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Your Twenties…the Lost Years

A persons twenties can be a very misguided and confusing stage of life. Around that time young adults may graduate college, struggle to find a career, backpack Europe, etc. In our recent economy a persons twenties can seem somewhat surreal; popular slogans suggest that these years should be the best of their lives, the last years one has before really “growing up”   this way of thinking can suggest to young adults that they should not be taking these years too seriously, a “whatever goes” attitude toward life, or at least until the economy becomes more welcoming to them. However, as much as these young adults are hearing that their twenties are a wasteland of years until the economy starts improving, the fact is that their twenties are not years to be spent without a direction, but instead, they are  years to follow a direction and goals for oneself to ensure ones success and well-being in the years to come.

According to some psychologists it is common for young adults, before graduating to experience anxiety about their future once their college years have come to an end. Meg Jay, the author of the LA Times article College Grads, 30 isn’t the new 20 and clinical psychologists  gave an example of one of her clients, a graduating senior, who said that she hopes to figure out what she is doing with her life  by age 30 because “30 is the new 20” But this idea did not originate from Jay’s client, some researchers say that the twenties are extended adolescence, “emerging adulthood” and the “changing timetable” however, all of these can be harmful because Jay explains, they “demote young adults to the ranks of kids, just when they need to engage the most.”(Meg Jay) By making these years seem like part two of their teens, these young adults do not feel they are mature enough to take on the responsibility of careers, marriage or family.

As if these years were not already confusing enough by seeming to be “years that don’t matter” they are also fetishized, generating even greater confusion. Child stars and your average children and teens spend their childhoods trying to act 20, maturing too quickly and leaving behind their youth. On the other hand mature women and mothers on the “Real Housewives” and in our society try to grasp tightly to their twenties and strive to appear in their twenties, clinging to their youth.

Jay sees these mixed messages as very detrimental “These are contradictory and dangerous messages. We are led to believe that the 20’s don’t matter, yet there is little to remind us that anything else ever will.”(Meg Jay) Young adults in their twenties can be greatly confused as to what exactly they should be doing with their lives. “…Caught in a swirl of hype and misunderstanding, much of which has trivialized what is the most defining decade of our adult lives.”(Meg Jay)

Studies have shown that the twenties are a very defining decade of ones life and that some of the decisions made during that time, are better to take care of in ones twenties than to postpone until the thirties. The article states that “About two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during the first 10 years of a career, with the biggest gains coming from job-hopping or earning advanced degrees before marriage, family and mortgages take hold.”(Meg Jay) If a person in their twenties can find their way through post-college jobs and degrees, they can take comfort in knowing that the majority of wage losses are greatly reduced by around age 30.

The twenties are a prime time to discover ones self, goals in life and engage in adult roles. As the article suggests “Good jobs may seem elusive, but even some workplace success – even just goal setting – in our 20s is associated with greater confidence and well-being in our 20s and 30s.”(Meg Jay)

By the time a person reaches their thirties, more than half of Americans are either married, dating, or cohabitating with their future partner. Through the participation in meaningful committed relationships in a persons twenties they are more likely to feel secure and responsible when it comes to marriage because they have experience with meaningful relationships in prior years. Other researchers have found that the brain endures its last growth spurt in ones twenties, making these years important in learning to manage ones self emotionally and grow into adult roles.

Instead of viewing our twenties as a decade to live mindlessly and immaturely until our thirties it would be more beneficial to view this decade as one to be lived with purpose and direction. Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay says that the one thing that is more compelling than her sessions with “overwhelmed twentysomethings” are her sessions with people in their thirties and forties. About them she states “I have witnessed the true heartache that accompanies the realization that life is not going to add up quite as they’d like.”(Meg Jay)  She explains that when a lot of big life steps are left for a persons thirties, such as, making money, marrying, graduate school, buying a house, starting a family, starting a business, and saving for college and retirement are left for a shorter amount of time it can add great pressure and stress to a person’s life. Research is beginning to show that postponing work, marriage and family is harder to do in a persons thirties and especially in regards to marriage and family “40 is definitely not the new 30.”(Meg Jay)  Jay explains that mid-life crisis have changed “The new midlife crisis isn’t buying a red sports car. It’s smart, well – meaning 40 year – olds grieving a little as they look at themselves… and say about their 20s, “What was I doing? What was I thinking?”(Meg Jay)

