I graduated, and I'm bored with beer pong, '80s playlists and Judd Apatow. So what's next?

I'm not sure I want to spend the next 10 years doing bong hits and playing video games. Nor do I want to join a book discussion group.

Published October 9, 2008 10:10AM (EDT)

Hello, Cary:

I'm turning 27 and have been on my own since college. Over a year ago I exited a seven-year, mostly long-distance relationship, and things have generally been great. I've been floating around and having fun readjusting, but now I'm getting the urge to have some stability. Mind you, I only mean socially; I'm not interested in having a wife or children anytime soon.

I'm good friends with my two housemates, and we've built a decent coed network of buddies. I visit home every few weekends and get along great with my family and the old gang. The problem is that my social life feels inappropriate for my age, personality and interests. I like engaging in intelligent conversation (with preferably a beautiful, funny girl once in a while), sitting at regular ol' bars for a few beers and smokes, and consuming music, nonfiction and other quality cultural media.

But though they are also out of college with careers now, the people I've been hanging around with thrive on more of an extended adolescence: empty flirtation with Barbie at the trendy nightspots, beer pong, '80s iPod playlists, making fun of each other, and lounging in gym clothes in front of video games, Judd Apatow movies and ESPN. I do wish I could now claim some of the shameless, irresponsible, mainstream fun that my serious relationship kept in check, but on the other hand, there was a reason I never wanted to join a frat ...

I can escape from that scene in some satisfying ways -- practicing the piano, having an occasional co-workers happy hour, getting back into riding my bicycle and playing tennis, and reading, reading, reading -- but none are opportunities to start friendships with cooler people.

My mother said to find a discussion group at a bookstore. Eh, maybe ... What do you think? Should I turn back toward the home crowd? Should I look for a new job or go back to school? Should I try falling in with the seemingly hip clientele at a certain local bar, and if so, how would I go about politely ditching the housemates on those nights? Or is it just time to give up, find a girl online or something, and settle?


Socially Stuck

Dear Socially Stuck,

May I say, first of all, that it sounds like you have a really great life, relatively speaking? That doesn't mean you should stay in it and not move on. But you have a great foundation for taking the next step. And it's time. It's time for that next step. You've identified some needs and you're thinking of ways to fulfill them within your current situation. But I do not think it has occurred to you that your current situation is too small to meet your needs. I sense that you have bigger dreams.

Naturally, you want to preserve certain privileges of youth. You are only 27. You still enjoy certain pleasures of college life, the fraternal feelings among your housemates, the feeling of security that comes of being with them and being able to act naturally, feeling you belong. And you can still stay up all night and go to parties and not look like the oldest guy there.

But you also are a serious person. You have a mind. Nothing to be ashamed of. You worked hard in school and you find some of the pursuits of your friends boring and immature. You want to grow. While you don't want to get married and settle in one job, you are ready to take on some big and interesting challenges. You are a thoughtful person who feels a little restless in his current rather unstructured and directionless setting.

You clearly have ambition and want something more. You don't yet want to be tied down with a wife and family, but you don't want to live an aimless, hedonistic post-college life of bong hits and video games either. I sense that you miss the structure of college and the intellectual challenge. It's possible that you went through undergraduate school without a clear notion of what you would do when you got out -- which is fine, perfectly fine. In fact what's great about a liberal arts education is that it lets one find oneself. So you found yourself. And here you are. So what do you do? Your questions are posed mainly in the context of, "How do I adjust to my current circumstances?" but my feeling is that it's time to change your current circumstances. My feeling is that your current circumstances are the problem. It's time for you to take the next big step. I think you need some challenges, and you need some structure, and you need a goal.

So I would start applying to professional programs. This is a perfect time for you to consider a professional academic program that leads to a career. What are you interested in? International affairs? Law? Business? Politics? Academia? I would pick a program that has a clear career path -- not necessarily to take up one of the known professional trades per se, to "become a lawyer" or "become an accountant," but to acquire the professional skills that will make life interesting.

Living with roommates from college who play video games in their sweatpants is fine if that's what you want. But you clearly don't. And joining a book group, while nice, won't address the fundamental question, which is, What crucial role do you play in the world? What kind of life do you make for yourself? How do you contribute? Those are the serious questions of adulthood. And they rest on a hard truth: These questions are not optional. You cannot hold back time. You either make hard choices, grow and move on, or you get left behind. Right now you are ahead of the game. But soon, the same restlessness that has come over you will come over your housemates. So you might as well get busy filling out applications.

My suggestion, in short, is that you interpret your restlessness for what it is: a longing to go out into the world and face the challenges of adulthood. So make some big plans for yourself. Big plans make life interesting.

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