By Jacki Post Ashkin, LCSW-C,
Senior Manager, Marketing and Development
Jewish Community Services
“Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “New Girl”…all shows about twenty-somethings navigating life while settling into the world of adulthood. They make it look great. Who wouldn’t want to be hanging out chugging lattes at Central Perk or ordering another round at McLaren’s? Sure, they’ve got their challenges, but nothing that can’t get wrapped up pretty neatly in 30 minutes.
These days, though, life isn’t imitating art for young adults, aka Gen-Yers, or as developmental psychology-types like to label them, “emerging adults.” I think most people in their twenties (and, admittedly, their parents) thought they would graduate from college and land their dream job, earning enough money to move into their own cool urban apartment, kiss a few frogs until they found their prince or princess and live the life of their TV counterparts.
But, Gen-Yers, more than ever, are suffering from anxiety and depression. The reason, experts say, has to do with expectations as the social and economic realities of today aren’t quite cooperating with the ideal of the carefree lifestyle projected into our living rooms.
First, the job market is making it tough for recent grads to find a job that can afford them a self-sufficient, easy-breezy existence. There is so much competition that a good number are forced to lower their initial expectations and take jobs that may pay less, offer few benefits or fall outside their major. In fact, many are delaying the move into the work world for that very reason, choosing to continue their education in the hopes that by the time they’re done, the economy and their prospects for finding a job will have improved.
In the meantime, whether working or studying, they remain dependent on their parents (and maybe even move back in with them) to meet a chunk of their expenses. That decision usually causes some tension, not to mention limits on lifestyle and self-determination.
Then there are relationships. Between high rates of divorce as the norm and the challenges of becoming financially independent, it isn’t surprising that relationships are more casual and that making a commitment to a long-term relationship or marriage is happening much later. Half of the entertainment on the sitcoms is watching the characters stumble through the dating scene while they try to find “the one.” But again, reality is scarier than what TV portrays. People ages 20-24 account for the highest rates of new HIV infections. You just don’t see Barney or Ted or Robin or Jess worrying about STDs or waiting for the results of an HIV test. Maybe they should.
Don’t get me wrong. Those twenties still qualify as some of the best years in life. But these days there are a few extra obstacles and challenges thrown in that can make the road into adulthood a little trickier to navigate.
So, while some days might seem right in line with the TV scenarios — a Saturday at a bar with friends or a Sunday spent around the TV watching your favorite NFL team crush their opponent — the ultimate truth is days like that are not everyday occasions. Maybe if twenty-somethings,their parents, and, yes, even Hollywood, can accept and reflect on today’s realities, then this generation of young adults might be reassured. Even if life does not imitate art, it’s going to be okay.