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There are people who manage to push back the whole "adulthood" thing until they're well into their 60s and retirement starts rolling in. There are people who are forced into it while they're still a child, because Joe Chill murdered their parents and they have sworn fetish gear-themed revenge. For some, it just sort of happens, and they wake up one day to notice that the whole "mortgage and kids" thing has crept up on them while they were busy partying.

Regardless of how and when you reach adulthood, chances are you'll find yourself hopelessly out of depth at several points of the process. Luckily, you're far from the only one to feel that way: We all go through certain steps as we first face the harsh realities of life as a responsible entity.

Here's a few of them!

5
The Moment You Tell Your First Dad Joke

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Dad jokes are to comedy what Michael Bay is to movies: The setup might be fine and innocent, but before long everyone is in pain and cringing, the Earth is on fire, and robot dinosaurs are eating everyone. They're so objectively, shamelessly horrible, it's impossible to see why anyone would willingly tell them. Scientists have actually found an inkling of survival instinct in hipsters, as even they are physically unable to enjoy dad jokes ironically. There's only one suitable reaction to hearing one:

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You make this face, then you set the teller on fire.

Dad jokes suck. You've thought so all your life. And then, one day, you're discussing Vladimir Putin's latest supervillain antics with your friends, and suddenly you feel the need to be funny. You may fully realize what you're about to say is so awful it's going to make your friends burn you at the stake. But you can't help it. Like the first time you masturbated, a strange feeling inside you is forcing your hand.

"Actually, I've been thinking about moving to Moscow, but there's no point RUSSIAN into things."

And then everyone beats you up and never talks to you again.

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This is especially embarrassing if you're on a romantic dinner and the only person who hears you is your date.

Has this happened to you yet? Well, it's going to. At some point, dad jokes are going to enter your life, and they never really go away. Although becoming a father can greatly accelerate the process, getting infected with acute paterlocusitis actually has nothing to do with being a parent. I have to proofread every column I write thrice to catch the errant awful dad pun that has managed to inch its way in (my success rate varies). It's the same with most of my friends, children or no children; these crappy attempts at comedy just keep creeping into the conversations, to the point where we're starting to ignore them or, worse, find them funny.

Clearly, this is a side effect of aging. Maybe we've just become so jaded and/or experienced in the ways of the world that dad jokes seem like relatively innocent things instead of the abominations that they clearly are. Maybe our brains are slowly going soft as the ever-waiting grave is inching nearer and nearer. Whatever the reason, it's a situation that smells worse than a dog with no nose. Goddammit.

4
The Moment You Understand the Concept of Financial Responsibility

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I remember when I first realized I made a lot less money than I was spending. I was pretty young, but still way older than I probably should have been to start understanding the very basic mathematics of money: have enough of it, or you're screwed.

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With this.

I can speak only for myself, and I think we can all agree that I'm a fucking idiot, but for the longest time I genuinely thought I was the only person who was capable of messing things up so bad. Sure, my friends were constantly saying they didn't have any money, and I was pretty used to living from paycheck to paycheck myself. But even the most vocal no-money-havers among us always seemed to have enough for beer, video games, partying, and other things that make up the essentials of your life when you're in your early 20s. Having no money was not a tangible concept; it was a game of complaints you played before you went out drinking with the money you weren't supposed to have.

And then, one day, I really didn't have enough money to pay the bills or even buy food, and that's when the penny dropped and knocked me right the fuck out.

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I used to call the bank dude "Penny," which probably played a part in why he knocked me out.

It's not exactly the first thing you bring up in a conversation (which is why I used to think I was the only person on Earth who didn't understand how money works), but pretty much everyone I've talked to about this seems to have a similar story of sobering (and often terrifying) fiscal realization. The actual experiences vary wildly: Some had their "shit, I should probably take care of my cash" moment when they were 14 and have kept a careful tab of their finances ever since. Others rake in debt like it's the most natural thing in the world until they're in their 30s and suddenly their credit goes sour and a hundred creditors come calling. Regardless of the actual nature of the experience, everyone faces it at some point. If you haven't had it yet, it's coming somewhere down the line. You'll know it when it comes -- unless you're lucky enough to have been born wealthy, that first tang of true financial burden feels almost exactly like the universe kicking you in the crotch and pouring rotten emptiness down your throat.

But that feeling will pass, and you'll come through wiser. Or not. That part is your call, really.

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3
The Moment You Realize It's All About the Children (Even if You Don't Have Any)

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Do you have kids? Do you want kids? Surprise; it doesn't matter! If you live in a corner of the world where 5-year-olds aren't sent off to factories or some other really depressing shit, you're going to live your life dancing to the children's tune whether you like it or not.

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"Did we not warn you about playing Pied Piper again? We're still trying to locate half the neighbors."

Forget presidents, corporations, and this pimp-ass blimp I'm currently flying above your neighborhood, wearing a crown and drunkenly laser-blasting random buildings while screaming: "Bow down to me, mortals!" We're but small change. It's kids who rule the world, and the moment you realize this is going to be a major, albeit terrifying, stepping-stone in your path to whatever will wind up passing for your adulthood.

If you end up having children, this is pretty self-explanatory. First, the kids scream and poop. Then, there's school and hobbies. Then, they become teens and start falling for other teens, who for some reason are invariably the most horrible specimens of the human race. After that, they hit college, and it's your turn to scream and poop when you see the tuition fees. Once you finally manage to prep them to make it out on their own, you spend your time wondering what they do and why they never call home, right up until they go through their second divorce and boom! They move right back into your basement dungeon.

