...As A.O. Scott claimed last year, “Nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore. Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable.” Which is proximate to another argument, one that was made many times before Judd Apatow came along: that adulthood hasn’t so much passed away as it’s been flattened and dispersed. Young people—via a hypersexualized media culture, via the varying pressures toward economic and social and academic achievement—have been forced to grow up prematurely. Adulthood, meanwhile, has been youth-enized by people in their 20s and 30s choosing work/friends/Netflix/financial self-sufficiency over traditional markers of grown-up-ness: marriage, kids, home-ownership, etc.
It’s a kind of widespread lament that the rituals we used to take for granted, across religions and countries and cultures—bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, weddings, the loss of virginity—have been denuded of practical meaning, leaving everyone in a state of perpetual youth.
It sometimes seems as though Americans are fantastic at agitating for liberties without taking any interest in confronting opportunity costs. If you choose path A then path B may forever be closed to you. It often feels like a mid-life crisis is what happens when a person sees the opportunity costs, at last, and wishes that it was possible to backtrack and go get some of whatever it was that was on the road not taken. We can all tell ourselves we took the one less traveled by but as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same.
Of course a lot of people would rather that Robert Frost poem be a sentimental ode to the triumph of individual perseverance rather than a subtle exploration of self-delusion and stubbornness. But then that's the beauty of Frost's poems, that they're ambiguous enough to invite both modes of interpretation.
The thing is, this flaw of wanting a liberty without paying its price may be one shared by many officially adult folks in the United States. Something Wenatchee The Hatchet has blogged about over the years is that in the wake of the 2008 housing bubble the median age of first marriage may have gone up, but it's about where it was during The Great Depression. When economic times and production opportunities improve, it sure seems as though the median age of first marriage drops down to where social conservatives think it "should" be.