The other night, I was swapping stories with a friend over pumpkin beer, and she told me about an interesting conundrum she ran into in her personal life. Out of town and out of cash, she instinctively called her mom when she needed to crash in a hotel room. Many journalists would pounce on a story like this as evidence of lazy millennials who are overly dependent on their helicopter parents. I'd call this evidence of how everyone needs a partner in life, and how those partners don't always look like we think they will.
I count on my parents, too. I came home recently after throwing an elaborate dinner party to find my mom had cleaned every dirty dish and laundered the tablecloth and napkins. She let herself into my house while I was at work to surprise me with a clean home. This simple gift meant the world to me, and I ended up crying in my dining room when I saw it. It's not that I'm incapable of growing up. I have a full-time job, and I just bought a house. I'm almost 30, and I'm making this adult thing happen. I also don't have a guy in my life or roommates or anyone who would take over that partner role from my parents. They happen to still be more than happy to help me get things done.
I've always been prideful about what I'll let my parents help me with. I've overdrafted my bank account before rather than call them for a loan until payday. I have several friends who operate the same way. They'd rather save face with their parents than ask for a handout. At the same time, my dad mows my lawn on the regular. It makes him happy to take care of me. That's what all these journalists leave out—when Gen Y depends on their parents, it isn't automatically because we lack Gen X's "Reality Bites" pride. Sometimes, it's because no one else has showed up to carry the torch. Sometimes, helping one another is not a symptom of dysfunction but just a way to say "I love you."
Millennials are following the suit set by generations upon generations before them who made their own way when life didn't allow for the ideals. Like everyone else, I grew up watching Disney movies where the heroine meets a handsome prince who is more than capable of providing for her emotionally, financially, physically and every other which way. Still, Disney or no Disney, I happen to be part of a cohort that sees relationships as a risky capstone that is ill-afforded until all your other ducks are in a row. Despite growing up in the South, where young marriages are still the norm, I haven't met a guy who could be a long-term partner. So like all the folks before me who couldn't swing the nuclear family standard, I've made up my own rules, and I'm living my own way.
My next-door neighbors are two sisters in their 30s. They live together and raise their kids as a team because there aren't any guys in the picture. Like me, like a lot of women, they might have grown up thinking Prince Charming would show up and that their story would have the perfect ending. But when it doesn't, you still have to make things work. A lot has been written about alternative families—whether it's increasing tendencies toward living together without ever getting married or minority families discouraged from the nuclear norm by welfare regulations or gay and lesbian families. All of these models have come around, in part, out of necessity, no matter your initial expectations.
Multigenerational households and marriage as economic arrangements were means of survival for centuries. Nuclear families are a pretty recent development in the world, and the fact that families once again are changing and looking different doesn't mean that society is in crisis. It doesn't mean that my neighbors screwed up or that my friends and I are needy whiners because we still rely on our parents for some things. It means that times are different, that options are different, that needs are different.
Whether you're leaning in, opting in or doing it all by choice or necessity, we all need a partner. Those partners just don't always look like we thought they would in our narrow modern scope. They might look like a family of choice instead of a family of blood—a network of friends who take care of one another. Or they might look like Mom and Dad. They might look like a same-sex partner. They might look like the day care workers who take your kids when you go to your job in the morning. They might look like the fast-food employees who cook your food.
Feminism means that women get to pave their own way. We don't need husbands to survive like we did in the 1500s. Divorce and free love gave us the power to determine our own destinies outside of marriage, as autonomous beings. What that means, however, is that we can't always count on the fairy tale model to show up when we expect it or wish for it, if ever. I thought I'd be married by now, enjoying the privileges that come with that kind of partnership, like a double income and romantic trips to Greece and having sex on the regular. There is a double standard, however, that we can choose any life we want, and we get faulted when our choices don't lead us to this standard "Wonder Years" nuclear family dream.
Human beings are social creatures. We evolved to work together, to crave companionship, to rely on one another for survival. Everyone needs a partner to help them through life, whether it's a husband making lasagna for dinner or a friend driving you to the mechanic or parents letting the electrician in when you can't get away from work. It's not laziness, it's not entitlement, it's making life happen any way you can.
We should embrace that and celebrate partnerships of all kinds, instead of idolizing one kind above all others. In the immortal words of The Blues Brothers, "Please remember, people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody, everybody. Everybody needs somebody, somebody to love."
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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