The generation that won’t grow up

The generation that brought you Friends, who embody extended adolescence in every way, are now seeking to eliminate the label of of middle age.

Patricia Cohen, New York Times reporter and author of another new study of ageing, In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age, might not be overly sympathetic to Berkmann’s plight. The mid-life crisis, she suggests, is a marketing trick designed to sell cosmetics, cars and expensive foreign holidays; people in their 20s and 30s are far more vulnerable to such a crisis than their parents. Cohen finds little evidence for so-called “empty nest syndrome”, or for the widespread stereotype of the rich man with the young “trophy wife”.

The New Ages of Man, Tim Walker of The Independent, March 6th 2012

These are my people. I get it. We are fast-approaching our 40s or now ungracefully fighting our 40s by voluntarily putting ourselves through bootcamp-worthy physical pain with names like Insanity and Crossfit. We are middle-age but desire to see ourselves as young, hip, and virile.

Last year, I reconnected with a high school friend via Facebook. As we caught up on life she was shocked that I married at 21 years old and had kids at 25. She said, “I’m 35 and I have a hard time keeping a gold fish alive, I’m not ready for marriage or children yet.” As we got to know one another I couldn’t help  thinking… What went wrong here? Why did some of us take on adult responsibilities in our late teens and early 20s and others didn’t? Was I more mature than my peers? (Um, maybe in some ways?!?)

It’s normal that each generation would morph and change things a bit. But I find it interesting that my peers reshaped adolescence, extending it through our 20s and into our 30s to the point that we now call it emerging adulthood and these same people are now denying the existence of middle age, as if this stage of life were not the middle of our lives. Those ahead of us, our Baby Boomer parents, have lead the way. With their tummy tucks, cougars, and second careers, they could be named Generation Denial.

Here’s what I know. If my generational peers don’t step up to the plate and embrace who they are… our kids will rename us into what we really are, Generation Regret. 

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

10 comments

  1. Just a note, but not getting married in early 20s doesn’t automatically mean that something went wrong or that people aren’t taking on adult responsibilities- it CAN mean that, but doesn’t have to. It might mean getting educated and working in Ministry.  It might mean any number of things.  The either/or implied in this is a logical fallacy.

    Also, getting married, young or otherwise, doesn’t automatically mean taking on adult responsibilities- I have piles of divorced peers that can attest to that.

     I think there are great benefits to getting married young, just as there are great benefits to getting married older, or not getting married at all.  I think the conversation is less about when one married or took on adult responsibility, and more that the church, for a very long time, seems to be offering an easy christianity, that requires nothing of us, and allows us to sit in our self centeredness- Christ should be what matures us- following Him necessarily involves putting aside our own interests and putting away childish things.  This is where the problem lays in our generation as I see it.  and you can be any age, any marital status, and have any amount of kids to get this one wrong.

  2. Adam I am in complete agreement with you! I am 30 now and have been married ten years and as I look back at some of my friends who are already in their 30’s I wonder some of the same things. It isn’t just getting married but if a 30 something is still waiting tables and living at home with mom and dad and spending your weekends boozing until you can no longer stand there is something wrong. It is one thing to have problems being committed to a relationship but quite another to lack the ambition to be independent  ad responsible apart from you parents. I find myself guilty of looking down on them. I know I shouldn’t but I want to scream “DO SOMETHING” at them. 

  3. I was ready to get married at 20, so I did. Not long after I had a kid, then a couple of more. I agree, getting married young does not equal mature, neither does having kids. It’s all about responsibility. A culture that celebrates lack of responsibility, so much so that we idolize those who have none, does not foster maturity. We fight a generation of people who want all of the benefit without any of the responsibility… But that is sin. It didn’t start with us (Gen 3) and we won’t be the last generation to promote it.

  4. It seems unfair to say that just because someone is single and childless that they haven’t taken responsibility for their life.  There are many, many reasons for for people remaining single, as Jen M. stated.  I can agree that we all need to step up and take responsibility for our lives, but please don’t look at single people and think they aren’t being responsible and growing up.  Yes, some people have chosen to wait for marriage and kids and that may lead them to not grow up, but some of us have been looking, waiting and spending a lot of time in conversation with God about singleness all the while living the life that God has laid out before us and getting gray. 

    I am stepping up to the plate…and I’m very single and childless and that’s been a struggle all in itself.

  5. I’m a bit mystified by the comments. And as the communicator I guess that means I jacked this up! 

    My point wasn’t supposed to be that it’s not OK to be single at 35 or that somehow being unmarried makes one immature. 

    My point was supposed to be that maybe our generation is just horrible about growing up and taking ownership for the stage of life we are in? If we’re in our late 30s or 40s we are very much in a stage that should be called middle age. The article I lead off with was supposed to show the silliness that our generation extended adolescence to its last dying breath… and not we will do anything to be perceived as middle aged. 

    Sorry if I offended anyone. That wasn’t my intent. (On this post!) My point was that maybe it’s not the labels fault? Maybe it’s the people who are refusing to be labeled fault? 🙂 

  6. If your generation waits until 40 to get married and have kids (aside… this is also portrayed in many movies these days), then you won’t have kids to name your generation.

    1. Indeed. No one wants to mention it, but it is a fact that babies born to older mothers have a higher likelihood of birth defect and other issues. Mix that with rampant obesity and we’ve got some big problems. 

  7. This is strictly speaking of the mid 20’s-early 30’s in the middle class but over the past 2 decades, a college education has become accessible to most people whether through loans or personal funds. With more education, the less inclined someone is to give up their personal freedoms because now they feel like there’s so much more to life. Higher education to most people now equates to being able to find a high paying job. Couple that with the hyper-consumer culture that makes sure we are bombarded with ads to buy clothes/cars/booze/vacations every minute of the day, it’s hard to make these demographic go back to the past where people with decent paying jobs instead chose to share those resources with another person by getting married and having children. It’s not saying that there are people in the 20-30 age group that are not financially and socially responsible, but the majority of them would rather not be bothered by doing grown up things that are not marketed by those ads. There’s a shift in consumer values, which translates to a shift in societal values which can’t be a good thing because if everyone stopped creating a family structure as an integral building block of society, in the future, all we will have are a bunch of self-centered self-indulgent narcissists.

  8. An interesting point of view I will concede the writer makes. I’m in my early fifties, and was married at thirty. I went to college, then law school. By the time I had enough money to marry, I was thirty. I worked a full time job and went to law school at night. I worked a few years after graduation to pay off my loans and save some money. I don’t feel like my adolescence was prolonged. I took as much time as I needed to obtain the training I required for my profession without going in to excessive debt. Although I have regrets, everyone has some I think, I wouldn’t say I’m regretful about marrying and having children later in life. I have a career in which I can work well past sixty-five if health allows, and I have no debt. And my children’s educations are provided for financially. I read some of the responses above and find the discussion interesting. Just thought I’d contribute my own personal experience to the discussion. I would also say that most of the late twenty to late thirty somethings that I know are delightful people. I would say they focus on some things I was less concerned with at their age, but I don’t find them narcissistic, nor any more self-centered than any other generational grouping.

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