Quarter-Life Crisis? It’s All About Me?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

The Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section interviewed Harvard postdoctoral fellow Jennifer Silva about her book on “Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty.” Silva paints a portrait of lost sounding twentysomethings who find themselves establishing communities centered around themselves, having concluded, she says, “‘Okay, I can’t trust anyone, I can’t rely on anyone, I’m better off on my own. I choose the path of isolation, rather than thinking about who’s to blame, or banding together with other people and coming up with solutions that are more collective.’”

They are “privatizing happiness,” she says, which involves a determination that it is “suddenly up to you . . . to figure out if there’s something wrong with you, or if you’re unhappy or you’re not being successful, and to make it your job to fix yourself.”

The good news, just based on the interview, is they are not “blaming” anyone for their challenges, and they do feel the need to be adults. But the whole social nature of man, the wisdom of the ages, the fact that we’re not meant to be and don’t have to be alone, seems absent from their calculations. As, I fear, they’re being “social” in the voyeuristic, unfulling ways of the Internet, informed by the hook-up nature of campus and youth culture, bolstered by rhetoric about freedom and health that keeps them stuck in the isolation they seem to think is their best hope.

The downside is, of course, that this sounds miserable. Understandable, particularly if marriage and real religion are foreign concepts, if family and community life are things you’ve left behind or only read about. (These are points Mary Eberstadt covers well in her How the West Really Lost God.) But these are the people churches thinking about renewal need to reach, that political philosophies and parties who want to shape America’s future need to speak to. 

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