Young adults fresh out of college face a great deal of uncertainty. This uncertainty leads them to feel anxious, stressed and discouraged. The idea of your twenties being a decade to live without an agenda is a temporarily comforting distraction to keep one’s mind off the inevitable responsibility they will eventually have to face. “It is easy to stay distracted and wait for deliverance at 30. It’s almost a relief to imagine that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count.”(Meg Jay) Young adults in their twenties living in this mindset do not see jobs, let alone marriage as something to be taken seriously until the ripe age of thirty. Marriage is postponed and delayed because it has become more normal to not take relationships in your twenties seriously, that they “do not matter”.

psychologist Meg Jay has witnessed enough young adults in their twenties admit that they really do want to take their lives seriously and people in their thirties that feel betrayed by themselves in their twenties and wish they had spent them more wisely. Jay leaves us with one last note “short enough to tweet” “30 is not the new 20. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or do. You’re deciding your life right now.” (Meg jay)


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“Hooking Up” – casual sexual relations, with no expectations of future contact between either mate is a popular act between high school and college aged students, and now college graduates and young adults as well. For some young adults who are postponing marriage and family, hooking -up has replaced dating and relationships.

A NPR article by Brenda Wilson Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships, discusses why hooking up has become more prominent within our culture and why some feel that it is dangerous to the future of intimacy and marriage.

In our modern time young adults are not necessarily looking for a life-long mate, like they were decades ago. Now young adults are more consumed with friends, educating themselves, and establishing careers and independence, not making time in their busy schedules for having a relationship. Now young adults main goal is to have fun, not get married. It has become much easier for these sexual encounters to occur in recent decades with dormitories, appartement living, heavy drinking at bars and parties and with the rise of the internet and social networking sites. All of these together lead to a more communal like living situation with little to no inhibitions discouraging sexual activities.

Experts have found that the main reason hooking up has become so popular in our culture is due to the marriage age growing older and older. Once high schoolers and freshman in college realize they may not be marrying for several years it seems more difficult to wait those years to enter into a physical relationship.

Hooking up between young adults has become highly normalized in our society whereas marriage between young adults has become less normal. While women grow in their independence and education they are more likely to hold off on marriage until they find the ideal mate because they do not need a husband to support them financially or to depend on as in previous decades. Men, are also more likely to hold off on marriage because with hook ups they can receive the physical relationship they desire without necessarily taking on the responsibility and commitment a marriage requires.

Although some young women find empowerment through hooking up and being able to ditch their role as more traditional women sexually some experts do not agree that it is empowering. Deborah Roffman who conducts human sexuality workshops says “being able to say yes (to hooking up) is only one way of looking at freedom. She would feel much better if young men also were developing a greater capacity for intimacy.”(Brenda Wilson) Roffman sees the ability for men and women to engage in intimate relationships, where they are both fully present is the “cornerstone of family”

One woman they interviewed, May Wilkerson age 25 explained that some young adults avoid intimate relationships because the vulnerability associated with it can be threatening. Wilkerson spoke of the ways the internet and text messaging have extended the hooking up lifestyle but Roffman sees a generous threat in this “What that means is you have contact with many, many more people, but each of those relationships takes up a little bit less of your life. That fragmentation of the social world creates a lot of loneliness.”(Roffman) Roffman is concerned that having many non meaningful relationships with different people will make it more difficult to learn how to have a significant intimate relationship and eventually a marriage.


photo credit: http://northwesternsexweek.com/post/20428548701/sneak-peek-hooking-up-with-god

Women & Boys

Ross Douthat of the New York Times brings to the table a different take on why there is a decline in marriage between young adults. In his article Marriage, Self-Interst and Happiness he suggests that the decline in marriage is not necessarily a result of social or economic struggles but rather it reflects “female empowerment and material abundance.” (Ross Douthat)

Douthat explains that young adults, especially females are much more independent than previous decades. Unlike decades ago when it was common for women to marry in their earlier twenties, have a family and stay at home while the men worked, now women are furthering their education, getting careers and providing for themselves financially. Due to this independence Douthat suggests that women have become “somewhat choosier” about their potential mates and are willing and able to wait until they find someone worthy enough to share their success with.

