Monday, 25 June 2012

The merging of two generations (and an idiot in the pub)

"You two looked like you were in a pretty deep conversation earlier - so tell me, are you going into a relationship, or just coming out of one?"

"Ha! Neither. I'm happily single and have been for about a year or so. It's all good." I replied, before extolling the virtues of a single life in London.

The two Canadians had joined myself and a friend at our table after the football. They'd shuffled over as the big screens rolled up, bought a round of drinks; we imparted our London knowledge and now the conversation had moved on. Somehow, the subject of age came up. I told one of them mine, and was completely thrown by what came next.

"Isn't 27 a little old to be single?"
"Pardon? Too old?"
"Yeah, like if you want to have kids and stuff - isn't 27 a bit old to still be single?"

Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor and provided a response which didn't include nearly as many swear words as I'd have liked in retrospect, it wasn't long before I was wishing them a good night, and making my excuses to go home.

The next morning, his question was the first thing to come to mind.

Too old?

"Oh, that's just the Canadians" reassured the PIB when I regaled her with the story later on, "When we went away, our hotel was full of them. They'd all married by 21, and for the most part divorced by 30. They do things earlier, having families and the like. London's just...well, it's just different for us."

Right though she may be, the whole thing forced me to acknowledge something that has been creeping around my mind for a while now: that society's changing, and our generation are the guinea pigs.

We're a generation living in rented accommodation, with friends instead of other halves, or even still at home with parents. We're working hard at our careers and relationships come second, we travel the world after university instead of beginning the hunt for a job, often not finding a permanent one until well into our mid twenties. Even in our careers we're feeling our way: the jobs we've got now didn't exist when we started uni.

Marriage will happen - at some point - but not now, not yet, not while there's fun to be had. And kids? As a 27 year old girl who spends her nights surrounded by mostly single friends, and mornings in bed with a hangover and the vague but cheering memories from the night before, the idea of being responsible for a child is nothing short of terrifying.

Our lives are different to the ones we grew up expecting. Somewhere in the depths of 1996, there's a gaggle of thirteen year olds who thought we'd be married with kids by now - or at least paired with someone who wanted that with us - but instead, we're nowhere close.

For the most part, we're happy. We're doing well. We're well adjusted, fun to be around, brimming with experiences and stories to tell. We look at those who settled down young and feel bad: they're the ones missing out, not us.

However, there's no denying it, we've had our long term relationships, they've broken up and now we're single again. But it's different this time around.

There's an edge to it; a desperation creeping in, a scrabble to locate the nearest hot man in any given vicinity.

If you squint and look around the pub at 11pm on a Saturday night, over at the group of girls laughing, dancing, hugging, chatting and doing shots, you can sometimes see and hear the point at which the old generation, the one that told us we'd be settled by 30, is meeting this new one; where you can have it all - but later, and detect a bit of panic. It's in our conversations and the back of our minds; the way we search the people at the bar.

This doing it later stuff, it's a nice idea in our heads, and we're doing it with gusto. But our hearts haven't quite caught up yet.

So, are we too old? No, we're not too old. We don't look it, we don't feel it, we don't realise it.

But if by some stretch of the imagination it turns out we are, then we'll surely be the first generation to know about it.

35 comments:

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

fair call. I would suggest that the timing of 'family' is up to the individual not society. Enjoy your tea and hangovers, although because I'm weak I tend not to have many of the latter any more!

Brennig said...

I had family far, far, far too young. She's 14 now and I love her to bits, but Oh My, I was too young to be a parent 14 years ago.

Ignore the colonial commoner. There's actually nothing to do, in Canada, other than get married early and procreate.

Breeza said...

I think some Canadians marry early, but not all of them. Most of my family married early but all of my friends from there didn't. I'm 32 and still single. Thank god I look young because otherwise I'd get way more flack for being single than I already do.
I also believe that city people marry later than our suburban counterparts!

modelofamodernmajorgeneral said...

I'd like to clarify that yours is the 'fair call' not the Canuks!

j said...

Not all Canadians get married early...I am going on 35 and I am single as single can be. I think Breeza is right...my peers that stayed in my small town are all married with kids. Unlike I and a few others that went to Uni in the city and traveled and so on are still single.

