Let me tell you about hypothetical Bert. Currently, he is suicidal and he doesn't really know why.
Bert was born in 1990. He grew up in a suburb, collected Pokemon cards and was friends with two other kids on his block. One time they blew up a frog and he never admitted to his friends how much it scarred him emotionally. The leg twitched for awhile after the little critter was in pieces.
Bert had a crush on a girl in his fourth grade class and wrote her a love note he would later blame on a nerdier boy when he saw her laughing about it, so that way he could laugh with her about it. Later they would kiss behind the portables and shortly after, she would be transferred to another school, and that was all he'd hear of her as a child. Later in life, he found her on Facebook and learned she was married with two fat children. He did not send her a friend request.
Bert had average grades but he could have done better if he wasn't so bored. His parents divorced when he was 9 and he lived with his mom, mostly. His dad would pick him up for the summer, a tradition he'd learn to hate as he was whisked away from his friends once school was over and quarantined to a shitty plot of land in some part of the state he didn't know existed, with no neighbors, stuck with a grown man he didn't have a lot to say to. Bert would use this time to desensitize himself to the murder of frogs and play video games. He secretly worried he was a sociopath.
Bert would slowly stop having a relationship with his father by high school when he could be more articulate and self-aware about the mind numbing boredom that came from attempting to have said relationship. In high school, he was an average student. He became a lower than average student once he started smoking pot. Despite his mother's lectures on how bad it was for his education, Bert spent a lot of time reading while he was high. He studied the things he was interested in. He felt more like an intellectual than he ever did in school, like he was more than average. His worries about being a sociopath increased, but he began to see it as empowering.
On his 16th birthday, Bert lost his virginity to a girl he'd been seeing. He didn't know exactly how he felt about the girl, but she cried after and that made him feel very strange. She told him that she hated him and he really didn't understand why, but he never pushed the conversation. He smoked a lot of weed and reflected on that moment a lot. He wrote a song about it, one of about a dozen he would write during his high school career. He stopped playing by college.
Bert was relatively straight edged in high school aside from smoking weed with a few friends that he made sure had never murdered a frog. His friends were stupid about girls and were always trying to get laid. He wondered if there was something wrong with him, because none of them mentioned a girl hating them after sex. He kept that to himself.
Bert graduated high school and went to the city for college. His parents had put together a small college fund but he would still accumulate debt. He didn't think about it much his freshmen year. He drank a lot. He smoked more. He experimented with a few drugs. He cleaned up a lot his junior year after a particularly life changing acid trip in which the devil informed him that his soul was invalid currency for barter.
Outside of drugs, Bert didn't have a lot of friends. It wasn't that he was all that strange or hard to get along with, he just didn't socialize. Parties gave him anxiety and the people weren't usually that interesting unless you were on something. He pulled his shit together senior year and graduated with a 3.8. After bouncing around a few service industry jobs, Bert lands his first grown up 9-5 at the age of 23. He is about $34,000 in debt.
Bert doesn't mind his job. He doesn't hate it, but it could be worse. He's a programmer. He goes out with his coworkers once in awhile but he doesn't have much in common with them. They watch a lot of Netflix. He does too, but he doesn't really like telling them about his favorite conspiracy theory documentaries.
Bert isn't into politics but starts paying attention to the news just so he has something to talk about with these other doughy humans that he spends a lot of his week with. He doesn't know who he agrees with, it all seems like bullshit so it's hard to have any strong opinions. For a little while he dates a girl who calls herself an activist and breaks up with her when she shows up to his house during a rough patch. She's shitfaced and screaming at him, calling him a rapist for not sorting the recycling. After their inevitable breakup, she harasses him over text messages, hundreds at a time for a few months. He knows that she is unstable and an extreme, but it changes his view on environmentalists and activists forever.
He is losing touch with his friends from college as they move on into their careers. He dates but the relationships are often superficial. He has hobbies but nothing that craves his attention. The job he doesn't hate turns into something he dreads in the morning. He is somewhat unsure of why he had to do the things he did, why anyone did them. He is lost now, awake at night, for the first time not glancing at his phone or computer or TV. He is in the darkness, three years into prescribed adulthood and it suddenly hits him that he's miserable. At age 26, Bert is considering suicide.
