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The Mysterious Fence-Sitters of Gen X

Jeffrey Bruno

Beverly De Soto - published on 01/05/14 - updated on 06/08/17

It’s eerie, actually. There's an entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything.

I am puzzled by Generation Xers. No, really. I know that they are regularly termed ‘slackers’ by Boomers, and I do think that’s a bit unfair. I’ve taught graduate level Finance classes to Gen Xers – albeit in a military environment – and I have seen little evidence of the whining and slacking they are accused of.

No, what astonishes me about Gen Xers is the fence-sitting. About, literally, everything. About their LIVES.

It’s eerie, actually. An entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything. Marriage is too scary. Choosing a serious career path is too hard. Then, there’s the living-at-home-forever syndrome.

All of this means we are facing something entirely new in the history of the world: an entire generation of middle-aged teenagers. Adults, whose tastes and ideas are substantially the same as they were as teens. Baseball caps worn backwards, pants drooping ostentatiously over protruding bellies, wolfing down Big Macs while flashing expensive manicures.

The snarky humor — an ironic “awesome” — is the familiar byword for this entire generation.  They perch on the fence, en masse, mysteriously refusing to step off onto the solid ground of adulthood.

Why is this?

People tell me it’s the bad US economy. But here in Germany, the economy has been going gangbusters, as the car companies sell luxury vehicles to Chinese manufacturing zillionaires stuffed full of American cash. (Just in case you were wondering what happened to America’s prosperity, but I digress.)

Nevertheless, for some mysterious reason well-compensated German Gen Xers in secure jobs supported by an all-encompassing welfare state, are most comfortable sitting on fences, too. (As a result, most of the women in the almost-empty maternity wards here are over 40, with many of them pregnant by sperm donors.)

This story repeats itself all over the developed world, regardless of whether there are jobs available.  What, exactly, is going on here?

Gen X Weddings

I think Gen X weddings tell us a lot about this afflicted generation. The wretched excess. The vast sums borrowed for a once-in-a-lifetime ‘destination wedding.’ A lifetime of debt to enable two ordinary people to stand barefoot on a tropical beach amongst the uncomfortable guests with sand in their shoes, taking pretty vows that mean nothing. The obese bridesmaids stuffed into strapless gowns, tattoos emblazoned on their plump, self-tanned appendages.  ‘Bridezilla’ burning her dress afterwards.

And the wedding night? Long past the point in their relationship when sex is a fearful delight, Xers collapse in exhaustion in their ‘bridal penthouses.’

And well they might. After the parties and the obligatory travel comes the hard part: life, and re-paying their crushing debt.

Oh, and arguing about whose ‘role’ it should be to cook, clean and care for babies. Especially in the face of ruthless layoffs, with resulting unemployment or underemployment. And then there’s always porn, of course, the ultimate solace for men stripped of their dignity and self-respect.

Surreal ‘Judgmentalism’

It’s all so surreal — as if we are descending into a time when, try as they might, an entire generation’s attempts at legitimacy end in self- mockery.

Keep reading on the next page

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