Why aren’t the millennials (defined as the group those who are born in 1982 and approximately the 20 years thereafter) settling down? The word “settling down” unsettles this lot. This topic gets quite uncomfortable around the dinner table with parents and quite weird with relatives at a family function. Most of the time the settling down question is a polite way of asking – “When are you getting married ?”
The earlier generation is not to be blamed because sociologists traditionally defined the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: 1) Completing school 2) Leaving home 3) Becoming financially independent 4) Marrying and 5) Having a child. Well in the Indian context and especially for women milestone 2 might be listed after 4 :).
But what they fail to realize is how the definition of adulthood today has remarkably changed. The 2014 Clark University Established Adult Poll found that the top three markers for adulthood were – 1)Accepting responsibility for self, 2) Financial independence and 3) Making independent decisions.
That’s exactly what the millennials are trying to achieve. We’re in an era of what one sociologist calls “the changing timetable for adulthood.” Jeffery Jensen Arnet a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he calls “Emerging Adulthood”. Emerging adulthood is identified as a stage of – identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities”. Emerging adults are on an intense search for personal authenticity, awareness, and personal definition. Robbins and Wilner in their book Quarter Life Crisis state that twenties are ripe with self-doubt and intense with introspection.
The whole idea that the path towards adulthood meant crossing one milestone after another in a linear mode – is getting outdated.
The whole idea that the path towards adulthood meant crossing one milestone after another in a linear mode – is getting outdated. The path to adulthood is taken now at an uneven, highly individual pace. Some never achieve all five milestones – adults could stay single or couples could stay childless by choice.
The “emerging adults” who are in an identity exploration phase, the idea of “settling down” is naturally quite unsettling. But the question is – why do we consider committing to a long-term relationship as “settling down”? Why does it feel like there is a lot to be ticked off from the bucket list before that “settling down” happens?
Wouldn’t it make better sense if the idea of committing to a relationship rather “stir” up our lives with possibilities – bigger dreams and a bigger appetite for taking risks, because now you got a partner in crime.
- Have a start-up idea – now you have a partner to support.
- Caught up with wanderlust- now you get a partner to travel with.
- Always dreamt of publishing your book – now there is someone who pushes you to get it done or even better you co-author with them. Like this couple.
Sharing that wanderlust with your spouse and even your children or allowing your dreams to grow even larger to include your spouse and family – makes your aspirations even more worthwhile. According to a US research, nearly 70 percent of the founders of high-growth successful businesses were married when they became entrepreneurs (Jeff Bezos quit his high paying job and started Amazon.com with his wife MacKenzi, immediately after their marriage). Talking about the initial days of Infosys, Sudha Murthy mentioned – “I wrote programs for Infosys. There was no car, no phone, and just two kids and a bunch of us working hard, juggling our lives and having fun while Infosys was taking shape.”
Think about it – the companionship in marriage should rather unsettle us with new perspectives, new journeys and new experiences. It should not be a full stop to our aspirations but an exclamation mark in our life stories. This would only happen when we free ourselves from the burden of societal expectations on what a picture perfect settled life should look like – considering the fact that the “emerging adulthood” is a new concept and traditional milestones of adulthood are still relevant in the minds of many around us.
Let the path of adulthood be uneven and individually paced – to each, their own. Let it not be a rush towards ticking off societal check boxes and let committed relationship be an exclamation mark in your life story because as the quote goes:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”