Marooned in Perpetual Adolescence
I turned 27 a couple of weeks ago, my early late 20s. I have an office job, I live with my domestic partner. I am, by any estimation, an adult. But I’m no “grownup”.
No one goes through their 20s without changing. If they do, I’d consider that a pretty significant problem. That much is fairly obvious; I mean, if nothing else, I’m much more heavily tattooed than I was at 20. Nevertheless, I still consume much the same media, have the same relative sense of responsibility, and many (if not all) of the same interests I did back then, when I would have laughed right in your face if you’d dared suggest that I was even “adult-esque”.
I still constantly talk about what I’m going to do when I grow up. I harbor the same basic ambitions about my creative endeavors. I still have the same lack of understanding as to what exactly my place in all this is. And I don’t think I’ll ever know.
By contrast, my parents and all the parents before them had some sort of role that they were molded into. They became “Grownups” and “Parents” and “Workers” and “Role Models” and all that. Of course, they were often flawed in the extreme; that they didn’t live up to the ideals of those roles can hardly be held against them. They are still people, after all. Nevertheless, they were trying to fit into the compartment that thousands of years of human social evolution told them they should fit.
I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to fit anywhere. And for the first time ever, that’s okay. Hell, it might even be expected. Of course, some of my generation will elect to fill the standardized roles. Some people are simply best suited to be one or more of those quotation-marked categories. But… it’s okay not to be.
Which leads me to this: I think that I am a part of the first generation that never has to grow up. Those among us who have taken more “grown up” steps don’t act any differently than they did before. Initially, I thought this was a matter of society accepting perpetual adolescence from us. However, I mentioned this theory to a friend and was rebutted. Paraphrasing:
We’re not adolescents. This is pure fact. The things we enjoy don’t determine our maturity level; we’re smart and independent and make our own decisions.
I had to concede this point. Our society isn’t so innocent as to accept perpetual adolescence. We still have certain responsibilities to meet. Within the limits of my responsibility, I do what I want. I’m not forced by social mores or circumstance to deny myself. None of us are. And that is what’s never really happened before. In fact, the answer feels a lot more sinister: our society is more accepting of our selfishness than any generation before. We’re allowed to live for us.
That’s a terrifying thought. We’re allowed to live only for ourselves if we so choose. We never have to grow up… and we don’t know what that means.