When Did We All Get So Old?

I was at a party recently where I spoke to a guy about his job. Having recently graduated college and settled into a rather prestigious career field, he mentioned that, though the money was good, the actual job itself was kind of draining. He wasn’t sure if it was for him, and had long since stopped enjoying it, but doubted he could do much better. It’s the kind of field where you work extremely long hours, especially when you’re new, and don’t get a whole lot in the way of recognition. As the party was beginning to heat up and we all decided to take some shots, he declined and said that he needed to go home — on a weekend, at just before midnight. When we teased him, he reminded us with a bit of a sigh, that “his crazy party days were behind him.” This is a guy who was once preceded by the reputation of being the life of every party, who now eschewed going out for the most part because he’s “too old for it.”

He’s 24.

And this is far from being a unique case. Even a brief trip around Facebook to take a look at people you rarely talk to anymore can confirm that, in their early-to-mid twenties, people are already settling into careers they rather dislike, staying with the same person they’ve been with for years even though they’ve occasionally voiced their desire to see elsewhere, giving up on dreams of travel or adventure, and deciding that they are now “too old” to enjoy the occasional real party. There are even those who have transformed from party girl to sanctimonious mommy whose life is now “so meaningful,” all at the ripe old age of 24. Beyond giving up on the crucial time for experimentation, there are those who openly look down upon the people whose careers have yet to really be selected, who are traveling the world, who are remaining steadfastly single — essentially, anyone who is taking their twenties to make the mistakes they may not be able to make in the future.

Of course, we all know people who have been rather “serious” their entire lives, who have always gone home early from parties, turned down offers of travel and experimentation, and have chosen the straight-and-narrow. But what’s crucially different about them is that that is just who they are. They enjoy the safe, the familiar, the reliable — and frankly, we need people like that. There’s nothing wrong with those who have always been, in some way or another, an “old soul.” But the people to whom I am referring here are those who feel, whether through societal pressure or their own sense of competition, the need to grow up far too quickly. They have put some kind of social premium on keeping jobs they hate simply to say they are on a good career path, on cutting adventure nearly completely out of their lives, on settling down into a relationship that may not be right for them simply to avoid being alone at too “sad” an age.

As you begin to enter the world of social media and peer interaction where a huge amount of everything people your age have to say has to do with how much they love their significant other, how stressful their job is, how drinking is now too much for them, or the various dimensions of their children’s excrement, it can feel incredibly stifling. You have this sudden urge to yell at the top of your lungs, “Is this all we have left to talk about?!” And it is certain that behind these people who’ve chosen such “stable” life paths in their early-to-mid twenties, there are often parents and competitive peers who nod in approval and muse on how much more “adult” they are, but at what price? Do we not owe it to ourselves to make the decisions — and mistakes — that we want to, while we have the youth and the means with which to do it? Should we force ourselves into a job we dislike or a relationship that doesn’t fit us to fill out some model of adulthood we’re not even sure we want?

I have been to brunches and happy hours amongst acquaintances who, at the tender ages of 23-25, will spend the entire time talking about their problems at work and their desire find a bigger apartment. It’s almost like watching a bunch of children put on their parents’ clothes and shoes and shuffle around the house like grown-ups, a kind of caricature of boring adulthood. It’s hard not to see your life flashing before your eyes at moments like this, a chilling feeling that if, in the dawn of your adult life, you’ve already limited your conversation topics to the rigors of responsibility and commitment, things can’t get too much better from here. Not when the people who choose an alternative lifestyle or follow their dreams, even while clearly young enough to do so, are spurned and mocked by these peers as being “irresponsible,” or “immature.” Not when conversations of sex, politics, art, culture, or even the weather have been replaced by a comparing of notes about the varying degrees of adulthood one has attained.

We live in a world now where we can see our generation’s successes and failures in real time. We know what every friend and acquaintance is doing, we know where they live, we know how things are working out for them. And though we no longer have the intense societal pressure to marry and spawn, as well as have a good job and own a house all by your late twenties, we have an enormous amount of pressure we put on ourselves. In many ways, this constant comparison to those around us has replaced the traditional rules of becoming an adult, and now these restraints and objectives are ones we largely put on ourselves. “If my friends are all getting boring 9-5 jobs and settling down right now,” we think, “I’d better be doing it, too.” But few things are more disheartening than watching someone so young actively put aside the things they long to see and do in this world for a perfect, adult kind of happiness that they’re not even sure exists. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to live life, and above all, be young, on our own terms? Who is telling us what to do anymore, and more importantly, why are we listening? TC mark

image – Yury Prokopenko

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


More From Thought Catalog

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VP3CHR42CVTVD56OFZ6XZXZWUM Jill


  • JK

    I guess I can see where you’re coming from, but after four years of college and three of grad school, at the age of 25 I really am ready to actually work, become more responsible, and NOT go out partying all the time.  I’ve already been there and done that.   At this point saving up and buying a new couch is more exciting to me than going out to a bar and chugging bud lights (most of the time).  I’m excited to actually get to a point in my life where I am NOT completely poor and can actually afford to own things and have some stability.

