I hate being called a Millennial. I once told a marketer that the only thing they need to know about my generation is that we refuse to take a bowel movement without a smartphone. Other than that, we’re just like everyone else—using the patina of something material to mask the really scary truth about our existence that we’re ruthlessly and entirely alone.
I’ll admit that our differentiator is that we have more distractions. It’s why any moment that seems to leave the slightest chance of that reality encroaching on us can be wisped away by an updated Twitter feed or to see if anyone liked my Facebook post that broadcasted my narcissistic Thought Catalog publication. And if I get that red signal, my dopamine goes haywire. And if I don’t…TEXT SOMEONE IMMEDIATELY. All this because waiting in line to pay for a roast beef sandwich seems entirely too filled with an unflinchingly sterile and painful modicum of life, so I need to descend into that portal in the palm of my hand to read about something that I don’t even care about rather than make small talk with the woman in front of me.
And here’s the shitty thing: If I do get up the gumption to break that pattern, she’ll probably say something so virulently racist or numbingly ignorant that I’m better off disappearing with my neck crooned downwards until it’s time to pay $7.00 for my sandwich that I didn’t really want and is just so excessively marked up it’s hard to summon the saliva required to say thank you as the clerk hands me my receipt.
And I’ll probably craft a Facebook post out of that exact scenario making the woman easier to hate, the sandwich more expensive than it really was, and me more sympathetic than I deserve. And that’ll insulate me from the Truth elucidated above—that existence is inherently painful, but if I can be the victim of an unfair cosmos, I always win. It’s easy.
I can’t even say that it’s generational because I’ve only lived 24.47 years as part of this one. But what I can say for sure is that all of this…this seemingly tactile manifestation of our “generation” is simply a new iteration of what it means to be unsettlingly selfish. It’s why we have so many 20-somethings trying to define what it means to be 20-something and it’s particularly why they all resonate in the same vapid and didactic or hedonistic rhetoric of a Hallmark card with more “fucks” strewn about than you’d be likely to send to your grandparents—we’re all trying to find ways around the fact that we’re a bunch of assholes.
The defining rhetoric of our generation (fuck, I just did it) is selfish insistence on vindicating our own selfishness. And it’s not that some zealous ethical code of altruism is being proposed to battle some moral turpitude. No, it’s that when we connect with other human beings at a rate that is almost unfathomable, we end up doing a really fucking good job of making ourselves feel better about how shitty we are to one another. And it’s all predicated on the very flimsy premise that if someone else feels it, too, then it makes it okay for me to feel it. Because I’d rather not be lonely than be good (whatever ‘good’ is). And that’s more true than we even realize, because it means for a fucking second we’re not by ourselves which is the strongest narcotic on earth, but the Buzzfeed post with the accompanying GIF always stops right there—us thee Hamlet left to interpret the witches’ equivocations.
The singular explication of this generational trait is…weddings.
It’s a normative societal occurrence that when you graduate from college right now, a lot of your friends are going to start getting engaged and you’re going to get invited to these celebrations of matrimony and you’re not going to really know how to interpret the invitations but you’re really going to hope that they’re not plus-1 because that’ll take a lot of the sting out of attending. If someone dictates that you be alone, you have an excuse. It’s so comforting, in fact, that you might even just tell people there was no plus-1 ahead of time so there are zero expectations that you bring another human being to this event.
This is going to happen and it’s going to really piss you off that all this joy is going on around you and you can’t get any of it. And no, I can’t believe Jessica had a cash bar. Why would she do that? I don’t know but it was better than Melissa’s dry wedding. Can you believe she wore white? The flower arrangements were okay. Why would they have it this weekend of all weekends? Is she even Catholic? Why would they have the reception here of all places?
And these complaints aren’t all that bad compared to the really insidious ones being spouted by EVERY OTHER non married couple or single trying to rationalize why the unfolding joy is not them, whether that be the couple is too young or you wouldn’t believe what she was like in high school. And this isn’t unique for us to start circulating very visible and highly acerbic prose about just how much it fucking sucks that everyone is getting married and having babies.
But what is really insidious about it is that these comments we hear from our peers, on Twitter, in blogs, actually make us feel better about it all. If another person on my Twitter feed starts bitching about another fucking wedding he or she has to attend, that makes me feel better because, you know what, I felt that exact same emotion and damn it if we aren’t in this thing together. To it’s logical conclusion, it’s the idea that if I’m a total dickhead and then I meet another total dickhead, me being a dickhead is sort of okay because I’m not the only on that thinks that…
But when you look on the inside, which can be a really dark and scary place, what you realize is that the weddings of your friends are terribly polarizing events for your capital “S” Selfish self, because unlike most of life, the end results are pretty black and white and both are really terrible for capital “Y” You.
Option 1: They break up 5 years down the road in a nasty divorce hopefully not involving custody rights.
Option 2: They live happily ever after and fulfill the dream of the nuclear family to its entirety, John Cheever and all.
In Option 1 you get to witness one to two of the people you most care about and/or love in this world experience the true dissolution of the only method we’ve found as a group to feel bonded. Sure, all of those things you said about them being too young and making a huge mistake are right, but what a hollow victory to predict the demise of happiness, isn’t it?
In Option 2 you get to realize that all those insecurities you feel brewing inside of you: the need to find love NOW, the notion that there’s an immensely rewarding human experience that you are missing out on is all actually true.
In either scenario you reach an even deeper and an even more disturbing understanding that what brings you comfort in the face of the world is that lowlifes just like you have become your source for personal validation. Shared petty frustrations. Unsubstantiated cynicism. Misdirected nostalgia.
The true crisis of your mid-20s is not that all of your friends are getting married or you don’t know what to do with your life. It’s realizing that all the foundational elements of your worldview are predicated and built on the preponderance of weak and lonely people just like you.
It’s time to wake up.