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30-Year Fixed 

The meandering road to adulthood

Two things I remember from college ... In a psychology class: Human beings' lengthy childhood allows for our superior adult intelligence. In a sociology class: People who buy houses almost inevitably became more conservative. We used these lessons to justify sliding through a few hundred gallons of generic green gelatin dumped down a Slip 'N Slide on a hillside, running naked through the snow in February -- in Minnesota -- and, in my case, lingering in the dorms for an additional two years after graduation.

Once a restless transition between childhood and clock-punching, adolescence is ever extending its reach. Now we have "before-the-mortgage," the life stage of those in the "post-college and pre-picket fence" years of their lives. So say Christina Amini and Rachel Hutton, editors of Before the Mortgage: Real Stories of Brazen Loves, Broken Leases, and the Perplexing Pursuit of Adulthood.

Initially published in the zine of the same name, these essays are written by people surviving and redefining work, home, love and life during a defiant protraction of their unencumbered years. Ethan Watters writes about his "urban tribe," friends as a tightly knit family that Watters believes guides its members to stronger, if later, marriages. Pagan Kennedy celebrates the revival of the "Boston marriage," two straight women living together in "a friendship nurtured with all the care that we usually squander on our mates -- a friendship as it could be if we made it the center of our lives." And Tim Gihring articulates the rules of "fake dating," sort of the antithesis of an affair: two people attracted to one another but committed to others, enjoying the courtship of dating but explicitly not trying to score.

While the bold determination of many of these writers to hack the rules of early adulthood is exhilarating, there are others who retreat to self-absorption and pouting privilege. Sympathy runs thin for troubled Thisbe Nissen who solves her problems with parentally funded Zoloft and a skiing trip to Jackson Hole. And don't let the celebrity gossip draw you in to Anna "My Girl" Chlumsky's pat pop-psyched-out determination to "climb to the next peak" of her dormant acting career.

But on the whole, this is an interesting look into lives as we remake them, somewhere between the gelatin slides and the closing costs.

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