Unfortunately, I think everyone is obsessed with age today (and I’m not immune to it either. No one is). I am constantly astounded when I hear that some young girls in their 20’s are already using Botox, convinced that wrinkles are starting to appear. The aging process doesn’t appeal to any of us, but seems to be striking terror these days in the hearts of young women, even in their early 20’s. We are a society and culture obsessed by youth. Women start having plastic surgery in their 30’s and 40’s, and have often had far too much ‘work done’ by middle age. Strangely, although everyone seems to feel old now (given the models held up to us, which we measure ourselves by, unfavorably), we all look and act younger than we ever have. When I look at photographs of myself from my late teens, when I was married, I dressed far older than I do today (polite little Chanel suits, chic little hats, I dressed like my grandmother), whereas now I’m wearing jeans, black leather jackets, funky clothes, and sometimes indulge in an outfit I probably shouldn’t. But our whole culture is geared to youth. The models we look at admiringly, even enviously, in magazines are not women, they are often l5 and l6 year old girls (chosen because their figures haven’t matured yet, and they are thinner than they will be even at l8 or 20). It is sad in a way that we are so obsessed with youth, and it makes 30 year old women feel old, women in their 40’s feel over the hill, and everything past that seem like a wasteland of crones. Everyone wants to be Young!!! Everyone talks about who looks young. Young is everyone’s ideal. And of course no one wants to look ancient—I look at photographs of me with a feeling of despair, with every wrinkle or change I see, lamenting how old I am—-and then see the same photograph five or even two years later, and realize I looked okay. But ‘old’ is a place no one wants to be, and young is where it is and what’s happening today. Someone commented to me recently about how ‘young’ one of my daughters looks—-yeah, guess why? Because she is young. We forget that there is The Real Deal out there: people who actually ARE young, and dont just look it with cosmetic help.
But while we are so busy envying youth, which is epitomized by young people in their 20’s, those of us who are older have all managed to forget how difficult it is being that age. My own 20’s werent fabulous. I married in my teens, had my first child at l9, by 21 I was separated, carrying all the responsibility for a child. I faced divorce in my 20’s. I wrote my first book at l9, and in my 20’s I was struggling hard to start my career. I was broke. I had multiple jobs to make ends meet. I never seemed to be able to figure out who had the instruction manual for my 20’s. I sure didnt. I went for long periods of not dating at all, too busy working and taking care of my daughter—and then dated the wrong men. I got my heart broken umpteen times. My 20’s were one long endless struggle, with the constant angst of feeling that I was doing everything wrong. And I was just young enough for my parents to feel free to tell me that I was (doing everything wrong) every chance they got, and some of the time they were right. I’m sure I must have had fun in my 20’s, but damned if I remember when. It really was a hard time. Difficult things have happened to me since, which have been very hard, but most of the time I feel like a competent person dealing with it. In my 20’s, I was never sure I was on the right track, and always afraid I wasn’t (and some of the time I was way off track and didn’t even know it). It was an era in my life of constant insecurity. It’s hard to know where you’re going in your 20’s, or where your path will lead. By the time you’re a little bit older, you have more confidence and a sense of what you can actually do. But in your 20’s you just don’t know, you haven’t proven yourself yet in any area of your life, and you have no idea what fate has in store.
My five youngest children are in their 20’s (from 22 to 28), and these days I have a front row seat of just what that means and what it’s like. While we (anyone older than that) are envying them the delights of their youth, they are graduating from college into a world where it is agonizingly difficult to find jobs. Where once they get those jobs, they rarely if ever get raises, since most companies have freezes on salary increases, thanks to the economy that we, the older generation, have managed to screw up for them. In the distance, there are the sounds of war, that they didnt cause, but may pay the price for. In earlier generations, people had job security, and if they chose to, could work for one corporation for an entire career, or switch jobs along the way with confidence, and even had a multitude of choices to find good, solid jobs. Now, no one’s job is secure, at any age. Careers in the arts have never been easy, now they are damn near impossible, with money no one can live on, particularly at entry level. Relationships are complicated and people are confused. Suddenly gorgeous 22 year old girls claim they cant find a date or a serious relationship, and even young people are looking to Internet services to pair them up, rather than meeting their dates or future mates through family, friends, or jobs. People communicate by text and emails, instead of having real, human contact. Men are confused by their role in today’s society, and the women they go out with or want to date may make more money than they do, which may hurt their ego and scare them off, or put too much strain on a relationship. Women no longer have to put up with what they once did, or even make a relationship work, because they can support themselves and don’t have to depend on a man. In my generation, getting married and having kids was an important goal. Today, having watched their parents and nearly everyone they know get divorced, many young people no longer want to marry and are extremely leery about an institution that no longer seems to work (in 60% of the cases, which are lousy odds), some are not so sure they want kids, and if so, they dont see why they have to get married to do that. And for those who missed the boat and don’t meet Mr. Right while their biological clock is ticking, they go to sperm banks and have babies biologically fathered by strangers they’ve never met, and bring the child up alone (which is not always so easy). We have handed down a world to our young people that is full of challenges new to our era. Environmental problems, political problems, economies that don’t work, jobs that are hard to find and hang onto. Many of these conditions are new to this generation and have never existed before. Our economy has never been worse, or jobs harder to find since the Great Depression. And on a more personal level, one of my pet peeves is people texting and emailing instead of talking to each other by phone or face to face. It takes a lot of the humanity out of our daily contacts, and even dating. Whole relationships rise and fall by text. People get ‘dumped’ by email, or fall in love by email and then find out it isn’t real, and they’ve either been misled, or made a mistake themselves. Far too often, relationships are ‘virtual’ instead of real. All of which makes it hard to find your footing as a young person in today’s world.
