23 April 2021
Adulthood. It sure is a funny time!
Doing your own laundry. Working until dark. Student loans. Getting fat. The climate crisis. Capitalism. Existential dread which spirals into the abuse of chemicals needed to replicate any of the joy and wonder you used to feel as a child.
Plus, like none of your friends want to party with you anymore!
A friend of a friend of mine- let’s call her “Jemima”- understands the common but rarely acknowledged situation of being at a drastically different life stage to the people closest to you.
Of all her tight-knit group of friends, currently three have babies, three are engaged, and one is looking to buy a property. In Sydney.
Jemima isn’t ungrateful for what she has. A full-time job with nice co-workers. An apartment that she’s decorated to her exact tastes (as much as a rental will allow you). She’s close with her family. A smoking hot body. A pretty face; as long as she never opens the iPhone front-facing camera.
So why does spending time with her friends make her feel like shit?
From the day we’re born, our every milestone is compared to others’ of the same age. it helps anxious parents reassure themselves that their child’s limitations, behaviours and quirks are completely normal “for that age”; or, that they’re at the life stage they should be.
Because kids develop so quickly, society is obsessed with the notion that children keep up with the pace (i.e. aren’t left behind academically or socially), but don’t outpace (e.g. demonstrate sexual behaviour before they’re ready) their peers. This is reinforced by the strict age cut offs of school grade levels.
Being put in these conceptual boxes encourages us to identify with and imitate the behaviour of your friendship group. (When I was ten I had a bizarre predilection for “tattooing” my body with Whiteout. This was shared by the rest of my friendship group, so it was fine, I was keeping pace with my peers.)
But nobody warned ten-year-old me, sorry, “Jemima,” that once you’re fully developed into a person there are a whole new set of social and cultural milestones we’re expected to meet by a deadline. And just like in childhood, if you don’t keep pace with your peers things can get awkward.
Jemima and her gang became friends in early high school, and went through puberty, first crushes, “first times,” exam stress, gap years, and first jobs together. Oh, and partying. Lots and lots of partying. It’s no coincidence that stocks in Smirnoff were at an all-time high in the glory years of 2007 to 2015*.
Then adult responsibilities started crept in. Longer hours were worked as careers became prioritised. Holidays weren’t so realistic working full-time jobs and paying rent in Sydney. Hangovers couldn’t be cured by a greasy breakfast anymore. And as their twenty-six bodies began the inevitable decline into old age, they graduated from clubbing to restaurant dining. From party pashes to serious relationships. From vodka to coke (Coca-Cola that is). And one by one, Jemima’s friends seamlessly metamorphosed from hot young messes (emphasis on hot) to happily engaged young parents and property owners. And it pisses Jemima off.
Their partners are lovely. Their babies are divine. And their post-Covid weddings are sure to be indisputably adorable. But on an already bad day, hearing about it is like a kick in the guts. It reminds Jemima of how much they’ve grown and moved on since high school; and of the fact that she hasn’t (unless going backwards counts?). There’s also a level of reciprocity lacking; not just in these relationships specifically, but regarding this social dynamic in general.
Jemima explains that where a big part of their conversation used to stem from dating and sex (and laughing about bad dates and bad sex), these conversations don’t happen at all anymore as she’s virtually the only single friend left. “They just forget, or don’t show the same level of interest because it’s no longer relevant to them. But I’m just as bad. There are aspects of their lives now- stamp duty coming to mind- that I just can’t bring myself to care about because it’s not relevant to me.”
Perhaps most pertinently, the lives of Jemima’s friends are inadvertently forcing her to confront the big questions of what her future will, or should, or can look like. (Thanks guys!) Whether the conventional family lifestyle is popular for good reason and therefore a worthy goal, or whether the potential regrets over sacrificing certain freedoms would outweighs the benefits.
In a sense, having close friends who’ve come so far, and made themselves so happy, feels like a hard act to follow. But in another sense (if you can shut your ego up for long enough), you’ll realise is actually is possible to find happiness in other peoples’ happiness. And as a bonus, a nice bit of stability that comes from knowing you’ll always have families to be a part of, no matter how your life turns out.
UPDATE: Jemima is still close to her friends and has started updating them about her love life whether they want to hear about it or not. She looks forward to lots of future babysitting time; in between her many dates with hot divorcees.
*NB they were not..
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