Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Reaction to the "Emerging Adulthood" Debate

Perhaps it's a misnomer even to say there's a debate.  It seems that the new phase of "Emerging Adulthood" has been pretty well accepted since the NY Times came out with their article dubbing the 20's as a new phase (remember, adolescence had to be accepted onto the world stage, too--imagine, a world without Wet Seal).

I guess the debate lies more in how we feel about it.  Are 20-somethings just more self-involved and immature, or are they boldly exploring their individuality and daring to take risks--wisely, before bringing external commitments onto the scene?

20-something writer Jessie Rosen wrote a great reaction to the Times article, defending her position.

Ultimately, since nobody was a 20-something then and is also a 20-something now, we're just looking at one another's generations and trying to piece together a case for our preconceived notions.  Having one good self-absorbed 20-something in your life could tip the scales pretty neatly towards the Times debate. published an article defending my generation with a barrel of additional statistics--look how few are divorced, look how many have higher education.  We aren't sitting around waiting for life to come and get us, we just don't have as clear a path to saunter down as perhaps we would have had a generation ago.  Global economy, new employment structures, choices choices choices...  We're busy doing research.

Ok, so this brings me to my obviously less-traditional perspective on the whole thing.  Here I (and hubby) are, married, expecting, with an apartment, a car, weekly errands and even a financial advisor helping us figure out how to save for a down payment!  All before we hit the 25 year-old mark!  Where did we go wrong?  Did we not watch enough commercials growing up?

And are we really just a throwback to an earlier generation?

For full disclosure, I have to say that my comparison is generally with my own parents and they weren't particularly traditional themselves. While they married at about the same age, they were artsy bohemian types more than anything who tried out a few different gigs and living situations (did they prefer the houseboat or the deserted mansion?) and I'd argue that only one of my parents really did settle down in the end--at least, the way the NY Times would want them to.

But I guess my theory on all this is that despite the obvious life decisions that have set hubby and I apart from our peers (who barely recovered from the grown-upness of our marriage only to find me boasting a baby bump) there's a lot that keeps us similar.  And not like the generation before us.  I think there is something to our generation that we don't take many things as a given.  Where to live, for instance.  We've spent two years researching and examining communities in a few different countries, trying to make a careful decision about where we let the roots settle, while I think a generation before we wouldn't have even gotten this far away from our parents in the first place--or we'd be much more likely to be hurrying back to familiar territory.  Career-wise, I may have landed in a good gig now that I'm teaching, but who knows once we become a  family of three.  And hubby is still finding himself professionally.

And while we were pretty clear about wanting to be married and start a family right away (and not primarily for religious reasons--we both wanted to be married young and start a family young long before Shabbat meant no TV), I'd argue that in both of our cases that was just as counter-culture a decision (based on where we were coming from and our peer groups) as someone deciding to go live in the Outback for a year and develop her photography hobby.  I guess the main difference is that while our peers are being careful to "finish" finding themselves before making any major commitments, we're happy to be going on this search together.

The NY Times and Lemondrop are both using statistics and popular life markers to try and understand the mentality of a generation.  From someone who's hitting each milestone in stride (or even earlier), I just don't think that it's as clear-cut as that.  I don't think it's so obvious that because our generation is hitting milestones at different times, we're so essentially different--nor that those of us who are hitting the milestones at "traditional" ages are doing it with the same feelings and for the same reasons as the generation before ours.

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