My grandmother once remarked that when she was 20 marriage was the adventure — for both men and women — and career was a icing on the cake.
Somewhere between then and now accepted wisdom flip-flopped. Education and achievement are now considered the adventure while marriage (indeed any long-term relationship) is an afterthought.
Now we are told “30 is the new 20.” Today’s “kidults” are encouraged to view their 20s as an extended adolescence, a time to avoid what Grandma called “settling down.”
However, lately several books and blogs have challenged the notion that the 20s don’t matter:
Since reading this book I have recommended it to every twentysomething I know. Jay argues that the 20s are a “critical period of adulthood” and “a developmental sweet spot that comes only once.” Contrary to popular wisdom, she concludes that people are happier if they have a life in their 30s rather than waiting to start life in their 30s. In other words, the 30s are better when you find a person (a marriage), a position (a good job) and a place (settling down) in your 20s.
While The Defining Decade is directed at young people, Generation iY is directed at those who parent, hire, coach, mentor and teach twentysomethings. Elmore defines Generation iY as those born after 1990 who are defined by technology more than any other generation. Elmore argues they are “overwhelmed, overconnected, overprotected and overserved.” As a result, they are unprepared for the challenges of adulthood. Elmore suggests we need new strategies for teaching them that are “experiential, participatory, image-rich and connected.”
Andree Sue Peterson’s blog post “Why twentysomethings shouldn’t go it alone” makes the interesting point the it’s difficult — if not impossible – to discover yourself alone. She writes: “I find that it is in relationship, and not in sequester from it, that I learn ‘who I am.’ I once thought I was a pretty good person until I got into a relationship. When I got married in 1980, I was going to be the best wife who ever lived. It wasn’t long before I found out what awful things I was capable of.”
The Atlantic published an article “Women in Their 20s Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Wanting a Boyfriend” (March 5 2013) in which they were shocked to learn that young women still want a long term relationship — not a hook-up — but they feel like they are betraying their education and achievements to want a marriage. To prioritize building a relationship over building a career is shocking to them. In a related article “There’s No Perfect Age to Find a Husband” the Atlantic argues that we “should all become more accepting” of women settling down younger than the “right” age.
This is news? My grandmother would be shocked that they are shocked.
Adulthood is more crucial than it seems. And (surprise!), adulthood involves settling down — or finding a person, a position and a place. The 20s are a great time to start.