Saturday 21 April 2018

'I'm educated with a good job. Why am I having a quarter-life crisis already?'

Jane O'Faherty is one of many millenials wading through the muddy waters of her 20s, where Tinder is the place to meet 'the one' and job security is something of a phenomenon

Millenials: Lena Dunham, far left, has written five seasons of 'Girls', starring l-r Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams, dealing wth quarter-life crises.
Millenials: Lena Dunham, far left, has written five seasons of 'Girls', starring l-r Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams, dealing wth quarter-life crises.
Finding themselves:Jane O'Faherty (second from left) and her friends are all in their 20s.

I've been on this earth for less than a quarter of a century, and it feels like I'm already past it. This time last week, I enthusiastically chatted to a colleague about my plans to visit Amsterdam for a weekend with friends.

He looked at me sympathetically and said: "Oh. Quarter-life crisis?"

I wanted to tell him I was more into bikes, art and canals than "coffee shops", but I felt this would only make me sound even more uncool.

I'm 23-years-old, I'm living in a capital city and I have a job. It sounds excellent when I put it like that.

A job means security, right? Dublin is one of the more exciting cities for young people right now, or so I've heard. Plus, I've never had this much freedom before.

And yet, I sometimes feel the best days are already behind me. Either that, or the best days are frightfully out of reach.

I was a rather sensible, boring teenager. With my squareness taken into account, I presumed the transition to adulthood would be quick and painless. It isn't.

Like many millenials, it's easy for me to feel see-sawing between wild youth and looming maturity.

In work, I'm the 20-something who has worked hard to get where I am. I'm a dutiful, mature and pleasant grown-up whose biggest challenge now is trying to perfect "office banter" with my employers.

Outside of that, I'm the 20-something who fears the trappings of looming maturity. I address my fears by listening to Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen.

Even though my smartphone can connect me to anyone I want and I still go out to gigs, pubs and nightclubs, I can't help feeling a bit lonely sometimes.

When I was a student, I would sarcastically respond to invitations to parties with: "Sorry, I have ironing to do that night."

Nowadays, having ironing to do is a genuine and understandable excuse.

So in response to my colleague's question, the answer is yes. I am in the midst of a quarter-life crisis.

A quarter-life crisis is similar to its middle-aged equivalent, except with a lot less life experience and a lot more drama.

It's that point in your early to mid-20s when you wake up, lie in bed and wonder where you go from there.

Are you in a job that you like? Can you comfortably afford the rent to live where you do? Are you lonely? Do you wish you were alone?

As you move to the bathroom and look at yourself blankly in the mirror, you're no closer to answering those questions.

It's hard to say how long this crisis can last, but it looks like the HBO series Girls managed to get at least six seasons out of those feelings of being lost and directionless.

Before I'm shouted down by older generations (dear parents, I'm referring to you), I'd like to point out that 20-somethings pondering life is nothing new.

Have you ever seen The Graduate? Dustin Hoffman knew exactly what millenials mean when they speak of their youthful breakdown, and that was in 1967.

Doctor Carmen Kuhling of the University of Limerick's School of Sociology can back me up on this. While she recognises that quarter-life crises have been experienced in previous decades, millenials are bombarded with messages to "reach their potential", "find their perfect career, their ideal partner" and achieve the "perfect work-life balance".

"There is an intense focus and psychological pressure to transform oneself and remodel one's interior life to be the best possible person you can be," she adds.

"This can be a very good thing, since it means we are given an opportunity to reflect on what will make us happy," she continues.

"But it can be a bad thing, because this may give millennials at the beginning of their careers or job searches the feeling of always failing at 'reaching their potential'."

I've been lucky enough to avoid a full-on millenial meltdown since entering this decade, but I'm well able to rant about it. But for the sake of your sanity and mine, I'll keep my rant focused on three main points.

This time last year, I was never more than a short bike ride from my closest friends. Most of them lived down the hall of my college apartment block. Now, we're separated from each other by the necessity of emigration.

