Are We There Yet?
April 10, 2011 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Zerosomethings are adorable: angst-free, energetic, usually related to me. They will grab onto one my legs to get a free ride, and I will always give it to them. A precocious twentysomething's artful musings on the series of life-stages most of us have passed, are passing, or will pass through in the course of ordinary survival. Reading "-Somethings" I am reminded of Gail Sheehy's classic Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (read a portion here), a thought-provoking and somewhat more academic investigation of how we change over time.
posted by fernabelle (30 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have a whole lot of concrete experience with eightysomethings and above, but what I feel from them is joy. Simple joy, quiet joy. When I think of eightysomethings the mental image is of a large, radiant smile, wrinkled and soft. A smile that’s had a lot of practice being a smile.

I do know a good number of eightysomethings. What I "feel" from them is frustration with their failing health. One of the ladies at church always says, with her cute little voice and German accent, "Getting old sucks!" A lot of them find their physical failings getting in the way of the things they've always done. Who can blame them for being a little down or a little crabby from time to time?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:03 PM on April 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Cute article. The author has some great observations about the lower "somethings". With a bit more research and thought, he could have made the 50+ somethings more interesting to read. What's with the blurry font though?
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2011

I do know a good number of eightysomethings. What I "feel" from them is frustration with their failing health.

That's my read too. I'm not looking forward to that.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:05 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Rory Marinich has a gift for telling a tale. I wish he'd come back and tell a few more here.
posted by donnagirl at 1:09 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Aw, I want to pat him on the head.

Gotta say, as someone about to head into fortysomething town, being told how bitter I am about to be is not helping me fight the bitterness. But then what do I care what a goddamn 20something punk thinks, the little fucker?

/weeps into her tequila
posted by emjaybee at 1:20 PM on April 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Fourtysomething here. I think she has us all wrong. The bitterness is in the thirtysomethings. They are the ones that are still fighting reality, frustrated because their life is not what they expected it to be. By the time you get into the 40s you accept life as it is and make do. The more cynical may say we have given up, and that is not completely unfair. However, once the kids are on their own (fiftysomethings) there will be opportunity to start anew, whether that is a second career as an entrepreneur, or living a sparse lifestyle on a beach somewhere.
posted by COD at 1:34 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hate to be Captain Obvious, but —

I teach "zerosomethings" for a living. Some of them are surly and suspicious, some of them are free-spirited, some are anxious and controlling, and so on. They are no less different than any other group of people.

The degree of sentimentality that people hold about children is a real barrier to children being treated, as they should, as real human beings with concrete needs, many of which go unmet (for instance: To be relied upon and useful to others).
posted by argybarg at 1:38 PM on April 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

Augh the fonnnnnnnnt.....
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:39 PM on April 10, 2011

As a twenty-one-year-old, this strikes me as the kind of project only a twenty-year-old could be foolish enough to attempt.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:56 PM on April 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Then again, I don't mean to hate. What's the harm in a little speculation? If they're wrong, we'll both find out. If we're lucky.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:58 PM on April 10, 2011

There's a reason people in the 40s are bitter. That decade marks the end of sex as you knew it. There is still sex in store for you -- up until you are a sexagenarian, if you're lucky. But your hormones start and more or less withdraw from the cells they once kept in a near constant state of desire. You sense something missing, but you don't know what it is. You are not conscious of it, but the sexual buzz that has been omnipresent in your life since early adolescence, has quieted first to a gentle purr, and then grown altogether silent. You can still get it going again, but it takes a more or less conscious effort. It's a fact that until you're in your forties, you're on sexual automatic pilot. You're choosing friends, choosing schools, choosing careers, choosing mates, clothes, avocations -- all without really reflecting: but your hormones (for want of a better word) know what they're doing. By the time you're in you're forties, nature is through with you. Sex is no longer in front of you, leading the way. It's behind you, still able to be summoned, but your servant, no longer your master. People who are younger than you begin to appear like wild animals in heat (because that's what they are). If you're not aware that your sexual engine is shutting down (to switch metaphors), it seems to you like life has simply lost its meaning. You wonder why you did all the crazy stuff you did -- all the colorful interesting stuff that falls under into the category (not that you're aware of it) of mate-seeking behavior. You get depressed. You get crazy. Without consciousness of your sexual losses, your life begins to look like it was just a lot of pointless running around, all adding up to nothing. If your lucky, you still love you're children. But you just may be bitter, too. You don't know why. But the thrill is gone. Your gonads are no longer calling the shots. You're on your own, and you've got to figure out your own reasons for continuing to live. This is absolutely not easy. The good news is, that as you get into your fifties, your body and mind come back into register (without the gunning sexuality), and it is possible to move forward.
posted by Faze at 2:09 PM on April 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm just here to say, as someone just getting started on their stint as a fiftysomething, that both the article and Faze's comment are inaccurate and fairly useless generalizations.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Faze, with all due respect... bullshit.

