These past few months, while riding the fancier-than-I-expected NJ Transit into the city, I have eavesdropped a fair number of pretty personal conversations between full fledged grown-ups. It’s surprising what people will say when they don’t think people are paying attention. Whether I hear half the conversation because someone is on their cell phone or it’s 2 colleagues who commute together, all people are easily in their 30s or above and I have noticed a distinct trend. With few exceptions, all of these conversations somehow related to what it means to be an adult. These are some of the lessons I gleaned from them.

1) This is #1 because it’s the BIG one. It relates to all the following items. Take this one to heart. No one but you can make you happy. Giving other people/things that responsibility just means you’ll always be disappointed. In them and yourself. Then, if they are people and they really care for you, they’ll feel like they’ve let you down because they can’t make you happy. Martha Washington was a pretty down lady and she agrees.

2) Being able to clearly articulate what you need is important. This has already been expressed brilliantly by the lovely Marissa A. Ross here on HelloGiggles. Be brief. Be concise. Be honest. It’s not all that easy at first, but once you start, it is positively gratifying.

3) Take responsibility for your own actions. All of them. If someone asks you to do something and you do it, you did it. You’re an adult now. Own it. Unless someone broke into your house, hogtied you, packed your apt into a moving van and transported you to a different geographical location, no one made you move. You made the decision to move. If you’ve had a long day and don’t want to go out, then don’t – it’s a-okay. I promise. You’re a big boy/girl now. You can stay in all you want. Being pressured into going to a bar on a Friday night is for other people.

4) Dating has stages – all of them are good if you want them to be. Don’t hold it against your partner if, a year later, your relationship is different from your first date. Honestly, if better be so dang different as to be unrecognizable. You should be more truthful about who you are. You should have a deeper level of trust in them. You should know the names of their extended family and how they like their coffee. You have seen them in their jammies. You might even be making plans for the future. You have heard them fart.

5) Barring some extreme cases, you are no longer allowed to cite your parents as the reasons for your bad behavior. If you are old enough to be a college graduate, that’s about as immature as it comes and if I hear you talking like that again, graying man in a suit 3 seats down, I will say something.

6) People are not ‘wrong’. Banish that word in that context from your vocabulary instantly. You can get the wrong answer on a test, but when it comes to broader conversations, people are ‘mistaken’, ‘misinformed’ or ‘misled’. They can even be ‘malicious’. However, ‘wrong’ is what petulant teenage girls say when their parents don’t like their new boyfriend because he’s rude to them and mean to her. “Wrong’ leaves no room for humanity. It doesn’t take into account the breadth of human experience. When you say to someone, “No, you’re wrong,” you are telling them you know everything and they don’t know jack squat. That’s not how a civil adult behaves. (Side note, how amazing is this?)

7) Give up your seat to any person who is visibly pregnant, obviously elderly, on crutches or limping or who has a very young child in a stroller. Why the stroller, you ask? Take a moment to imagine how difficult that person’s day is carting around a stroller through the train terminals. Giving them a moment to rest is just a small thing you can do.

Now, you may think, “Jiminy Christmas, Mary Beth, you are taking all this a little too seriously.” But I hope you noticed these are simply ways to alternate the way you think. I in no way would discourage you from acting silly, having fun, running like no one’s watching (paging Phoebe Buffet), swinging so high on the swings that the sun gets in your eyes and you scare yourself a little. I WANT everyone to laugh and play and dream and desire and indulge in retro cartoon marathons on Netflix. I do all of those things. At the end of the day, though, I have to sleep knowing I didn’t hurt someone with my judgements, that I made the best decisions for me and if I didn’t that I know those decisions were mine to make. Growing up. It happens.