Mealie said...

My parents had me when they were 21 (21!!!!) and they got married - with my mum with a bellyful of me.

Fast forward and I'm now 24 and both my parents have said to me emphatically that there is absolutely no rush to the altar. Absolutely none. Although they think I was marvellous, I definitely was an accident and one that (although I doubt they'd admit it) both regret. There are six years between me and my sister, go figure.

As much as we're somewhat of an experimental generation I honestly think we are the lucky ones. To be entirely selfish in your twenties is a wonderful thing. 'Marriage' in it's traditional sense (to love and to hold forever and ever sense) is so redundant these days with 1 in 3 marriages ending in divorce.

So in short, those boys were very silly. You are in NO WAY 'old' to be single. It's the best age to be single, IMO. x

swashbuckled said...

"jobs we've got now didn't exist when we started uni" especially chimed.. I'm currently trying to revise a university's course copy and keep find myself envying all the differences from when I was an undergraduate and there was only a subtle inkling that this internet thing might be quite a big deal. Everything seems so much more interesting and vocationally considered these days.

Or maybe I was a lazy shitebag at the time.

Reckon there's refreshingly fewer rules / prescriptions about personal stuff these days, but still many tedious cultural and generational expectation battles to be fought.

London-Lass said...

I had some bloke in a pub telling me (at the tender age of 30) that I'd best shit or get off the pot if I wanted a kid (i.e. before it was too late). The fact that (a) I was still very young, and (b) didnt actually want children didnt stop him from giving me `advice' I didnt actually want.

I think one of your blog post labels has got it in one.

They are just `stupid people'.

Laura said...

Playing devils advocate, I'm 25 and getting married this year, and I've had 2 almost-strangers tell me I'm too young to get married. My fiance is my best friend in the world and the most genuinely interesting person I know, I have more fun than with him than with anyone. I have a Masters' degree and a career that means a lot to me, I still plan on travelling and having adventures, just with my best friend by my side. I know there are plenty of people who settle down too young and don't want to be, but I don't really like the assumption that that's the case for everyone, that we're submitting ourselves to a life of drudgery as soon as we get married and that we're "missing out", just as I'm sure you don't appreciate the assumption that everyone over the age of 25 is desperate to get married and have babies. I know it's the Bridget Jones thing of "smug marrieds" and single people being enemies, but I think it would be nice if everyone was a bit more open minded about other people's life choices, and that although they may be different, they're right for that individual.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Hello Laura - thought I'd just respond to you quickly, (I'll get to everyone else later) - just to say that this post isn't about bashing other people's life choices. Although I have a lot of single friends, I have some happily coupled ones too - and I don't begrudge them at all. They come out and get just as pissed as the rest of us ;)

In the past, happily coupled friends have occasionally wondered aloud whether they've made the right choice in being married young, and my response has always been along the lines of, "Look, to be honest, I'm happily single, but ultimately most single people are only looking for what you've got".

And I think your comment summarises that nicely. Thanks for playing devil's advocate :)

Anonymous said...

parturition don't get easier with education and ageing

Allie Keith said...

I got married at 24 in London but we waited till we were 30 to have a baby so we could enjoy our time and lives together first. my husband is my best friend and we did get married young but we had lots of time to enjoy ourselves before we got too responsible!

There is no "too old" or to young to be single as everyone is different and loads of my friends who are still single are having a great time and so are lots of my married friends...

Enjoy it before children come and make you realize how amazing the freedom you had was!

Mud said...

I'm 33 and single. I do feel too old to be single. And now feel ready to settle down and consider a family. But that doesn't mean that state of mind coincides with the opportunity!

Ellie said...

I don't think your generation is the first. I think it goes in cycles. My uni friends didn't seem to get married until anywhere between 27 and 38. It was a generation later that suddenly everyone stared shacking up and having kids young. I think some actresses who "wanted to get there bodies back" espoused having kids earlier than later and this actually influenced what in my mind were "kids"!

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

model - The decision is the individuals, the pressure is from society.

