Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy told us, “The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is…Forty-Two! (Though the question was more important). Perhaps forty-two really is the answer, or at least is closer to having the correct idea of what the questions should be.
Considering the average life span for women and men in the United States, the age of forty-two is on the beginning edge of middle age. That’s the age I’m staring down this year, come October. That makes me a Bicentennial baby, a Gen X woman of a certain age, and pre-menopausal. Woohoo?
Approximately two decades ago, I entered the 18-49 years of age demographic. It was exciting! It meant I was an adult now, and companies would pander to me, and that the world was my oyster. I could join mail order CD programs designed to take every penny I had, vote in any and all elections, go to college, join the military, get a credit card, get a loan, go to prison, leave the country … the options were magnificent.
Gas prices were down, the economy was booming under Clinton, our parents were encouraging us to follow our bliss in jobs and education, and everything was cheap. Everything. I could live off $40 for a week and have gas, cigarettes, and food—and not just fast food but actual groceries. I’m trying to imagine living on that amount now, without factoring in bills or insurance or basic needs, and am astonished it was possible.
“The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades” may as well been an anthem for the young adult Gen X’ers. I made so many bad decisions I’m not sure I could count them all, but they worked out because one couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting four to five different jobs that provided a living wage at any given point. That all began to change in the time leading up to 9/11.
I’m staring down the barrel of middle age. That seems like such a screwed-up reality. Every one of my friends—and I’ve checked with My Companion, and he and his friends would have agreed—thought we’d all be dead by twenty-seven. No joke. Forget the “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” frame of mind as we were sure we wouldn’t make it there. Musical geniuses were dropping like flies at twenty-seven for some reason, and we were all sure we were the next misunderstood artiste—because we were told every idea was brilliant, every attempt was magical, and if we failed it was because no one understood us. Or something along those lines.
Baby Boomers, aka our parents, told us we were the future and amazing, and we were going to rule the world, but they also told us we were lazy, dirty, that we didn’t shower enough, our music was depressing and loud, we didn’t know how to dress or speak for job interviews. I imagine some of this sounds familiar to the generation that’s currently under fire.
I’d like to point out that Gen X invented a lot of the “can’t live without them” devices and things Baby Boomers use on a daily basis, and that my shower and thermostat are probably more technologically advanced than theirs. Take that, parental units!
Perhaps they were right about the music and a few other things, though.
Remember Columbine? Because I sure do.
They didn’t coin the phrase “Trench Coat Mafia” until after Columbine, but we all had that guy, or those guys, in our high school classes. Ours was named Dan. He wore a black trench coat all year, rain or shine, sweaty or not. He used to talk about bombing the school, showing those jocks they weren’t all that and a bag of chips after all. Pearl Jam released the song “Jeremy”, and we all nodded along. We all knew that guy, but that guy didn’t bring guns to school. Not until Columbine.
I wish I could contact Dan now, see how he turned out. I hope well, and that he was able to shake off the mantle of Outsider that he wore so proudly through necessity. I wonder if he has kids now and sees the younger version of himself in what they’re going through.
Jam bands replaced the hippie bands of the previous gen. These were the guys we could imagine hanging out with us around a campfire, strumming their guitars and singing about us; our issues, our lifestyles, our wants, our sexual desires. We had Friends with Benefits going long before Netflix and Chill became a thing. Back then it was “Come listen to my bootleg cassettes and chill”.
In the #MeToo era, these guys in those bands are being accused of the same sexual misconduct so many of us were victims of from these same friends we were hanging out around those campfires with. I guess those band members really were the guys next door.
There was no Twitter or Facebook to connect with other women—and men—who went through those coercive and not so coercive rapes. The women in my friends group didn’t discuss it with each other, much less the general public. The one time I tried to bring it up amongst my friends, I was shot down.
“We don’t talk about that.”
Each of us knew if we didn’t drive ourselves somewhere, or didn’t have a planned ride home, there was a 50/50 shot we’d have to put out in some way.
No one wanted to hear about it.
Keep your heads down. Don’t rock the boat. You don’t want to be a social pariah, do you? I feel vindicated and angry now that the movement has begun and, honestly? I still haven’t seen any changes aside from calling out the predators.
Everyone acted so shocked about Bill Cosby. Really? I mean, seriously … REALLY? Little girls and boys the world over are being molested by perfect fathers who coach, or teach, or preach, or police, but we’re shocked a television personality abused his power to molest women?
Heaven help me.
That attitude we were taught to not rock the boat has stuck to us like glue. Sure, we TOLD ourselves we were politically active, but if one actually checks the demographics of who’s voting in our current atmosphere, it isn’t us.
Gen X boycotted Shell because of their business practices. Until we didn’t because they had the cleanest bathrooms when one was on a road trip across country. Remember those? I’ve done them at the drop of a hat. Current gen? Not so much. They can’t afford the gas.
Gen X boycotted Snapple because we thought marijuana should be one hundred percent legal and we discovered a portion of their proceeds used to go to anti-drug legislation. Until we didn’t because their juice tasted better than soda, and the cute information under the lids was interesting. I’ve seen the young users of Reddit band together and force a company to completely change unfair policies.
