It seems that everyone in the US, and lots of other countries for that matter, hits about the age of 25 or 30 and becomes all about growing up and settling down. The mad search to find someone to settle down with ensues until everyone has found someone (maybe not the ideal someone, but that’s what divorce is for), has bought a house in the suburbs, has popped out 2.5 children, and secured a lame, but stable, 9-5 job. Their days become routine. They drive the same routes, see the same people. Their lives become mundane. Why? It’s what adults are supposed to do. Even better than that, it’s safe.
I think it’s a load of crap. What is it about us that goes from the curious explorers of our childhood days to the boring security-seekers of adulthood? Settling down is the beginning of the end of your life. It’s one long slippery slope to death. A little dramatic? Maybe. But here are five solid reasons that back up my argument:
1. Repetition makes time go by faster
There’s a reason why people say that time goes by faster as we age and it has nothing to do with time actually going by faster. It has to do with our memories. As you age, you tend to experience less novelty. Routine takes it’s place. You do the same things over and over. When you do something routine and familiar, you don’t tend to remember it as well. If all you did the previous day was go to work, come home, cook dinner, and go to bed, there was nothing to stand out as memorable from the day before that and the day before that. One day blends into another and weeks have gone by before you know it. The reverse is true for new or novel situations. If you do something memorable each day or each week, it tends to stand out and time appears to slow down. Think about when you have a hectic, out of the ordinary day – how often do you say, Wow I can’t believe that happened just this morning? When we settle down into a routine, our lives become mundane and forgettable, speeding up time. You’ll be dead before you know it.
2. You get bored
Our divorce rate in the US is somewhere around 50%. That’s half! Why so common? People get bored. People cheat when they get bored. They look to spice up life. They do reckless things. They drink. They look for diversions. Buy things they don’t need, looking to fill a void. Some people call this a mid-life crisis but I call it what it is: boredom. Eventually people realize that their life of settled-down-dom is just plain unfulfilling and they look for a way out. It’s hard when you’ve been trapped so long, so you don’t always make the most logical or well thought out decisions for your escape. When you do the same thing day in and day out with the same people, and have the same conversations, and eat the same meals, and drive the same roads, it’s no wonder you eventually lose it and try to break free.
3. You get more set in your ways
There’s a reason older people tend to be more conservative and it has absolutely nothing to do with becoming wiser. Most people have a hard time changing. Societal values change, technology advances, our understandings of the world progress, but many people have a hard time adapting to the new world. When you settle down, you get used to your way of life. It becomes safe, comfortable. Things that are foreign are scary. What is familiar becomes what is right. You surround yourself with people who think like you do, who live life like you do, and you begin to fear or shun those who don’t. If you don’t continue to educate yourself, to expose yourself to outside people and experiences, you will slowly become that crusty old racist xenophobic curmudgeon who thinks his way is the only way. Because that’s how it’s always been. And you’re hard pressed to expose yourself to those new understandings and experiences if you’re settled into the same old routine day in and day out.
4. Your perspective shrinks
When your life settles into this little bubble, things that shouldn’t become important do. This is especially true in the suburbs of westernized nations. Life is cushy, so your biggest stressors are things like your neighbor’s trash blowing into your lawn, not having as nice a car as your friend Joan, or figuring out which guest didn’t offer to bring a bottle of wine to the party. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a way of life. What becomes important? Money. Status. Looks. Power. Popularity. These things don’t really matter. And they sure don’t make you happy. But when you have nothing else going on in your life, you lose perspective and they start to matter to you. If you get the opportunity to travel to a developing country and witness the generosity, the kindness, and the genuine happiness of people with nothing, it knocks you on your butt a bit. Perspective in life is everything.
5. You lose your sense of identity
As you settle into that routine in your bubble, you start to lose you. You can get trapped by the societal pressures of what’s expected of you and you become one of the rest of them. You begin to identify with the life around you rather than who you are. You may not have kept up with the Kardashian’s before, but now that everyone around you does it, you start to think it’s important. Never mind that you used to hate those vacuous TV shows. This loss of identity is, unfortunately, especially true for many people who have kids. Their lives become their kids’ lives. They lose their hobbies, the things that make them happy. And their happiness begins to revolve solely around their kids. That’s all fine and dandy except your kids shouldn’t be your personal entertainment or means of self worth. They are individual people who you should guide through life, not depend on to form your identity. And one day they will grow up and leave. Who will you be then? Settling down too often means compromising your values and sense of being to fit in with what’s expected.
Jeez. You might as well pull up a chair and wait to die.
Now, this is not to say you shouldn’t get married or have kids or have a steady job or buy a house. You can do any of those things. In fact, you can do all of those things and still live a life that’s not settled. Believe it or not, you can have a hobby with kids and a job. You can try new things. You can travel the world. You can make new friends who aren’t like your current friends. You can take a class each year. You can learn an instrument. You can read books that contradict your beliefs. You can move to a new city or country. You can visit a new neighborhood each week. You can expand your understandings and your horizons. You can break free of the bubble that surrounds you. Because THIS is what life should be about. And this is why, no matter where life heads, I will stay unsettled.
What are your thoughts on settling down?