Along with all of these problems that we, the previous generations, have handed to young people in their 20’s today, are the problems that young people that age have always had to deal with. Figuring who they want to be when they go grow up. What job they want, or career. Who they want to be with, and marry, or not. Most people that age aren’t stable in relationships, they change their minds, disappoint each other, cheat on each other (not exclusive to our 20’s unfortunately, but more frequent then). We usually get our hearts broken for the first time in our 20’s, make our first big mistakes. I am constantly distressed to see how often young people that age are exploited by their employers, who pull things on them they wouldnt dare do to an older employee. They work longer hours for less pay in worse conditions, and are threatened with getting fired if they don’t like it (and may have trouble finding another job, so are afraid to leave a bad one, a factor which abusive employers exploit). Most people are scared in their 20’s, I was. You’re always afraid of losing a relationship, or getting fired, or doing things the wrong way. You have no experience to draw on, which you have later on, so you’re flying blind at that age, and everything is new, whether in relationships or at work. You’re never sure exactly what’s expected of you or if you’re doing things right. Will you succeed? Does he or she love you?? Can you pay your rent, find a room mate, find a job, afford a car? Should you move to another city? Quit the job you hate? For most young people, then or now, their 20’s are fraught with risk, and the fear of taking the wrong fork in the road. It is a time of constant choices. Friends your own age advise you who know as little as you do, and may give you poor advice. Parents put the pressure on to get serious, find a job, a better job, or get married. It is a time when you often discover that the friends you thought you could count on aren’t as faithful as you thought, and you discover the sadness of betrayal, or the simple fact that the people you grew up with are changing, just as you are, and your friendship once so precious may not survive. It is a time of loss and gain, of shedding the treasures of our childhoods, and finding new ones. It is a time of putting our childhood and adolescence away, and having to face being a grown up forever, which looks scary at best, even in the best of times.
When I look at what all young people have to deal with, the bumps in the road they will have to face and always have at that age, and the even bigger bumps we have created for them, and the potholes in the road, my heart goes out to them, and aches. As I watch my children deal with growing up, I worry about them constantly at the difficulties that may face them, and sometimes do. I hate the romantic disappointments they face, the losses, the sorrows, the fears. I hate the hardships they may face. And as I watch them struggle through it, with amazing grace, I am filled with admiration for their courage. Their road is so much harder than ours was. They have all the same normal heart aches to face that we did, and many of the same fears, that come from just not being a child anymore and having to find their way in a grown up world, with less protection than they once enjoyed. And now, in addition, they must learn to navigate in a far more complicated world.
Young people in their 20’s are not to be envied. When I take a close look, and remember, I would not go back to my 20’s for anything in the world, even if I was wrinkle-free and my thighs looked better. It is a tough, tough time, a rite of passage, and a hard one. My children in their 20’s, and their peers, have all my love and respect for all they deal with, and how hard they try to figure out their path. They are not to be envied, but to be supported. By the time we hit our 30’s, many of us have figured out how things work, and we start to feel confident about life. But in our 20’s everything is to be discovered, sometimes the hard way, by our mistakes. It is the beginning of the game, the beginning of real life. And all we can wish them is safe passage, and hope that the joys they encounter will be greater than the pains. But if those of us who are older think back to our 20’s, we will remember that it is not an easy time. All I can wish for those of you in your 20’s is that the road will be smooth, and you will make wise choices. Try not to be afraid, you will discover everything you need to know in time. Take good care, and be careful…..and enjoy these years, as challenging as they are!!! And if you pay attention to what you’re doing, I know you will be fine!!! (And remember that no one else knew any more than you do at your age!!) You’re doing great!!! Love, Danielle