Love in the age of irony, Part 2

Readers weigh in on what it's like to be young and searching for love, sex and a way to make sense of the boomer generation.

Published September 17, 2002 7:33PM (EDT)

Read Part 1

We are sick of you

Attention, baby boomers: We are sick of you.

We are sick of hearing about how much fun the '60s were. You got to sway naked in a field while listening to acid rock. Good for you. We'd love to hang out naked in a field smoking pot, but, unfortunately, the economy has been in the crapper for a long time and we have to go to work.

We are sick of you telling us how apathetic and apolitical we are. Again, it's really great that you all had the time to march around, stick flowers in guns and fight the power. Believe me, we young 'uns have our political views, we just don't see what holding up a poorly constructed placard is going to do (besides get us maced by an increasingly violent police culture). Plus, all that protesting didn't seem to do anything for you guys.

Sidebar: You were raised on Kennedy. We got Reagan (the man who was busy fighting Legionnaire's Disease while thousands of people were dying of an as yet unidentified disease known as AIDS). Cut us some slack if we seem a little uninterested in the political.

Next, pul-lease quit talking about all you did for the environment. If you drive anything larger than a Toyota Echo, leave us alone. If I see one more "Save the Earth" or "Visualize World Peace" bumper sticker on a Ford Expedition or a Jeep Cherokee, I'm going to scream. (I know, I know, you need those big SUVs to take your kids to therapy and haul people to the WTO protests.)

Oh yeah, and we are really sick of you talking about free love. You don't think we want to have healthy, enjoyable, more casual sex lives? You did it, you enjoyed it and you lived. For us, one wrong move, one bad night, or one random condom with a pinprick and we die (and not from Legionnaire's Disease). We've been trained to fear sex since grade school. Most of us learned how to wrap a banana in a condom by the age of 8, just in case.

We are also sick of hearing about how our music sucks. Believe it or not, some influential musical influences began creating well after 1969. Baby boomers, I'd like you to meet Public Enemy and Dr. Dre. (On the other hand, if you are a 45-year-old woman and you are dressing like Shakira in public and it is not Halloween, please stop. You are pathetic. Baby Boomer Men, I likewise beg you, if you are listening to the White Stripes in an ear wax-colored Pontiac Bonneville, realize that those young girls next to you at the stoplight aren't smiling at you, they are laughing at you ... hard.)

One last complaint: If I hear one more baby boomer start a sentence with, "One time, at Studio 54...." I'm gonna hurt someone.

Now, of course, not all baby boomers tick us off. But if you start your sentences with "You know, kids, back in the '60s ... " more than twice a day, you may have a problem.

To quote Homer Simpson, "Shut up or we'll put you in that crooked nursing home we saw on '60 Minutes.'"

-- Liz

The lost generation

I grew up a member of the '80s generation. I graduated from high school at its conclusion, 1989. I grew up in a typical town in a typical state. I grew up around parents who grew up during the '60s.

I grew up in a time when AIDS was a new thing -- when medical science was just learning about this new disease. Transmission mechanisms were uncertain. Could you get it from kissing? Who knew -- which is why my first girlfriend and I never kissed in the two weeks we dated. Not once. Sex education was neither sexy nor educating. Radical changes were pushed through the system by the more liberal-minded of our parents, but they were restricted from really educating by the more conservative. Mostly I learned that you can't fail sex education, even if you mark "C" for every answer on every test.

I grew up in and around divorce. While my parents avoided the plague, everyone around me fell like flies. Parents longing for the freedom of their youth came and left like so many callers at a child's wake. Some talked to my friends about it, some didn't. None stayed for very long. All claimed needing to "experience life." The effects are still being shown to this day -- all of my friends either stay in relationships no matter what the cost or leave them no matter what the benefits.

I grew up around conflicting philosophies of life. I once caught a ride home from a dad of a friend. We talked during the ride as I often did with parents or step-parents of friends. We talked about what it was like during his youth. We talked about the ideals and the changes he wanted to make when he was not much older than I was. We talked about the free love and the love of issues and the love of life. And the music played all along: "You say you want a revolution ... " He dropped me off half a block from my house because my road was a dead end and it was notoriously difficult to turn around. He didn't want to risk denting his new Beamer -- with factory-installed CD player and leather seats that stuck to my thighs when I got out.

I grew up being told to "just say no." I remember finding a stash of pot in my friend's dad's bachelor pad. I remember lighting a joint, inhaling and nearly choking so hard I almost threw up. I remember two years later when I couldn't go out with my friend because he was in trouble for being arrested for possession.

I grew up asking the question, "What the hell is FICA?" when I got my first paycheck on my first job. Social Security, they said. What's that? It's so you have some money when you retire. Oh. Cool. Then I went to college and learned a thing or two (I hope). Apparently an aging population puts special pressures on society. President Clinton tells us Social Security will be bankrupt by the time I'm 50? Where the hell is my money?? I want it back!