I'm 42, happily single, and although I'm over relationships and will happily be single for life, I'm physically yearning to find someone to bang relentlessly.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Faze's description of people in their 40s probably only applies to people who care more about sex than they do about pizza. I've been 40 for a few months now and I'm pleased to report that my ability to enjoy pizza is showing no signs on any dysfunction.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:35 PM on April 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

First, we are babies and are given food.

Then we learn how to find food and make babies.

Then we have babies and give them food.

Then we teach them...

Everything else is just a side effect. Sometimes side effects can be fun...
posted by anarch at 2:39 PM on April 10, 2011

Another downvote for Faze's interpretation of the 40s. Really, not at all my own experience, or the experience of many of the 40somethings I know.

I've been enjoying my 40s so far, personally. It's when I finally got to say that I became what I wanted to be when I grew up. That doesn't suck.
posted by jscalzi at 2:51 PM on April 10, 2011

I miss Rory. Good counterpoint to some of the cynical energy here.

Tensomethings are the worst. Being a tensomething I think was sort of like being Batman. Every time something made me realize that life sometimes is unfun the world would get dark, and I would get dark, a caped crusader against the world’s injustices. I never actually wore a cape because I thought it would make me look dorky. I was right; but what I didn’t realize was that the purpose of being a tensomething is just to generate stories for when you’re a proper adult. Tensomething is too young to worry about your peers. They are stupid and short and they can’t act, so even Hollywood doesn’t glamorize them.

This is perfect. Dark adventures riding my bike and pretending to be a superhero. Everything almost meaningful, the hero of my own little drama. Hollywood did get it with Stand By Me.
I definitely worry that my recent discovery of how wonderful and amazing other people are is somehow just a discovery of how wonderful and amazing I think I am. I hope that it’s possible to both be obsessed with yourself and with other people, but sometimes it feels like I’m really only into myself. I tell other people that I’m trying hard to appreciate them. Then I tell them that I’m aware of how telling them this makes it about myself again.

Twentysomethings are so cool. We flaunt our coolness. We are capable of making the dumbest things cool. I think we’re actually deliberately trying to find new dumb things to turn cool. I wonder if we’d still do this if our culture wasn’t constantly telling us how cool we are. Maybe we’d do it but it would be less irritating. Maybe we’d do something responsible and quiet. I doubt it.

We miss the point, though. Every damn time. We do the right things for the wrong reasons. We are empty. Good with surfaces, bad with the insides. Simple and convinced that simple is good. Which is almost right, but not quite.

The cycle I go through with twentysomethings is this. First I love how colorful and loud they are. They make me feel good about being colorful and loud. But then I get tired of colorful loudness, and I start being quiet and muted instead. I tell myself that quiet and muted is the right way to be. Then a loud and colorful twentysomething will do something really neat, and I’ll envy them for a little while. Then I’ll feel dumb about envying and join in their loudness and their color. I have been a twentysomething for seven months and already this has happened at least fifty times. I think that either I’ll find an equilibrium or else I’ll just oscillate faster and faster, until finally I am ripped into bloody stitches.

Maybe that’s how I’ll get older. Maybe all I am right now is a cocoon and the real me is inside, ready to rip the me now apart. Maybe the reason I feel that we are so strong and so empty is that we really are just a shell, and there’s something better that’s just waiting for the right time. Maybe I won’t have to wait ten years for that to happen.

