Are you mature enough to pass the light bulb test?
I’d been sharing my mid-20s with an educated, sane man for more than two years when he remarked in his cheerful British accent how amazed he was that given all the time we’d been in our apartment, not one light bulb had ever stopped working.
I looked up from the pile of papers I was grading to double-check if he was not kidding. He wasn’t.
“What did you think happened? I sold my soul to the lamp fairy? We practically live in a basement. I replace bulbs constantly,” I said.
“I never saw you do it,” he replied. “So I merely assumed we were terribly fortunate.”
That, my friends, was the end of that relationship and the beginning of the light bulb test.
Here’s what maturity does: Maturity fills the salt-shakers and it wipes down the shelves in the fridge when they’re sticky. It empties the kitty litter before stalagmites form. Maturity understands that there can be one junk drawer in a house, but not 27.
Maturity doesn’t text, type, game or take calls when in conversation with others.
Maturity backs up its files, goes to a doctor or a clinic when it’s in pain, and, according to Jan Bell, on occasion picks up the tab when it goes out to dinner with its parents.
Maturity understands that nobody wants the back story of why something didn’t get done because it knows that what matters is the effective completion of a task.
In contrast, immaturity has an extensive list of prefab excuses for why it couldn’t make its deadline. Immaturity uses every tummy ache, flu, headache, fallen arch, hangnail or breakup as an excuse to slip the knot of accountability. Immaturity, then, doesn’t understand why life is always “so unfair, like, always” when it offers criticism instead of condolences for failure.
Immaturity whines; immaturity rolls its eyes; immaturity takes everything personally; immaturity accepts no responsibility; immaturity sprays Febreze on clothes instead of washing them; immaturity shows up late and leaves early.
In short, immaturity is spoiled. And what is spoiled doesn’t ripen. It goes bad early, gets bitter and withers on the vine.
Wanting to escape the consequences of inaction or poor choices is my definition of immaturity. It doesn’t matter how old you are. One of the most immature statements I’ve heard was from a woman 20 years my senior. “I’m not bothering to make out a will. The kids will settle it after I’m gone.” She sounded smug about the fact that her character would be able to exit the scene before the plot’s crisis. She’d convinced herself that she was getting away with something, but I think she was leaving others to clean up her mess — which is a defining feature of immaturity.
While immaturity and laziness are inextricably linked, neither is irrevocable.
TJ Murphy, a recent college graduate, understands maturity better than my older acquaintance. TJ defines maturity in practical terms: “1. Making your own doctor appointments. 2. Separating colors when you do laundry. 3. Rinsing the dishes immediately after use.”
Alison Grambs, author of a new book, “Here’s Why I Suck, Gramma … A Bedtime Story for Grown-Ups Who Need To Grow Up,” says she knows she is now officially an adult because although she will “still yell and scream and stomp my feet and slam down the phone when fighting with my mom,” she will also “Call my mom back, like, immediately, to tell her I love her and that she’s actually right about some — just some, but some — things.”
Maturity asks for help, asks forgiveness and asks if this is a good time to talk. When maturity goes out for a cup of coffee, it asks if you want one. When maturity argues, it also listens. When maturity laughs, it’s in recognition of its own connection to the human condition and it’s not at the expense of others.
Maturity understands that there’s darkness in the world but that there’s no need to dwell in it: We can lighten up and offer illumination to others.
True, you might need to put in a new bulb, but sometimes you can flip the switch, let in the light and with patience, perspective and courage face what’s in front of you.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.