Gen X announced recreational marijuana would be legal within ten years of us gaining our majority. How has that turned out? Oh, it took twenty years and is slowly going state by state? I give us points for sticking with it, at least, and from what I can gather, it’s not us making the push. The last person to ask me to sign a petition while at the grocery store was young enough to be my child.
We were inundated with the D.A.R.E. program. I used to wear the t-shirts they handed out like candy when I went out on a Friday night to get baked on weed and drop acid and drink my Boone’s Farm strawberry wine.
After Columbine, we were all about getting active and passing legislation. We didn’t discuss mental health at the time, not extensively, but we should have. Everyone knew someone on anti-depressants like Prozac or Lithium who shouldn’t have been.
Lithium—for when a parent and their general practitioner didn’t know how to deal with their teen’s angst. Angst they had good reason to feel considering Columbine, the Middle East, and on and on.
Speaking of being active and passing legislation, who seems to be the mouthpiece for Gen X? Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan who tells us he grew up on Rage Against the Machine’s political messaging in their music but has gleefully slashed any program Rage would have agreed with. Funny note, they wanted our buddy Paul to stop mentioning them on the campaign trail. Fair enough.
Yes, we also helped bring you Obama, but that particular experience didn’t go as gloriously as it could. The country is too divided, by far.
It’s our inaction that brought about the current administration. If Gen X had stood in step with the accursed Milennials and Xennials, Trump never would have won the nomination, much less the presidency. Instead, angry and afraid Baby Boomers are bending us over with regressive policies that will take years to amend, while Gen X stays home on election day, stamps their foot and says, “Not my president.”
Shall we briefly discuss the opioid epidemic?
One of my good friend’s dads worked for a pharmaceutical company. That dad kept a lockbox (that was never locked) full of Xanax, Vicodin, Darvocet, and Percocet. We were having “Pharm Parties” long before they made the news.
It wasn’t only recreational. When I was nineteen, I tripped on a step, landed on my hip oddly, and bruised it to the bone. My doctor gave me a two months’ supply of Vicodin without an x-ray. Compare that to when I was thirty-eight and flipped an SUV four and a half times.
I have verified herniated discs in my back and neck, and my muscles are on permanent spasm mode. Every few months I have days I call pain storms where I am completely disabled. A three days’ prescription of Vicodin would let me function on those days. Can I get one? Nope. The strongest thing they’ll give me is 600 mg Ibuprofen and a weak muscle relaxer and that’s even if I show up at the hospital literally unable to walk.
Our parents were dosing us with medications for any and everything. I mentioned the anti-depressants, but let’s not forget the Ritalin and antibiotics. So. Many. Antibiotics. We were taught if something was wrong to take a pill and then they took the pills away.
Welcome to opioid addictions and the general drug problems in the suburbs as well as inner cities.
Don’t rock the boat. Unless you are the victim of bad customer service, or doctors who won’t give you meds, in which case you demand a manager. Or write an email. To this day I still say I’m going to write a letter when I’m upset with a company. And, yes, I have an “I want to talk to your manager” haircut. It’s not our faults. My grandmother still hand writes notes, as does my mom, and Gen X is second generation “the customer is always right.”
Having worked in retail and food, Gen X knows the customer isn’t always right—until the customer is us. Be patient with us, young workers, for you, too, shall someday want to speak with a manager over something you would have totally found ridiculous even five years ago.
I started this article because I saw a call sheet for postings from Gen X women. A site wanted to know how we’re feeling about middle age. I realized halfway through it probably isn’t appropriate for their site, but I feel pretty damn good for having written it out.
Huh. See? Writing a letter does do some good … though this isn’t a letter, and I’m angry at us, not a company.
You heard me.
I am so angry with us, Gen X. We stood there and declared never again and then sat there and watched it all happen again and again and again and said nothing.
Were we demoralized by the previous generation declaring us all but useless? Why are we doing the same thing to the next generation?
I’m angry, and I feel vindicated by #MeToo, but it’s more on the anger side because this has to be a thing today.
I’m angry, and I feel vindicated by the Black Lives Matter movement, but that’s something I’m nowhere near qualified to talk about. Rodney King seems like a century ago but it could have happened yesterday. It needs to be discussed much more than it has been, and people need to listen and not assume they know the experience.
I’m angry, so angry about the school shootings. Honestly, I put those on us, Gen X, and you should, too. We had the Voice of the Country after Columbine, and we squandered it.
When the economy fell after 9/11 we put our heads down and got back to work. We had to put food on the table, and those useless humanities degrees we were encouraged to chase weren’t doing that.
Twenty years ago, we were on a cusp, one we assume still exists, but doesn’t. A nineteen years old person isn’t walking into the post office and instantly having a twenty dollar an hour job doing data entry handed to them, not anymore.
The generations following us are still finding their way. They’re putting their heads down and trying to do the work we should have while we’re standing over their shoulders and telling them the same things we heard. “You can’t do that. That will never work. Don’t rock the boat.”
Forty-two may be “The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything,” but that doesn’t mean the person behind that age is. It’s time, Gen X, to do what we promised, and make the changes. If we can’t do that, we need to get the hell out of the way of the kids who can.
THAT is how this Gen X lady is feeling about middle age, thanks for asking.