Gilmore Girls - Lorelai, Growing Up as an Adult

Gilmore Girls’ Lorelai (Lauren Graham) knows how hard it is to grow up. The single mother constantly subverts the trope of the typical TV mom and often acts more childish than her own daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel). So why does Lorelai feel even more relatable than when Gilmore Girls first aired?


Lorelai: “I’m a grown woman.”

Rory: “Says the woman with a Hello Kitty waffle iron.” Gilmore Girls, 2x4

While she may be the older of the Gilmore Girls duo, Lorelai Gilmore feels more like her daughter’s friend than her mother. This unique relationship that defines the Amy Sherman-Palladino series is partially framed as the product of the women’s closeness in age: Lorelai was just sixteen when she had Rory, so she remembers vividly what it’s like to be a teenager. But there’s another explanation for their mental proximity: in many ways, Lorelai is still stuck in her own adolescence.

When we meet her, Lorelai is in her early thirties, yet she hasn’t reached many of the benchmarks we associate with adulthood. She’s been working at the same place since she was a teen, her parents still treat her like a teenager, and she hasn’t been able to commit to any long-term romantic relationships. It’s not mature and put-together teen Rory but Lorelai who seems to do most of the growing up on the show.

Rory: “Lorelai, go to your room!” 1x4

Back in 2000 when Gilmore Girls started airing, Lorelai’s adult coming-of-age story was a departure from decades of settled, all-knowing TV moms. And it gave us a warm, enviable spin on the traditional mother-daughter relationship. Today, it’s a portrait of delayed adulthood that’s only become more relatable to younger audiences. Here’s our Take on how Lorelai Gilmore shows us that you’re never too old to grow up.

Rory: “Thank you, Mom. You are my guidepost for everything.” 3x22

Arrested Development

Lorelai: “Someone willing to throw important life experiences out the window to be with a guy? It sounds like me to me.” 1x1

The Lorelai we first meet essentially stopped developing at 16. After she got pregnant, Lorelai dropped out of high school to run away with her infant daughter to Stars Hollow, where she’s remained ever since. Her career has remained largely stagnant, as she’s still at the Independence Inn—and although she’s worked her way up from maid to manager, her desire to strike out on her own and build something new with her friend, Sookie, remains a pipe dream.

Lorelai’s whole personality feels juvenile, from her manners to her eating habits. Her relationship with Rory is more like that of two sisters. Lorelai mocks Rory for being too uptight while Rory kids her mother for behaving like a child. And it’s often Rory who’s the more responsible one.

Lorelai: “My sense of adventure did not translate to my offspring.” 2x4

Lorelai’s relationship with her own parents similarly hasn’t progressed past adolescence. Emily and Richard Gilmore still see their daughter as a reckless girl who can’t be trusted to make her own decisions. And Lorelai is so desperate to be free of her parents’ control that she often behaves like that petulant teen, obsessed with upsetting them.

Lorelai: “It’s almost like the absence of their reaction was worse than any freak out they could’ve had.” 7x3

Lorelai acts like a reckless teen in her romantic life, too. She constantly second-guesses her feelings and behaves impulsively: rekindling an affair with Rory’s father, dating one of Rory’s teachers, and eventually, rejecting marriage proposals from both of them.

Lorelai’s state of arrested development is one we’ve seen time and again in pop culture—but mostly in male characters. From the proud manchild to the confirmed bachelor, we’ve become inured to boyish men who spurn marriage, children, and meaningful careers. And while most of those stories involve these man-boys eventually growing up, we’re also meant to find their immaturity amusing—even liberating.

But until recently, the failed grown-up wasn’t usually a woman, and she certainly wasn’t a mom. Before Gilmore Girls, most TV moms were caretakers and homemakers, wells of wisdom, and sensible advice. Lorelai Gilmore broke with this tradition by being messy and irresponsible, as well as unapologetic about her imperfections. Her rejection of the expectations society places on women—and mothers especially—has since manifested in other popular “woman-child” characters, who don’t have their lives all figured out. Recently, we’re seeing a growing number of pop-culture moms finally following in Lorelai’s footsteps by not conforming to the pressure to be perfect and conventionally “adult.”