A lot of us are abroad, teaching English to loud and disruptive children in countries we probably won't develop a whole lot of affection for.

Those of us left behind in Ireland gather in cafes, bars and each other's houses, reflecting on the past as we take deep, indulgent gulps of sugary beverages.

We are not the first generation to be affected by emigration, of course. The difference for us is that we grew up being told it wouldn't happen to us.

Dr Kuhling also shares this view, saying that Ireland's economic boom promised millenials that the "sky was the limit, though the reality of course was somewhat different".

"However, this generation were of an impressionable age, and were in secondary school during the boom," she adds.

"Thus the somewhat overinflated expectations of the Celtic Tiger could not help but shape the way they thought about their future."

Indeed, it's hard to drum up much passion for building a career when there are so few opportunities to do so.

A recent study from the Resolution Foundation showed that more than one third of women in their 20s would be earning less than they need to live on.

Speaking more generally, it's widely believed that millenials will be the first generation that will be less wealthy than the generation before them.

Keep in mind that many of us still find ourselves in unpaid internships. Once we're free of that cycle, we're wedded to part-time, zero-hour contracts that will probably expire in a few months anyway.

Even if we do find something a bit more secure, the vast majority of us have given up hope of getting a pensionable, permanent job.

We just attend meetings in our Penneys-bought office garb that's a little too big, and hope no one notices that we're freaking out.

Whatever about working life being hard to navigate, try finding your way around the 21st-century romance.

Let's face it - dating scenes across generations have always been horrific.

Speed dates, loitering around bars for that special someone or allowing smug paired-off friends to set you up with another unfortunate singleton have always been soul-destroying.

So surely keeping all that to the privacy of one's phone screen is an improvement?

A few weeks ago, I sampled Tinder for the first time. As it's mostly based on first impressions and physical appearance, it hasn't worked in my favour.

Also, I don't like the idea of my future husband wooing me with a bored "hey, how r u?". And I don't want a request for drunken sex at my place, sent at 3am on a Tuesday morning.

I think I'd prefer to commit to having nine cats by the age of 36, to be brutally honest with both myself and my potential suitors. It irks me somewhat that people - often people far older than their 20s - associate apps like Tinder with the birth of a "hook-up" culture. I guess a small part of that assumption is true.

But the idea that all 20-somethings have access to a hippie-esque, no-strings-attached sex life is a little bit absurd.

According to a recent article in the Journal of Sex Research, 31.6pc of today's students and young people reported having more than one sexual partner in the past year. That's compared to 31.9pc of students from 1988 to 1996.

Meanwhile, San Diego State University found that millenials have fewer sexual partners than any generation since our grandparents.

So we may not be more bohemian and free-spirited as other generations may think. We might use Tinder more than others, but it can leave us feeling a bit, well, underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of benefits to being a 20-something.

Stretch marks are generally few. Some of us are lucky to have the metabolism of a hummingbird until the age of 25 or a little older.

As more mature women keep reminding me, wrinkles aren't much of a problem at this age. But what if we can't afford Olay or Nivea when that time arrives?

It's easy to get despondent, but the recognition of the millennial challenge in pop culture is on the increase.

While Lena Dunham's Girls is now on its penultimate season, other great comedians and writers are tackling the quarter-life crisis. The hilarious stars of Broad City are ones to keep an eye on.

And there's plenty to be proud of. Apparently, all these challenges have made millenials far more civic-minded.

We saw that as thousands of young people registered to vote ahead of last year's same-sex marriage referendum. Feminism, human rights and the building of a better world tend to dominate our conversations.

In the midst of writing this article, I was glad I had the frankness of a good friend to pull me from the brink of sorrowful self-pity.

"I think our generation will be just fine," she insisted. "Yes, I will never know job security and most of my human relationships are mediated through apps, but things could be a lot worse. I could be in my 40s."

Irish Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life