stalled. I didn't tend bar (I attended them) but I worked a job at a call center simply because it paid and would allow me to essentially hit the cruise control on Life for a bit. Like my bearded avatar, I was scared of making the wrong decision, so I made no decision. Jake Johnson's portrayal of someone in a similar situation plays out like poetry to me, and I suspect others, because I've been there.To watch others take confident strides toward their futures, while being stuck at the starting line is painful. As it turns out, to not make any decision is a decision itself.

Previously, "coming of age" was a one-shot deal. You started as a kid, full of frivolity and wasted afternoons, and at some point in your mid to late teens you put away childish things and transitioned to adulthood. This was practical when being 18 meant you were a helpful source of labor to support your family and not just a Belieber with a bad haircut and a Twitter account. Now, it almost seems antiquated. Nick Miller isn't a child, but despite what the age on his license says, he isn't an adult either. He's whatever lies between the two and we sympathize because so many of us have occupied that peculiar limbo ourselves. Leaving childhood and entering adulthood used to be the same thing. Now there seems to be an extended waiting period, and nobody is really sure when the "adult" phase is supposed to begin. I suppose being able to vote and buy your own PBR counts, but often those ages don't really encompass what adulthood is all about. The social scene is littered with aimless and drifting twentysomethings, set afloat by the effects of the recession or their own indecision, unmoored from childhood, and not quite anchored to the adult version of themselves they're searching for. To see that period in life lovingly depicted with such accuracy is both refreshing and relieving. It's a comfort to those who see their friends taking wing, while they remain stranded on the runway.

As a 30 year old, I'm only now finally reaching a point in my life where I can honestly put a finger on what it is that I want in life, and how I hope to get it. Nick is in the process of working this out for himself as well. Jess is a teacher, CeCe's a model, Smitty has a career in "crushing it" while wearing suits and Winston ... actually I don't know what Winston does. I think we saw him in an office once. Did he play basketball, or was that the Wayans brother he replaced? It doesn't matter. What matters is that Nick has been content to coast for some time now, and is finally realizing that even if he can't identify what it is that he wants, he should really begin the search in earnest. It isn't without speed-bumps though, and even though he clearly cares for her and has chosen to pursue her, Nick's new relationship with Jess is plagued by his own lingering insecurities. The season 2 finale finds him pushing Jess away, not because he doesn't love her, but because he knows he still has one foot in his childhood, and he can sense Jess' anxiety over that fact. In the end Jess admits her fears, but also resolves to face them and Nick realizes that despite not knowing all the answers, not making a decision is a decision. His final protest, "It's not like we're in love, right?" is a hollow one. They both know otherwise, and Nick is again trying to defer committing, or making any decision, because the end isn't a sure thing. Thankfully Jess doesn't let him get off that easy, and I wet my face yet again during what is supposed to be a comedy.

"New Girl," and Nick in particular, endears himself to us in part because he makes it OK to be old enough to qualify as an adult and still not know what you want out of life. Not knowing doesn't make you a bad person or a less valuable one. Taking time to figure out for yourself what's important is healthy and keeps you from screwing things up down the road. I worked at a call center and Nick tends bar. Jog in place for too long however and you run the risk of getting comfortable, of stunting your growth and missing opportunities that seem obvious to everyone else. Thankfully for Nick and Jess, and sellers of Kleenex everywhere, Nick finally is coming to terms with what he wants and what makes him happy.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • cruzzercruz

    This is perfectly timed. I spent the morning in panic realizing that my 25th birthday was rapidly approaching and, while half my friends are getting married, making tons of money in their lavish careers, and buying coops in Manhattan, I'm sweating about whether my sneakers are acceptably new enough to be wearable to my entry level position that I spent two years chasing from my shitty place in a shitty neighborhood. I'm hoping to be somewhere near where everyone else seems to be now by the time I'm 30. That'd be nice.

    If not, I can take comfort in the fictional character of Nick Miller and how happily (?) we occupy mutual adolescence.

  • MelBivDevoe

    Oh man. If I didn't know better I'd swear I wrote this, because you said everything that I feel. Loved this.

  • John W

    I just saw Safety Not Guaranteed over the weekend. Pretty damn good. Aubrey Plaza was real good in it.

  • lowercase_ryan

    As I read this I found myself identifying with a lot of it. I said "I'm too old for this shit." The fact that I really am is both terrifying and depressing.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Self Pity. Table for one...

    I have many, many feelings around this very issue and the fact that I never feel like a grown up and that my life choices have lead me to a permanently stalled state. I know what direction I'd like to go, but I have no way to get there.

    I am constantly trying to teach myself not to have expectations. I'm happy for everyone who has managed to start moving ahead, who has built a promising life for his or herself, but also crazy jealous of them. Sometimes I can't even bear to look at people's photos on that lyingest of all liars, Facebook. Even looking at what I know is the illusion of what I see as a good or "adult" life can be painful for me.

    I certainly have the debt load of an adult, 5 adults really, but other
    than that tangible proof of some specious form of maturity, I
    perpetually feel like someone just out of university still trying to get
    to the next phase. I have no hope my situation will improve. Even when
    it appears to, life finds a way to absorb the progress and perpetuate
    the status quo. It's exhausting. I feel like I spend my life trying to
    crawl out of quicksand. I want to slap my lazy younger self and change
    decisions (I can even tell you which ones) and start again and I can't,
    so here I am knowing that while I never quite go under, I'll never get over
    either.

    (Let me know when this gets posted on White Whine. I'll pop over and autograph it for them.)

  • Tinkerville

    I love this, I love Nick Miller, and I love New Girl. This think piece is the turtle.

  • Indeed. Nick Miller is the patron saint of me.

  • DoctorDouchebag

    This is so weird to me, when i was eighteen the state told me 'kid you're going to the army for three years, here's your gun, your standard issue boots, here's your bible, try not get shot it's a ton a paperwork.

    Then I was twenty one and they tell me I need a career, a mans got to be able bring bread home, don't matter that you have no idea what you want to be, just pick something, like it fucking matters. So I chose medicine because seven years seemed like a life time to me and I figured it'll give me plenty of time to get my head straight.

    Now i'm thirty trying my best not kill anyone on a daily basis and they tell me it's time to settle down, you need a wife boy. Shit the longest relationship I ever had was 5 months and she broke my nintendo ds. Thing is, I look in the mirror and I still see a confused 15 year old who is deathly scared of getting a boner in class.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Thanks Mike. This is why Nick Miller is probably my favourite TV character these days. He's a sometimes frightening and sometimes comforting mirror for the half-started adult section of my life. And for someone who frequently has great difficulty articulating his thoughts and feelings his nervous rambling is refreshing. Though I doubt I'll be borrowing "toilet sister" anytime soon.

  • This couldn't be more spot on even if it moonwalked it's way onto my screen.

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