Love in the age of irony, Part 3

Young readers talk about "alternative" relationships, cleaning up after the boomers, Kurt Cobain, the desire to love and be loved, and more.


"Since You Asked" readers
September 18, 2002 11:02PM (UTC)

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Old and infantile

I turn 24 in nine days and I feel incredibly old and yet surprisingly infantile. Perhaps I can explain this, but odds on I can't.

Right now I'm a bit worn out. After being unemployed for four months I now have a job at yet another start-up, making exactly one-third the money I was making at my last job. My car blew up a month ago, and I've just gotten another one for $200. My job makes me work strange, odd hours like 3am-9am, and this is job number eight in my career of six years. I feel like every startup has taken two years off my life.

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All of those things make me feel old. I left school to pursue my work, and I've worked 60- and 70-hour weeks at times. Those are the things that you do when you are young but make you feel like you're an old man with popping joints and jaded eyes. Typical dot-com burnout, I guess.

At the so-called height, I was making twice what my father was. In any terms, an obscene amount of money. All of it is gone now, pretty much -- a lot of lunches, a lot of going out to dinner, and a lot of rent payments. I was supposed to be an adult, but I was just a geek who was being paid to do what he had always done.

Now, after the crash, I feel old from everything that has happened but still young for what is in my future. Tomorrow I start one class at a local junior college -- Intermediate Algebra. I got a D in it five years ago. I think I can get an A in it now, I'm pretty sure. Nothing makes me sure except looking at all of the things I have done at work. In school, they try to help you learn. With the computer industry, they don't care about learning, they care about doing. In six hours. And please move it into production tonight.

Taking the placement test, I felt old. I looked around -- some of these people are still in high school. Then I felt young again, knowing that I was in school and going to be learning things this time around instead of playing Tetris on my HP calculator. To have the earnest interest of youth, that seems to amount for a lot.

I skateboard. Sometimes off and on, sometimes fanatically, but it doesn't matter. When I am on my board I am ageless. I am 8 years old careening down the driveway. I am 14 learning how to ollie for the first time. I am wearing combat boots and am skating a deck with skulls on the bottom and it's 1989. I am 17 and almost getting mugged behind Best Buy. I am 22, sitting on a curb near my apartment watching the airplanes go overhead and sweating.

I have been seeing an older woman for eight months now. She is 39. She was 37 when I met her, when I told her that she didn't look a day over 26. We were friends for a long time before getting involved. She seems so young in so many ways. She has so many friends, of all different ages. Her mother is mentally ill and she is the only one in the family that takes care of her. She loves animals, and houseplants, and children. Of all of the people I could be involved with, she is tremendously loving and supportive.

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She is older and feels young to me. When people see us together, they don't really notice an age difference. Our relationship makes me see things from a different perspective, but the wisdom we share is definitely a two-way street. We laugh at the generational differences -- I have grown up with computers my entire conscious life, and to me a Nintendo controller is just as intuitive as a telephone. She finds interesting my fetish with vinyl records and doing some of my writing on a 1955 Smith Corona Sterling typewriter.

I feel like I haven't answered the question, really. What is it like to be young? Being young to me is realizing that I have a few more times I can fuck up before it really matters. I'm thinking of buying an old VW Beetle. I go to punk rock shows and write music reviews. I'm doing some of the things I really should have done in high school. I don't view this so much as regression as tying up some loose ends.

Being young to me is trying to convince myself that anything is possible. Being wise to me is realizing over the past six years that money has never made me happy.

Being young is drinking a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English 800 in a parking lot and being hung over for work the next day. Being wise is skipping the 40, going to the show, and taking two aspirins and going directly to bed so that you can get up and enjoy your weekend.

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Being young is skateboarding and falling down a lot and getting angry. Being wise is skateboarding and falling down a lot and realizing that gravity teaches you things.

Being young is watching MTV and wishing you could be a part of it. Being wise is realizing that you don't need anybody else to tell you how to make or listen to music, and stepping out of your role as consumer.

