Middle X

What happens when those of us born between 1965 and 1980, the infamous Generation X, enter middle age? Well, for one thing, we don't make nearly the noise about it our predecessors did:

People heard it loud and clear when the baby boomers crossed over to midlife – you couldn’t avoid it. Radio talk show hosts probed into the transition, newspapers described boomer women coping with crow’s feet and men reclaiming their vitality in tribal drum circles. For the generation born after – in the ‘60s and ‘70s, raised by television like no previous generation and with the divorce rate skyrocketing during their childhood years — there is no media watch broadcasting their new trajectory. Few have even noticed that this small, notoriously rebellious clan – those born roughly between 1965 and 1980, which means about 46 million Xers versus 80 million boomers — has entered middle age. It’s a transition that, until now, has been captured, mulled over and ridiculed for each generation for more than a half-century. But not this time.

The problem is, with adulthoods repeatedly shipwrecked by economic disasters, Xers might have neglected to track the crossing over. Susan Gregory Thomas, author of the resonant memoir ”In Spite of Everything,” says that many Xers “are always living in a state of triage, always in a survivalist mode. We’re not thinking long-term.”

And then there's this:

And one thing that’s clear: No one else is going to care that we’re moving into red-Ferrari territory. Sure we’ve been screwed. And there may be no Ellsberg in our bunch, but we drank plenty of American Dream Kool-Aid: the idea of real estate being a good investment, the platitude about working hard and getting a good education to secure a solid footing, and the assurance that you need to follow your dreams and not compromise. We are now the most educated American generation – and the first one not doing better than its parents.

There is a chance that being repeatedly burned by the marketplace may actually help us; our natural skepticism may be something American society needs to hear. Most of our trouble – from the Bush 1 recession to the dot-com bust and the more recent economic pit of despair – has stemmed from unchecked optimism. The Xers have paid for that trickle-down optimism repeatedly.

We Xers are sandwiched between two much larger generations in the Boomers and Echo Boomers, but 46 million is still a lot of people so there is a variation inherent to the group that makes it dangerous to offer up sweeping generalizations like those in the article. Still we are generally shaped by our shared generational experiences and the article does a good job of outlining some of the experiences that made a significant impact on us – a high rate of divorced parents, an adulthood punctuated by extreme economic highs and lows, a litany of political and business scandals covered in excrutiating detail by the exploding multimedia landscape – and how they likely influenced our development and outlook on life in general.

When I read the following excerpt I was instantly thankful that my lovely wife and I bucked the trend of our generation and started having kids in our mid-20s:

Many of us – busy building careers, wounded by family divorce, or just wanting to lay down the perfect foundation for marriage and family life — waited to have children. Studies reveal that a disproportionate number of us are sandwiched between dependent children and aging parents – fending off economic stressers while juggling a heavy load of family responsibilities.

Connelly, the Ford futurist, says that some of the postponing of the traditional midlife period may come down to a pushing back of all the major life milestones: “Some of that [midlife questioning] would be fueled by empty nesters – the kids are grown,” she says, explaining a feeling of “now what?” “Demographics have shifted such that with each passing generation, people are postponing marriage.” With dependent kids at home, everything has been pushed back. “There’s nothing midlife about my situation right now.  I think that’s why you don’t hear this conversation.”

After reading that who wouldn't want the traditional "red Porsche at 46" mid-life crisis prompted by empty nesthood and a sagging jowl?  I say bring it on.  Of course in my case it's a "burgundy Honda Pilot at 46" mid-life crisis which, if you ask a Boomer, would make me a classic Xer underachiever.

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