Hooked On A Feeling

2010 January 29

Had variations on the same discussions with two different people this week*. I know that when that happens, it’s a pretty good bet that there’s a GenMeh piece in there somewhere (also a good bet that I will use the conversations to hone my thesis, complete with wild gesticulations, maybe some sporadic pounding on the table a la Khrushchev, depends on the day). The gist of these discussions centered around whether an utter lack of caring about the future/one’s prospects/the world as we know it was a sign of the times or the sign of a personal problem. Considering that my conversational partners were two smart, accomplished and grounded twentysomethings, I’m inclined to say that their malaise isn’t a character defect, but representative of a common (if rather rarely acknowledged) phenomenon among Gen Y. To put it succinctly, we’re burned out on caring. We’re hungry for something, but we can’t tell you what it is because we don’t know. We long for a specific feeling, but we can’t accurately name it (satisfaction?  fulfillment? contentment? self-actualization?) and we don’t know how to achieve it. We’ve grown up with the understanding that we could be anything we wanted to be, but we let the dizzying array of choices overwhelm us and instead of determining how we’d go about figuring out what it is we wanted, we stand paralyzed in front of our options, or reel drunkenly from job to job, relationship to relationship, holding our breath, waiting for an audible click.

Photo by wili_hybrid

And as much as we worry about never achieving that specific feeling,  we also worry that we won’t even recognize it if we ever do. We have no means of conceptualizing such a vague notion as a feeling we can’t even agree on a name for. If you don’t know where you’re going, how the hell are you supposed to know when you finally get there? Riddle me/us that.  At least with romantic love, even if you haven’t felt it, books and film are filled with a million examples, you can see it in your families, friends, the couple sitting across from you on the bus who have no issue with gratuitous PDA. You can think about instances of non-romantic love in your own life (if your life has been fortunate enough to include it), add a patina of lust and come up with a proxy for the feeling that you’re longing to experience firsthand. And if someone tells you that you’ll know love when you feel it, well, you’re inclined to take them at their word because you have no doubt about the veracity of love itself. Not so with the unnamed emotional salve that Gen Yers of a certain stripe are fixated upon. Think of it as heroin addicts chasing the dragon, except we have no previous experience of the perfect high and no tangible proof  that it exists (after all, your happy isn’t my happy). But we’ve been told not only is it awesome,  it’s the answer to all our problems. So we soldier on and with a surprising amount of blind faith for such a supposedly cynical and jaded generation. But sooner or later, we get tired of seeking and never finding. I  imagine it’s akin, on a small scale, to the weariness of living through decades of Cold War nuclear posturing or spending your entire life on the edge of your seat waiting for The Rapture to finally kick off. Eventually, to conserve emotional and mental energy, you just go numb. That’s what happened to the friends I mentioned and that’s what’s happening to so many of us, even if we’re loath to publicly admit to such unflattering apathy and disinterest. We’re burned out and all of the good intentions, platitudes and woulda/coulda/shouldas in the world have lost their potency. Become a barista? Have a baby? Pop the cork on another bottle of cheap wine and commiserate? Yeah, the person who comes up with definitive means of getting our generational mojo back is gonna make a mint. And then, if they’re one of us,  probably still feel empty and lacking while rolling around on their pile of hundred dollar bills. I jest. Maybe.

Long-term wanting is taxing enough when there’s a prize for you to fix your eye on.  But without a concrete goal such as saving $40 000 for a down payment, finishing med school or training for a triathlon, it becomes absolutely exhausting if you can’t even put your finger on what it is you want (The Victorians were off the mark; pining ain’t all it’s cracked up to be). There’s just that damn, never-ending rainbow overhead. It seems to take up the entire sky and no matter how long or far you walk, you never seem to get any closer to the end and even if you did reach it, you’ve started to doubt you’d even recognize it as such, not to mention actually setting eyes upon the mythic pot of gold. And yeah, your feet are really starting to hurt, you know?

*I also saw a newspaper ad recruiting people for a medical study. The criterion was that you had stopped caring about or being interested in your life, but were not actually suffering from diagnosed depression. Yes, it made me giggle.

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