Saturday, September 19, 2009

"The Referendum": Great Essay On Mid-Life Angst

I thought this New York Times article from Tim Kreider was one of the best (funniest, insightful) things I've read this week. Kreider discusses a phenomenon that strikes many of us as we get along in years: The tendency to evaluate the lives of our friends to ponder paths not taken. Some money quotes:

* * *

Young adulthood is an anomalous time in people’s lives; they’re as unlike themselves as they’re ever going to be, experimenting with substances and sex, ideology and religion, trying on different identities before their personalities immutably set. Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before becoming their parents. Friends who seemed pretty much indistinguishable from you in your 20s make different choices about family or career, and after a decade or two these initial differences yield such radically divergent trajectories that when you get together again you can only regard each other’s lives with bemused incomprehension.

* * *

I recently had dinner with some old friends, a couple with two small children, and when I told them about my typical Saturday in New York City — doing the Times crossword, stopping off at a local flea market, maybe biking across the Brooklyn Bridge — they looked at me like I was describing my battles with the fierce and elusive Squid-Men among the moons of Neptune. The obscene wealth of free time at my command must’ve seemed unimaginably exotic to them, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.

* * *

Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedience to a capricious and demented master.

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.]

* * *

Watching our peers’ lives is the closest we can come to a glimpse of the parallel universes in which we didn’t ruin that relationship years ago, or got that job we applied for, or got on that plane after all. It’s tempting to read other people’s lives as cautionary fables or repudiations of our own.

* * *

I am blessed (or in to some, cursed) with accomplished, interesting, successful friends. It's very tempting to wonder what life would be like as a famous VC, an international guru and speaker, or Hollywood bigwig. But in the end, I am comfortable living my own life, and obeying my own capricious and demented masters.

7 comments:

zoliblog said...

I suppose he will miss those "small, rude, incontinent persons" (well, the grownup versions) when he reaches his 60's...

Mr. Freer said...

Haha:

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life.

That became my FB status.

Touraj Parang said...

Lots of good chuckles; thanks for sharing this Chris! One thing he fails to note is that the master-servant relationship is a dialectic process which no one can escape. Though I am still awaiting my day at master-hood :)

Chris said...

Zoli,

It is an acknowledged truth that the only way to have grandchildren is to have children first!

Touraj,

You will have your chance at master-hood, but by then, *you* will be the one wearing the diapers, and you might not be in a good position to enjoy your power.

alice said...

"a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life."

Errr.... if you're only planning to live another 10 years max, maybe? Or you're Mr and Mrs Duggar and keep having new ones forever.

My kids now: medium height, polite, friendly, kind, amusing, fun, highly trained in bargain hunting and making their own pocket money.

Not that I don't adore my adult free time (which is considerable, thanks to divorce), but really, some childless people can be quite unrealistically rude.

Either that or too many parents are still wiping their kids asses (metaphorically or otherwise) into their 20s and beyond... oh, yes, they are.

Puneet said...

Chris,

Great post as usual.

Right now I’m happy just being an uncle :-)

We’ll see what the future holds!

Puneet

zoliblog said...

Chris,

"It is an acknowledged truth that the only way to have grandchildren is to have children first!"

You mean I can't just order them @ Amazon? :-)