Failure to Launch

This past evening the hubby and I semi-watched "Failure to Launch." Before you get yourself all up in a tizzy and hate on the movie, this isn't a movie critique. For the record, Ben thought it was a cheesy ridiculous movie and I, having seen it before, kept falling asleep in it. That should summarize our feelings about it, clearly. Regardless, it brought to mind a current issue that my generation is facing: extended adolescence.  It's a topic discussed by the New York Times and Christian theologians alike (check out two of Albert Mohler's blog entries here and here).

It's amazing, our culture not only recognizes the phenomenon of delayed adolescence but it celebrates it! We see it on sitcoms, movies, books, etc. It has permeated our society!

Here's a pattern that I've seen many of my friends live out: Graduate from high school, go to college, don't settle down with a nice girl/boy quite yet though, you're too young! Get a decent internship, but turn down the full-time job offer so you can tour Europe and live it up with your buddies for a month or so after graduation (and because the desk job seems lame). After all, you're only young once, live it up. Go back home, live with your parents, and then figure out what you're going to do with your life. Meanwhile, string a girl/boy on for a while until you get tired/bored/trapped and finally move on to a different girl/boy you have no intentions of marrying.  Whatever you do, don't get yourself a ball and chain.

This phenomenon knows no gender, for its facade of freedom is paralyzing both girl and boy in a state of adolescence. Robin Marantz Henig says this in her Aug. 2010 NYT article "What is it about 20-Somethings?":

The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life...

The 20's are like the stem cell of human development, the pluripotent moment when any of several outcomes is possible. Decisions and actions during this time have lasting ramifications. The 20s are when most people accumulate almost all of their formal education; when most people meet their future spouses and the friends they will keep; when most people start on the careers that they will stay with for many years. This is when adventures, experiments, travels, relationships are embarked on with an abandon that probably will not happen again.

Does that mean it’s a good thing to let 20-somethings meander — or even to encourage them to meander — before they settle down? That’s the question that plagues so many of their parents. It’s easy to see the advantages to the delay... But it’s just as easy to see the drawbacks. As the settling-down sputters along for the “emerging adults,” things can get precarious for the rest of us. Parents are helping pay bills they never counted on paying, and social institutions are missing out on young people contributing to productivity and growth.... So we’re caught in a weird moment, unsure whether to allow young people to keep exploring and questioning or to cut them off and tell them just to find something, anything, to put food on the table and get on with their lives.

There isn't anything wrong with being happy, but there is a tendency to connect responsibility & commitment to unhappiness within my generation . The next phase of life seems scary and I constantly feel "too young" or "not ready" for it, and yet I'm not.

And thus I not only see this tendency to push off adulthood in my friends' lives, but I see it in my own as well. I'm 25 and just recently got married (which is barely below the median age in our society for a female to get married: 26). Like the majority of newlyweds in our culture I do not have any desire to have children right away. I would love to travel the world, have zero responsibilities, and eat gelato with my husband all day (yes, the Christian version of Eat, Pray, Love would be a fabulous life in my opinion). But that is the consumer within me and within our culture that I'm fighting. Why is it that I feel a natural entitlement to a carefree life?

Albert Mohler says this in regards to Henig's article:

There is an intense focus on the self that emerges in how many of these young people explain their delayed adulthood. “When is there time to just be and enjoy?” asked a 25-year-old young woman identified as “Jennifer.” Just one generation ago, a young woman her age would have been, on average, married and well on her way to motherhood.

Christians must look at this phenomenon with great concern — not because we would heap scorn on this generation of young adults, but because we are concerned for them and for the long-term impact of this delay of the acceptance of adult responsibilities. It is not just that they are AWOL from adulthood and its responsibilities. They are also missing the joys, consolations, challenges, and responsibilities that make for maturity and long-term flourishing. They will pay a steep price for this delay, and we will pay it with them...

I'm not a sociologist so I won't make any claims on what our future may or may not hold as a result of this cultural care free-living, but I must confess that I at the very least contribute to cycle. Deep within me, I just want to have fun and forsake all things that could possibly tie me down.  Instead of highly valuing commitment to living long-term in a community, I want to travel, be a free spirit, and forget all responsibilities that could hold me back.

I've not thoroughly hashed out my thoughts on the topic (neither have most people that are writing about it), but I am trying to figure out what it means for me as a Christian, as a member of a culture, and as a daughter & wife. How should I live, in light of the Gospel, within a culture of extended adolescence? If you have any thoughts or wisdom on the topic, feel free to toss 'em my way.

Posted on October 28, 2010 and filed under Culture, Ordinary Life.