Disco Babies in Crisis: The Year of Thirtysomething Angst

Disco Babies in Crisis: The Year of Thirtysomething Angst


There’s a woman in her mid-30s. She’s beautiful and talented, which is nice and all, but she can’t shake a certain feeling of ennui. People seem to think she should be settling down with a nice guy and maybe some kids, but she’s not sure whether she wants that. Eventually, she ends up at a celebration of domesticity where she snaps, drinking too much and having a huge screaming tantrum that causes everyone to pity her even more.

That’s the plot of two of this year’s most talked-about films: Bridesmaids (with Kristen Wiig) and Young Adult (with Charlize Theron). I watched both movies with particular interest, since like both of those characters, I’m in my mid-30s, unmarried, and have one of those “creative” careers that give me both the opportunity and the motivation to party indiscriminately. Are these my people, and are we in crisis?

Charlize Theron was born in 1975, exactly five days before I was. Also born in 1975 were Zach Braff, 50 Cent, Drew Barrymore, Lauryn Hill, Angelina Jolie, Sean Lennon, M.I.A., Tobey Maguire, Zadie Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Jack White, will.i.am, Kate Winslet, Tiger Woods, and both members of OutKast. We’re a strange little group: there was a dip in births between Generation X and Generation Y, leaving us in a relatively sparsely populated demographic ditch. We’re too young to have done coke off glass tables in the 80s, but we’re old enough that we had to type our college applications. On typewriters.

The day I was born, the number one song in America was the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’.” Thus, for lack of a better term, I like to think of us cuspy Gen-Xers as Disco Babies, or Gen WTF. We’re the brats of the Brat Pack, and we’re still bratty.

Single thirtysomethings have provided ripe comic fodder at least since Much Ado About Nothing, so it’s not like the success of Bridesmaids and Young Adult is going to make us think we’re special or anything. We know damn well that we’re not special, and we’ve always had low expectations for our adulthood. When we were in college, shows like Friends and Seinfeld were showing people in their 20s and 30s sitting around on couches making dry observations, going on dates that yielded amusing anecdotes rather than true love, and doing very little by way of actual work. Now here we are in our mid-30s, and…hey, wait a minute! That’s not how life was supposed to actually turn out!

Most of us, of course, are more or less coupled and more or less settled. My best friend from high school is living in a Twin Cities exurb with his wife and kids, working as an attorney and a volunteer firefighter, and considering running for the state legislature. He’s been very helpful in providing legal advice regarding the strange situations I’ve found myself in while moving from one Craigslist living situation to another. Plenty of us have already been married and divorced, some with kids. Attending my 15-year high school reunion involved driving through a blizzard to a suburban sports bar, where a classmate for whom I’d lusted mightily in high school was working behind the bar to support herself and her kids, serving up shots on the tundra like Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

As for me, I finished college and commenced a decade of grad school, landing back in Minnesota in my early 30s and looking for fun and/or work and/or love and/or a place to live where my roommate doesn’t pawn my guitar to fund his meth habit. It’s a story not entirely unlike that of Zach Braff in Garden State, though in my own personal Manic Pixie Dream Girl romance, I got to find out what happens after the tearful reunion, and I can tell you there’s a reason they didn’t put that part in the movie. At this point, of all the people mentioned above I think Drew Barrymore might be the one I’d have the most to talk about with. We could hang out, have a beer, and try to figure out what the hell’s happened since we stood there in our Osh Kosh B’Gosh waving good-bye to E.T.

For now, those of us who stayed true to the Friends dream will carry on making dry observations, drinking really unhealthy amounts of coffee, and doing very little by way of anything that looks like actual work. While Gen X has its midlife crisis and Gen Y tries in furious frustration to save the world that we’ve neglected, we’ll be hanging out here, blogging or whatever. You know. Staying alive.

Jay Gabler