Sunday 16 December 2018

Don’t hate us. You made us: A Millennial plea for understanding

You made us. You told us we were special. You told us that people were only making fun of us because they were jealous, not because we deserved it. You gave us medals for taking part. Now you’re reaping what you sowed and the harvest is stupid-looking 25-year-olds who want to be personal trainers when they grow up, and don’t realise they’re grown up already.’

Millennial Ciara O'Connor. Photograph by Tegid Cartwright
Millennial Ciara O'Connor. Photograph by Tegid Cartwright

Ciara O'Connor

I am a self-entitled narcissist. I'm soft, work-shy and scared of everything. I'm censorious, hypocritical and incapable of normal human interaction. I have no intention of growing up and standing on my own two feet. I read these things every day about myself, because I am 27, and therefore part of The Worst Generation Ever. I'm a millennial. And I'm sorry.

I understand that it is the prerogative of every older generation to whinge and shake their fists at the generations that come after them. Becoming a resentful, crotchety old windbag and getting away with it is surely one of the greatest perks of getting older. But I can't help but feel that somehow the naysaying is worse now - and kind of meaner.

Every day brings a new op-ed about how millennials are destroying the world with our flighty snowflake ways. In 2017, we were accused of murdering doorbells, lunch, marriage, marmalade, beer, diamonds, bars of soap, threesomes, fabric softener, dinner dates, cruises, napkins, wine corks, handshakes, light yoghurts, gambling, cereal, suits, serendipity, oil, stilettos and traditional automotive marketing.

It all seems a bit much. Of course, believing that we are especially besieged and victimised is, in itself, a very millennial quality, so it's hard for me to be objective on this.

Everyone knows that the worst thing about millennials is our infuriating sense of entitlement. We want success served up to us on a plate, and we don't want to work for it. We crave constant praise and attention from our bosses. We're spoilt.

And yet, just before Christmas, a study from New Zealand was published which found no evidence of rising entitlement in millennials. Instead, it seems that entitlement in younger people is a developmental thing, not generational. So the older we get, the less entitled we feel.

Parent power: helping your millennial to move out
Parent power: helping your millennial to move out

That is, until we hit 65. The research found that entitlement tends to creep up again at this age.

"That is what we call the La Dolce Vita effect - retired people feeling they have worked hard and now deserve to reap the benefits of that," the researchers said. Indeed, there's no one better than a 70-year-old to tell you the meaning of hard work, and where exactly you're going wrong: see, you work behind a bar for a couple of months at 18, then you go to an office at exactly 9am every day and leave not a minute after five. After three years, you buy a family home for a couple of thousand; fast forward 40 years, and you can sell it for a million! La Dolce Vita! Why didn't we think of that?

This might explain why it isn't 20-somethings demanding to speak to the manager in Debenhams because their toaster broke after five years, or because they dropped their bronzer and it smashed, or because they found one of their own hairs in their soup. It's science, guys.

Perhaps, then, generational tensions are not because we are different - but because we are the same. Maybe the under-30s and over-60s are just a load of spoilt narcissists trying to blame each other for their problems, and failing to see we're looking in a mirror.

Last month, an online 'influencer' emailed an Irish hotel asking to 'collaborate' (millennials do not work, they collab). She asked the hotel to put her up, free of charge, in exchange for exposure on her social media.

The reply from the hotel, which it posted on Facebook - along with a screenshot of the influencer's email request - pointed out that 'exposure' wouldn't pay for the cook to make her breakfast, the maid to make her bed, the rent, and so on. The hotel's Facebook reply continued: "It takes a lot of balls to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity".

There was uproar. The influencer, Elle Darby, outed herself almost immediately in an emotional YouTube video (naturally).

"I feel disgusting. I feel vile having to say this, but as a 22-year-girl who's running her own business from her home, I don't feel like I did anything wrong."

If I could have jumped through my computer screen and grabbed the shovel myself, I would have. But I couldn't. She carried on digging.

"I work as a social media influencer. It's how I live my life; it's what I know. It's the only job that has brought me happiness. It makes me feel like I'm living my life's purpose. I feel like I'm helping others in so many ways. And that's why I do what I do."

Stop. Please, for the love of god, stop.

"I'm just a young girl trying to live her best life."

Elle, no.

"I was embarrassed, I felt humiliated. So many emotions going through me that I should never have had to feel in the first place."

RIP, Elle.

But then something strange happened. Despite my better judgment, I began to... agree with her. She pointed out that she was being roasted by people who were not social-media natives, who did not necessarily understand how it works. They were all "like, 30 years-plus".

She has a point, even older millennials (like me) don't understand this micro-generation below us, who have figured out how to monetise being charming on camera. She urged us to move with the times. And we probably should - Pandora's Box has been opened. The internet exists. Jobs that didn't exist 20 years ago are now a thing, and we should probably just get over it.

It's the cobwebbed old curmudgeons who, she says, make it so hard "for people to follow their dreams. There are so many young people out there nowadays whose life goal is to be able to say, 'I can provide for myself and my family by putting videos I enjoy making on YouTube'."

