Grow The Fuck Up!

Q: Are you in your twenties?

A (If yes): Then you are almost certainly a dickhead.

A month ago the New York Times ran a long think-piece entitled What Is It About 20-Somethings? Drawing on the testimony of many scientists, sociologists and learned, thinking folk, its author, Robin Marantz Henig, sketches a pretty accurate outline of our generation and all its attendant woes. We are, it seems, maturing slower than ever before, and incapable of applying ourselves to adulthood in the same way as our parents did. Where, in 1974, roughly 70% of thirty year-olds could be expected to pass all of adulthood’s “Five Milestones” (finishing education; leaving home; becoming financially independent; committing to long-term relationships and having children) the figure these days has dropped to less than half that. Weirdly though, the NYT thinks this isn’t bad news, but rather good. The latest in scientific research shows that our neuro-chemistry at the age of 25, isn’t all that dissimilar from that of a fifteen year old – the brain remains remarkably pliable and plastic, like a child’s, well into adulthood. It’s not so much that we’re late in developing then, but that every generation that’s gone before us was premature in their maturation. Or so they tell us.

In my opinion one’s twenties are the brain’s last gasp before the rot sets in and change becomes impossible. It’s the period in which we refine ourselves as people, learn to architect solid relationships, and cement the patterns in our daily lives. Who you are and what you think at 20 is a long way off who you are at, say, 27. But who you are at 29 is pretty much it. There’s no going back.

Neuroscience remains in its infancy –  we still know remarkably little about how the brain functions on a cellular level, in real terms it’s all pretty hazy. But we do know some things. We know, for instance, that human behaviour is determined by human experience – that events, especially repeated events, create indelible neural pathways in the mind. Look now at your friend who had a tough childhood at the hands of an abusive parent. Now look at that friend’s choice of partner in later life. I guarantee you they’re still enthralled to the same patterns and demands – seeking out, however subtly, carbon-copies of that childhood abuser. Love and affection, in your friend’s mind, are permanently associated with pain and trauma. There’s simply no escaping it. The same, of course, is true of more benign habits. If one has always picked ones nose, and always eaten it, the chances are that one will remain a nose-picker and eater until death. If one wakes up early every day, one will probably continue to do so for life. Those routines are set in stone. And what we’re doing when we behave a certain way over and over again, or talk about the same thing ad infinitum is, in the words of the world’s best novelist Jonathan Franzen, burning things “a little deeper every time”.

So, what of the generation that does nothing? The generation that refuses to commit to anything or anyone? The generation that finds real life so traumatic? Sadly, I think the benchmark has been set for a continuity of similar problems extending into middle age and beyond. Where the NYT believes our ‘free-wheeling twenties’ are a good thing – a time for experimentation, free-association, free-love, play – I think quite the opposite. Our twenties are our last chance to shape up and mature, urgently, into humans. And, on the whole, we’re fucking it up badly.

By the time they were my age my parents had: made me (shunted an actual human life into the world); bought a fixer-upper in North London and made it habitable if not homely; secured several different academic qualifications; held down good jobs in competitive, intellectual industries; travelled the world; thrown dinner parties; started pension plans; opened savings accounts; bought and renovated a small Morris Minor; lived abroad; written and published two books; painted my childhood bedroom with electric-blue elephants; learned to cook healthy, nutritious food; seen the deaths of close friends; paid their taxes and, to all intents and purposes, passed all of the NYT’s Five Milestones.

By contrast: I have only just started paying taxes; dropped out of university after a year (my excuse: ‘because it just blows’); have been renting the same musty two bed in Hackney for almost six years; have a string of failed and, on the whole, unhappy relationships to my name; can drink a bottle of whiskey without blinking; sometimes shout at strangers; speak to my best friends in a weird, childish approximation of marine-jive and ebonics (typical conversation: “what’s your sit-rep Coltrane”, “FUBAR, Whiskey Pig, FUBAR. Call in a fire-mission on the treeline . It’s blue-on-blue here. Not scobay at all.”,”Give me your coordinates, I’m thirstin’”); I maintain an active profile across several social networking sites; don’t know how to fill out a cheque properly; talk about my penis in the third person; moan constantly (apropos of no real, discernable problem); overuse the phrase ‘you’re all up in my coolaid’; crave fizzy drinks; watch cartoons; still get in messy, boring little fist-fights; believe that going down on a woman once a month constitutes an enlightened and progressive relationship; and I own nothing of any tangibility or worth beyond a small record collection, a bed, a sofa and a first edition of Ragtime by EL Doctorow.