Don't think that going childless will absolve you from their power, though. Your friends are going to have kids. Your relatives are going to have kids, and if you're a halfway decent person you will wind up investing in their lives to some extent. Your neighbors will have kids. It's crazy, but even the baby carriage that kneecapped you during your morning commute probably contained at least one kid. There will be babysitting. There are birthdays, graduation parties, and other awkward social gatherings. And, of course, relatives (and a surprising number of other acquaintances, once they get drunk enough) are going to guilt-trip the shit out of you for not having any of your own. Children are going to crawl in between the air molecules you breathe, rescheduling your bar nights and forcing you to work overtime because someone's baby is ill and/or difficult and/or following you home and mugging you at knife-point every Thursday. (That happens to everyone, right?)

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"Please hurry up, officer, one of them's got my leg!"

I'm not saying all this is a bad thing. For the most part, it's actually a pretty neat thing. Children can be awesome when they're not busy stealing each other's LEGOs, vomiting green bile, and cursing you in the name of Azathoth the Destroyer. But boy, are you in for a surprise if you plan to spend your life in a childless vacuum.

2
The Moment Your Family Patterns Start to Show

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Unless you're willing to take part in the kinds of experiments that'll probably require you to fight Spider-Man somewhere down the line, you can't really do shit to influence your genetic makeup. We all are a human-shaped bowl of gene porridge made of ingredients from our mom and our dad, and that's the thin and thick of it.

Technically, we're all well aware of this fact. It's just that when it actually gets its pants off and starts dong-slapping us across the cheeks, we're never quite ready.

One day, you're going to notice you sport the hairline and jowls of your father. Or maybe you start a fight with your significant other, only to find out your style of debate and spontaneous reactions are the exact same stingers one (or, if you're a really interesting arguer, both) of your parents favored when you were a kid.

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"Good thing neither of us takes after dad, eh, Bob?"
"Hold on, what? I thought you were dad."

Sure, you can fight it. Tons of people don't like their parents and attempt to be the antithesis of them. If they were conservative middle class, you may very well wind up the teen in torn jeans and a PUNK IS NOT DEAD vest, or whatever the cultural equivalent for people who are not as out of touch with today's kids as I clearly am. If ma and pa raised you in a hippie commune and you had crabs by the time you were 14 thanks to the communal bath, you might be heading for Wall Street. You might even rebel in a way that's not horribly cliched and stereotypical at all. Unfortunately, as we've mentioned before, it's completely useless. Little by little, bit by bit, you're going to turn into yet another update for your family OS, and no amount of Marilyn Manson you listened to as a teen is going to help you.

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"I think it's time to update; the current system seems kind of chunky."

Again, this is not a good thing, per se. It's not a bad thing, either. It's merely a thing that is. Also, it's very much a thing that you need to realize. Otherwise, you might try too hard to rebel by becoming a certain type of adult, which means you might never notice ...

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1
The Moment You Realize You'll Never Completely Grow Up

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There are tons and tons of people who will never realize that adulthood is not a goal in itself.

It's not.

It's more of a side effect of being you as hard as you possibly can.

I'm not saying that you should devote your life to the "you" who enjoys getting wasted before noon, knows the Konami Code by heart, and considers wearing pants only when it's someone's wedding. You can totally let that aspect of your personality out every once in a while, but it shouldn't be in charge all the time. The trick is to recognize that this piece of you exists, instead of trying to stifle it.

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Pictured: a terrifying monster trying to rob you of your adulthood.

Back when I was younger, I always sort of expected to magically become an adult -- to one day wake up as a responsible creature that knows the workings of the world and never ever eats cereal in his underwear while watching wrestling on YouTube at 9 am on a Tuesday. After years of striving to become that civilized fucker, I finally realized that he flat-out doesn't exist. All I'm ever going to become is a slightly less inexperienced me. This is another thing that tends to draw enthusiastic "yeah, I've totally been there" reactions whenever it comes up in the conversation. At some point, we all realize we're never going to gain that seemingly supernatural grown-up insight our parents had, because they were totally winging it too.

This is yet another thing that we all sort of know in the back of our heads, and even Hollywood -- the most cynical of all entities -- likes to remind us of the importance of keeping in touch with our inner child with a movie or six every year. Even so, many of us still strive to reach that arbitrary, nonexistent Adulthood Medal, with our career aspirations and fears of death and all the other junk we tend to get our head all stuck up with.

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"WE'RE PLAYING 'RESPONSIBLE ADULTS'! AHAHAHAHAHA!"

So why don't we all just fucking stop it? It's not like we'll become any wiser by pretending we're more grown up than we actually are.

Let's face the facts: You might be a parent of five. You might not have kids at all. You might be rich as Croesus, or struggle to make the next month fiscally alive. But you're always, always going to be a little kid at heart. You see it every day, with large, hard people who openly weep tears of happiness when their team scores, and hardcore businesspeople who drop their tough-as-nails role when they see their baby smile. Those moments are the ones we live for. They're not about adulthood, they're about pure, unbridled joy.

So, by any means, be as much or little of an adult as you want to. Just remember to drop the grown-up bullshit every once in a while, and fucking go embrace the little joys in life.

Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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