On Being Able to Buy Beer But Not Figure Out One’s Life

I am pretty sure I am in a quarterlife crisis. And I am even surer that the term even sounds ridiculous. A quarter life crisis? Seriously? What could one possibly be in a crisis about? Ugh, my internship ran out and my job is only entry level.

And how does one get out of a quarterlife crisis? Dating women half your age? I’m 26. That’s gonna make for, at the very least, an awkward conversation behind my back.

Is Joe a pedophile?

No, he just finished graduate school and his student loans are due.

Admittedly, when not crying myself to sleep with my life choice I have been seeking out every available piece of print on this quarterlife crisis. The blogosphere is all up in the quarterlife’s business but I’ll let you search that on your own. Except for this one which gives a pretty good run down of the general symptoms many in this situation feel (cut to the list and read the rest only if you’ve got boatloads of time). Here is another good one.

This New York Times piece sums it up pretty well. People are taking longer to get going on “real life”. Some of the biggest points made

People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their educations, establish themselves in careers, marry, have children and become financially independent, said Frank F. Furstenberg, who leads the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a team of scholars who have been studying this transformation.

Admittedly there are a few issues with some of these milestones. A close friend of mine in the American Studies department here at the University of Texas took issue with equating adulthood with decisions of marriage and childbearing. That’s fair. The article does spend considerable time focusing on the delayed choices made by women to marry and have children, with nary a mention of men who do the same. That is definitely a problem. And with that I still think the point is well taken that while we are given more educational and career opportunities than ever before those choices have consequences that our generation is struggling to deal with:

The stretched-out walk to independence is rooted in social and economic shifts that started in the 1970s, including a change from a manufacturing to a service-based economy that sent many more people to college, and the women’s movement, which opened up educational and professional opportunities.

Economic freedom doesn’t necessarily mean independence. I know that’s right. I’ve got two college degrees. That is two more than my parents, combined. As I work on my third I realize I may be receiving more support from my parents than ever. And while I am extremely fortunate to have that (let’s be real this is entire post is borderline elitist. Ok extremely elitist) it doesn’t make the the psychological implications any less real. Not everyone takes this route in our age group, which can make for some interesting comparisons. My brother, who is 3 years younger than me at 23, has been working in real estate since he was 19 and is far more financially established than I am. Not bad for someone who didn’t really do the college thing but it seems as if that is becoming the exception rather than the norm, at least among most people I know. Plus now we have another competition to fight over at Thanksgiving.

“I have a house!”

“Well I’m gonna be a Dr… of Philosophy”

He wins.

Where neither of us is winning right now is in the relationship department, perhaps one of the most significant features of this new adulthood. Frustrations of my friend aside the “M” word seems to create one of the largest anxieties. Generally by the time one hits their mid to late twenties they will probably have had at least one significant long term relationship under their belt. Among my friends, almost every person who is currently single was linked to a significant other who is now “the first person they were going to marry.” The Times article alludes to this as well,

Laura Tisdel, 28, who grew up in Detroit, said, “I figured I’d either get married in college or right after and basically be a smart mother.”

Instead Ms. Tisdel ended up getting a job offer in publishing in New York City. She said she came close to marrying when she was 23, but then realized, “I wasn’t only not ready to get married to this guy, but I wasn’t ready to get married at all.”

As someone who has gone through the former and not quite yet the latter I think these experiences are major parts of the “new adulthood,” even if they are painful. The average age of people getting married has gone up significantly, an obvious function of this newfound freedom. It’s now something like 27 for dudes and 26 for ladies on average. While that is still pretty young it also redefines these relationships from the very start.  This isn’t a bad thing really, but it is something that brings with it significant ambiguity and uncertainty. In the struggle to gain more freedom from traditional norms we are now working through to figure out exactly what those freedoms entail and at what cost.

I guess what I am trying to say is: Ladies I’m single, still in college, and on my parents’ health insurance. Just like everyone else my age.


About Joe Faina

Rhetoric & Media Professor, Writer, Humorist

Posted on 06/23/2010, in Academia, Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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