When I look at pictures of my parents when they were my age, I see idiots, certainly, but I also see people making a go of life – huddled ape-like around a miniature version of myself, driving cars, painting houses and normally smiling. When I look at photos of myself all I see is an idiot in full rut – flicking gang-signs and normally pissed. To flick through the images on my facebook profile is to look childishness in the maw. The difference between the way I live now and the way they did then is marked and fucking terrifying. To drill deeper still and look at my Grandparents generation, the psychic divide becomes impossible to bridge. They were shipped off to war, they saw terrible things and they killed people. This, for me, is so far from what seems possible now that it feels almost dreamlike in its abstraction.

Until recently, this disparity between what I do now, and what they did then, hardly bothered me at all.  But it was all brought home, rather sharply, when a girl I was seeing told me that she might be pregnant.

Now, I’ve lived through a smattering of pregnancy scares in my time, so the process of denial and the act of repeating the manipulative phrase “well, it’s a very big responsibility” come very easily to me. But never had I been through one with a woman who seemed like a reasonable prospect – somebody who I adored, somebody who I trusted implicitly and somebody who would have made the most excellent mother. In this case, the girl in question was all those things and more.  In short, there was an outside chance that parenthood, and all its incumbent sacrifices, was imminent.

I have little or no recollection of the conversation that followed her revelation – so deep was my shock/fear/panic that my body geezed a near-hallucinogenic dose of adrenaline directly into my heart – but I do remember its immediate aftermath, the trying–to-understand-the-concept-of-pregnancy-fatherhood-and-a-tiny-human-life-without-having-to-imagine-it-in-the-abstract[1] stuff, and the feelings of total inadequacy that staring into that particular abyss brought out in me.

I thought about my three year-old Godson calling me “ass man”. I thought about the sheer unreasonableness of children. I thought about nappies. I thought about the screaming. I thought about the endless, terrible and invariably repeated ‘bed time stories’.

Nobody had trained me to dislodge a choking-hazard from a toddler’s mouth.

Over that next hour my reality fell apart at the seams, I could actually feel the heinous mythologies of our generation unspooling in real time. All of that shit, the whys and wherefores, the maybe-I’ll-go-travellings, the I’m-a-visual-and-creative-guy stuff, the neediness, the insecurity, the willful cruelty, the six hours I’d spent playing Duck Hunt the day before and the refined stupidity of being little more than a solvent and hairy teenager… all of it just shimmered away. I was left grasping at straws – with nothing to fall back on but a mediocre skill-set (advanced Microsoft word,  middling Adobe Photoshop) the aforementioned first edition of Ragtime, and a burning desire to be somebody else.

It was a seminal moment.

As it turned out, the test was wrong (Clearblue, a law-suit is impending[2]) and the question mark hanging over my future evaporated just as fast as it had arrived. But once you’ve stared Dadulthood in the face – or, more generally, when the sheer woefulness of one’s situation is brought into focus – it’s difficult to go back to the Fun Guy camp. For me, the veil has been lifted, and now all I can see is, well, nothing. None of the lessons we’re allegedly ‘learning’, in this decade of endless play and zero responsibility feel in the slightest bit substantial. In fact, I’m pretty certain that I’ve acquired no real, germane knowledge in the past seven years. Sometimes I feel like it’s gone beyond that, and I’ve actually forgotten things.

For me, at least, it’s time to grow up and face the music. I’m going to try, if my brain has enough juice left in it, to force some kind of watershed and put a lot of crap behind me. While I’m not somebody’s Dad just yet, and don’t plan on becoming one for some time, the prospect is suddenly very real. And there’s no way I’m skateboarding my kids to work… Those fuckers will be travelling by Volvo.

[1] Incidentally, I couldn’t – the giant, floating Space-Baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey was about as far as I could push it, so that’s the picture I clung to.

[2] To Clearblue’s legal department: a law-suit is not impending. I’ve read your ‘99% accuracy’ disclaimer and fully understand the implications of litigation. You make a tip-top preganacy test. Round of applause. *

*To my readers: Don’t make the mistake of buying the electronic one (like I did, for ‘clarity’) unless you like reading a series of complicated hyroglyphs (in my case, an open book and a black arrow) that mean nothing when what you really want is a fucking yes/no answer.**

** To Clearblue’s legal department: I have read your ‘99% accuracy’ disclaimer and don’t really understand the implications of my above statement. Needless to say, my experience was probably unusual and my opinions are subjective.


  • ASSMAN October 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Good article. More like this, less shit please.

  • JADF October 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Great read. An eloquently written engagement with this website's readership and a whole generation's collective disposition.

    I think you managed to summarise and absorb Henig's dense article without the sprawling pseudo-sociological diction and statistic fetishism, instead locating the problem subjectively within your own emotional experience and development. And, consequently it was more interesting and rewarding to read.
    More content like this.