Brennig - Reassuring, thank you!

Breeza and j - You're right about the city / suburban thing I think. Probably less of a thing than do to with countries...but those were my friends words, not mine!

Mealie - My parents put absolutely no pressure on me, either. I don't feel old at all - that's why I was so surprised about the bloke's comment, I think.

swashbuckled - Yeah, I get the realisation that these jobs are new every time I try to explain what I do to my parents...

London lass - Beautifully said. Stupid people.

Anonymous, insightful input.

Allie - Your last sentence is what it's all about at the moment, trust me!

Mud - It seldom does, in my experience.

Ellie - You're probably right. I just have no experience of any generation before mine, and we're selfish by nature our lot, so it's all about us ;)

Mark Richardson said...

I'm not sure there's a lot of thinking things through happening here.

Sure, you don't have to marry at age 21. But by age 27 you should definitely be thinking about family formation.

Why? There are two main reasons. The obvious one is fertility. A woman's fertility becomes unreliable after age 35. So to have confidence that you can have the number of children you want a woman needs to begin by her late 20s. (To have three children spaced 2 years apart = 6 years, and even that presumes that things all go well.)

Second, women have less to offer men when in their 30s. A woman's beauty and fertility is about to begin its downward trend, the more passionate 20s period is over, a woman's romantic history will be filled with memories of other men and not her future husband, she will have racked up a partner count which won't exactly make a future husband feel special.

Marriage is supposed to be about making a life together and family formation delayed too long means that an important phase in this life together is missing.

It doesn't make marriage impossible, but it does contribute to the growing cynicism about marriage amongst men.

Timing is important. Too young (say 21 and under) and you wonder if the person has matured enough to know themselves well enough to marry. Too old (say 27 and older) and you begin to undermine the possibilities of successful family formation.

Simon in London said...

If you don't want to have a family then of course you don't need to worry.

If you do, well, 27 is not too old to be single, but it's good not to be waiting until your 30s before you start thinking about getting married (whether legally or British style perma-cohabitation) and having children. Some women do get married at 39 and have a child (always one child, IME) at 40, but it's not ideal. And as Laura says, getting married does not mean you cannot enjoy London with your partner - I did! :)

One advantage of getting married relatively young (in London, that means pre-30) is that young couples are more adaptable to each other, less set in their ways. This makes marriage easier. And of course conception and chilbirth are both easier before you reach your mid '30s. You also have more stamina now than you will in 10 years - better able to recover from hangovers = better able to recover from sleepless nights with a crying baby. My wife and I married in our mid '20s but waited 10 years to have a child; in retrospect I don't regret marrying young-ish, but I do regret not starting a family sooner.

Rebecca said...

Mark - "she will have racked up a partner count which won't exactly make a future husband feel special"? Are you f'ing kidding me?! How about the fact that she's *married* you to make you feel special? That is a disgusting attitude to have - and I bet you don't feel the same about men's "worth" to their wives. You should take a long hard look at your outdated, sexist attitude and quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself.

ActuarialChris said...

Mark,

What century are you living in?! In fact, what world??

"Second, women have less to offer men when in their 30s. A woman's beauty and fertility is about to begin its downward trend, the more passionate 20s period is over, a woman's romantic history will be filled with memories of other men and not her future husband, she will have racked up a partner count which won't exactly make a future husband feel special"

Did you actually say any of that with a straight face? Women have less to offer in their 30's? How about life experience, time to have developed maturity and personality and to actually know what they want? Not to mention the fact that women don't exist purely to procreate, what about careers and life ambitions outside of family life? Wouldn't you want a partner who's well educated, well traveled and with something to say for themselves? What am I saying, of course you wouldn't, by the sound of it you'd like a meek little girl with no ambitions beyond popping out maladjusted offspring every two years so you can have your 'normal' family.

Also why is number of partners such an issue for you? Surely if your wife had x number of men in her past you'd be pleased she chose you over those chaps. You're the person she settled down with, not the first chap who came along with enough cash to buy a ring.

