An Inconvenient Youth

January 16th, 2007 | Category: Essays, Me

It seems that youth is no longer wasted on the young. In recent years, many social scientists (as well as Jay-Z) have claimed that thirty is the new twenty. Whereas one at twenty used to be considered an adult, now one at twenty is relatively still a child. So, what makes an adult these days? Are there any rites of passage in Western culture in the twenty-first century?

You can make your very own poisonous, despicable man.
Begin by keeping him a boy for as long as you can,
And when the voice in his head says that everything’s wrong,
Let him think we’d be convinced but only with the right song.
— Cex, “The Wayback Machine”

I first heard it expressed that forty was the new thirty a few years ago just after two of my colleagues had broken the forty-mark. The further encroachment of youth on adulthood (or vice versa, depending on which way you want to view it) is seemingly evident everywhere. From movies, to videogames, to music, we are not aging — culturally — the way our parents have. “Adults” in their thirties unashamedly play and discuss videogames, obsessively. The theme itself is apparent in pop culture (See recent cinematic hits like The Forty-Year-Old Virgin or The Last Kiss, for examples). As the main character in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club so directly put it, “I’m a thirty-year-old boy.”

I am often asked if I am comfortable with my age, and I must say that I am more comfortable at thirty-six than I was at twenty-six, but if thirty is the new twenty, then Jay-Z and I are both twenty-six. He claimed last album to have graduated from throwback jerseys to button-ups (because he was “thirty-plus”), but I don’t even own a pair of dress shoes, much less a suit. We might not know what makes the man, but it sure ain’t the clothes.

Sure, all of my friends (most of whom, it must be noted, are younger than I am) are getting married, buying houses, having kids (or at least talking about it), etc., but the old rites of passage (e.g., marriage, childbirth, etc.) do not adults make. Perhaps they never did, but the illusion was strong, and now there seems to be no one consciously interested in maintaining that illusion. We need new rules or no rules. Right now there’s a rupture in our cultural development that begins in the late-teens and continues often into the early forties.

Sometimes I feel like adult. Sometimes I don’t.

Further Posting:

5 Comments »

  • Kristen said:

    On the occasion of my mother’s 30th birthday, she confided in a six-year-old me that she didn’t feel any older than she had at 18. Periodically on her future birthdays I’d remind her of that comment, and ask if she still felt that way. She always claimed she did.

    Upon reaching 30 myself–which I had been looking forward to for about 16 years–I asked myself the same question. Do I really feel any older? I certainly didn’t feel “30”, and I don’t feel “32” now. It’s not aches and pains I was expecting, I guess, but more a sense that I’d grown up. That I was done cooking (thank you, Buffy). But I feel no closer to done than I did when I was a teenager. Perhaps I feel even more undone.

    A high school friend of mine’s father was 64 years his senior. He’d had a grown family and then divorced his wife to marry his mistress, and subsequently fathered my friend. By the time my friend was graduating high school his father was 81 and divorcing again to marry his new sweetheart. I have to admit that when I think about it now, more than anything else I’m *jealous* of his unabashed belief that he could reimagine his life at 81 years old!

    When I start to think I’m supposed to be a grown up, or settled, or nearing some imaginary finish line, I think about my mom and about my friend’s dad. Then I eat another Fla-Vor-Ice and rollerskate some more around the livingroom.

  • barnie said:

    i can feel a little bit of irony in the fact that i’m 29 (and already mentally prepared for the big 3-0), engaged, i still beat myself up riding a kids bike, and the kids bike rider i admire the most is the god damn blue falcon, all 38 years of him! uh-oh, and instead of a design/marketing degree i went and got a fine arts degree…
    i just think that you have to live your life doing the things you really love and these days it may seem to many that some of these things are childish, hedonistic or irresponsible.
    as adults we are (are we?) supposed to arrive at a point in our lives where we sacrifice time dedicated to the things we love to do, for what i understand as the pursuit of material wealth and the advancement of the human species.
    no thanks.

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  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    I just opened McLuhan and Carson’s The Book of Probes and saw this (p.138):

    “How can children grow up in a world in which adults idolize youthfulness?”

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