What is it to be 29 right now? There are scores of articles that tell you how to be 29, but very few address what it actually means for you as an individual. And the reason behind that, to be totally honest, is no one is really sure. The shift in the meaning of a number is a real thing. And while I am happy to be happy for those who think age is just a number, the truth is that the number plays a very significant role in your overall psyche, whether you are wont to believe it or not. But amidst all of the confusion surrounding what we’re supposed to be doing and who it is we’re supposed to be, one thing remains clear: You are not your mother or father’s 29.
We have entered into an age that remains fluid and undefined because it is built on shifting landscapes, consisting of the following: Location, Career and Marriage.
These are words today used so flippantly to both allow and disallow independence and understanding through peer comparisons. But can you productively compare yourself to your peers? Let’s begin our investigations with one corner of the life triangle:
Chances are, most of your parents already had you by the time they were 29. According to InfoPlease’s “Median Age of Marriage,” marriage in the 1960’s had a median age of 22.8 for men and 20.3 for women. This can then be viewed in comparison to 2010’s median marriage ages of 28.3 and 26.1. Every generation prior to this married at a younger age and was fortunate to raise a child with another person. I say fortunate because of this simple reason: Two incomes are more capable of paying rent than one. Just basic math. The more unfortunate side to this is that the working woman wasn’t totally in full swing yet, and was trying to figure out how to balance the previous expectations of being primarily a stay-at-home mother with the (slowly) growing opportunities in the workplace. So what we had at this time was the focus on the age of 29 being a ‘breadwinner’ time for men and a ‘part-time breadwinner / part-time mom’ time for women. Also, living with roommates was not nearly as prevalent because marriages at younger ages provided a built-in roommate, and for the most part negated the necessity of living with other people to pay the mortgage or rent. Today’s younger generation members who choose to marry young are usually those living outside of larger cities. I can venture to guess that the majority of your friends who live with their spouses in houses with a pet or even a child are not in a major metropolitan area. This directly correlates to expense and quality of life. And this idea of expense, of being able to afford a certain lifestyle, is one of the prominent aspects of marriage that ties it into another of its sister terms in the trifecta of self: location.(Just to clarify even more for readers 😉
Certain cities boast more singles than others. And while it may seem like a good idea to move to an area with a lot of singles to get married, the opposite may be true. In “Want to Get Married or Stay Single? Move to These States,” Herb Scribner hits the nail on the head regarding singles, cities, and the cost of living. Referencing a recent article by Amanda Hess in Slate magazine covering Facebook’s recent findings about cities with a plethora of singles, Scribner remarked:
“Living in or moving to a city with a high amount of singles doesn’t always guarantee you are going to get into a relationship with someone in that state, especially because people tend to mimic pre-existing attitudes and cultural norms of the areas they live in … People who keep coming into the cities don’t want to form long relationships, which causes the amount of singles to stay high.”
That’s not even mentioning the expenses of actually getting married, which also vary by state, helping maintain the status quo. I live in Boston and while the cost of living isn’t quite as expensive as New York, it’s far and away much more expensive than where I’m originally from, Pittsburgh. Take a look at the following, provided by RentingByCity.com:
The rent and general living expenses are literally twice as high in Boston. Because of this it is virtually impossible to live without roommates if you are not in a serious relationship and living with your significant other OR have a very well paying job. But even if you are in a significant relationship, I really don’t know that many people who end up moving in together unless marriage is absolutely imminent. I’ve lived with roommates in serious relationships who still don’t want to live with their significant other, which brings up the idea of the “other” roommate, whom we all know. You end up living with people who are still trying to circumnavigate tradition by treating their boyfriend or girlfriend like another roommate – one who doesn’t help to pay rent.
The key issue to keep in mind is that remaining in a situation where you are living with roommates creates an unfortunate carryover from college, where the thinking upon departure was that establishing your own apartment or home was on the near horizon. Living with people, relying on others to pay your rent, is a different mentality than that of even one-generation prior, and has the potential of slowing progress from a mental perspective. Catherine Cloutier’s “Boston’s Young Adults Plentiful, Influential and often Burdened” covered a lot of ground in terms of the effects metropolitan economics plays in housing, marriage, and that third part of the triangle.
“Like their peers across the country, members of Greater Boston’s millennial population face crippling student debt, a slowly recovering job market, and mounting expenses. But with a greater proportion of residents facing these problems than any other US city, Boston feels an exponential weight of these burdens. This means more people here face daily sacrifices and decisions: shoebox apartments shared with roommates long into adulthood, long commutes or delayed car ownership, and in some cases, underemployment. Kristin Mattera, 31, calls her Boston-area lifestyle “Stunted Adulthood.” In the city, everything happens later,” says Cloutier.
You start to question how you are still in a roommate situation, while your friends have chosen a different path that allows them to be in a different city, and living in houses rather than ‘late-twenties manageable apartments.’ For example, some of my good friends from childhood and college are doctors, and I really admire them for that. But the path of a doctor and the path of a filmmaker are two very different things from several perspectives. One allows you to work in a great number of locations. My friends who have gone into professions that exist in a multitude of cities are able to live in those where rent is cheaper, where they can afford to get cars and are able to put marriage at the forefront because they have a better chance of staying settled in one location for a longer period of time, and greater chance of meeting others who have similar relationship desires.
I choose to make films, and while I like what I do, I have about 3 or 4 choices as to where I can live and do what I do. And by only filmmaking, I could manage in none of the cities on what would be considered livable economically. It is a great irony of life that the cities that foster those with the least sustainable income are the most expensive. Many of the younger generation who flocks to Boston are unable to stay, simply because there may not be a high demand for the jobs for which they have gone to school. Each city brings people in for different reasons, and career is at the forefront of that, often even above marriage.
Important to remember about this trifecta of Career, Location, and Marriage is that a person can actually start at any of the three points and move forward with the other two, reliant on the first. Mine began with career, requiring a move to Boston with my marriage card still up in the air. Some of my friends married younger and stayed in the same city as their partner, ultimately finding a job based on that location, or based upon their skill set and its applicability to that location.
So when we talk about being 29 right now, we are really talking about a mutable entity built on sand. As a 29-year-old, you are looking for sources of reassurance, and the great truth of the matter that I discover day-to-day is that there is no great truth. The 29 of now is undefined, and that is terrifying and it is great. I have no expectations beyond those I set for my own talent because the landscape of the careers of my peers is vast. Some are married and some are not, and the correlation between the two seems to increasingly depend on location, which increasingly depends on career. Which is the chicken and which is the egg depends on the individual, but at the end of the day you are not your parents’ 29. You are not even your best friend’s 29. You are only your own, to make of it what you may in the best way you discover, from a path laid out by you as an individual.