The term “mid-life crisis” is firmly implanted in the American vernacular, but a new term, the “quarter-life crisis,” is confronting twenty-somethings daily (in real life, not just on Scrubs).
We all know the symptoms of a mid-life crisis: one day your father happily drives his three kids to school in a dented, dirty, 1999 Ford Windstar, dresses in slacks and button-ups or “Dad jeans,” the equivalent of “Mom jeans” made so famous by Saturday Night Live, and almost makes sure to avoid any physical activity other than twelve ounce curls–then the next thing you know he goes all Kevin Spacey on you.
Gone is the practical Windstar, traded in for a highly irrationally chosen Mustang or Lexus; he starts wearing designer clothes and joins a gym, where he now spends 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. reshaping his past-its-prime body into something twenty-year-olds would envy.
Dad’s panic moves are understandable, because, well, half his life is over, maybe even more. He’s 50 now, and there’s a good chance his best days are behind him in almost every facet.
His love life is a flickering flame, nearly entirely burnt out and certainly scentless, not like one of those aphrodesiac types, his day revolves around spending an absurd number of hours behind a desk repeating a monotonous routine, and he’s grown truly tired of watching his kids play in the same meaningless softball and basketball and soccer games, or perform in boring plays and musicals–as much as he loves them things have just gone stale.
Right now he’s the moldy hunk of cheese in the back of the refrigerator. No one wants to throw him out yet, but he hasn’t felt the pleasure of cold steel slicing through him in some time. He simply sits there while the fresher foods and condiments go out for daily romps on the kitchen counter.
All of this is understandle. We can feel empathy for our fathers; after all, we’ll be him some day ourselves. But why do we act like him right now, at 22, 23, 24 years old, at the apex of our lives?
Why do we no longer feel so special either? We’re the ones everyone wants a taste of–the spicy buffalo wings, the vital all-purpose ketchup, the wholesome apple pie. We’re the ones with a future, a life full of opportunity and not a care in the world to hold us down. We travel, we meet new people, we “experiment” with substances, we “find ourselves” by doing absurd things on the weekends, we “expand our horizons” sexually, we still get to do all the things outlawed by government and religion that people love so much.
And yet, what is that cloud hanging over our heads whenever there’s a lull in the party?
Times have changed. While the youth of today no longer worries about Nuclear Winter or Vietnam or economic crises or stickin’ it to the goddamn racists who run the country, our focus has shifted to terrorism, global warming, the War in Iraq, the international fall-out caused by the adminstration of George W. Bush, AIDS, new despots sprouting up around the globe, the declining dollar, and the incredible debt laid upon us by past generations–both personal and national.
As medicine continues to improve, making people live longer, and the cost of living rises, where does all the money needed to take care of a generation of baby boomers looking to retire as soon as possible come from?
College graduates find that their university degrees promise nothing more than a shot in the dark at landing a job at Starbucks, while more school is needed to earn anything near $40,000 out of the box a year for most. Already indebted nationally, the cost of education has grown to the point where many intelligent, hard-working students from the middle and lower classes find themselves choosing between going to the best schools, the ones they struggled to get into, or lesser state schools, simply over cost. When our generation is expected to earn enough money to pay for the sins of our parents, as well as their health costs until they croak at 100 years old, our own immense costs associated with buying a home, paying off educational loans, and supplying our children with a decent life, it’s quite an ominous picture we see when we look to the future.
Nice work, too bad your diploma’s essentially worthless.
So, we ignore reality, jump on a flight at a moment’s notice, run up bar tabs and credit card debt with no remorse, figure bankruptcy can erase it all anyways (except for that pesky little signature on all our loans saying if we default loansharks will eat our parents alive), live at home wasting away, and resort to drugs and alcohol to ease the stress.
Now, my words are not an attempt to dig up sympathy, or to make irresponsibility seem almost the right thing to do, but merely an explanation. We no longer must walk both ways uphill in the snow, stand up to a collection of fascist dictators hell-bent on taking over the globe, or generally hide who we are from the world, but new challenges face twenty-somethings across the nation and the planet, and it’s time we acknowledge it.
At least knowing that in our own little way, father and son, mother and daughter alike, we’re all carrying a little more burden than the other can see, and realizing it will be the first step to lending a helping hand to the very ones creating our burdens.