If you’re not a twentysomething (or even if you are) you’re probably reading this and irritably shaking your head. To you I say: Help me. Help me be better. To me you say: Stop talking, then. Stop going on about yourself for just a moment. But I have to say back: I can’t. I don’t know yet when it will get good. Maybe it’s this. Maybe the next thing. You’ve got to let me be the wrong thing. I am so sorry. I wish it could be another way.

I'm 26th and I'm always looking for an explanation for my life. This will help for a week or so. I might stop reading after this because the rest of the article isn't about me. Or maybe I'll keep reading because I think Rory is more like me than some other people are and I want to honor that.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:00 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Forget the somethings. What about the twenty, thirty and fortynothings? Huh?
posted by jonmc at 3:33 PM on April 10, 2011

Faze's vision of fortysomething is pretty damn depressing and not at all what my friends and I are living, except maybe the depressed alcoholic dude friend. My sex drive is perfectly healthy and so are my fortysomething friends'. No one I know looks at younger people as oversexed animals. Your forty isn't mine.
posted by notashroom at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2011

Faze's vision of fortysomething is pretty damn depressing and not at all what my friends and I are living, except maybe the depressed alcoholic dude friend. My sex drive is perfectly healthy and so are my fortysomething friends'. No one I know looks at younger people as oversexed animals. Your forty isn't mine.

"There's gonna come a time when the kids will seem too skinny..."

"Stoned in a bookstore, sober in a nightclub. Sex is everywhere but nowhere around me"

I look at younger people as oversexed. But then I also look at the older people on this site as oversexed. I've had a bitter, nostalgic mindset since I was about 15 and had my first midlife/existential crisis. I still go out and party and DO all the twentysomething stuff but Faze's life is more like mine that it is like my peers. Just kina observing, and waiting for either something to happen or to have partied enough that I can go home to my XBox and a book.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2011

Off the top of my head I don’t know what fortysomethings have ever accomplished.

I don’t think I know any sixtysomethings so I’ll just assume this is the decade of fucking.

This is why there is nothing worse than a twentysomething. Except maybe a ten-something.
posted by rahnefan at 7:11 PM on April 10, 2011

Look, I just don’t get fortysomethings. They all seem either defeated and bitter, or proud about things that I just don’t value at all.

Forty, I'm finding, is the age at which you do actually have enough education and experience to really know something, and when people start to trust that you do. Your twenties are spent in an apprenticeship, the last bit of education, the first few years on the job, learning the ropes. Your thirties are your journeyman years, proving that you're up to the task. At forty, the training wheels finally come off. You're handed the reins, for better or worse. You're an adult now, and you have some big choices to make. There is no net---you are the net.

It's horrifying and exciting.
posted by bonehead at 9:30 PM on April 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Every time I read one of Faze's comments, I die a little inside. I don't know why.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:19 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Every time I read one of Faze's comments, I die a little inside. I don't know why.

It's difficult to face life without illusions. However, what I have to offer is something infinitely more rich and rewarding than the shopworn shibboleths and shabby beliefs that sustain so many of my fellow men. What is dies inside was not worth having to begin with. I hope that you will continue to enlarge your education and seek many points of view.

As regards the sex urge in your forties -- please don't think I'm suggesting that you lose interest in sex in your forties. You NEVER lose interest in sex. However, as you procede through that decade, you'll discover that while your interest in sex hasn't waned in the slightest, it is becoming increasingly academic, and by the time you're in your fifties, it is well on its way to becoming an absorbing abstraction, more like theoretical physics than practical geometry. Oh, but your desire for constant sex, and the ideal of being able to sleep with (in the case of heterosexual men) every woman you meet does not go away. But at some point in your forties, some part of you comes to understand that not only will you never even come close to sleeping with every woman you meet, you may never sleep with another woman as long as you live -- and that may very well include your now-menapausal wife.
posted by Faze at 7:00 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Every time Faze runs roughshod over criticism with even more of the same typical carrying-on, I die a little inside. But I know exactly why.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:20 AM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is why there is nothing worse than a twentysomething. Except maybe a ten-something.

