The dreaded late twenties everyone talks about has become even more tenacious. What do you get when you mix one of life’s toughest phases with a social environment that is already immersed in chronic isolation facilitated by over-effective communication technology and — toxic self-absorption confused for — individualism? You get an entire generation of adult children roaming around with a contradictory combination of loneliness and fear of intimacy. You can also throw in an over-idealization of love and relationships — something most would rather idealize than practice.
One’s late twenties is a phase where things inevitably begin to fall in and out of place. It is a time all the endeavors initiated in the early twenties begin to solidify, and yield harvest. For some, it is a time to reap long-coming rewards, and for others, it is a time to reap long-coming consequences. For either, it is certainly a time to reckon with. Around this time, the hype and excitement of early adulthood has settled, and one is very well familiar with the challenges and dynamics of being out of the nest, and life in the big world.
Importantly, this is a time when many people settle into the destination they have been trying to reach, but it is also the point when many people come to decide that destination. Friends get married and settle into their marriage life, people move away to different cities or even countries; people take on new projects and become busy — or their careers begin to takeoff, while others start trying to sort out their lives and find their own direction. This is a point where everyone basically goes their separate ways. It can be quite lonely.
The critical mistake people always make once this realization of isolation and loneliness kicks in, is that they begin to look into their past for answers. They see this phase as some sort of condition that needs to be diagnosed. What did I do wrong? How did I get here? People who are not married or in serious relationships are much more vulnerable to this. The loneliness, confusion, and the suddenness of it all begins to feel like some sort of bad karma. Here is what they may not know: the quarterlife crisis is going to hit you like a ton of bricks, even if you are married, perfect, happy, stinking rich, and whatever other subjective measure of “greatness” you exhibit.
This phase does not discriminate in the sense that it does not care where a person is in life or what that person has achieved. This is a phase of self-questioning, deep reflection, and serious epiphanies. People who are single jump into the nearest relationships they can find. People who are married (with or without children) get divorced. A lot of truth comes out here because of one realization: our life really is ours.
In early adulthood, most of the ambitions and dreams people undertake are rooted in social longings. Around this time, they are bursting with dreams and ambition, but also believe they have all the time in the world (which is not a bad thing). As they descend into the late twenties, there comes a paradoxical discovery. A feeling like life is short but also very long. The illusion of being out of time stems from the quickness through which people often go through their twenties. As does the belief that life is short.
But, as the twenties time segment also comes to a conclusion, and life begins to seem more serious, people also realize that life is really long and begin to question the sustainability of their current marriage, relationship(s), career, occupation, lifestyle, and everything else in between. People in every walk go through this. Is this what I want to do, who I want to be, where I want to be, who I want to be with, for the rest of my life? Good question when the rest of your life is an estimated minimum of forty to fifty years.
The simplest mistake, again, is that people assume they are only going through this because they are not who or where they want to be in life. Even if they were where they thought they wanted to be, they would still go through it. It is a universal phase in which people come to reckon with true reality and honesty. This is where one’s true self may finally start to claw its way out of the pretense and masks it has been wearing. Arguably, this is where a blank slate becomes valuable.
In times of such reflections and epiphanies, many will realize there is a gap between their current state or situation, and their truly, deeply, desired one. The amount of work, changes, severances, damages, and perhaps repairs it would take to get to that new destination would vary, but this is where one would really come to value a blank slate. Realizing one has no interest in having kids at 30, or that one does not even want a family, can be devastating if the dusts in a marriage are already settling, or if there are already kids in the picture.
In contrast, realizing this and not being already being married — no thanks to the social pressure — is a blank slate one would come to love. Realizing one has no true passion for their chosen career or occupation can be devastating if one already has a college degree with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of student loans to pay. In contrast, realizing one wants to go to college or finish up a degree at this point, is a blank slate to cherish. Realizing one would rather marry a person from their culture or nationality, rather travel the world, rather…rather…and all the “rathers” there are.
Many people, upon calculating all the paperwork that would need to be filed, all of the hearts that would need to be shattered, the employees and colleagues that would need to be disappointed, the parents that would surely offer stern disapproval — end up just surrendering and accepting their life for what they have set it up to be. While this is clearly a surrender to fear, and void of honesty, one can also empathize with it.
The fear in this is double-sided. On one hand, there is a fear of hurting and disappointing others, and coming to acquire a significant wealth of loaded social labels (divorcee, single-parent, unemployed, drifter, let-down, broke, coward, indecisive, failure, lazy, delusional…ask your relatives and family members if you want more examples…). On the other hand, there is also the fear from not knowing what is on the other side, or not even fully understanding where the sudden longing is truly coming from. Does one really want a different life, or is it just the ‘grass is greener’ effect causing chaos? This is usually where a person might encounter one of their life’s toughest dilemmas. Overall, the more permanent a person’s past choices have been — up to this point, the uglier and more chaotic their breaking-free process is going to be.
So, if there has ever been a reason to not feel bad about not being married, not yet having kids, not yet being a home-owner, not having a career, etc., this is one. When the quarter-life crisis kicks in, ONE STILL SHOULD NOT jump in and out of anything. Again — and this cannot be stressed enough — it is a phase. It is meant to make you ask questions, but you do not need to have the answers yet. It will reveal lots of really important truths for sure. Are you really happy where you are? With who you are? Who you are with? Your career (or lack thereof)? Location? Relationship status? Finances? The list goes on…
Conclusively, the point is that the twenties is a time in which most people run races for prizes they are not even sure they want. Prizes they, rather, have been made to think they want. Either way, an empty plot of land is better than buying an overpriced house only to find out one has to call in the wrecking ball. If the phase hits you and you are right where you really want to be, that is great (even if you still have doubts). If you are left with serious fears and questions, then hopefully this should already be a lesson learned in the importance of not rushing big decisions. A lesson that should be applied even then, before any big changes are made in response. The quarter-life crisis is not a good time to make any changes (easier said…). It is just a good time to submit into shifts and changes in one’s relationships and one’s perspective. Submit and observe, but you do not necessarily need to do anything just yet. After this phase passes, and the dust has settled and clarity has dawned, whatever is left is a much more dependable truth. What happens afterwards is completely up to you…