There is no optimal age for having a family, no broad brush stroke. The optimal age is when you're ready, you find the right person who fits you. Sometimes you might need to try lots of people and others might be lucky enough to find their perfect match when they're still at school but the common thread of a successful marriage is that the person was right. Forcing things because of some arbitrary number like age is wrong, yes there's a biological clock issue but having a child to a relationship that isn't right just to have the child doesn't help anyone. Neither does pushing women to become a 1950's housewife in their early 20's because it conforms to your view of social norms.

tenderhooligan said...

"[...] she will have racked up a partner count which won't exactly make a future husband feel special."

Oh, then my poor future husband must be losing his mind already for I'm racking up like a woman possessed. In fact, I just "racked up" about an hour ago and immagonna rack me up some more tonight.

last year's girl said...

Your new "friends" make me want to get a divorce. I'll probably end up having one forced upon me anyway since I have "nothing to offer" my husband but my shrivelled, childless womb and an extensive iTunes library.

SCIENCE BIT: My mum had me, her first-born, at 31. Both I and my younger siblings are fine. Generalise much?

NON-SCIENCE BIT: I cannot think of many things I would less rather do with my body than make a baby in it. But hey, each to their own.

exoticmaypole.com said...

I think this piece on XOJane answers Mark Richardson's points pretty well.

Yes, you might be 27 - or 31 in the author's case - but if you're not in a strong, stable partnership, then what then? Just launch yourself at any random man in a bar? No thanks.

http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-feel-childless-loser

beta chump said...

"Surely if your wife had x number of men in her past you'd be pleased she chose you over those chaps. "

LOL dude, what century are you living in.
Google "younger, hotter, tighter"

Amy said...

Weighing in on this. Because I can't not.

Mark - Bwahahahahaha. Hahaha. Hahaha. Okay. I'll be serious now.

Let’s have a look at your reasons for someone thinking of settling down by the age of 27 with family formation in mind.

Fertility — yes, the idea that women in their 20’s are more fertile than those in their 30’s has been suggested by many scientific studies (I say suggested because you can’t actually prove something to be true, only show that evidence suggests it is so).

However, do not confuse “more fertile” with “only fertile”. Many women have children in their 30’s and 40’s nowadays. If Jo, or any other woman, wanted to pop out three sprogs starting at the age of 35, she’d probably be more than capable of doing so. If not, medicine can help.

I’d like to point out that your argument doesn’t take into account infertility. No-one can truly “have confidence” that they can have the number of children they want. As an aside, I resent your implication that you can only form a family if you make the baby in your own uterus — family formation can happen in a number of ways, biological or not. Also, people in their 30’s tend to be more secure in themselves, less selfish and more financially viable, which are pretty great things for child rearing.

(Also, men's sperm starts to go downhill in the late 30's too — the individual sperm are far less healthy, it increasing the risk of autism or physical disability in babies. So, y'know, don't make this all about the ladies!)

Your second argument rests on the idea that women have less to offer men when in their 30’s. You name several features of women that go downhill, and I’d like to discuss them in turn.

Fertility — We’ve already discussed that fertility isn’t THAT much of an issue, but there’s a more worrying point here. Mark, you seem to think that people are mainly attracted to each other on the basis of how many good, healthy babies they can make. From a biological point of view this may be true, but the great thing about human beings as opposed to dogs/peacocks/lions is that we have rational thought and tastes as well as animal urges. We find people attractive for other reasons than how they can procreate with us.

Beauty — As with regards to beauty declining in the 30’s, I think this is a very bold statement to make. It also requires a definition of the word “beauty”. If you are defining beauty as "looking young" then yes, it will decline — but that's a rather odd definition of beauty for an adult male to have, don't you think?

I think most people would agree, when questioned, that something is beautiful if it is appealing. This makes beauty subjective, as humans clearly find different things attractive. There's no reason a woman in her 20's would be less beautiful than a woman in her 30's under such a definition. She just won’t look as young because she won’t be as young.

(Part one of two)

Amy said...

Passionate 20’s period — This is just pure naivety. Studies have suggested that a woman’s sex drive will actually increase as she approaches 50, and will peak in her early 40’s. Women in their 30’s have a reputation for not enjoying sex, but that’s possibly because until recently women in their 30’s were coping with the extreme tiredness and, occasionally, feelings of unattractiveness brought on by having children. There is no reason that a woman in her 30’s will feel less passionate than a woman in her 20’s.

