Friday, March 31, 2006

Terrors of a One-Story!

A doctor from a suburban D.C. country wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today about the problem with American "boys."  Except he isn't actually talking about boys, he's talking about men.  According to the author, 1/3 of men between 22-34 live with their parents.  Based on the census, this means that nearly 10 million men are living in their parents' basement.
He doesn't offer any definitive causes, or any probably solutions, but I think it's important that it is at least being addressed.  As a man in the age-bracket, and who is not living at home--but has several friends in the described condition--I'm going to toss out some ideas why this trend is happening.  As usually happens here, these are theories and conjectures based on nothing but my own belief.  Very little data has been acquired or analyzed to arrive at these positions.
1.  Social Connection.  I think that many young men feel little connection to a social group.  My sense is that having a social connection is a motivating factor to do something.  It allows one to see that other people are doing things--some enjoying what they do, others not--but this at least offers some sense of a mirror to help one navigate through one's own life.  Without social connection, it's harder to find that motivation.
2.  Surrender.  Many young men (and women) have grown up in households watching their parents attempt to achieve.  Not necessarily wealth, or success, or greatness.  But achieve comfort, or happiness, or stability.  And for many of our parents, these things were either unachievable or simply remain unachieved.  It doesn't take too much to conclude, then, that it's not worth it.  Why spend one's entire life working hard and getting frustrated in an attempt to 'be happy' if you've already found something that's comfortable?
3.  Male-lion syndrome.  One of the info-points touched on in the op-ed is that many young women are also living with their parents--but frequently do so while pursuing some other goal: school, or saving money to start a business.  Young men pursue these goals less often, and just list-about.  I don't consider these two data-points independent.  I think, for many men, the idea of being the "bread winner" is an important piece of their psychology.  So when young men see the women they know pursuing goals they either don't have, or don't believe they can achieve there are mixed emotions: The first is happiness for the friend who is achieving something great.  But the second (and I'm willing to guess this frequently is completely unnoticed by the men themselves) is a sense of loss.  Loss in the sense that our women friends are moving "beyond us" in what they do.  Their success makes us feel less capable of maintaining relationships with them--after all, it's men who should be successful, right?
It's something my friend Genya writes about from time to time in her blog--from the perspective of one of the highly talented, highly educated women in the world, who experiences men's lack of ambition from a different side.

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