It's easy to laugh in her face. It's like she's asking for it. But why are we so snobby about people doing jobs that they actually like? Millennials are lambasted for having the audacity to say they would like to feel good about their work. That's a pretty strange state of affairs. Call me a snowflake, pelt me with P45s, but what sort of a world do we live in where happiness is dismissed as a notion-y luxury?

Elle's video was nearly 20 minutes long, and it was 20 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. It was difficult at times. I had to turn the volume down. I physically cringed with my whole body. But I think she taught me something: just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean we have to ruin it for people who do. Whether we like it or not, many hotels would (and do) jump at the chance for the advertising.

The older people calling this girl a nasty freeloader are probably the same ones using unpaid interns. 'Exposure' doesn't pay the bills, but neither does 'experience', and yet plenty of young people are expected to work, unpaid, for the latter - and be grateful.

Elle is technically the same generation as me, but she seems like some kind of exotic alien. She probably doesn't remember landlines. But she's an alien that comes in peace with an important message for all humanity: get real.

The rest of us failed YouTubers are living with the parents. Mammies are writing to newspaper agony aunts, asking how they can get young Shane to maybe buy a pint of milk here and there, and is it too late to teach him how to use the washing machine, and does he have to eat with us every night - it's getting a bit much?

If it helps, Shane probably doesn't want to be there either; he hates that you make brown bread in his NutriBullet, but he's out of options.

Rental opportunities in Dublin recently included a double bed, where your head could lie directly beside the feet of the person paying to sleep in another single bed at a 90-degree angle to yours, in the same room, which is also a kitchen.

Dad, I know what you're thinking - didn't you and Mick Crotty used to top and tail when you went to London in the summers to work on the sites? Weren't you grand? But Dad, this place is €1,300 a month. It's a new-build. Eighteen-year-old chancers like you and Crotty have been priced out of the market completely.

For €1,000 a month, you can sleep in a child's bunk bed with your fridge beneath you. Cheaper options include a literal corridor, with a sort of kitchen and a bed, all along one long, narrow hallway, for a mere €750 per month.

If we were really willing to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and go down to €650, we could rent someone's shed ('log house') which has Netflix, but apparently no bed, or anywhere to make a bite to eat. Presumably, we're meant to sit on the couch under the 'Live, Love, Laugh' decal, eating Alpen bars and imagining what a functional economy looked like.

I met a girl at a 30th-birthday party a few months ago who's finishing up her PhD at Trinity. She's sharing a place with a creepy dude who has "crossed the line" a few times, and she has to keep her bedroom door locked. The slight edge of fear whenever she's home is worth it, because she wouldn't be able to find a room to herself on her budget anywhere else in the city.

I know loads of you lived in some pretty awful places. But you did so to save up and make something of yourself and buy a real house, where you were not compelled to sleep next to a microwave. It was worth it! Look at you now! But rents have skyrocketed, and wages just haven't. There's no saving up to be done. If we're refusing to grow up, it's because we're left with little choice.

And let's not pretend that men living with their mammies until they're 30 is a new thing here. Come on.

We might look like a generation of flighty commitmentphobes living in sin and putting off babies, but having grown up seeing so many unhappy marriages, entered into far too young, who can blame us? And we're the first generation in this country to grow up not completely terrified of sex.

In fact, a study last year made waves when it showed that, apparently, Irish millennials are among the most sexually liberated young people in Europe. You see, apparently 55pc of us have had sex outside. This was taken by the rest of Europe to be proof of our kinkiness. I wouldn't want to disavow them of this notion; it's kind of nice being the cool kids for once.

But of course, here we know that the reason so many of us have had sex outside is not because we're liberated exhibitionists, but because we all live at home, and we'd rather die than have mammy bumping into Jack or Jill sneaking out in the morning. Even if she didn't see him or her, she'd just know anyway when she came in the next day to see if you had any white washing. She'd know. So a quickie behind the bins it is. Needs must.

To be fair, it is true that we must seem like an awful bunch of sluts. Ireland got through the 1960s and 1970s unscathed by free love. While their contemporaries across the Atlantic were going mad on contraception, Ireland was still enjoying its long (pants on) 19th Century. Since Irish millennials have been born, homosexuality has been decriminalised, divorce legalised, the morning-after pill has become readily available, and attendance at Mass has dropped.

Slightly prudish

In many ways, Ireland has pulled the stick out of its arse. But in comparison to other countries, it happened very quickly. And that's disorienting for anyone. It's especially easy for Irish parents to look at their children and wonder what in the name of god happened.

But there's always Saoirse Ronan to remind us that we're not doomed. She was on The Ellen Show in the US a while back, and when asked whether she was dating anyone, she replied, "No, I don't know how to date."

Ellen DeGeneres then tried to play a game of 'Who would you rather?' with Hollywood men, which a baffled and slightly prudish Saoirse basically refused to engage in - "I think we could have a nice companionship together," she eventually conceded of one of them. The exasperated host told her: "You're like a 75-year-old woman. The audience don't understand you. What decade does she live in?" Saoirse is a crap millennial, by American standards, but the interview struck a chord with a lot of us here. You see, Saoirse is a total Aisling.