Hey some of us aren't like this at all. Cut us some slack.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:05 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

It’s not just that they’re old. There’s something else. Maybe it’s that they’re not old enough. They haven’t found that grace or serenity yet. Probably they’re scared. I bet I’ll be scared when I’m a fortysomething. Off the top of my head I don’t know what fortysomethings have ever accomplished. There’s Young accomplishment, which is vital and urgent, and there’s Old accomplishment, which is meditative and discerning, but I don’t know what’s right in between. Maybe you can do both at once. Maybe for a little while you can’t do either. I should research fortysomething accomplishments, but somehow that feels less honest than just making things up about them. It’s not like they care what I think. If anything I’m doing them a favor by giving them a reason to dismiss my generation. I don’t mind being dismissed. I pretty much deserve it.

Yes, you do, if you're in your twenties and that's how you sum up getting older. Hate to tell you, but in 20 years there'll be some humans who are now infants who'll be dismissing you as old and irrelevant too.

I've achieved more since I turned 40 than I did in most of the years of my life before that. I have far more grace and serenity now than I could have ever dreamed of having in my twenties, and am eternally grateful that many of the things that I was and aspired to be in my twenties are no longer important to me.

If you are twentysomething in this day and age and are not self-sufficiently wealthy, and you're not at least a little scared once in a long while, something is wrong with you and you need a dose of reality. Or maybe it'll just lurk, waiting to dawn on you when you're in your forties, and then you will be scared. Like wake up in the night with cold sweats scared.
posted by blucevalo at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2011

It's difficult to face life without illusions.

Oh, Faze, you're not facing life without illusions. You *can't* face life without illusions. Your experiences are not universally shared, and they form the lens you view reality through. We're humans-- we look for patterns and draw sometimes erroneous conclusions based on what we observe. You may have been living your horrible sexless life for at least ten years longer than me now, but I can't help but want to pat you gently on the head for even imagining at this point that you can be Right, and Seeing It For What It Really Is, and people who view life in other ways must be Wrong. That's kind of a twentysomething philosophy, isn't it?
posted by Because at 1:08 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Faze: “There's a reason people in the 40s are bitter. That decade marks the end of sex as you knew it.”
"For my part, Cephalus, I am really delighted to discuss with the very old," I said. "Since they are like men who have proceeded on a certain road that perhaps we too will have to take, one ought, in my opinion, to learn from them what sort of road it is -- whether it is rough and hard or easy and smooth. From you in particular I should like to learn how it looks to you, for you are now at just the time of life the poets call 'the threshold of old age.' Is it a hard time of life, or what have you to report of it?"

"By Zeus, I shall tell you just how it looks to me, Socrates," he said. "Some of us who are about the same age often meet together and keep up the old proverb. Now then, when they meet, most of the members of our group lament, longing for the pleasures of youth and remniscing about sex, about drinking bouts and feasts and all that goes with things of that sort; they take it hard as though they were deprived of something very important and had then lived well but are now not even alive. Some also bewail the abuse that old age receives from relatives, and in this key they sing a refrain about all the evils old age has caused them. But, Socrates, in my opinion these men do not put their fingers on the cause. For, if this were the cause, I too would have suffered these same things insofar as they depend on old age and so would everyone else who has come to this point in life. But as it is, I have encountered others for whom it was not so, especially Sophocles. I was once present when the poet was asked by someone, 'Sophocles, how are you in sex? Can you still have intercourse with a woman?' 'Silence, man,' he said. 'Most joyfully did I escape it, as though I had run away from a sort of frenzied and savage master.' I thought at the time that he had spoken well and I still do. For, in every way, old age brings great peace and freedom from such things. When the desires cease to strain and finally relax, then what Sophocles says comes to pass in every way; it is possible to be rid of very many mad masters. But of these things and of those that concern relatives, there is one just cause: not old age, Socrates, but the character of the human beings. If they are orderly and content with themselves, even old age is only moderately troublesome; if they are not, then both age, Socrates, and youth alike turn out to be hard for that sort."
- Plato, Republic I.328-329

posted by koeselitz at 1:58 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I don't remember if this is the exact quote or not, but it is as close as I could find... The late, great George Carlin said this:

When you're young, you don't know, but you don't know you don't know, so you take some chances. In your twenties and thirties you don't know and you know you don't know, and that tends to freeze you; less risk taking. In your forties you know but you don't know that you know, so you may still be a little tenative. But then you pass fifty, if you've been paying attention, you know and you know you know. Time for some fun.
-George Carlin
posted by mrzer0 at 10:58 AM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

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