Men, on the other hand are living a life of leisure now more than ever. According to Douthat “(men) are less likely to do the hard work necessary to be solid marriage material because hard work is unpleasant, and it’s easier to lead a life full of leisure than ever before.”(Ross Douthat) While women mature and gain independence and create a successful life for themselves men postpone maturing and are in no rush to have a wife or family to be responsible for.

These differing lifestyles Douthat points out may be connected to the rising number of births out-of-wedlock. After years of having a succesful career and providing for one’s self some women desire to have a child but would rather have the child out-of-wedlock than partner with a husband  who”are often basically children themselves.”(Ross Douthat) While these independent women desire having a child these men “desire not to take a steady but low-paying job when they can work part-time, goof off on the XBox, and still find willing sexual partners…”(Ross Douthat)

It is motivating that these women can support themselves and a child with a stable career but, it is by no means an easy task and in some cases would not be women’s first choice if there seemed to be more reliable men within their social circles. Douthat argues that raising a child with a partner would alleviate physical and psychological stress for these single mothers.

It is not only women that could be benefited by sharing these responsibilities with a spouse, but men as well. Douthat argues that men are “missing out” on rewardable lifestyles “The fact that being a slacker and a layabout in your 20s and 30s is easier, more fun and more economically rational than ever before doesn’t change the reality that men who don’t make the effort to make themselves marriageable are missing out on an institution that’s generally good for their health and well-being in the long run.” (Ross Douthat) It would not hurt either sexes for women to demand more from these men and men, to demand more from themselves.

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Love & Loans

iStock Wedding BudgetXSmall 300x199 Wedding Budget Tips: How to Save Money on the Big Day

A recent article on the Huffington Post suggests that young people are putting off getting married because of their student loans. They have gone to college, got a degree, some even a job and now what? Now they will work and work and work some more until they are out of debt and feel financially secure enough to put a ring on it.

With the cost of education increasing and funding being cut more students are forced into getting student loans to complete their education and the amount of student debt is increasing as well. This giant cloud of debt is looming over people in their early to mid twenties and effecting their personal lives. The most common next stepping stone in their lives after graduating college and finding a career is buying a car, house and/or marring, but with the financial burdens they are experiencing few if not none of these are possible. For these young adults it seems illogical to take on a car or mortgage payment let alone a husband/wife or the possibility of children. Their personal lives are postponed after college, these years have now become a time reserved for saving up and hopefully seeing the light at the end of the debt tunnel sometime in the near future.

However, surprisingly enough studies have shown that people who join in marriage are better off financially than unmarried individuals. These young adults postpone marriage until they are more stable financially, but it is possible that marriage could be one stepping stone that could benefit them financially. According to MSN Money marriage can be very helpful for people to reach financial stability. Linsey Knerl of Investopedia  claims that “Having two wallets is better than one.” she explains that this is not just because of the earning power of two people combined but also the financial security marriage offers to its partners. If one person has an emergency, looses a job, gets a sudden illness, etc they have a partner there to step in whether it be to get another source of income, help pay for emergency or illness, etc.

ABC News also did an article on how husbands now are getting financial benefits from their wives. In previous decades this was commonly reversed and the husband was more traditionally the “breadwinner” while the wife stayed home with the children, however, now with more and more women attending college, receiving degrees and getting careers married couples have much greater incomes to share with one another. By combing expenses when married people have less individual expenses, especially couples who did not cohabit prior to marriage, but, even couples who did, once married received additional benefits such as lower bundle costs on cell phone plans, etc. Also, once married couples can receive one another’s benefits from employers, which is another excellent way to lift financial burdens.

So although student loan stricken young adults often view marriage as a commitment not financially feasible within their current situation, it done correctly it can lead to great financial gain and receive a good portion of financial stresses.


Photo credit: http://www.quickenloans.com/blog/wedding-budget-tips-save-money-big-day

Love & Mortgage

As the rate of marriage declines the number of un-married home buyers rapidly increases. The question is why are couples more willing to commit themselves to 15-30 years of mortgage and not a marriage? The main reasoning behind this is that young adults are waiting longer to marry.

To get a better understanding of this trend I interviewed a couple that have been dating for 7 years and purchased their first home 2 years ago in 2010.

Allison and Jeff

Allison is ready for the commitment of marriage, but Jeff claims that he will not be ready for that committment until he knows he is financially stable enough to provide for a wife and family. There parents helped them purchase the home and with the high cost of weddings they cannot afford one on their own and feel that their parents have helped them enough financially and they do not want to ask them for more money. They bought the house because they were living together and rent was more expensive than a mortgage. They do plan on eventually getting married, it is a future goal.

