At the Super Bowl, some of us were having conversations about what constitutes becoming “middle age”. It was mostly folks from my church’s Young Adult group in attendance. My husband and I were on the young end of the age distribution curve, which ranged from 23 to 36, median age was probably about 31 or so. To answer the question of middle age, people tossed potential life events around, things like houses and careers. I was mostly quiet. At 26, you hope you’re pretty far from “middle age,” as least for the sake of your longevity. One fellow, who is 36, said to me, “It’s when you have kids.” I raised my eyebrow and said, “I’m a full decade younger than you.” He replied, “Touche.”
The UUA’s age boundaries for “young adult” are 18-35. It never seemed like an adequate meter to me. The phase of life metric being used above makes more sense: age as a state of mind. The problem with generalizing over chronological years is that it’s a brush painted over a very uneven surface. The paint pools in some places and barely touches others. What does the average 19 year old have in common with the average 34 year old?
I presume the goal was to catch a phase of life which roughly correlates with the ages, perhaps the “Quarter-life Crisis”, or the seeking and uncertainty that comes with transitioning into adulthood and coping with what Erik Erikson calls “Isolation versus Intimacy”. Effectively, you are trying to figure out what you want to do in an with your life, and with whom. This article describes the quarter life crisis in five stages:
“Phase 1 – A feeling of being trapped by your life choices. Feeling as though you are living your life on autopilot.
Phase 2 – A rising sense of “I’ve got to get out” and the feeling that you can change your life.
Phase 3 – Quitting the job or relationship or whatever else is making you feel trapped and embarking on a “time out” period where you try out new experiences to find out who you want to be.
Phase 4 – Rebuilding your life.
Phase 5 – Developing new commitments more attuned to your interests and aspirations.”
I read that and laughed, “Hey, I did that.” You’ll fine me somewhere in step five, with my exit from graduate school, new(ish) job at a non-profit provider of housing to the homeless and the unexpected, if pleasantly surprising, conception of my soon-to-be-born daughter. In any case, you would think that once that existential question is figured out, crisis over, right? Whip out your pen and cross it off the list, you’re done. Sell your angst on Craigslist and pack up the Uhaul: It’s time to move into that new-found certainty.
My life is still uncertain in so many ways. I just stopped tightening my grip on everything and gave up on trying to control the outcome of every facet of my life. My thoughts are considerably less existential, and I spent much of my energy concerned about meeting the needs of my family. In that way, I resolved one of my personal searches for meaning in life and resigned myself to the fact that I will make the world better using only the imperfect methods I am capable of. Oh, and I need to raise a child whose needs her mother and father to have their act together. Which means I need to have my act together.
I am now 27. Using UUA guidelines, I have eight years before I age into what the UUA would consider a full, unqualified adult. Now, the “Young Adult” designation and programming was created to stem the really high attrition rate of those who are born UU. It is often called the “bridge to nowhere”, that youth are “bridged” into the adult community but spent most of their time in the faith community isolated from it. They age from the youth programming and cons to find an alien community on the other side which poorly resembles the experience offered to children and teenagers. As far as I can tell, youth programming teaches kids to go question their faith (which is not a bad thing) and go out into the world with the mental and intellectual resources that the youth no longer require it. To boot, the isolation and frequent transition into college means the social ties that keep people in a group are severed or perhaps did not exist.
The Young Adult groups and programming are there to create social networks and a place to belong for those who age out of youth programming and experiencing transitions. It is meant as a place of welcome any other person in the age range who can relate to the members of the YA group. It is also meant as a pass through experience, or else there’d be no upper bound of age. (What do you call a YA group with no upper age boundary? Church.) You’re there, you relate, you have companionship and then when life and time changes you move on. In my church that has sometimes meant to different phases of life, different roles at the church, different parts of the world, etc.
It occurred to me recently that if I were to start attending another church, I do not see myself getting involved in another young adult group. If the church lacked one, I would not feel inspired to start one up. This is not commentary about young adult groups. They are fine, and serve their purpose well. It is not a complaint that the YA groups would not be meeting my needs as a soon-to-be parent. It is more of a comment that I have changed, and seek different ways to be a part of a community.
I feel like I have phased out of the part of life where affinity group discussions about various figure-it-out topics are magnetic. I do not have the answers, yet I am less drawn to the conversations. I belong in the community at church, have friends in Seattle, and do not feel tied to a niche. My current involvement in the Young Adult Group at my church (which, honestly, has been pretty minimal in the last six months) has been purely out of affection for the people who are in the group. They are my friends. Heck, two gals from church threw me a wonderful baby shower, in addition to the fantastic one my mother threw me. I go to church in hopes of seeing my friends, in addition to the sermon and spiritual centering that I get from church. To be honest, often the people are the stronger draw.
If I were to attend a new church, I think I would be seeking something else, and I would be more concerned with whether a community was family-friendly and fond of small children. While I am in Seattle, I will be integrating my new phase of life into my current congregational community. If I were to go elsewhere, I would be seeking a congregational community that fits my phase of life.
Certainly this logic is not unique to me… Or is it?
At what point does one cease being a “young adult”? Relying on the 18-35 age range is as ineffective as trying to pin a number on “middle age”. Have you felt as though you were no longer a “young adult”? What inspired the change? I am really curious and would be glad if you could share.