When I was 4, my brother and I bounced up and down on my mom and dad’s bed holding hands and shouting about how he was turning 8. It’s an oddly precious memory from my childhood, because it sounds like something from Fullhouse, rather than the more accurate Roseanne, but we could not wait to grow up. Lately, though, I’ve been observing my generation – not just on online dating sites – and I’ve realized… a bunch of people don’t want to anymore.
Today, I’m 25 years old. I work two jobs. I’m in graduate school. I pay my own way, more or less. I’m on my mother’s cell phone plan and give her my share monthly. Every now and then my dad will buy me a new set of tires and my Gramma will give me money to get a new coffee maker… or a new coffee maker… or a new coffee maker. Seriously, that was the shittiest damned coffee maker.
Overall, I don’t get a lot of outside support and I can’t wait until the day I can say I get no outside support. I know we’re in hard economic times, because I buy groceries and pay my bills. I understand the guy who can’t afford to live on a first-year teacher’s salary or the girl who can’t work enough to support herself while going to law school. I also know that sometimes the world falls out from under you. Gail spent two years living in her old high school bedroom (cough :: parents’ new storage closet :: cough) after her infant daughter died. She substituted with me and tried to figure out how to rebuild her life in the safety of the only home she knew, surrounded by unused picture frames and stuffed back rests. When I was going through my divorce, I used to go to my Gramma’s house just to sleep in her bed for a few hours, because it was the only place I felt safe and protected. I had no high school home I could retreat to to lick my wounds and if I had, I’d have moved back. I fully admit that.
There are exceptions… and there are the people with full-blown Peter Pan syndrome. The people to which I refer aren’t in college or trade school. They aren’t saving their money to buy a house or putting in the hours until they get promoted to full-time. They’re stagnant. They “live at home” and work part-time jobs… or they don’t. They pay a few bills… or they don’t. It’s senior year of high school eight years later… and it’s happening all the time. We have an epidemic of Lost Boys.
Historically speaking, Failure to Launch is a trend in tough economic times.* Currently 56% of men and 43% of women ages 18 to 24 live with one or both parents.* If you weren’t paying attention, men top women in this trend by 13%, whereas women historically were more likely to stay home as adults. Compare that with my parents’ generation leaving home around age 20.* These are some interesting statistics, but that’s all they are: numbers. No one knows why this is happening, so allow me to speculate from my insider viewpoint.
Our parents saw an easier life for us than what they’d experienced. College was a dream for them and therefore the key to happiness; so they told us we could be anything we wanted. They remembered the harsh bullying and exclusion they experienced as kids; so they gave out “participation trophies.” They grew up with Depression Era parents who didn’t want to spend the extra dollar for entertainment; so they went into debt buying every new gadget. They left home at 20; so they let us stay indefinitely. They loved us; so they completely overcompensated.
Now, we are Millennials. We learned to type by chatting with friends over AOL Instant Messenger. We knew how to work the parental controls on the Internet better than our parents did. We went from Duck Hunt to Call of Duty without blinking an eye. We memorized the television prime time lineup. We invented cyberbullying. We were the first generation to Google the answer and do the research online the night before. Our authority figures stumbled over themselves to safeguard against the dangers involved in all of the above, but could never quite keep up, because they were still learning themselves. Essentially, we were a technological experiment… and look at the results.
Yes, many of us are moving forward with our tech skills, but because our parents were buried beneath a mountain of debt giving in to our (and their) every whim, we were constantly told how much being an adult sucked and to enjoy childhood as long as we could. Now, a number of us are doing just that. The aforementioned Lost Boys “live at home” to “save money.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. They don’t live at home. I live at home. That’s what home is. They live at their parents’ home. Also, how much money have they saved? Ohhhhh, they can afford a nicer car and more nights out living at home? That’s not saving money, that’s spending money. Those are opposites. It is not expensive to live here. I survive on about $1,400 a month. Comfortably. That’s why people move to the Midwest. I have personally met many people my age who just have no reason not to live on their own. Some even have college degrees and decent jobs. They just don’t want to grow up, because it comes with more responsibility. Yeah. It does. It’s also not optional. No one’s going to freeze at 19 until they decide to get on board with this aging thing. They’re going to stay home and play video games while pulling the occasional evening shift at the movie theater and then what? They’re going to wake up at 28 and turn on the game system instead of going to their high school reunion, because they haven’t moved forward in ten years.
The thing is, this stagnation takes funding. The electricity running through that laptop to create that sad Plenty of Fish profile isn’t free. I am not blaming our parents. We are adults now. It is no one’s fault but our own if we choose not to move on with our lives. Just maybe, though, the parents with the 28-year-olds in the back room should stop enabling them. They aren’t scared teenagers searching for direction. They’re lazy, unaccountable, users and they’re eventually going to have to join society in their own right. It’s never too late for someone to turn their life around. It’s also never too late to sit them down and say “I love you, but I’m not funding this lifestyle anymore. You have three months.” No matter the coddling that took place growing up, it is up to us to be an active part of this world and not to take advantage of the parents who loved us so much that they destructively committed to giving us everything we ever wanted in life.
I was told over and over that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up.
Now I’m 25 and it’s time to realize that I will never look that good naked. I don’t have royal blood. My singing could offend Helen Keller. I hope my generation will find a balance between the “walk it off” and the “participation trophies” when we’re raising our own kids. I hope that all of these people who think being an adult sucks will realize… they’re doing it wrong. The Lost Boys are missing out on so many things, from cooking naked, to having late night television marathons, to masturbating without worrying anyone will hear, to singing loudly off key, to only ever having to clean up their own messes, to playing their video games on their own time and dime, to feeling a sense of autonomy and accomplishment when they’ve mastered their budget. Most importantly though, their parents are missing out on some of their best years to do the same things. We’re taking advantage out of selfishness and misplaced fear.
“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone. You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” – Andrew Largeman Garden State
I love Garden State, but my ass. There’s no reason you can’t live alone and be single and make yourself a home. You’ve just got to actually try.