Rachel del Valle | Get Real
Duly Noted | You’ve probably heard people talking about being a “real person,” but what if it’s all just an illusion?
September 8, 2013, 11:56 pm · Updated September 10, 2013, 12:38 am·
Rachel del Valle
Real person” is a phrase I’ve heard — and used — a lot lately.
Person A: “What did you do this weekend?”
Person B: “Oh, not much, worked on some resume stuff, had a friend in town.”
Person A: “Oh my gosh, you’re such a real person. I just slept and watched Netflix.”
I often wonder how phrases like this become popular. It’s sort of like in grade school, how I used to imagine clapping games like Miss Mary Mack spreading from one part of the country to another, like a disease.
But popularity, like disease, doesn’t spread randomly. Things almost always catch on for a reason. The concept of real personhood has probably gained traction among people of a certain college age, at least in part, because of the way it sounds.
Real person. It’s funny, simple, gets the point across. It says: harmless, a little tongue in cheek, means a lot but assumes very little.
But what exactly constitutes being a real person? Is it about doing your homework in a timely manner? Is it about having concerns besides homework? Adding an electronic signature to your email? Scheduling your own doctor’s appointments, cleaning your own bathtub, making a weekly trip to Trader Joe’s?
Maybe. But it has to be more than that, right?
As far as I can tell, “real person” is kind of a catchall term for exhibiting maturity. I almost always hear my peers — and myself — use this word to express a mild amount of jealousy for someone else’s willpower, productivity or basic ability to keep one’s life together.
Acting like a real person means, essentially, acting like a grown-up, an adult. But it doesn’t have the same, sad, unexciting connotation as those other terms.
Unlike grown-ups, real people aren’t stodgy, dull or disappointed with what they’ve become. Not at all. They’re just like you and me, but with a bit more ambition. They have things, do things, that resemble adulthood, even if they don’t have the experience that comes with age.
There’s a real person inside all college students, just waiting for us to learn how to balance a checkbook. At this stage of our lives, we can’t wait to see how we’ll fit into the real world.
In order to expedite the process, we consume things, both material and experiential, that we think will make us feel grown up and important.
At some point, our perception of a real person changes from someone who does things that are impressive to someone who has things that are impressive — like a job or a partner or an apartment.
It’s strange how our generation has conflated certain things — having a pet, taking a vacation with a significant other, buying a car — with maturity.
I like to think that, as college students, most of us have evolved past that point in our tweens when our parents agreed to get us a cell phone, and we felt like adults. But maybe we haven’t.
Instead, ownership is often seen as equivalent to responsibility. But having things, or having done things, even if you’ve worked for them yourself, doesn’t automatically make you an adult. Most of the time, it just leaves you wanting more.
This obsession with becoming a real person is in some ways as childish as those clapping games I was always so bad at in elementary school. It’s hard to keep up and once it’s over, you wonder why you tried so hard in the first place.
Maybe this is why being a real person seems so elusive — it’s a relative term that keeps changing as we get older. It’s always a little further away from who we are right now.
We think we’ll grow into our personhood, but the vagueness of the term itself suggests that this is kind of a self-defeating cycle. What’s a real person anyway?
I guess you could say that being a real person is living up to the image you have of yourself — or at least the image of what you want yourself to be. But I have a feeling that once you get there, you won’t even know it.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.