My friend isn’t out of work: his theft is a small act of defiance. For it has slowly dawned on him — as it has for so many of my twentysomething peers — that all but the jammiest of our generation won’t enjoy the same lifestyle as their parents.
Where they had mortgages, we’re stuck in rental purgatory. Where they had grants and then savings, we have debt and more debt. Where they looked forward to retiring at 60 or 65, we know we’ll be trudging into the office until our Zimmer frames snap. The existence of iPods, Asos and easyJet offer scant compensation.
I have a friend who, at 42, is now pregnant with her second child. She’s a highly accomplished woman, with undergrad and grad degrees from top-tier colleges (albeit not in medicine or engineering) and a full-time job. Her husband is a tenured college professor.
Despite the fact that they don’t have debt, they are currently living in a one-bedroom apartment in the NYC area with their one child. Her employer will not allow her to work from home even one day a week, so she feels like she doesn’t get to see her child nearly enough and says their apartment is always a mess. She’s afraid to ask for another maternity leave. She’s always wanted children and is thankful to have the opportunity to have a second one, but her current life is one that would have seemed terribly stressful and unappealing to me in my twenties.
I do understand that, when you hit 40, you can’t keep waiting for the ideal situation if you want kids, but it just goes to show how tough it is today.
The sociologist in me thinks often about the fact that so many of us are turning to New Age therapies that tell us we are special and blessed. Is it because, unless we are celebrities or multi-millionaires, “real life” gives us nothing but the opposite message? Real life tells us we are a burden, a drain, and an indistinguishable part of the mass (unless we are in the role of consumer, that is). Real life tells us we have to struggle for every penny. That there are always millions of others ready to take our place. That we should be grateful for any kind of job and any sort of paycheck. That life is extremely competitive.
Another New Age mantra– accepting “what is.” Is this because, in real life, the economy is in tatters and the environment is degrading? That in real we can’t have expectations from people we date or from friendships? That we can’t depend on a social safety net?
The fact that the largest number of people involved in New Age therapies are middle-aged women is yet more food for thought.
I try to reconcile these messages, which have helped me, with my political beliefs. I’ve decided that before we can take action, we have to soothe our psyches, calm our emotions, and put ourselves in a place where we can think clearly.
Yet I have also come to the conclusion that there are just too. many. people. in this world.