Why aren’t the millennials (growing up between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) ‘settling down’? In fact, the phrase ‘settling down’ unsettles the millennials. The topic makes for uncomfortable dinner conversations and adds to the weirdness at family gatherings.
This is because the question of ‘settling down’ is often a polite way of asking ‘when are you getting married’.
The older generation should not to be blamed for their perceptions, because sociologists traditionally defined the ‘transition to adulthood’ as marked by five milestones:
1. Completing school
2. Leaving home
3. Becoming financially independent
5. Having a child
It is to be noted that in the Indian context, milestones 2 and 4 are almost synonymous, especially for women.
However, this older generation fails to accept how the parameters of adulthood have remarkably changed today. The Clark University Poll of Parents of Emerging Adults found that the top three markers for adulthood in this generation are:
1. Accepting responsibility for self
2. Financial independence
3. Making independent decisions
These are 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 professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, is leading a 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 which Arnet calls ‘a sense of possibilities’. ‘Emerging adults’ intensely 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 path to adulthood nowadays is highly uneven and individualistic. Some never encounter all of the five traditional milestones. Adults can stay single or even childless by choice.
For ’emerging adults’ who are in the ‘identity-exploration’ phase, the idea of ‘settling down’ is naturally quite unsettling. But the question is why do we necessarily consider commitment to a long-term relationship as ‘settling down’? Why does it feel like a lot needs to be ticked off the ‘bucket list’ before the ‘settling down’ happens?
Wouldn’t it be better if committing to a relationship stirs up our lives with possibilities – bigger dreams and a bigger appetite for taking risks – with a partner in crime? For example:
1. A startup idea with a supporting partner
2. Exploring your wanderlust with a partner to travel with
3. Publishing your book, with someone to motivate you, or even co-author, like this couple
Sharing your dreams and aspirations with your spouse and children makes them even more worthwhile. According to a US research, nearly 70% of the founders of high-growth and successful businesses were married when they became entrepreneurs.
Jeff Bezos quit his high paying job and started Amazon with his wife MacKenzie, immediately after their marriage. While 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.”
If one thinks about it, companionship in marriage should ‘unsettle’ us with the new perspectives, journeys and experiences that open up. It should not be a full-stop to our aspirations. Rather it should add an exclamation mark in our life-stories!
However, this can only happen when we free ourselves from the societal expectations of what a picture-perfect settled adult life should look like.
Therefore, let the path to adulthood be an uneven and individually-paced one – to each, their own! Let it not be a rush towards ticking off societal check-boxes. Moreover, let committed relationship be an exclamation mark in your life-story!
To quote Hunter S Thompson: “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!’ ”
The article was first published here. It has been posted on Youth Ki Awaaz with the author’s permission.