Do you want to get married? What about one of those wacky fondant-covered cakes with intricate designs on them — do you want one at your wedding? Are you interested in having kids? Would you like a house in an up-and-coming suburban neighborhood with easy access to the city center but enough space to have a yard for everyone to photogenically play around with your Golden Retriever? Do you dream of a life of blissful monogamy, complete with the professional and social success that always seems to be an unspoken background of all the couples we tend to emulate?
If your answer to any (or, God forbid, all) these things is an enthusiastic “yes,” I feel compelled to inform you that navigating the dating scene is going to be a bit of a challenge. I’m not saying that there isn’t a Prince (or Princess) Charming out there with good credit and a nearly identical five-year plan to yours. I’m just saying that you’re in for kissing a lot of frogs in the meantime.
What’s worse, many of these frogs are — aside from not interested in constructing anything resembling a future with their long-term partners — praised and rewarded by society for stringing others along. Things that were once considered requirements in one’s mid-to-late twenties (a good career, some property, a nice relationship with a view of the future, interests that are only marginally dependent on drinking) are now the stuff of anachronistic losers. You meet a 25-year-old today who has a fiancée, a three-bedroom apartment, a fulfilling job, and a good deal on a new car, the first question is “What is wrong with him?” There has to be some trapdoor, underneath which there lies a dizzying history of mental illness or chopped-up torsos. None of us just “work everything out” in our twenties now, and the expectations that used to keep all of us in a single-file toward the local chapel to tie things up neatly have evaporated into thin air.
It’s only fair, considering that so many bright-eyed/bushy-tailed young adults who spent their entire childhood being convinced that a college degree is the infallible key to a life of financial security and social prestige now find themselves holding diplomas that are worth less than the fancy-ass paper on which they’re printed. To continue to expect that everyone would want (or be able to logistically support) the 2.5 kids and a dog playing in the well-mortgaged garden would be ridiculous, and leave everyone feeling like even more of a disappointment to their parents than they already do.
Speaking as a woman, I can certainly say that being able to explore my young adult life without the constant, grating questions of “When are you going to fulfill your purpose and start popping out kids to pay for?” is pleasant (though I am under no illusions that my reprieve from baby-making pressure will last forever). And yes, having to grow up with the expectation that I would be fending for myself and not relying on a man to subsidize my life, while initially difficult, undoubtedly results in a life that is far more fulfilling and full of choice.
There are definitely upsides to no longer having to fit into a razor-thin spectrum of what is considered “appropriate social development” in our twenties, but the willy-nilly “No one can get a job, so everyone just do whatever the fuck you want” has its pitfalls. The premium that was once put on a certain amount of maturity and responsibility as we eased into adulthood has been replaced, in many circles, by a strange idolization of whoever appears to give the least amount of fucks.
If you’re dating a man and he, at the ripe old age of 26, has yet to secure gainful employment, an apartment not furnished by things he found next to a Dumpster, or the ability to return a call within a twenty-four-hour window — that’s okay! In fact, if he is hot in that mysterious, greasy-haired way, you’ve got the pick of the litter! The key, it seems, is to remain as emotionally detached and disengaged from the future as humanly possible, existing in some kind of limbo in which you are old enough to rent a car, yet still eat dry Lucky Charms from the box because you cannot be bothered to buy milk. These traits, once regarded as the stunted adolescence that we were heavily discouraged from falling into ourselves, have now become the markers of someone cool enough to chase after fruitlessly for the bulk of our twenties.
But where everything becomes really complex is not so much in identifying the Forever Teenagers™ as it is in separating them from the people who are working hard but simply have not yet carved an adult path for themselves in this society. While some people are looking to float around aimlessly, break hearts, and linger on someone else’s joint every now and again, other people are achieving the same lackluster results in the face of actual effort.
Distinguishing them, it appears, has become our most key endeavor.