Romantic history — This is just pure slut shaming. It is also based upon your personal experience rather than fact. Many men do not care how many partners a woman has had. All this point is doing is showing that you dislike women who have had lots of partners. It’s a valid opinion to have, of course, but it’s not representative of all men and thus does not add anything to the idea that a woman will have less to offer.

Your next point is that “Marriage is supposed to be about making a life together and family formation delayed too long means that an important phase in this life together is missing”. Here you appear to be confusing the idea of a marriage and the idea of a life. Yes there will be an important part of a woman’s life that a man will miss out on if they meet and marry late (and vice versa, obviously). However the stages of the marriage — meeting, dating, engagement, marriage, early marriage/pre-kids, mid marriage/kids, late marriage/post kids — will be the same, just at different times.

“It doesn't make marriage impossible, but it does contribute to the growing cynicism about marriage amongst men” — It’s not clear what “It” is here, Mark. I would like to point out that both women and men are growing more and more cynical of marriage, and I imagine it’s more because of the five-minute marriages of celebrities and the growing divorce rate than because we’re leaving it later to get married.

Your comment boils down to this — I don’t think people should leave it too long before getting married. Which is a valid opinion to have. But it’s not backed up but solid arguments, it’s just an opinion. So we’re free to argue with it and ignore it as much as we damn well please.

(In case you say “Well, you’re old and single so you would think that”, I’m actually one of the people who is shacking up — I’m 22 and will be married to my long-term boyfriend within the next 5 years and having children in the next 6. I just couldn’t not challenge you on your poorly laid out argument)

alpha trump said...

"You should take a long hard look at your outdated, sexist attitude and quite frankly you should be ashamed of yourself."

One should be ashamed of ignorance of nature's sexism.

"The findings from this study show that while undergraduate university students in our sample believed they are educated about fertility issues, they consistently overestimate the ages at which fertility declines in women, as well as their chances of success if they used fertility treatments to achieve pregnancy. It is important that men and women are educated regarding fertility issues so they make informed reproductive decisions, rather than relying on inaccurate information which may ultimately result in involuntary childlessness."

Drunk and childless is no way to go through life, wench.

outta here said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Amy said...

Oh, and Simon?

“Some women do get married at 39 and have a child (always one child, IME) at 40, but it's not ideal” — Why not? You can’t just assert a statement like that, back it up.

“One advantage of getting married relatively young (in London, that means pre-30) is that young couples are more adaptable to each other, less set in their ways. This makes marriage easier” — Good Lord. Less set in their ways? More adaptable? I started dating my boyfriend aged 19, a veritable child. We all but lived together for three years and now we do live together. I wouldn’t say either of us is adapting to each other — there’s the occasional compromise, but do not think that youth is any indication of adaptability. Adaptability stems from the personality, and that will be present no matter what age.

“And of course conception and chilbirth are both easier before you reach your mid '30s” Easier. But it’s not impossible to get pregnant after 30! And you will be probably in a better position to raise a child WELL after 30! Let’s not just talk about ease, here, let’s bring some qualitative measurement in too.

“You also have more stamina now than you will in 10 years - better able to recover from hangovers = better able to recover from sleepless nights with a crying baby.” — If that is true for everyone then I’m screwed. I can barely get out of bed after ten hours of sleep nowadays, and I don’t drink. Do you think this, the trait of energy and stamina, could once again come from the PERSON and not the AGE? Whilst it might be affected by age, you shouldn’t make such generalisations by age.

“My wife and I married in our mid '20s but waited 10 years to have a child; in retrospect I don't regret marrying young-ish, but I do regret not starting a family sooner.” I’m sorry that you regret that. But y’know, that’s your opinion and whilst you have perfectly solid arguments for why having kids early would be better for you, these don’t necessarily apply to Jo or anyone else.

