“Do you think I should cut my hair?” I recently asked a friend. I was referring to this brunette mane I’ve been cultivating for two years which now falls to the middle of my back. This is the longest my hair has been since I was in fourth grade and had a perm.
“No, why?” He asked.
I sighed. “I think it would make me feel more like an adult.”
“Your hair is not what makes you an adult,” he said.
Of course, he’s right, and the question was silly. Yet, even several years out of college, I don’t always feel like I’m actually an adult. I’m single, with no kids, no house, no decent car, and college loans. That’s very different than my parents at this age. Apparently, I’m not alone. The rest of my generation of 20-somethings doesn’t actually feel like an adult either, according to a recent New York Times Magazine story.
Social and biological scientists are giving more attention to “emerging adulthood,” the stage after puberty but before actual adulthood. Unlike their counterparts from earlier decades, today’s young adults exchange commitments like marriage, family and work for dating, friends and travel. At best, they rake in a multitude of life experiences that make for intriguing dinner party conversation. At worst, they languish in a lackadaisical, undirected funk. Those who study the phenomenon, like psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett who coined “emerging adulthood,” attribute it to brain development, or changing social patterns, or altered cultural expectations between parents and children.
For me, there’s no question as to whether or not this exists; I see it in my friends, my cohorts, myself. There’s a tension between everything one should do to “get ahead,” and doing the things that I know I want to enjoy now. There’s the dissonance between the 20-something small business owner and the 20-something expat racking up credit card debt. As the New York Times Mag article points out, even the May 2010 New Yorker cover pokes fun at the phenomenon — a guy hanging his PhD diploma on his childhood bedroom wall.
As a Catholic who naturally questions the value of things, I’m forced to ask the question: Is this good?
No, argues Mark Driscoll, the pastor of the evangelical Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He takes his frustration with prolonged adolescence out on guys, calling them “boys who can shave.” “The problem with adolescence,” he writes in a Washington Post blog, “is guys don’t know when they’re ever going to grow up and be men, and no pressure is exerted on them to do so.”
He points to Scripture, like Gen. 2:24, which says that man will leave his parents and be united to his wife, and 1 Cor. 13:11, in which St. Paul writes, “When I was a boy, I talked like a boy, I thought like a boy, I reasoned like a boy. When I became a man, I put childish and boyish ways behind me.”
“Guys” — males roughly between 18 and 34 — don’t know how to be men, he said. Instead, they consume: gadgets or trucks, clothes or music. Driscoll is hard on the girls who “enable” these men, going as far as to call them (us?) “mannies” — “nannies for men.” Christianity doesn’t need guy babies, he continues; it needs actual, bona fide men — men who do “declare a major, church, theology, or fiancée.”
Although Driscoll takes this angst out on men, I think the same can be said of gals, who, in my observation, are only slightly less inclined to prolonged childhood than men, and who, if allowed, also indulge prolonged adolescence, just in different ways.
Driscoll lays down the hammer: “Men,” — and I argue, women, too — “you are to be creators and cultivators. God is a creator and cultivator and you are to image him. Create a family and cultivate your wife [or husband] and children. Create a ministry and cultivate other people. Create a business and cultivate it. Be a giver, not a taker, a producer and not just a consumer.”
And Maria, stop worrying about your inconsequential hair, he’d likely add.
So what do you think — why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up? And is it a bad thing, or something society is just going to have to get used to?