    • Anonymous

      Buying a new couch probably sounds more exciting because you were drinking Bud Light.

      • JK

        It was just an example based on a few of my friends who are living the lifestyle this writer describes, not me personally.  Although I must say I enjoyed a bud light during my college days and so what!

  • http://twitter.com/robin_schmobin Robin West

    Y’all will get your second wind…wait until your 30’s. 

  • Ccatalanjournal

    Hello, Im 26. When did you read my mind? What you say here is so absolutely what I think. I can stand my friends posting that “not-funny-anymore” pictures of “damm, is monday” or “finally is friday! Wiiii!” on their walls.  I fell a pressure seing everyone getting married, working at boring jobs or having children. I also think If I should be doing the same nd my parents also put a pressure on me everyday. And I simply don’t want my life to be just a sequel of rutinary years. I have about 60 or 70 years in this world (if I survive until that age) and I dont want to be bored and unhappy when Im 30 o4 40.

  • http://twitter.com/shoshkabob Shosh

    Honestly, I thought the problem was that we’re not growing up fast enough.

  • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

    I think the downfall starts when you can no longer drink car oil and eat cardboard without your metabolism asking for mercy the next day. I miss freshman year only for that fact.

  • Tomas

    I don’t think “living a real live” and “having a job and caring about your livelihood and stability” are mutually exclusive. As someone who has always had to completely support myself, I take offense to that notion. 

    • chelsea

       I completely agree. Having to support myself entirely through college and now in my early 20s forced me to understand the value of a 9-5 job with benefits and a stable lifestyle where you can only party with as much money as you have budgeted for “alcohol” in a month (and its usually not very much).

      This article totally ignores the fact that a lot of people in their 20s are growing up “too early” and being responsible simply because they have to.

  • guest

    I think the real problem is that kids START partying younger and younger now days. By the time they are freshman/sophomores in high school, they have had at least one drink, and their senior year is just a drunk fest. Follow it up by four more years of college partying and they are burned out on the party scene and hangovers. That’s what happened to me. I started young and by the time I was old enough to legally drink, some of the fun had gone. I’m 22, and I live in a big city hours away from my old hometown, have an established career in a job I love and can stay at until retirement. Not everyone believes all of your 20’s should be spent working shit jobs, getting drunk, and hooking up. It’s not some terrible thing when a person doesn’t want to chug a beer bong because he’s so worn out from work.

    • http://twoseconds.tumblr.com/ Jesse Vaughan

      I don’t believe anyone thinks “your 20’s should be spent working shit jobs, getting drunk, and hooking up.” However, I do believe that your 20’s are really for figuring yourself out, discovering what you want to do, and just overall experiencing new things. If that means bouncing around a few shit jobs or staying out till 2AM on a Tuesday hooking up with someone you just met (or an old friend), then more power to you. If you’re 22 and have figured out your career and are completely happy with where you are, then even more power to you. But with everything moving so fast nowadays, it’s extremely easy to forget that we have so much time ahead of us and so much we have yet to experience. And a lot of us who are a little more lost, but are still having a shit-load of fun, tend to look at those more ‘established’ and feel a brief sense of pity.

      Maybe the big 20-something ‘life debate’ (what the hell am I saying, is that even a thing?) isn’t so much about settling down vs. not settling down as it is about keeping yourself open to new things and consistently seeking out new opportunities. Maybe we’re just having more fun than you. Maybe not having any money at the end of the week is building more character within us. Maybe waking up at 2PM not knowing what the fuck we’re going to do with our lives is just preparing us for something greater a little bit further down the road.
      No matter what the reason, we’re all still trying to make sense out of our own individual situations. Except that now with the internet, we get to be constantly reminded of where everyone else stands on their path to figuring their shit out.

      Our 20’s are all about now knowing and trying to make an informed deduction without any of the proper materials. They’re also about staying out till 2AM on a Tuesday hooking up with someone you just met.

      • JK

        I think we all just need to stop judging each other’s choices.  If you’re happy going out on a Tuesday night and hooking up with someone you just met, great!  I wouldn’t be because I’m over that.  Not everyone who is “settling down” is settling and not everyone who isn’t is lost.

