Recently I've read several articles on my generation and our refusal to grow up. We're living with our parents, or relocating every year. We're working dead-end jobs, struggling under mountains of student debt, and working on our blogs. We're riding our bikes and living with our boyfriends with no intentions to get married or have babies. We travel, we volunteer, we hobby and create and use irony as an excuse to never be accused of taking anything, especially ourselves too seriously. While I'm glad that these (much older) journalists have no problem generalizing about 20-somethings like we're all the same, I am only confident enough to speak for myself. I can't answer these charges for a whole generation, but I think I at least ought to explain my own failure to achieve the socially accepted milestones for adulthood.
Some weeks, when money is really tight, my mother still pays for my groceries. I live in a 2-bedroom apartment with 3 roommates. I work part-time, with no benefits, for about $10/hr. Student loan payments run me $250 a month, and I haven't graduated yet. It isn't that I don't want to grow up. I want my degree, I want health insurance and I want to make enough money to help out my family, instead of depending upon them. I want a house with a garden and I want a stable relationship. But I also want to travel, to keep learning, to help others, to find a way to live without adding to the destruction of the planet and the exploitation of the poor. The kind of experiences I still look for aren't always comfortable or safe or conducive to settling down and having children. But delaying the trappings of traditional adulthood for the sake of a better world (or at least a better understanding of it) isn't exactly cause for the kind of hysteria I see in these articles.
The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.
The New York Times might sneer at this as whimsical and immature, but I'm not convinced that the traditional model works particularly well. What kind of country have you left us? The environment is being destroyed and destroying us (and Pakistan) as a result. The rest of the world hates us for our consumption, our pollution, or the way we've manipulated the histories of their own nations to suit our fear-mongering of the moment. Our economy is collapsing, college costs are skyrocketing and divorce rates in our parents' generation left more than a few of us disillusioned about running down the aisle with the first person we want to sleep with.
Sorry, I seem to be falling into that dangerous trap of generalization. Again, I can't speak for any one but me. I may not do much more than write this silly blog and send you these naive letters but, to be frank, I don't know that you've left me a lot of better options. Maybe we are languishing in entry-level jobs, DIY-ing, blogging, painting and otherwise skipping through life like we're still kids at summer camp. Personally, I'm just trying to live the best way I know how. The world our parents left us is not sustainable. We know it, they know it, and you know it. I appreciate that your administration hasn't jumped on the bandwagon of lamenting my generation's everlasting adolescence, (perhaps because so many of us are fetching coffee for no wages while we teach your staff how to use twitter.) If you do come across these laundry lists of complaints your generation seems to have about mine, take it from this 20-something and don't try to help us live lives that look more like our parents. In spite of all your well-intentioned plans for us, we've got our own ideas about growing up and all you need to know is that we're a lot more likely to figure it out if we're not so wrapped up in looking and buying and earning like adults we lose sight of that hallmark of true maturity- concern for the condition of the world we're leaving to the next generation.