So, in some ways I'm young, in some ways I feel old. I really don't know what else to say.

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-- Kevin Jamieson

In the shadow of our elders

Since I turned 30 this year, I don't know if I qualify as youthful anymore. But I do have two baby boomer parents, divorced, naturally. I was born in 1972, which qualifies me as a Generation X-er. Since both groups seems to be the subject of much debate and conjecture, I thought I'd try and shed some light on what it is like to be part of a generation constantly in the shadow of its elders.

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I think the best way to explain this is using the example of why Nirvana became so popular in the early '90s. I was in college at UC Santa Cruz, and to be there in 1991 was like stepping in a time machine to 1969. The Grateful Dead was selling out more shows than it had in its heyday and classic rock could be heard booming from every sound system in the dorms. We were a generation of kids imitating our parents. We had been so inundated in our childhoods how their "rebellion" was so fierce and cool, their experimentation so daring, their ideals so cutting edge, that I think we (or most of us) wanted to feel those things too. And since it had been done before we just sort of followed the trail that had been blazed before us.

But there was always something lacking, and it was originality. Then along came this new "grunge" movement, where the singers and bands were young, our age, not an aging Mick Jagger selling out arenas on nostalgia alone. Kurt Cobain looked like us with his Converse one-stars and vintage Hang 10 shirts. He screamed and yelled and sometimes didn't sound all that great, and yes, some uptight boomers could argue he was derivative like anything post Led Zeppelin, but he was new. His music was new and it was ours. Finally we could tell our kids about the first time we heard "Smells like Teen Spirit." I will never forget seeing Pearl Jam, Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Cow Palace New Year's Eve 1991 turning into 1992. I was so excited that I had my own distinct memory of a rock show that my parents couldn't usurp.

But as hard as I try to create my own identity, mom and dad are always close behind. If you talk to my dad, he loved Kurt Cobain because "he seemed cool." If my mom is in my car and hears a song by X that she likes, she'll beg me to make a mix tape. How can I ever be cooler than my parents if my mom is driving around listening to X or the Clash?! She's even begun to rebuff the whole boomer nostalgia thing, she now groans when they have a singers & songwriters CD advertised on TV and asks when people will put the '60s to rest. My dad is anxious to hear what books I like to read, what places I go to, how "we" feel about "them," what our dating rituals are. Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like a certain Salon.com column writer.

The conclusion I have come to is, as long as we have parents and superiors who shaped their own identities on youth and coolness, it gives us less chance to express ours. And as long as you guys are obsessed with how the world sees "you" you'll never be able to see all of the things you weren't a part of creating, and I know you may cringe to hear this, but it's quite a few things. So, stop stifling yourself and accept the wheel of life, you're getting old (like all of us!) -- and stop stealing everyone's thunder!

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-- Lisa Waggoner

Not wanting to be cynical

Remember if you will the movie "High Fidelity." One scene finds Rob describing, in voice-over, a relationship he took up with someone who had just had a bad breakup while he himself also just had a bad breakup. Paraphrasing: "It takes a certain disposition to be worried about being alone for the rest of your life at 26 -- we were of that disposition." I am by no means searching for a wife at this point; the whole notion of marriage is still very unrealistic and foreign to me, and yet (turning 25 recently) I feel I am beginning to understand why people desire it.

I have run into what is surely a more modern early to mid-20s dilemma. I spent quite a long time espousing and living my independence (from 23 to 25) -- dating but without a girlfriend per se. After those two decisive years I found that I did in fact want again the joy of a relationship. Simply someone to spend time with, to love, to be loved back, and of course physical intimacy. I admit two things at this point. 1) I have only made two specific attempts at relationships these past few months and 2) that I fall hard and easily for the women I choose to pursue. I find it difficult to brush away the feelings of "not being wanted."

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It seems that there is a dilemma among those in their 20s, myself included. We have a certain fear of commitment, a desire to not be tied down because of what limitations that means. I find I no longer feel like that, and am sad that this is the current state of relationship ideology among those I want to date and my friends.

