Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Dilemma Of The 26-Year Old

You’re 26.

A lot of things have not gone satisfactorily recently. You’re finding yourself in the middle of some unpleasant feelings that you are not able to fully comprehend or even give a name to. Angry? A little bit. Sad? Well, more like unsettled. Confused? Yes, I think so. Depressed? That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

You decide going out and meeting friends will help you get over this momentary setback, for that’s what you believe it is. You contemplate calling the usual suspects, but trawl through your phone book first, just in case. And you begin to reject name after name.

A whole bunch of them are ‘work friends’, but they’re called that only because you meet them outside office hours for a beer or a get-together; you dismiss them as you’re not close enough to have the heartfelt discussion that you suddenly have a longing for. When was the last time you did something like that—just you and a friend, sitting across a table with coffee or a drink, and alleviating the weight on each other’s shoulders? Back in college it was, when the world seemed entirely unfair to you and all these possibilities kept opening while others kept shutting.

And now, you’ve worked for some four years in three—or is it four?—different jobs. Your resume reads like a travelogue and is already starting to raise some eyebrows at interviews, especially the two-month gaps in between jobs when you went travelling to far-flung places in a fit of frustration, blowing up pretty much all of your savings in the process.

Your first job took you to a new city; that was exciting. Sure, you moved out when you went to grad school, but this was different. You weren’t a student any longer; you were a working professional. You made money and your salary at the end of the month paid your rent and the bills and the maid and bought you stuff. You had a flatmate and you could stay out late on weekends and no parents would call to check on you. You could bring a love interest home; you could make love at home.

Then, you quit without another job in hand. You had to; the job was the pits and you couldn’t take it any longer. But you’re smart and well-qualified; it’ll be a cinch for you to find a new job. You have to move back home for a while, but it’s like a vacation. You are fussed over and you are newly rich and you buy a high-end camera and plan a trip to far-flung places.

You repeat this process a couple of times, every time a new organisation, a new city, a new gadget and a new destination. And now, suddenly, you find yourself working in your hometown, or in between jobs, living at home with your parents. When and how did that happen? You’re back to being a child.

You decide you should call a friend from college. First, you look at your graduate school friends; they are the most recent and are pretty much in the same boat as you. But, as you keep scrolling down, you realise that very few of them live in your city, even fewer in your area, and they’re all people you never really bonded with, except for the occasional presentation. Your best friend from grad school, with whom you spent those many hazy nights lamenting and cursing, is now married and living half-way across the country.

So, you move to your undergrad contacts. This takes a little longer as you try to recall a face to every name before you reject them. “Where are all the listeners?” you wonder. “Do I really want to talk about my unnamed, unsettled feelings to somebody I haven’t spoken to in 6 years?” The travelling together to college and the cups of tea and inexpensive lunches in shady roadside restaurants—all that was a long time ago; you were young and not financially independent. You’ve changed a lot since then, as have they, you are sure. Despite the fact that they are on your Facebook friends’ list, you haven’t even said “Hi” to them on line.

Finally, you land up on your school list. These are people with whom you grew up, and for some reason, still live in your city. Most of them just never moved out; some others are like you—they’ve been around and now find themselves back home scratching their heads. You realise you share even less in common with these people, except for a vague, blurred recollection of school and your hometown from 15 years ago.

And so, having eliminated 99% of your 500-odd Facebook friends, you land up with your usual suspects. You make your few phone calls and draw a blank every time. It’s the start of a long weekend and everybody, except you, has plans. Somebody’s going out of town, somebody has family over and somebody else has plans with other friends.

And then, you begin to miss your ex. The last relationship that had seemed like the one but somehow ended. You can’t even recall the intensity of the emotions when it ended and you wish you could call and make everything all right, but you can’t. You’ve been forbidden to call and your numbers have been changed secretly. Maybe you could ask a common friend, but no, that would be trouble. You wonder why all your relationships end this way; that’s three now, excluding the couple of rebound flings. You suddenly want a very physical fling right then, just to feel wanted, just to have somebody with you, just to have some sort of physical contact with another human being.

Dejected, you plug into some music, but you have trouble finding the right song. Everything feels repeated or makes you feel way too young. You’ve heard the classic rock songs so many times that it’s not even fun anymore to sing along. The hip-hop and trance beats don’t sit right with you and the latest music that’s out sounds just downright weird.

You’re 26.

You realise you have no ‘4 a.m. friends’. You have no job, or you hate what you’re doing so much you’d rather not do it; worse, you don’t know what you’d rather be doing for a living. Your bank balance is sinking dangerously low. Your friends are getting married one by one while you are freshly single living at home with no immediate prospects; your mother, meanwhile, is starting to make noises about your own marriage. You don’t have a song to call your own, except maybe this one for your situation.

“...where did I go wrong?
...all the good shit’s gone.
...where do I belong? dreams moved on.”
              - Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night, Bon Jovi


Product Junkie said...

This post just echoed my thoughts. I'm 26 too and they thought teenage anxiety was worse, right?

Great post and very clearly written.


Rags said...

@ product junkie:

We're always wise in hindsight. My teenage years seem so much easier to handle now.

Now, I need to start becoming wise beyond my years. If only I could crack the time-space continuum :-)

I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for the comment.

Product Junkie said...

Now's a time when you wish you had a time capsule to go back in time.

This post for some reason made a few things clear to me, about life in general.

I might be an ass when I'm saying this, but guess i have company!


Rags said...

@ product junkie:

wow! you give high words of praise for a writer when you say his writing made things clearer for you about life. thanks. you've pretty much made my day :-)

i also put this up as a note on facebook and i've got some stunning responses. a lot of people confess to being in the same boat, facing very similar issues. i didn't realise it was so prevalent or universal. so, no, you're not an ass for saying it, you do have company :-)

Sandip Dev said...

Great post. I am heading towards this. Losing touch with friends fast. And MBA doesnt give you much time to bond with new friends. They are more like contacts and less like friends.

Rags said...

@ Sandip:

Hi Sandip. Thanks for the comment (and the appreciation).

I like how you call your MBA batchmates as 'more contacts than friends'. You're very right. MBA is more a time to start building your network and contact list. Very few true, lifelong friends come from an MBA (but a lot of spouses do seem to be appearing). :-)

Pooja said...


For sure I dont know you and seemed to have wandered into your blog thru some random-procrastination-at-its-best browsing after coming back from work but was really overwhelmed to read this post of yours. Couldn't believe someone could echo what's been going on in my own mind so explicitly n simply. Really liked your post and kind of feel more sane that I'm not the only one who get these thoughts :)

Very well-written!! And just if yuu thought this only happens at 26...I'm 29!!

Rags said...

@ Pooja:

Procrastination browsing is the best :-)

I've got conflicting reports about what happens after 26. Some have told me it gets better, while others tell me the dilemma sticks around for a while. To each, his/her own, I guess.

Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you liked the post and I hope you stayed to read some of the other ones on the blog.