Written by Kristina
This season's theme has been said to be "growing up." And it is - Willow's learning to deal with addiction, Xander and Anya are getting married, Dawn is dealing with loss, and Buffy is learning how to be an adult, on her own, and this is an appropriate theme.
The gang has been out of high school for three years and they are no longer faced with the same situations they were faced with there. They have other issues to deal with. As a cohesive unit, they are very strong - they have taken down a hellgod, a robot/demon/hybrid, a powerful vampire, a pure demon and a member of their own.
Because of this physical strength, it is hard for the Buffy writers to assault them with demons. One way or the other, they come out on top. But as they have been developing their physical strengths, their emotional weaknesses have grown. Their ability to deal with life outside of demons is not what it could be. However, it seems like they are dealing with the mundane-ness of life rather than focussing on Buffy's calling as a vampire slayer.
When the Scooby Gang was in high school, the demons they dealt with were metaphors for the "hell" that is high school. But now that the gang is out of the high school, and in the real world, the metaphors have changed, and have become more literal. Look at Buffy - she has a crap job at the Doublemeat Palace, which in itself, is nothing spectacular. Everyone has had crap jobs they've had to deal with. I know I have, and unfortunately, you can't always have the job that you want to have. Buffy is learning, basically on her own, about life, and working to survive - well, actually, she already knows how to survive in her world - the world of the Slayer and demons - but she has to learn how to survive in the real world.
With demons, she could kill the ones that posed a threat to her existence, but in real life, you can't kill the taxman, nor the bank manager. Her mom used to take care of all the grown up things Buffy must deal with now - mortgage, food, plumbing, and taking care of Dawn. And when Giles was around, he took care of a lot of things for her too. Now that the two most significant adults in her life are not longer around, she is fumbling around in a dark room, trying to find the light - trying to find out how to live her life.
And with her dismal job came lower self-confidence. And I don't blame her - I know I would feel horrible if a vampire refused to bite me because I smelled like my place of work. Her self-confidence wasn't helped by the fact that she kept giving in to Spike and having sex with him. It wasn't until Riley came along and reminded her of who she was. No matter what she did - including having a crap job, sleeping with a vampire - she would still be her. None of that would touch her. As Riley said in "As You Were":
"Wheel never stops turning, Buffy. You're up, you're down, doesn't change what you are. And you're a hell of a woman."
Learning who you are - outside of your circumstances - is what growing up is really about. It's not about who you're married to, where you work, who you're sleeping with, or how you are dealing with life. And in order for Buffy to grow up, she has to know who she is, regardless of her two identities - slayer and adult.