I can envision myself turning around when I meet someone in the future and we fall in love and give each other the happiness that enraptures and plagues (happily) our consciousness-ridden selves.

-- Lance Fuller

Fine with love that isn't free

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I guess I've never read a bio on you, but your writing never suggested to me that you are old. I'm 30 and I also "want my world back."

I'm not as quick to condemn anyone in your generation as I might have been when I was full of arrogant and ignorant bluster (and blaming your numbers for my job at a photocopy shop). The preservation of youth and its psychological corollary, fear of death, are ancient afflictions. Members of your generation or any other, who cling to superficialities, nostalgia and consumerism disguised as youthfulness are easy to criticize and all too common. Botox and Jimmy Buffett's enduring popularity just make your generation's youth obsession a bit more obvious.

What's it like for me to be young and in a relationship these days? Your generation had something to prove. You fought the sexual revolution so I don't have to. Now I can use every vibrating toy or restraint in any magazine, or have missionary position sex once a year or never, and I don't have to justify it to anyone. Despite the shocking infection rates, AIDS can be avoided by adding some brains to your bacchanal. Love that is slightly less than perfectly free is still far better than what you started with. We are doing fine in this department, thank you.

What does this mean for the dynamics of my relationship? Whatever backlash may have developed from the revolution your generation brought about in our notions gender politics and society in general, I credit you guys for at least defining a line of inquiry by which we can reflect on ourselves and our mates. I don't need to feel that women are any big mystery. If you have the dreaded talk about the relationship (or sex or money or in-laws) honestly and openly, it's over faster and everyone is happier. Pain and confusion still exist, but obviously that will never change.

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-- Peter Lenardon

We're cleaning up your messes

It's true that the flower children of the '60s were the first generation to celebrate youth. I think my generation (at 22, I fall into the very tail end of Gen X) envies that, even if we don't want to admit it. This is a topic that is inevitably discussed in contemporary college settings, and I hope this structure-less torrent of free thought does some justice to the views many Gen Xers have.

The Baby Boom generation has managed to prolong their youth -- the number of '60s-based TV shows premiering this fall, not to mention the ever-touring Rolling Stones, proves that much. Some of my generation selectively celebrate that culture: Free love, drugs, and Grateful Dead music abound in many circles. Yet the optimism that fueled the hippie dream of recreating the world died alongside the GIs in Vietnam. Those Gen Xers who engage in the free-spirit lifestyle often don't share the drive to fight for social reform.

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Still, another group resents the presence of their parent's culture in their lives. We may benefit from the social changes brought about by the Baby Boomers, but we also pay for the mistakes. I live in a culture that (generally) accepts an unprecedented level of moral, sexual and identity diversity, yet I have no concept of the once-simple reality of sexuality existing without AIDS, because I have never witnessed it. This group has rebelled against their parents in unusual ways. Young Republicans celebrate the ideals their parents dismissed as frivolous, "Deep" (which runs the gamut from the pensive youth who writes poetry all the way up to the under-appreciated Goth community) Gen Xers embrace the beauty of darkness many flower children overlooked, and others fill their lives with all things artificial, from drum machines to Ecstasy.

So how do we look at the aging Boomers? There are plenty of Boomers who may have grown up, but never matured. The party-hearty lifestyle of, say, the Van Dams perfectly illustrates the segment of the Boomer generation many Gen Xers feel complete contempt for. We never participated in your party, yet we're cleaning up after it. Watching Boomers who have yet to mature is too painful -- their children will be cleaning up after that party for the rest of their lives. Still, the majority of Boomers have grown up and understood that they have to leave youthful gallivanting to the youth. As adults, these Boomers tend have wonderful relationships with their children, and have a youthful quality that most other generations sacrificed at the threshold of adulthood.