Oh My God What A Complete Aisling started as a Facebook group to pay homage to a particular flavour of young Irish woman: an Aisling who commutes to Dublin from down home, knows the Weight Watchers points for everything, and carries her work shoes in a Brown Thomas bag. She's not much of an avocado-on-toast girl; she holds no truck with notions. The Facebook group became a book, and every woman (and a few men) in Ireland was aghast or comforted or confused when they discovered they were a bit of an Aisling.

The OMGWACA Facebook group is probably the nicest place on the internet. I imagine it's what the inventors of the internet imagined when they typed the first 'www'. It's like a Utopian anti-mumsnet. It's… a community.

"Lads, I love travelling on the train. Joined in on a crossword puzzle with my fellow travellers. The best cross-generation craic I've had in ages!" someone posted. Replies included: "Which train?".

People post mundane, sweet, funny pictures, daily minutiae, problems and news, and invariably get about 40 mundane, sweet, funny replies. It's gentle and accepting and completely bizarre.

A 30-something posted about experimenting with off-brand tea on her husband, and hundreds of men and women aged from 19 to 90 chipped in: "Two-cup blind taste test. Make sure you tape the right name to the bottom of each mug"; "I wouldn't even tell him. Make a cup and let him drink it." And "I used to put the Lidl tea bags in the Lyons box at work, because the stingy fuckers never paid into the kitty on time. No-one noticed!"

If an older generation feels displaced by what appears to be an army of young brunching sociopaths, Aisling reminds us that Ireland is still a place for them. Because we kind of are them. The distaste for notions could be the unifying force we need in Ireland today.

It's comforting to know that in what seems to be an increasingly globalised world - in which the internet has obliterated borders, and toddlers in Cork have American accents from the TV - that there remains something distinctively Irish about we millennials; that fact offers the possibility of connection.

There is a wealth of sociological research here which shows there is a particular connectedness and empathic cross-generational bond between Irish family members. It's credited with the resounding 'yes' vote in the marriage equality referendum: young people here actually talk to their grandparents.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, vegan millennials everywhere remain shaken about Brexit to this day. Staying close and in contact with your oldies is just not as ingrained in English culture as it is here. The Brexit vote was broadly split across generational lines: never the twain met to talk about it. And so they all went to the polls unchallenged and innocent, thinking that everyone thought just like them.

I wonder whether the hatred of millennials comes from a shared sense of guilt: you made us. You told us we were special. You told us that people were only making fun of us because they were jealous, not because we deserved it. You gave us medals for taking part. We didn't invent the technology you blame us for, we were simply born into it and we adapted. We didn't create this economy. Now you're reaping what you sowed and the harvest is some stupid-looking 25-year-olds who want to be personal trainers when they grow up and don't realise they're grown up already.

It's too late - we've all just got to make do and get on with it.

My mother used remind me that if you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you're the asshole.

Is it possible that if you think an entire generation of Irish people are intolerable dicks, maybe you're the problem? Then again, am I the typical millennial, always looking to blame someone else and refusing to take responsibility?

In this case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. We're all as bad as each other. And we'll have to join forces soon, anyway - those Generation Zs coming up through school at the moment are awful work-shy little spongers.

How to make your millennial offspring move out

Parent power: helping your millennial to move out

1 TURN THE WIFI ON AND OFF at random intervals. Plead ignorance.

2 GET HELP FROM YOUR WIDER FAMILY: Ask them to call the landline daily, pick up and say, "Oh, she's just here now - let me pass you over!"

3 PUT HIM ON TINDER and explain who you are and that you need him out. You'll probably have better chat, and there are loads of girls essentially just looking for someone to mind.

4 SLOWLY REMOVE ALL MIRRORS and reflective surfaces.

5 STAY UP EVERY TIME THEY GO OUT and wait at the kitchen table in your dressing gown. Put on the kettle when they get in and relentlessly attempt to engage in pleasant conversation - "Who was there?"; "Did you eat?"; "How did you get home?"; "Any talent?", "What will we have for dinner tomorrow, do you think?"

Question time Are you a  middle-aged millennial?


1 You never took to the Millennial Pink but you're only delighted that mustard seems to have come back. Such a versatile colour, with just the right amount of fun!

2 Tinder frightens you, but you like Bumble. You rack up the matches to boost your self-confidence with no fear of actually having to have any conversations with these men.

3 You go to brunch, but you have a full-Irish. You've never tried to give up sugar.

4 You claim not to take selfies and you don't have any of them online, but you secretly like to snap a few when you're feeling particularly good-looking, briefly think about who you could send them to, and delete them immediately in a flood of guilt and mortification.

5 You've attempted Netflix binges, but you feel restless and bored after the fifth hour, and give up. You don't admit this to your friends and colleagues.

6 You don't 'get' Beyonce. Although, to be fair, Survivor is a great tune.

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