      • http://twoseconds.tumblr.com/ Jesse Vaughan

        Yeah, that rant wasn’t meant to come off as a judgement per se, but what you said is essentially the point. That also boils down to ‘be a nice person and do what makes you happy!’ which is just way too simple and easy to digest! How could that possibly be a solution?! (insert a pat on the high five.)

      • JK


  • Guest

    Getting drunk isn’t necessarily the most fulfilling think you can do. I can say my partying days are behind me, but it doesn’t make me unhappy – I’m just done with it. And for me, following my dreams involves stability and what you would probably consider a boring job. If all you’re talking about are people who are “faking it”, fine, but I bet a lot of my friends might say the same thing about me (I’m boring now, I don’t party anymore) and it just wouldn’t be true. I’m very happy as I am.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=668212789 Ashley Anderson

      I second all of that. This article annoys me.

      • bebo

        I totally agree with you two, I feel this article comes off as defensive.  I am 26, and I have friends who have kids and are married, and I have friends who go to the bar every.  I don’t judge any of these paths!  People are individuals and what makes one person tick, might not be ideal for the next one.  I just think criticizing people for living what is deemed a “boring” life is bizarre to me.  And the writer comes across feeling insecure about their own choices, or their own fears.  (I am not saying that is what you implied, but just how I received it!)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=668212789 Ashley Anderson

      I second all of that. This article annoys me.

  • DCDenise

    Wow. I did not realize this was going on. I was quite the “party-girl” in my day and my “day” didn’t end until well into my 40’s. Now I am 51. I work 9-5 and I sleep 9-5. That gives me 3 hours to myself in the morning (which I LOVE now, I don’t think I even saw morning in my 20’s) and 4 hours after I get home from work (and all I want to do is relax, maybe go out to dinner, but mostly watching TV, doing laundry and preparing to do it all over again). I am happy with this. I feel like I had “my time” and now it is time to pass the torch!  I am quite content to live a quiet life and reflect on my party days every now and again.

    • Janetm67

       don’t live the same lifestyle you do Denise but I sure am glad to know that I’m not the only reader over 30 here.  At 45 I feel like life has just begun and I love reading Thought Catalog:-)

  • k8

    I think with all of the teen pregnancy going on now days, that if you made it into your 20’s without getting pregnant you’ve done good. I’m not saying the married life and kids is for everyone but doing it in your mid 20’s isn’t so bad. The way I see it is, I had my daughter at 23 and when she “leaves the nest” I will still be young enough (in my 40’s) to catch my second wind and do some more partying, or traveling or whatever I want to do. By that point I will also have the money to do it as I see fit as well. Not to mention all the seniority and vacation time I will have stocked up at my boring old job.

    Nobody should do the family thing out of feeling pressured but if you want it, do it! I can see the point in what is being said too though

    • MM

      hopefully you don’t become one of those moms who goes and parties at a club with their daughter thinking it will make them “young” 

    • madeofcarbon

      you do know teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, right?

  • Rosie

    Some people are happy to grow old, such as myself.  But I approach ageing with a youthful spirit, whereas I know many who stop celebrating their birthday at 25 because “it’s all going downhill from here.”  I think sometimes people try and justify their life choices; they aren’t actually happy with their situations, but feel that marriage, corporate salaries, children, buying a house, etc. are stepping stones they are supposed to achieve sooner than later.  Really though, we have our whole lives ahead of us.  Even if you die at age 80, you still have 55 good, long years ahead of you.  Celebrate them!

  • Pinion

    Being too old to tick certain boxes would fucking suck, but it’s going to happen. Sometimes it can be really hard to talk your girlfriend and her BFF into an ill-advised 3am threesome in front of the cat

  • Cora

    I think a lot of you are taking this article the wrong way. I don’t think she’s advocating that people in their 20’s should be partying rather than working, but rather that (as she says in her article) some people get jobs, get into relationships because they feel they HAVE to, not because they really want to. 

    Your 20’s should be a time when you should be travelling, having a good time (which doesn’t have to mean partying/getting drunk), experiencing the world, because soon enough you WILL have to settle down, get a job etc. Why rush into doing those things when you have the rest of your life to do them? You won’t always be in your 20’s and be unattached and free to do things whenever, so you should do things NOW instead of thinking you’ll do it LATER, because you never know what’s going to happen down the track.

