Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Arrested development: cool tv show, lame lifestyle

As someone who refuses to be labeled an older mother, you might think I’d cheer the recent news from Statistics Canada that kids are taking longer and longer to move into adulthood.

You’d be wrong. In fact, it leaves me achingly sad.

This news brings into relief the reality most of us have observed over the last several years: people living in their parents home well into their 20s and 30s, students getting degree after degree only to be dissatisfied with any job that doesn’t meet their expectations, men and women entering their mid to late 30s still convinced that the perfect partner is just beyond the next horizon.

To mix my metaphors, I think that kind of protracted adolescence is a road to hell that’s paved with gold.

My husband and I were both somewhat late starters. We met at 30 and 28 years of age respectively and were married 4 years later. Graham came along about 3 years after that. I can’t regret anything that has brought me to where I am in life right now, but I do feel like we dodged a bullet by settling down when we did.

Feminists may eviscerate me for this, but I can’t deny that the first few months of my marriage were marked by relief at having avoided the full expression of the nagging loneliness and lack of fulfillment that was starting to creep into my psyche.

There are obviously people out there who don’t aspire to a spouse or children or a particularly settled life – these are not the people of which I speak. I am talking about people who clearly envision their future selves as happily married parents settled into their careers, but are so paralyzed by the sheer number of opportunities they have, they are unable to accept any one and run with it. These people have felt the pull of limitless choice for so many years, that a commitment to any one thing feels like, at best like a capitulation, and at worst, a trap.

The real trap is the comfy cocoon of freedom without responsibility.

I feel some sympathy for these pseudo-teenagers, but I reserve real sadness for their contemporaries who want to get started on their lives, but can’t find a partner because so many eligible adults in their 20s and 30s are busy smoking pot in their parents’ basement, watching cartoons, eating cereal for dinner at midnight, going to all-night parties and showing off their comic book collections.

At 18 that kind of lifestyle is kind of rebellious and groovy and retro and ironic. At 28, it’s just lame.

I’m not sure if it’s completely accurate, but I find interesting the theory that adolescence wasn’t really considered a stage of life until the early 1950s when society had an interest in keeping very young men (and to a lesser extent women) out of the workforce in order to preserve jobs for the veterans who had recently returned from overseas.

Almost overnight, driving, dating and collegiate life were glorified in popular culture and music. Young people in their late teens and early 20s were encouraged to enjoy the freedoms of adulthood for several years before settling down.

For the most part I think it is a good idea to be an adult for a while, a long while even, before you make decisions involving career, marriage and children that will affect you for the rest of your life. But I also think if the glorification of teenage years was manipulated by some covert government cabal in the 1950s, then that cabal created a monster.

Some wives worry about their husbands spending time with their single friends – I welcome it. Most of the time my husband spends those nights listening to laments from his single 40-ish friends about the latest girlfriend that didn’t work out, the latest big idea that didn’t fly. These people, who years ago teased him about strapping on a ball and chain and busting his butt at work, usually end up telling him how lucky he is to have ended up with a house and a loving wife and child.

And when he comes home, we are both grateful.

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1 comment:

suburbancorrespondent said...

Oh, so true! I keep telling my kids, "You can have fun in your 50's with the love of your life when the kids are grown. But you can't have babies then." We so emphasize having "fun" in our 20's, as if only young people can have a good time. But it makes more sense to have your babies then, so you can have fun when you are more mature and have more money, too! Plus, having babies makes you grow up. The conventional wisdom is that you should wait until you are mature enough to have kids, but that is putting the cart before the horse.

Pet topic of mine....