“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26,” Nora Ephron famously wrote. “If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.” If any geriatric millennials are reading that and bristling at the idea that they are no longer fit to be seen partially clothed in public, perhaps they can take comfort in the fact that our concept of middle age has shifted quite significantly in the 20 years since Ephron wrote these words.
The oldest millennials are now 43, so it’s not like having to come to terms with aging is a new affliction for us. Yet I was amused to read an article in The Times of London recently, entitled “Help! I am about to reach my ‘millenopause,’” from a female writer who was about to turn 36. It was a curiously self-loathing piece, which seemed to buy into the right-wing press’s view of us as immature and self-obsessed. “Millennials are now the largest generation, and our legacy is… what? Boomeranging to live with our parents? Staying in shared homes into our forties? A declining fertility rate? Burnout culture?” she writes, adding, later: “We’re so infantilized that I feel as if I’ve skipped straight from newly graduated to middle-aged.” This is followed up by a character assassination by a member of Gen Z (though, at 27, you’re pushing it, love) in which we are called “embarrassing” and “self-absorbed.”
I came away feeling compelled to defend my generation, who, as ever, bear little resemblance to the media stereotype of us. Yes, it’s true that economic hardship has been somewhat infantilizing. I don’t feel like a real person a lot of the time—I can’t drive, I don’t own a house, and I seem to exist in a perpetual state of chaos. And yet the fact remains that I am an adult: I have a job, and an accountant. I’m someone’s mother. There comes a time where you just have to accept maturity, whether the coat fits or not.
It’s true that geriatric millennials have had to revise the traditional markers of adulthood, such as marriage with children. We’re settling down later (if we do so at all), buying homes later, and having children later. The Pope thinks we’re choosing pets over having kids, but everyone I know is either a parent, weighing up whether or not to become one, or trying to work out the shape their life will take if they don’t choose to procreate. When I wrote a book, The Year of the Cat, about a time in my life when I was on the cusp of making this crucial life decision, several older women said to me that they admired the fact that I had given it so much careful thought. “We didn’t really think about it,” they said.