Thursday, July 7, 2022

Why Being a Teenager or Young Adult Sucks.

Growing up is hard to do.

NOTE: This was written several days ago before recent tragic events.  Maybe it is even more relevant now.

There have been studies recently that suggest the human brain isn't fully formed until about age 25.  And from my perspective, this makes a lot of sense.  25 is the age a lot of people settle down, get married, get a job, and get serious about life.    It was the age I finally sobered up (literally) and started taking my career seriously.

Mental health issues such as depression and schizophrenia seem to manifest themselves in the late teens and early 20's.   These school shooters or racist shooters all seem to be from that age group.

I opined in an earlier post that part of the problem is that it is hard to make the transition from kid to adult.  As a kid, you are taught to wipe your nose and wipe your ass, sit in your seat, fill in the little circles in the standardized tests, and get an A+ on your report card.   Most of those skills don't translate into the working world - in fact, few of them do.  What worked in high school and college often is useless in "the real world".

Children of rich or successful parents have it twice as hard.  Dad is a famous surgeon, or a lawyer, or a businessman.  He's rich!  How can you possibly live up to that standard?  And often, such parents browbeat their children, calling them failures and quitters (as my Dad did to my brother - it shattered his psyche).  So they fall down along the way.

What's worse is the loneliness.   As a kid, you can sit on your parents' laps and enjoy hugs and kisses.  If you have a nightmare, you can crawl into bed with them.  There is this sense of intimacy.  But something happens in the teen years - that intimacy wears off, often replaced with hostility.   There is some instinct in our species that wants to boot the baby bird from the nest after a while - and this is a healthy thing, if people are to live their own lives.

Eventually, you regain that sense of intimacy - with your spouse.  But there is a gap of a decade or so where you are on your own.  Maybe you are lucky and date someone and maybe "go steady" for a while.  Others are less lucky.   But until you settle down with a significant other, it is a lonely existence to be a teen or 20-something, I think.

Worse yet, so many crave that intimacy that they hook up with the first available partner, often resulting in horrific matches and later, divorce.  That in turn, leads to more isolation and loneliness.

I know I almost fell into that trap.  At age 23 or so, I felt that "settling down" was something I was supposed to do.  I was dating a young woman at the time who had, I later found out, some serious mental health issues.  Frankly, I don't know what I was thinking, but I dodged a bullet there.  Again, others are not so lucky.

I have had friends who have gone that route - marrying the wrong person and then being bitter and angry when it doesn't work out.  They are always seeking that intimacy and never finding it.  It is very sad.

If you take all these things together, it starts to form a pretty dismal picture. We ask young people to figure out their lives, get an education, find a job, a career, a spouse, a purpose, and all at a time when their brains are still half-formed and they are just discovering the heady cocktail of alcohol, drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll - and hormones.  Lots and lots of hormones.   It is a hard trap to extricate one's self from.

I noted before that I was lucky to become a salaried employee of General Motors Corporation when I was 18 years old.  It was a sobering experience, even if I wasn't sober most of the time.  It gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of self-esteem.  It was like joining the military, but without all that PT and getting shot at.  You were given a job to do and told to do it - no one asked if you could do it.  And you did it.

The mythology of youth is that the teen and early 20's are the fun years - you are having all this hot sex and going to bars and partying and hanging out.  The reality is, most young people are so hung up and scared of sex that if they have it at all, it is awkward and unsatisfying.  The swingers in The Villages are having far more fun - they are so close to death they don't care anymore and just let go.

Nevertheless, oldsters resent the young - not because they are living the carefree lifestyle of youth.  No, they resent the fact that when young people spring out of bed in the morning, everything doesn't hurt.  Yes, it is true, youth is wasted on the young.  And when I see these "backyard stunt" videos where drunken teens try to jump off the roof of the house and hurt themselves (accompanied by the guffaws of their pals) all I can think of is, "Man is that going to hurt when you're 40!"

Which brings us to another thing that sucks about being young: hostility and suspicion from older people.  Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of older people who want to see you succeed, and in fact, will help you along the way in life.  But young people, particularly in groups, can be dangerous, as they egg each other on to do things they would not ordinarily do, by themselves.  The group dynamic is a scary thing at any age - in youth it is supercharged by hormones.

An elderly person sees a group of teenagers approach them and doesn't think, "Oh, that looks like my grandchildren!"  Instead, the think, "Oh, that looks like trouble!"  And given the violent crime statistics, you can't blame them.  Old people might top the list for suicides and STDs, young people top the charts for violent crime.

So yea, it sucks to be young, despite what the media portrays on television and in the movies. Being young isn't just one big drug-fueled orgy and continuous party.  It is a difficult time of life, when you are alone and lonely, often without direction, and wondering how you are going to fit in to the world.

It sucks.

So... what's the point of all of this?   Well, it can get better in a real hurry, if you let it.  Many fall into a youth trap - seeing life as a young adult being sucky and then assuming that life will always be sucky and then not taking action to improve their lot.  Such folks fall into the pit of depression and inaction - or worse yet, criminality - and throw their lives away.  But the reality is, for most of us, the difference between age 25 and age 35 is astounding.  Myself, I went from dirt-poor to millionaire in a decade or so.   I finished my degree, went to law school, started my own law practice, and invested in real estate - and found my life partner.

Does that happen to everyone?  Hell, no. Some people end up Billionaires. Others, destitute. But succeeding does require trying and action.  When I moved to Alexandria, Virginia and got a job at the Patent Office, I got very depressed. I broke up with my boyfriend (again, mental illness) and on my princely salary of $22,000 a year, I felt like I would never "get ahead" in Washington, DC.  I could have given up at that point, but I decided to get into the game and play it with all my might.

And no, it wasn't easy, either.  And yes, it is still possible to do so, today, regardless of what the Russian Internet Research Agency posts online about awful life in America is.  Even when you make horrendous mistakes as a youth (and I did - flunking out of college) there are second acts.  And life gets better over time, if nothing else because moss accumulates.

But the biggest part is growing up and growing older.  Life gets a lot better as you go along, and as many folks say, "Life begins at 40" - when you are pretty well set for life and have a small idea what you are doing, but not yet have one foot in the grave.   Those were the good years - age 30-50 or so.  And they are still good, as you get older than that, although your energy slowly ebbs and everything starts to hurt. Life is still good.

The teenage and young adult years?  Yea, they suck.  Yet well-meaning adults say stupid things like, "These are the best years of your life!  Enjoy them!" which just piles guilt onto the picture.   You're supposed to be having fun - and if not, it's all your fault!  Sorry, no sale.  Being a young person is hard, not easy, and it isn't necessarily the "best years of your life" unless you are a brain-dead high-school football jock or cheerleader and peaked at age 17.  Yea, for you, that was where you topped out.  The rest of us moved on.

So if you are between the ages of 15 and 30 and it seems that life is difficult, confusing, disappointing, and hard, all I can say is, hang in there, it gets better.  Way better.  Orgasmically better.  I wouldn't have wanted to miss that for the world.

The teenage years?  I could have skipped over that and not missed it one bit.  And maybe that's why I spent my teenage years stoned and drunk most of the time - I wanted to skip over that part.