Also, neither Simon nor Mark has approached the idea of what you should do if you don’t love anyone or you don’t know anyone you want to marry and start a family with at 27. Should you settle and be sad? Or wait and maybe find it slightly more difficult to conceive but be happy? Genuinely interested in your response.

Amy said...

Outta here — I see. I attempt to rationally lay out premises and examine them, you resort to childish insults.

Your attempt to refute/discredit my response to this lies in either attacking easy points I make, or resorting to clich├ęs and proverbs that don't actually make a point or address mine. You then call me stupid, without giving reasons for why.

My points aren't inanities. They are arguments. You have clearly shown you can't engage with them. Feel free to hide behind your opinions, but opinions are essentially worthless when discussing and advising the lives of others.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Hey, trolls - outta here, chump and trump - be constructive with your comments, or you're not getting through.

You may have your own way of doing things, but this is my blog, my rules.

Rebecca said...

Only a couple of people have made that very good point, Amy - what if you don't meet someone you want to marry and start a family with until your 30s?

I'm excited that I have a troll. They called me a wench! They implied I was drunk and childess, although my comment had nothing to do with children! Or drink!

They made absolutely no sense at all though, unfortunately.

ActuarialChris said...

Beta chump,

Dude (I'm actually excited I've been able to say that for the first time ever!) I'm going to assume from the comment that you're quite young and therefore maybe a touch naive but when you're older you'll be embarrassed about saying things like this:

"LOL dude, what century are you living in.
Google "younger, hotter, tighter""

On account of that you don't live in an American Pie film and your name presumably isn't Quagmire.

Simon in London said...

Amy:
"what you should do if you don’t love anyone or you don’t know anyone you want to marry and start a family with at 27. Should you settle and be sad? Or wait and maybe find it slightly more difficult to conceive but be happy? Genuinely interested in your response."

I don't think that's a fair question - IMO (a) you shouldn't marry someone you don't love, but (b) you can't be sure that if you wait you will be happy.
What I would say is that I would advise against dumping someone you *do* love because "I'm too young to marry" and "someone just as good/better will come along later". That's not London Girl's situation, but I've seen other people do it and live to regret it.

I would agree with Mark that women in their late '30s have fewer opportunities to get a good husband than women in their mid-20s do, but I think (possibly unlike Mark) it's not just that women in their late 30s are arguably less attractive to men; single or divorced _men_ in their late 30s are less attractive prospects, too. They tend to be set in their ways, used to bachelorhood, often focused on career over family. I've seen several such late marriages fail. Some have succeeded, and good on them, but I would not swap them for the couples who married in their '20s.

From my experience, my advice to a 27 year old is: don't worry, you are definitely not 'over the hill', so the Canadians were wrong. But if you are interested in marriage and having children then it's good to be thinking about it now, while you are still young, and be open to the possibility of starting a family in the next few years.

I know a woman who was 39 and really wanted a family. She met her husband at 40 and now has a healthy son, but to do that she had to change her whole life - leaving a high powered executive job with Apple in San Francisco and moving to Atlanta, where the marriage prospects were much better. The guy seems nice enough, but I can't help feeling that it would have been a lot easier for her if she had started 10 years earlier.

Simon in London said...

Amy:
"Adaptability stems from the personality, and that will be present no matter what age. "

I really don't think that's true. I met my future wife when I was 23; I changed a lot for her, and she for me. I can't see my current 39-year-old self doing that.

Some middle-aged people do make big changes to make a marriage work, but I think it's considerably harder and rarer than for the young.

Simon in London said...

I think it's stupid to be telling a 27 year old that she's all washed up and will never find a man (& don't accept trolling on your blog). But it would also be foolish of a 27 year old to wait until 37 before she starts thinking about settling down. My wife had just turned 37 when our son was born, an extremely difficult labour over several days, leading to an emergency Caesarean. We really were not aware that a first pregnancy at 36 was considered geriatric. If my wife had been fully aware of the facts she might have been willing to have a child much sooner.

Yes, that's just one data point. Yes, there are counter examples. But our experience was not uncommon. And NHS hospitals in London are not nice places, it's good to have as little as possible to do with them. And for maternity your best chance of that (including a home birth, if desired) is to be as young and fit as possible.

 

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