  • wonda kammer October 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    This is very well written there should be more of that on Platform, I think I just fell in love with this guy.

  • twentysomething October 8, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Nail on the fucking head!

  • Alex October 8, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Fuck this I'm off to play Duck Hunt and then probably go drink too much red stripe at a shitty london club night. Oh my life…

  • more October 8, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Loved this article, although I definitely question whether growing up fast like previous generations did is a good thing. (in my opinion it is a mix of good and bad ) Not to be an asshole but the last sentence probably meant to say “skateboarding my kids to school” unless you're into child labor or whatev. more from this guy!

  • dunmatar October 9, 2010 at 7:11 am

    good article. it's fucking crazy that rob foster didn't write it.

  • Rob Jones October 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    really well written. a lot of stuff on platform can be quite throwaway but this was really enjoyable to read. good work!

  • Sap October 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Platform should have more of this kind of stuff instead of the brain-rotting banality it currently posts to express the supposedly offbeat apathy of its writers. Intelligent pieces = good.

    • Gavin Mcinnes is a we banger October 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm


  • Thomas Tabouli October 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    This was good, but to address the issue of whether or not late blooming is good or bad:

    I think you are confusing 'growing up late' with 'being a loser'. There were losers in the 70s, for sure. Your uncle was probably one of them and the life you describe leading is just the modern version of being a loser. The point is that the 21st century version of being a normal, moderately responsible person involves settling down a lot later. Take myself for example - I'm 26 and have spent the years since graduating university moving country, getting STDs, applying for grad school, not going to grad school, going to grad school, moving country, curing STDs, drinking more whisky than water, but all the while I have sort of in the background been assembling a CV and have kind of a real job. I might quit it, but I have it. But I'm pretty sure that by 30-35 I will have a wife kids and a career. I will have those things 10 years after my parents did, but no biggie, I will have cool stories to write on my own Wikipedia entry.

    So could be good to make a conceptual distinction between growing up later and Duck Hunt, weed, and masturbation

    • Thomas Viney October 11, 2010 at 9:15 am

      Please send your CV to [email protected]

      Don’t forget to include:
      • academic qualifications
      • likes/dislikes
      • hobbies
      • personal statement



  • Karley October 10, 2010 at 4:43 am

    re: “sometimes shout at strangers”

    I once witnessed you fish a loaf of Hovis from a Hackney Tesco's bin, then proceed to tear off large chunks of the bread and throw it at strangers passing by, while quacking at them as if they were ducks.

    • Thomas Viney October 11, 2010 at 8:26 am

      Forgot about the Duck incident.

      Yeah, add that to the list of things I’m ashamed of. Actually, I’m quite proud of that one.

      Keep ‘em coming.

  • AG October 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    But you’ve clearly spent a lot of time writing. You’ll be alright, man.

  • Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    agree with the actual investigation , older generations did grow up to faster, in the boring way

  • ellema October 11, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    i have a feeling this is a great article but tl;dr

  • captain wank October 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    this is self serving ego masturbation. drivel. i suppose the irony is, that’s all the Y generation is good for. succinct. pass me a joint.

  • 20 something October 16, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    you write good

  • Anon October 17, 2010 at 12:41 am

    hey you can do pretty well these days with advanced microsoft word and middling photoshop!!!

  • Anonymous November 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    You’re a wonderful writer Thomas Viney and I think that is a real achievement and also probably a credit to your parents. It’s not really so much a case of grow up as a case of learn to believe in yourself more. Hate to sound like some patronising self helper, but your piece shows a highly developed mind and that does actually mean something. So cheer up - having a mortgage, painting rooms and all the rest just comes under the heading ‘stuff you have to do’. And previous generations fighting in wars did it so future generations wouldn’t have to. The fact that the present generation doesn’t have to is their achievement. Anyway I quibble, keep writing I really enjoyed your piece.

  • Anonymous November 7, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I totally disagree with the crap in this argument. I don’t want it in my outlook. Five milestones of what?Financially independent? What about *real* independence? Not being dependent on a fuckin’ machine or shop for everything? Most adults of grey hair have a string between their balls and the edifice of society labelled “one false move”, like a snare around a rabbit. I’ve seen more childish behaviour off “businesspeople” than I have off toddlers. I’m billions of years old already. You won’t get this sort of crap past me.

  • nigel viney November 8, 2010 at 9:38 am

    if you don’t like it, don’t do it.

    sponsored by blackberry.

  • Lucy B. November 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    So I’m guessing you’re…25?

  • Gavin Mcinnes is a we banger October 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    why ? I actually thought this was a return to form, the kind of article’s they used to do all the time.

  • Gavin Mcinnes is a we banger October 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    why ? I actually thought this was a return to form, the kind of article’s they used to do all the time.


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