I grew up being told all good music had been made already. Lennon was an icon for a generation (not mine). Hendrix was a god (but Eddie Van Halen, apparently, was a hack). The Ramones reflected the anger and discontent of a generation (while the haughty disdain of the Police was pretentious). Music is the voice of a cause of the people (Farm Aid, We Are the World, Free Mandela and I Won't Play Sun City are the causes of bored teens, it would seem).

I grew up during two major economic booms. Unfortunately, I was both too young and too old to take part in either of them. And the future isn't all that bright either -- apparently the '60s generation like their jobs. Who would you hire, a young buck with a few years' experience or a retired person who can do the job without benefits and brings a lifetime of experience to the job?

I share little with the '60s generation. Youth culture passed me by. Want to know where I turn for inspiration? The Lost Generation. Those who came of age in the '20s and '30s. Too young to enjoy the heyday of World War I and the boom of the '20s, too old to be "the greatest generation." That's where I sit.

Hope that helps.

-- Frank LaFone

Tragedy, sex and computers

I am one of those youth you talked of. No, I personally do not see most of the older population as doddering fools. But I get the feeling they see us as fools. But that's the attitude in every generation and probably not an unfounded one. I think with most of the youth it's the same thing as other youth. I don't think our generation has much of an identity; we take other generations' fashion statements. A lot of us wanted high school to be as simply stereotypical as the movies portray it to be. We wanted there to be the stupid jocks and the geeky smart kids, and some people try very hard to mold themselves into those things: I am smart therefore I must be a prep or a nerd. I have a blue mohawk therefore I must be angry at the world.

Most relationships I know have the consistency of popcorn, light and fun. I have been in one serious relationship out of seven, and let me tell you the one that was serious still hurts me to this day. I broke up with him and I'm not sure why; I wasn't ready for the commitment of it, I think, but I still love him.

No one wants to talk about STDs, and if we do it's to make fun of them. For all the sex ed we get, my friends still ask me if they can get pregnant when he didn't come in them and didn't even come close to it. A lot of us tune it out because we hear it all the time.

I think I am bound to mention (though I think it is the same with most generations) that everything is a bloody drama. I had the worst childhood or I have the worst parents or I had the most abusive relationship. Even if it was bad, everyone I know thinks that it could not possibly be worse when they know for a fact that it could be. They are so arrogant about it as if they are proud of being the "best" at something.

I live in Florida and when 9/11 happened a lot of my friends just made noises. They look at things like the Holocaust and say, "That was really sad." I think that we as a generation are incredibly jaded when it comes to tragedy, sex and computers.


-- Sonnet Robinson

Youth is a state of mind

For anyone to know how being young is "different" now than before means they'd have to have been young both times.

Ultimately, youth is not a time of life but a (horribly clichéd) state of mind. Every man who's left his wife after 20 years of marriage for a woman 20 years of age does it to feel young again. As do women who carve their faces and inject poison in their brows so that the evidence of having been thoughtful and alive can be replaced with the blank slate that is chronological youth. Seeking the comfort of established limits (i.e., when you can and can't go outside) is not an indicator of youth, but a reflection on the uncertainty you feel about making your own decisions. Sure, the circumstances of being young change with the times, but, by and large, the experiences do not: Young men and women still exchange sex for recognition -- still confuse freedom with a lack of responsibility.

I'm 31 and have more freedom, feel more alive and tingle with more possibility than ever before. As a married man, in a loving relationship with a wonderful woman, life is more adventurous -- and I get much more than recognition from sex; I get far more satisfaction and experimentation and surprise, as well. The responsibilities in my life that I've acquired with age haven't made me old -- my mortgage means I live in a wonderful place of my choosing. (I can always sell -- heck, I just moved from a large city to the edge of farm country without a problem and I can move again, if I need to.) The school loans, rash road trips, unplanned jobs and the adventures I've taken weren't in a vaccum -- my current job and interests are a result of trying to answer questions I've had about the world since I was young. I still ask those questions and, on the odd occasions I stumble across answers, I'm invariably led toward more questions.

All the truly "articulate and bursting" youth from whom you are seeking validation don't have answers to your questions. They're too busy trying to find their own way -- which has nothing to do with comparing their experiences to what other generations rebeled against. And if you have to ask if you look like the fuddy-duddies your parents resembled, you already have your answer. Let's all look forward at the same world together and stop obsessing about whose youth was best -- or the most fun. There is little useful to be learned from pitting one generation against others -- that's how the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and homophobia of the so-called greatest generation stays embedded in our culture. We are on a constant, forced march forward in time -- to focus only on what we thought was great about yesterday makes improving the reality of today harder.

-- Travis Sullivan

By "Since You Asked" readers

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