    • bebo

      I agree with the sentiments behind what you are saying Cora,  but I also think that you have to remember that most people do NOT have the luxury to do these things.  If I had money, and the ability to travel about not working that would rock, but unfortunately, most people have to work and plan experiences interspersed.  It took me a while to find a job when I graduated, and during that time I couldn’t even afford to take a bus to visit my friends or see concerts, now I work 9-5 most days, and while this isn’t exciting, it affords the ability to get out and do things.  In an ideal world maybe people would just “find themselves, and experience life

      ” in their 20s, but I think that a lot of these sentiments are luxuries for the privileged.   

      • Cora

        Hey Bebo,
        I know there are people out there who honestly don’t have the means to be able to travel etc but the majority can. I’m by no means privileged, I just worked my ass off to get what I wanted. I’m 22, a full time university student with a part time job, that has allowed me to save enough to backpack Europe for three months and take a smaller trip back there last year, and coming all the way from Australia!I feel like people make excuses for themselves and put it down to being lucky or being “more well off” which has nothing to do with it. I just persevered and worked really hard, when other people were more interested in partying or spending all their money on clothes/useless material possessions etc.You really can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it and don’t let other things get in the way :)

      • Cora

        “Work to live, not live to work” is probably what I’m getting at here! :)

      • bebo

        I really don’t agree with you.  The majority of people cannot.  People are dying of disease in third world countries, with no money or even food.   I am not talking about myself at all when I say this.  I can do much much more with the job I know have!!

        And I am grateful to pay off my loans, and my car and take small trips once in a while.  I have found myself through thhat and I am BLESSED.

        My friend teaches in inner city schools and the lack of support and hope is abundant.  THes people have more than many.  The majority of people can’t afford things.  And the majority of people reading this can.  So of course you would say that.

      • Cora

        I understand where you are coming from but I don’t think my argument or the article in general was aimed at people in third world countries! Of course that would be silly and things I’ve said are not applicable to that at all. That’s a whole different situation!

        Really this article and discussion is targeted at a specific type of person which I think you’re missing. We’re talking about a 20-25 year old in a somewhat okay position in life acting like they NEED to be 55 because it’s what everyone expects.

        Some of these people think they must own a house and a car and be married and have children by age 28 just because it’s what has to be done. Is this what they really want? Or is just pressure? I’ve seen friends of mine in their early twenties trapped and miserable because they’re in a crap entry level job. There’s nothing wrong with that because we all need to start there, but they do this when they really desperately want to travel etc and can’t because they can’t get time off. They’re obviously unhappy yet do nothing about it.. it makes me really sad. Why not just enter the work force a few months later, get the travelling etc out of the way then the start the serious job and have no regrets?

        There’s a difference between making choices and living the way you want, to living it the way other people think you should.

  • http://twitter.com/aetherlight .

    it’s really hard to travel and do things you want to do when every month you’re struggling just to pay rent and bills and survive. if I didn’t have to worry about these “grown up” things first I’d want to live life and be young on my own terms too.

  • Guestropod

    ewwwwwww I hate young old people

  • Frances

    As somebody who recently quit her job, broke off an engagement, and fled her hometown to bounce around various freelance gigs in NYC, this resonated with me. 

    Thank you!! 

  • Ally M

    This, right here: “It’s almost like watching a bunch of children put on their parents’
    clothes and shoes and shuffle around the house like grown-ups, a kind of
    caricature of boring adulthood.”
    Great article, Chelsea. I’m 23 and work 8-4 (slight deviation!). But it’s something I enjoy. However, this article hit home in a lot of ways. Why the hell are we in such a rush to grow up?

  • DW

    While reading this comment, keep in mind I’m 22, have a great job, great friends, and currently believe marriage and kids are complete life ruiners (but I don’t hook up with random people 3 nights a week either).

    To me, it is unimaginable how sitting in at night or saving up for a new couch could be considered “fun.” Being in my 20s, I think social interaction is a very important part of my life.Let’s distinguish that it’s totally ok in my book not to spend your days getting wasted on Friday and Saturday night, getting drunk isn’t for everyone. But it’s the people that sit inside with a bf/gf or alone watching movies, etc instead of finding something social to do that bug me. Or the people that spend their Saturday afternoons running some ridiculous errand instead of playing golf, watching sports with friends, (insert more female social daytime activity). Have some FUN, regardless of how you define it.

    • Guest

      Fun, for some, IS sitting inside with a bf/gf or alone watching a movie.  People destress in different ways.  Don’t judge it because it’s not fun for you.

