Monday, August 23, 2010

Speaking of adulthood...

About 6 seconds after I published the last post, I remembered an article I read last night called "What Is It About 20-Somethings?" And of course I laughed, because it turns out that apparently I fit into that 20-something "I'm-terrified-of-growing-up" category. There have been a number of articles, even books, written on the topic in recent months and years and everyone (Psychologists, sociologists, politicians, church leaders and especially our parents) asks the same questions: What's going on with the 20-somethings? Why are my friends and I leaving our budding careers to go "back to school" or to travel the world for a few months? Why are we still single? Are we just spoiled, self-indulgent adults who are shying away from real responsibility? Why do we need so much time to "find ourselves"?

From the above-mentioned article: "The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered 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. "

I really wish I knew the answers to all those questions. Mostly because I'd probably win some sort of Nobel Prize if I could sort out all our issues (and I hear that comes with quite a chunk of change), but also because maybe then I'd have more insight into myself. This is a rather expansive topic and I don't want to write a book on the subject (why do you think I picked a Masters program that doesn't require a thesis?), but I want to look at the 5 milestones our author isolated that represent our transition into adulthood.

1. Finishing school. High School. Check. Bachelors? Check. Masters? Give me a couple years. The reasoning behind this one makes sense. We've been in school since we were 4 or 5, so it's logical that once we're done, we've reached adulthood. But what about those of us who finished school, worked for a few years and then went back to school? Is that a sign that we couldn't handle the responsibilities of being an adult? Maybe. A lot of our parents have stuck with their first post-college jobs for 20, even 30 years. So why can't my generation stick with it? Why the rush to "go back to school"?

For me, I decided that when I woke up every morning dreading going into work and secretly wishing for mono just so I could stay home sick for a month, it was time to do something else. I don't think that our parents just magically all loved their jobs. But we've convinced ourselves that our jobs should be entertaining, lucrative and emotionally rewarding and since a lot of us aren't married (see #4), we have the luxury of going back to school or switching careers in search of something that's a better fit. By the time my dad was 25, he had 1.5 children and quitting a job to go back to school would have been a much bigger hardship than it is for me.

And, lest you think I'm trying to rationalize all our behavior, partly I think we go back to school because we're simply indecisive. There are so many opportunities out there that we don't want to commit to just one. Sure, I like my current job, but what if there's something better? What if being a teacher is more rewarding than engineering? Shouldn't I give it a shot?

2. Moving out. Done. Except for a summer after my freshmen year of college and 6 weeks after I graduated, I pretty much moved out of my parents house the August after high school. I don't ever plan on moving back, although I am grateful that the option is still there if I ever needed it (I'm assuming at least. Mom? Correct me if I'm wrong?). I'm not sure if having the "i could always move back home" back-up plan disqualifies me from adulthood.

3. Financial independence. Again, a pretty obvious indicator of adulthood. I have friends that hit this one as soon as they graduated from high school and a few more friends who I suspect will never make it there. If you read my last post (yes, I'm spending far too much of my last day of freedom blogging), you noticed that a lot of the surprising/depressing realizations about adulthood were financial.

4. Marriage. I wish I knew. Like most of the intelligent, beautiful women that I associate with, I do want to be married someday. To be honest, it strikes me as quite remarkable that compatible people ever find each other at the right time, etc. etc., but I have faith and hope that things will work out, that the Lord knows me better than I know myself and that he will guide this one.

I do want to answer probably the most frustrating question I've gotten: "So, are all the women in DC like you, moved out east to pursue a career instead of getting married and settling down?"

The cynic in me replies, "Yep, that's it. And we especially like it when people accuse us of wanting to be eternally single." But I realize that's probably not the best answer. We 20-something women out here did NOT come here to avoid marriage. Believe me, there are thousands of cities all over this country with negligible social scenes if that was our goal. Most of us came here because we are single and because we saw that single-ness as an opportunity to improve ourselves and make a difference in the world. It's not that we're choosing careers over marriage and families. But I think we would all agree that a happy, productive individual is much more pleasant that someone who whines about being single all the time.

I will agree, however, that marital status is an enormous dividing line, especially in the church. We are designated as "young single adults" and then "single adults". More thoughts on that later. But yes, despite careers and education levels, etc., it seems that my friends who are married have been accepted into the church's "adult" club much more readily than we singles have.

5. Children.
No way. Not happening until after #4.

I reiterate: I have no real solid answers. I do recognize how easy it is to get self-absorbed in this current situation and I know in my own experience that I'm considerably happier when I'm actively and "anxiously engaged in a good cause" than when I'm trying to figure out my life. I also, however, entirely agree with the author that we all feel the "30 Deadline" creeping up on us faster than we'd like. I'm searching for a way to feel content with my current situation in life but to continue progressing and reaching my goals. And although it still scares me a little, adulthood has its perks, right? I'd love your thoughts.


BJS said...

Melanie, I love this! It was a great way to put how so many of us feel, especially about being single and female and not waiting around Utah to get married. Huzzah!

Ashley C said...

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I also read that article a few days ago and thought it was pretty interesting.

The one thing I did want to add was on the education portion. While for quite a few 20-somethings, going back to school is for lack of better options or because they decided they weren't ready for the adult world, but for me it was all part of the plan.

Heck, in many ways I preferred living in the adult world (disposable income, no homework, paying down debt instead of racking it up). But I also knew that getting a Master's was an investment I needed to make (like you, preferably without writing a thesis) and that I would be better served by having had some work experience. As a result, my current educational experiences are far richer for having had professional experience.

Paladin said...

Very well thought out, Melanie!

I will admit, your perspective on DC hadn't quite occurred to me. I guess I take it for granted that there are _hundreds_ of LDS singles in this area, so of course people are going to come here _to_ get married, not to escape it! But then, I guess I'm not coming from one of the 'core' LDS states :). No one is saying my chances of marriage will be better in Seattle...

One other thing about the titles YSA and SA. I think the church has to have some way of labeling for admin purposes, and usually it is "so-and-so" is part of the ____ family. Then they can put together home teaching, ward directories, tithing, etc. And though, technically, I am still part of the Snow family, that's not going to be very helpful for my ward's purposes, now is it!

Is there an alternate title besides YSA or SA? Yeah, but it'd probably be a euphemism that came to the same thing...

Amy Berkowitz said...

hi melanie,

i enjoyed this post. i appreciated reading your thoughts on the ideas brought up by the nytimes article. it is always interesting to see individuals' replies to the complicated issues the article talks about.

i found your blog by searching for "the 30 deadline."

i thought about the article for a long time, and finally came up with a theory: there is no "30 deadline" in our culture nowadays.

if you are interested, i wrote about this at my own blog, here:

i always assumed i'd be married by 28 (i'm 26). but i dunno, now that i know what it feels like to be 26 (i mean my own personal version of 26), i feel ok about waiting a while longer.

nice trading thoughts with you :)

devraj said...

lovely article and something i could totally identify with. i turned 20 a few months back, and your article defines exactly the way i am feeling about my life right now( in the male-context). it was also remarkable how similar it is with "young adults" of your country and those of mine, although we live on opposite sides of the planet.

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