Their individual situation highlighted some of the attitudes and beliefs young adults are familiar with; greater acceptance of cohabitation, and that marriage is primarily for having a family and if one cannot financially support not only a wife but a family as well they are not prepared to marry.

As the article “First Comes Love, Then Comes Mortgage” says “Married or not, couples are still growing up and growing old together” (Cornela King) With couples maturing together they feel the need to make beneficial financial decisions and put roots down together. Couples marrying later in life are spending more time and money renting, as couples become more stable in their careers and have a more permanent idea of where they will be living, buying a house together becomes more desirable and seems to be an intelligent step financially.

Buying a home together can offer more safety than a wedding. As Allison and Jeff noted, they used their parents money to buy their home. When accepting their parents resources they would rather spend their parents money on a home rather than a wedding. King makes an important connection here “Many couples prefer this investment (house) over the costs of a wedding which comes with the high risk of failure. You can hire an inspector for your potential home to get a pretty good idea of what type of adventure you’re about to embark on. unfortunately, there’s no such safeguard for your potential marriage.” (King)

Marriage may seem like a future goal and buying a house together as a step towards that goal, but some critiques have noted that purchasing a home together can become detrimental to ones relational health. In the New York Times Article ““The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage” they use the behavioral economics term “consumer lock-in” to explain the trend amongst young adults to enter into situations that seem to be cost saving and less risky than say marriage but find themselves unhappy and unable to retreat from their living situations because of the financial and emotional investments they have made with their living partner. The greater the investment the more difficult it is to get out of and buying a home is a huge investment. Buying a home leads to pets, furniture and the sharing of belongings, after years of sharing couples may feel they have nothing of their own and that may seem very daunting to someone who is unhappy in a relationship. Perhaps daunting enough to make them continue on with their living partner and become more emotionally and financially invested and even more uncomfortable in their situation.

The Un-Committed

In the current day and age it is becoming more and more difficult to make solid commitments, friendships and have authentic relationships with one another. With that, the average age to marry is increasingly older than it was years prior. In 2000 the average age of marriage for a woman was 25 and for men 26, undoubtedly it is even older today.  There are several theories of why this may be this blog will be researching and discussing them. According to CNN’s Laura Sessions Stepp it is increasingly difficult to make a commitment for younger generations due to the ever-changing and unstable economy. With the current recession and lessening of job opportunities young people fear taking on too much responsiblity and commitment without knowing how they will be able to mange it. Along with that and the increasing divorce rates young people are cautious not to dive into something so important without making sure they are properly prepared.

Ones mid twenties looks much different from years ago. “As Brookings’ scholar Galston has noted, being 15 or 35 is still much like being 15 or 35 a generation ago. But being 25 is altogether quite different.” Today the majority of young adults are less likely to be committed to a marriage or a career and many go on to furthering their education, returning to their education, living with room mates, moving back in with their parents and transitioning between temporary jobs. Many young adults struggle to support themselves with a stable career and living situation because of the economic situation currently. Less job opportunities make furthering one’s education look like a valuable option, and others who may not be able to return to school are forced into taking entry-level jobs that do not pay enough for them to support themselves. These situations make it difficult for  young adults to commit to a marriage because they can barely support themselves and with the lessening of life opportunities it is difficult to predict what one’s future may look like. These  unpredictable situations are not stable grounds for anyone to make a commitment as large as marriage.

As big committments become more and more difficult so do smaller scale ones. With the uprise of social media and the great social connector Facebook young adults can have hundreds of “friends” without having any authentic friendships. They can accept friend requests from complete strangers or acquaintances and “like” posts without having a reason why. It makes socializing easy and anonymous with no negative interactions to hassle with. Although, it may seem harmless the problem is that it makes interacting so easy your brain does not have to concentrate on making a committed decision, eventually leading one to not commit to anything in fear that something better might come along. Facebook interaction also creates false or fake friendships; we only see what our “friends” share with us and so no one really knows each other, no significant relationships which makes it hard to know how to have a significant relationship in the offscreen world. People who use the internet as a large gateway to their social lives struggle with commitment because they do not know for certain who or what they are committing to.

Photo Credit: wikipedia

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