Rory: “We’re gonna get in trouble.”

Lorelai: “You’re such a worry-wart.” 2x4

On Gilmore Girls, Lorelai’s immaturity allows her to relate to her daughter like a best friend—an unconventional spin that’s central to the show’s appeal. And while it’s Rory who’s technically coming of age, in many ways it’s Lorelai’s story of growing up that delivers the deepest satisfaction.

Lorelai: “It feels right, such a long time getting here, sometimes it’s just a journey you know?” Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, 1x4

Growing Up Gilmore

Traditional coming-of-age stories typically rely on the idea that people grow up fast—that often, all it takes is one transformative experience or even one crazy night. These stories all take for granted that everything will just “settle down” once you’re an adult. But Gilmore Girls challenges this narrative. For both Rory and for Lorelai, growing up is a slow process of trial and error, figuring out who you are and what you value—and it’s never really finished.

One of the main ways we see Lorelai mature is in her relationship with her parents. Over the course of the series, Lorelai realizes that her determination to live the opposite of the life her parents want for her is a self-negating attitude, one that actually hinders her ability to make her own choices and define herself. We recognize that she’s truly growing up when she stops seeking not just her parents’ approval, but also their rejection. As a result, Emily and Richard, at last, begin to see Lorelai as an adult and to stop trying to micromanage her life.

Emily: “I’ve moved on, Richard anything you’d like to add?”

Richard: “I can’t think of a thing.” 7x3

Lorelai’s self-actualization also manifests itself in her career. When she first discovers the Dragonfly Inn, it’s in disrepair—not unlike Lorelai herself. But in a testament to Lorelai’s growing maturity, she commits to putting in the hard work to make her dream a reality.

Lorelai: “A little paint, some pretty curtains, $150,000 of construction. We’re open for business.” 1x19

Lorelai’s “coming of age” is perhaps most evident, though, in her relationship with Luke. At the beginning of the series, neither Lorelai nor Luke are ready for anything serious. Unlike the working-class Luke, Lorelai dates the kind of men her parents might have chosen for her. But even when Lorelai doesn’t seem to know who she is, Luke remains a loyal friend as well as a surrogate father to Rory.

Lorelai: “You think I can hack being a business owner?”

Luke: “I think you can hack anything.” 2x4

Luke’s and Lorelai’s is the sort of bond that can only develop out of years of patient growth. In Luke, Lorelai recognizes fully who she is, and in choosing him, she’s committing not only to him but to herself. After a lifetime of hasty decisions, both finally realize the importance of taking the time to figure out what you really want.

Luke: “Take all the time you need.” 7x22

Lorelai’s coming of age is contrasted with Rory’s own—and from the very beginning, it’s Lorelai’s fear that Rory will repeat her own mistakes that creates most of the conflict.

Lorelai: “She was supposed to have more than me. She was supposed to have everything.” 5x22

In arrested development stories, a character has often failed to progress beyond a certain stage because of a critical event or period of trauma, or because they’re hung up on a particular era of their past. It’s no coincidence that Lorelai stopped growing at precisely the age when she got pregnant with Rory. Lorelai feels that becoming a teen mother required her to sacrifice the personal growth and development that non-parents get to continue on with. And when it comes to Rory’s future, it’s clear that Lorelai’s own lost youth—and all those missed opportunities—continue to weigh heavily on her mind.

Lorelai: “She’s going to get the education I never got and do all the things I never got to do and I can resent her for it and we can finally have a normal mother-daughter relationship.” 1x1

At first, to Lorelai’s relief, Rory appears to be on a polar opposite path from the one her mother took. Yet over time, we see that Lorelai’s example has affected her daughter in more complicated ways. After being laser-focused in high school on her goal to become a high-achieving academic superstar, Rory hits more speed bumps in college (and beyond) that cause her to question her assumptions about adulthood and recalibrate her plans.

