The New York Times Sunday magazine is where you find nice glossy ads for expensive consumer goods alongside 10,000-word stories on why expensive consumer goods do not make us happy. You often suspect the piece could veer off into Latin halfway through, and no one would notice, except for a few who’d write peevish letters about inaccurate declension. The Internet abbreviation for these pieces is tl/dr: “too long, didn’t read.” Or so the twentysomethings like to say.
As it happens, twentysomethings were the recent subject of a Sunday-mag study, subtitled “Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” Well, you might have a five-word answer: “Because they don’t have to.” Done! You finished with the Style section? Trade you. But of course there must be more to it than that, or sociologists and anthropologists would have nothing to do. Background: Heretofore we have been content with five basic stages of adulthood, which are finishing up school, not sponging off the ’rents, getting a job, swapping rings with someone who’ll put up with you, and turning out replacement units. Now it seems there might be a new step in human development called “emerging adulthood.” This new stage lasts until you’re 25 and burst from your chrysalis of thrift-store clothing as a fully formed creature who is wearing a tie, and not because it’s Mad Men night at the bar.
Not everyone goes through Emerging Adulthood. The author paraphrases an expert: “It’s rare in the developing world . . . where people have to grow up fast.” Because there are tigers, perhaps. Or gangs of guys with guns. Or teeming cities with people packed into shack-towns and one filthy running stream so full of heavy metals you skip a stone off the water and it makes a clanging sound. Or any of the other conditions that apply to parts of the world where people do not have the option of choosing the neighborhood coffee shop over the chain store because they prefer shade-grown fair-trade beans shipped in hemp sacks and served in recyclable cups printed with cruelty-free ink, or some other intellectual luxury you enjoy when you’re not hungry all the time.
Perhaps longevity has something to do with the new stage. If people expected to kick off while tickling 70, they’d have the pups ASAP so they could have a few years of peace, listening to Sinatra’s later Capitol sessions without competing with Led Zep down the hall. But kids today look around and see Saul Bellow having a child when he’s 107, or something, and figure they can space it out. They hear Time’s Winged Chariot behind them, and it’s a cool ride with a good sound system. Hop on! Floor it! Road trip!