Among his young clients, Sharp has found many confused and stressed by the multitude of choices. "Whatever you pick, you're picking to the exclusion of everything else," he says. Conversely, as Tanner says, "to get that something, you had to give up the dream that you could be anything."
[See 8 Ways to Become an Optimist.]
Girls is fantasy, not a documentary, Tanner notes, and for many it represents an ideal indulgence in self-discovery that's not available to everyone. The volatility it represents, however, is very much endemic to the age.
"Emerging adults really have the most intense emotional range," Tanner says. "They feel higher highs and they feel lower lows." But that discomfort is part of the process, she explains—"destabilizing you so that you really are pushed to figure these things out." And clearly, navigating relationships is central to the age as well as the show. "None of these people know who they are so the relationships are really about: 'You don't see me.' 'No, you don't see me. You don't know who I am. No, you don't know who I am,'" Tanner says. "You gotta figure out who you are if you want to figure out who you should be with."
There's no real way around learning about life the hard way. But there are some things twentysomethings can do to ease the angst.
"Sitting around in your living room in your underwear all the time isn't the right thing to do," Sharp says. "I've seen that there's a lot of hangover from the college routine or lack of routine," and people struggle to create healthy adult lives, replete with exercise and nutritious foods. It "doesn't have to be an elaborate plan, but just getting a good start" can launch one in a better direction, as opposed to "fighting off the snooze alarm all morning long."
Take control of your life with regular schedules and networking, Sharp says. Talk to others who can inspire your growth. In particular, look for someone you can relate to, but who "has their shit more together than you," he says. Someone whose success seems unattainable won't motivate you, and "if they're too much in the same boat as you, it's not going to change your circumstances." Additionally, consider ways to improve yourself by honing skills and interests.
When it comes to love, don't give up, Sharp says. If you're trying really hard to make something work, move on. In every age, people will always seek a mate, so even amid today's complexities, the key thing to remember is this: "You're still looking for something really special." To that point, Tanner says that this "elongated transition to adulthood" carries certain risks for women, for whom putting off pregnancy increases the risk of infertility and other reproductive complications.
Arnett, whose upcoming book is titled When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?, also has advice for parents. "Be patient," he says. "They're not behind. It's just that the timetable is different, and you need to give them time to grow up on the new timetable, because almost everybody by age 30ish does make their choices and does enter adulthood."