+ The Modern Dilemma

At a house party last night a few of us got chatting about how much has changed since our parents’ generation in terms of opportunities.

It’s now almost a given that after A-levels you work your way through university, get a career and focus on making money, and lots of it. People married younger, mortgages were easier to come by then, and so at my age my mum had her feet comfortably under the table in her marital home knowing exactly what was on the horizon for her.

I’m not saying this is a rarity today, but from my own experience the majority of my friends do not envisage ‘settling down’ for five years at least. We all have our sights set on other options, such as relentlessly climbing the career ladder, working abroad for a few years or enjoying a lifestyle where our sole concern is self-fulfilment. These options tend to be, on the whole, incompatible with marriage, mortgages and monogamy.

But how does this set us apart from previous generations? If we’re marrying later, going abroad for longer and renting for what seems like an eternity, can we still be safe in the knowledge that one day out lives will mirror the same secure and settled pattern that our parents took?

I am the first to profess my gratitude for being able to experience opportunities my mum and my nan could only have dreamed of, but I see around me seas of supposedly liberated young women anxious about their futures and disillusioned by the non-committal behaviour of men their own age.

One of my friends in her early-mid twenties has her own flat, a fulfilling job and has been seeing the same guy for nearly a year, who she is yet to gain the official label of his ‘girlfriend’. You might say this is a win-win situation as she has the benefits of a relationship without the claustrophobic trappings a steady, monogamous arrangement. But then why does she worry about her biological clock ticking and feel as though her current situation is so unsettling?

It’s clear that the most telling change in the ‘rules’ of relationships is that there really isn’t any these days. Marriage was once seen as a non-negotiable step in adult life, but more than ever people are making decisions that are the best for them rather than approaching life with a how-to manual written by previous generations.

If anything, we have more freedom than ever to choose whatever we want, whenever we want. While writing this on the Tube I came across an article by Tony Parsons in GQ magazine about ‘the modern dad’s dilemma’, notably whether to delay fatherhood as late as possible or not. Having become a dad at 25, he believes that ‘staying childless would have made me more selfish, shallow, obsessed with my own little pleasures and fulfilment. Becoming a dad in my twenties made me grow up. And it was time to grow up’.

I think the major question for my generation is how much they value their autonomy and want to delay the point at which they wave goodbye to it forever and begin living for others.