Rory: “I don’t wanna wander around a school where everyone else is focused and working towards something and I’m just floating.” 5x22

Ironically, the 2016 revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life shows Rory subtly falling into very similar patterns as her mother once did. At 32 (around the same age as Lorelai was when the show began), Rory is stagnating in her career and making immature choices. And in the last moment of the final episode, history repeats when Rory reveals that she’s about to become a single mom. We can infer that the father is (like her own) a rich guy with a controlling family, while Rory (like her mom) is planting the slow-growing seeds of a deeper bond with a gruff yet thoughtful man who’s not just reminiscent of Luke but even related to him.

While Lorelai’s in-depth reaction to Rory’s news is yet to be explored in a potential continuation of the revival, this announcement is in many ways exactly the moment she’s long feared for the daughter she was determined must not end up like her.

Lorelai: “You are going on the pill. You are not getting pregnant!” 1x9

Yet from what we’ve seen unfold for her mother, we can gather that Rory — who’s also double the age Lorelai was when she got pregnant, and on her way to publishing a book — will be just fine doing things her own way, in her own time. Gilmore Girls underlines that messiness and imperfection are important parts of achieving true maturity, and the straight-and-narrow, fast-track path isn’t necessarily the right one. After spending all those years watching her mother grow-up as an adult, Rory is ultimately empowered to make mistakes, go her own way, and not make big life decisions before she is ready.

Lorelai and Late Bloomers Today

Lorelai: “It’s the first time in my life I’ve gotten to feel like a single grown-up woman.” 5x21

Ultimately, for Lorelai, waiting to grow up until she’s an adult turns out to be a good thing. The slower timeline gives her the space to formulate a clear idea of who she is and what she really wants. Both her career and her relationship with Luke are strengthened by her allowing them to evolve over time. Being a late-bloomer actually allows her to be a more engaged, open mother to Rory, and it eventually even enables Lorelai to become closer to her own parents, as they all but start over as friends.

Looking back now, Lorelai’s is a story that proves reassuring to modern younger generations who’ve recently found themselves struggling with their own late-onset adulthood. When Gilmore Girls premiered in 2000, Lorelai was 32, which makes her a member of Generation X. Yet her struggle resembles those that have become increasingly common to millennials, many of whom have found achieving the milestones set by their parents to be difficult—even unrealistic.

Lorelai: “I was supposed to graduate high school, go to Vassar, marry a Yale man, and get myself a proper nickname like Babe or Bunny or Shitsu.” 2x21

Young people are less likely to be able to afford a home. They’re getting married later—if at all. And both millennials and now older members of Gen Z are faced with a job market that’s still crowded with Boomers and members of Lorelai’s generation, making it difficult to find work, let alone a satisfying career.

For many in this environment, the traditional coming of age narrative—in which your most formative experiences happen in your teens and twenties, and then your life is set in stone—rings false. Lorelai’s trajectory is far closer to what people today are living. So young viewers discovering Gilmore Girls for the first time now may relate more immediately to the so-called grown-up than to the perfectionist youth who appears to have it all mapped out.

Lorelai: “You have so many years of screw-ups ahead of you.” 1x8

Lorelai reassures us that it’s okay to still be figuring out who you are, well into your 30s and beyond, and that the usual benchmarks of success—a career, a committed relationship, knowing exactly what you want—are not only still achievable later on; they may even be better for the wait.

The character also gives us a vibrant, energized portrait of adulthood that doesn’t equate growing up with giving up. However much she changes, Lorelai never loses her youthful spirit. Decades later, she remains a sympathetic, inspirational character to mothers and daughters alike—and an illustration that, when it comes to deciphering what to do with your life, we’re all making it up as we go along.

Lorelai: “But I’m here now and, hey, I’m like cheese.”

Dean: “What?”

Rory: “She gets better with time.” 2x22

Works Cited

Garis, Mary Grace. “32 Lorelai Gilmore Moments From ‘Gilmore Girls’ That We Can Relate To More As Adults.” Bustle, 24 Apr. 2017.

Dominick, Nora. “21 “Gilmore Girls” Moments That Are So Lorelai It Hurts.” BuzzFeed, 22 Dec. 2018.

Carrigan, Jo. “Why Realising Our Parents Are Real Adult People Is The Last Growing Up Hurdle.” HuffPost UK, 23 Nov. 2016.

Refinery29. “Best Lorelai Moments From Gilmore Girls.” Facebook, 21 Nov. 2016.