The moral of the story? All Gen Xers celebrate the freedoms that their parents fought so hard to obtain. Boomers who recognize that the world they once inhabited has changed are generally embraced by this new generation. But those who try to hold onto their culture are doing a great disservice. We may have inherited the freedoms you worked so hard to bring about, but we're cleaning up the messes you made along the way. Many of us want to know one thing: Why is the generation that fought so hard for social freedom pushing their culture onto us?

-- Stefanie Brychcy

Spiritually undecided

I just read your plea for youthful narratives, and I suppose that mine might be typical of the 20-somethings of today.

I'm male, 25 years old and college educated. I was raised by one parent. My name is that of a Hindu demigod, yet I'm white, and my parents are no longer in the "Hindu" cult into which I was born. I am undecided spiritually, some might even say confused, because of my own parents' lack of commitment to a path, and because of being raised in an open-minded and multicultural setting.

I have a half-brother and a half-sister (both older than me) that were raised by their stepfather (my father). My mother is still on a flighty spiritual quest for enlightenment of which she never grew out, and by which she finds herself in Nepal, Germany, India and other random places sending her abandoned children e-mails on birthdays and holidays.

Because of the morals that my parents (most notably my father) took as their own, I have been a registered member of the Green Party, but have since rescinded any political affiliation. My parents' failure to bring about the utopia of their dreams left a politically sour aftertaste in my mouth. I went to school looking for unassailable truths to find only some loose guidelines by which to live and call oneself "liberal." I know that that label is so twisted up in its historical origins as to be useless, but that's what the quotation marks are for.

I graduated from Humboldt State University only seven years after dropping out of high school and heading off to my local junior college. Sixteen changes of my major, a felony DUI and four months in jail couldn't stop me from gaining a useless piece of paper proving I finished. A B.A. in political science from a school known for its pot and its tree-sitters.

All of this is leading somewhere, I assure you.

Our culture's acceptance of "divorce as the norm" doesn't help to build any faith in long-term relationships. Not only the fall of my own parent's union when I was 5, but the general failure of all the marriages in my extended family and family's friends (if not failure, then horrible pain and misery and malicious treatment) has led me to believe that it is not in human nature to tie oneself to another for a lifetime. The happiest couples that I've met have had "alternative" relationships, be they open or queer or serially monogamous.

My own best relationships have also been "alternative." When I say "best" I mean that there was mutual respect, honesty about emotions and issues, simple and mutually beneficial separations and great sex. These relationships were always with other like-minded people that saw the uselessness of trying to tie oneself to another with an arbitrary promise of eternal commitment. These relationships were based on a common understanding that people ALWAYS change, and that, for now, our lives are compatible. Not forever, just now.

The politics of sex and love, influenced as it is by the ubiquitous Hollywood machine, has for as long as I can remember been shaping notions of the ideal relationship. Believing in these unrealistic and unattainable ideals leads one to either disillusionment or self-delusion, both of which make for unhappy campers. Growing up as part of this generation, the generation of hippies' kids, does have benefits, though: Buddhist nonattachment, acceptance of impermanence, a skewed and media-driven concept of the sexual revolution and dogmatic use of contraception have kept me both physically and emotionally safe from harm (thus far).

"How should life be," you ask.

Here's how life should be: some disaster should wipe nine-tenths of the human population from the earth so that what's left will have the ability to live in a manner congruent with the planet's unaided productivity. Preferably this disaster will be obviously linked to human activity and overpopulation/consumption, so that those few that are left will know better next time. The now-sparse population exceeds all expectations and remains peaceful; after all, what is there left to fight about when everyone has everything needed for survival? Relationships follow the unhindered course that nature intended: tribes raising children, with sexual partnerships lasting only as long as they are mutually advantageous. The rule of law is accepted as irrelevant and discarded. People aid each other when necessary and live their own lives for the rest of the time. In short, they live as they lived before history, before mono-crop agriculture, before property and before marriage.

Hope this is helpful in your quest for the youth's understanding of the world.

-- Arjuna Twombly


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