It's this point in the story where I should mention that Hypothetical Bert wouldn't have to be born in 1990. So far, he could be a pretty typical case model for many generations. The difference is that he's seen people of generations before him after they've hit this point; he's seen it in his parents and the parents of his friends, in older siblings, in anyone who has hit the seemingly inevitable point of personal worthlessness that stems from the conventional American society.
The difference is that Bert is born in 1990; he's a millennial, and with the knowledge of how life breaks down ahead of him, with no god to believe in, no cause that seems worth fighting for, and no social niche to speak of, Bert has much higher potential for implosion. Not only that, the case could be made that because millennials feel there are so few avenues for salvation, they look to themselves for answers. This is where our perceived narcissism and entitlement stems from.
Millennials are a generation of hot dogs. We have the cast offs, the broken families, crippling debt, and epiphany of ennui to stuff into our lives and that we still attempt to make palatable. We have to reinvent everything; how we view people, marriage, jobs, college, the world, ourselves. Not only are we faced with the task of reinventing it, most of us have very, very little to work with.
This is where things start breaking down a bit for me. We're faced with a lot, but I'm not here to defend millennials, my decision to avoid modern employment models, or whatever else. I'm not entirely sure that our generation is lost, I think our generation is simply very, very lonely, and we have very few ideas what to do about it.
I am very cynical to the idea of romance, only in that I believe every relationship has a life cycle. You can take care of it and it will live longer, but every connection you have to another person is both alive and finite. I worry that my generation puts too much stock in the people we bond with, we expect inhuman things from them, we expect permanence in our relationships because we can't find it anywhere else. What makes this so difficult is that while our ability to communicate has become so simple and accessible, our ability to bond has taken the inverse path. When we're finally able to, they can seem almost consuming.
What worries me is that as we get older, and we phase out of things like college or the active social scenes of our earlier adulthood, we're also phasing out of our ability to make and break bonds with other people. If they do break, there's nothing to replace it with. Choosing a job with as much social chaos as performing means that's something I will have pretty constant exposure to, but what about someone like Bert? What does he do when his friends settle down with kids? Where does he find new people to hang out with?
I believe it's a misconception to place your sense of self in other people, or try and gain fulfillment through them. That's not their job. The people in your life, ideally, are there because you're both heading the same way. It's weird to know that you can't hold on to anybody without it turning into dogshit, and it will turn to dogshit if you both don't want to go the same way. The fewer people you have in your life, as is the case as you settle into your career or your marriage or whatever, the more important those limited amounts of relationships become to you. Every time one breaks down, it hits you hard and makes you question yourself, and the social mechanism that put you there in the first place.
As the young and entitled, we are making a decision to let them break. I don't know if this comes off as cavalier to other people, it's just something I accept as nature, like a bear's indifference to my heartbeat unless it's hungry. My generation has experienced the social shift that comes from the belief (and not unjustly so) that what has been going on isn't working. You cannot devote yourself to something besides yourself. That's a statement that takes a lot of shapes, and not all of them are ideal. We are chastised as being addicted to experiences, having no understanding of permanence. I'd argue that we have a pretty deep understanding of permanence, in that we understand how mythical it is, at least for most of us. The best we can do is be part of our own experience in a way that doesn't shorten the lifespan for the rest of the planet as best we can.
There are a lot of problems we face that I couldn't tell you how to solve. I worry that social media and any technological progress that diverts from giving us more room to interact with one another can potentially be dangerous, but maybe this is my own old fashioned idea. What I think we need to do, fellow Berts, is figure out the direction we can take that keeps us involved with other people, whatever that means. I don't know if that's a job or a social choice, but the more available we are to getting to know other people, learning how to interact and be okay with both the beginnings and ends of our relationships to one another, that's the ideal.
Looking at how groups work as a whole rather than as individuals. Or something like that.