      • DW

        I think I try to separate fun from enjoyable. When I had a gf, watching movies was very very enjoyable, but I wouldn’t have called it fun. Just my $0.02

      • Guest

        wow sucks for your girlfriend then that you wish you were out drinking booze with your boys or fucking some girl you just met

  • http://lifeisnotamovie.net Robin

    I think it wasn’t entirely age that made me old, it was more the change of my lifestyle. In my twenties I worked and went home by myself so I went out a lot at night. Now I work a ton, commute like 10 hours a week and when I get home I just want to spend the evening with my husband and 2 cats. I do spend time with friends but it’s different now, it’s usually on weekends and planned far in advance or we just meet up for coffee or a drink.

  • justsayin'

    I’m really not trying to be rude, but in my opinion, this article comes off a little desperate.  It seems like justifying not having your shit together and saying that those who do are just trying to please others.  Hey, maybe finding a career, settling down, and starting a family at a young age just means you’re ahead rather than boring?  A thought…

  • Guest

    The meaning behind this article::: “Author justifying her insecurities”. Travelling the world, boozing at bars etc wont make you happy neither would keeping jobs that make you miserable. There has to be a balance. Nothing should be completely excluded. 

    Drink sometimes, set your priorities and try to be happy no matter how life turns out to be.

  • http://twitter.com/VancvrSam Sam McLoughlin

    two weeks ago, I dropped everything to drive to seattle to see Radiohead. the next night I saw Andrew Bird. Not having kids, a wife, a house, or real bills to pay can be glorious sometimes. Most of the time actually.
    I don’t buy into the rat race. Though every day, I have to remind myself why, and sometimes have trouble. this helped. thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Its called “pay now, play later”. I’m putting in the time in my twenties to establish a career, so that when I’m in my 30s and 40s, I can travel and see the world.

    Why do people equate making mistakes = fun? I’m pretty sure it should be the opposite. Personally, I’m just glad I have my head on straight enough to avoid most mistakes through well-thought out logic, instead of living impulsively and having to pay for those mistakes.

    I see your point, but all you’re really doing is talking down people who have thought about their consequences of their actions and established a plan.

    I party and have a great time while I’m in law school. Then in my later years I can travel the world and reap what I have sown. I can travel with a higher budget and more education and knowledge to appreciate what the world has to offer me.

    Now that, in my opinion, is “living”.

    • Alex

      You could get his by a bus tomorrow.  Why wait??

      • Scott

        Because most people don’t die young.

      • Alex

        Says who?!  What a crappy attitude. 

    • Guest

      You ASSUME you’re going to travel etc but you really don’t know. The whole point is that in your 20’s generally nothing is really established, you don’t have kids to worry about, mortgages to pay etc. Travelling in your 20’s is going to be so different to travelling in 30’s/40’s.

      I feel sad that people take life for granted and sometimes don’t realise that if you don’t do something now, you’ll never get around to doing it. You never know what’s coming around the corner.

      Maybe you haven’t experienced life enough to know these lessons yet but you’ll learn them soon.

      • Anonymous

        I see your point.  But I feel like your life is kind of like an art project – you can craft it how you want it to be, as long as you leave some space when you get curveballs thrown in.

        For me personally, travelling in my 20s just isn’t a likely possibility. I’m not a trust fund baby, so I’m not sure how I’d afford to gallivant across the world.  I don’t think student loans will give me much room to play. Much rather wait until I can afford the kind of traveling I want to.

        Its not so much taking life for granted but just kind of making the best out of the hand you’re dealt and “planning” for the future. Some of us are just planners – its engrained in us. It doesn’t mean we miss out on opportunities, it just means we’re not ignoring consequences and not just crossing our fingers and *hoping* for the best.

      • jam

        Ugh, thank you. I feel like no one understands that people with student loans have to be a little more conscious about how they spend their money and live their lives in general. It’s sad that those of us with loans are getting fucked by a system that makes getting an education unaffordable, but I shudder to think where I’d be had I NOT gone to college.

      • Guest

        How does travelling equate to ignoring consequences and hoping for the best?

        Travelling has taken heaps of preparation, as has the commitment for saving for it while also going to uni and working a job at the same time, while only being 20. Don’t think that just because I’ve travelled I’ve had it easy. I’ve just worked my ass off and sacrificed a lot and had loved ones die to get where I am. It really just comes to not making excuses for yourself and being strong. 

        You can still plan for the future but do travelling etc. How do you think one gets to travel? By planning for it of course and making it happen. It doesn’t just happen out of thin air!

  • Sophia

    Thanks for this. I go to an ivy league school, and while I love the academic challenge and the really intelligent people I’m meeting, I hate hate hate the preprofessional atmosphere. I hate how people look at me like I have nine heads when I tell them I want to work at camp this summer instead of getting a prestigious internship, and that I’m going into the Peace Corps after graduation. I have the rest of my life to be boring; this is my time to explore and learn and adventure. 

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