Monday, September 05, 2011

Family Man or Incompetent Man-Child?

Part 4 in the Bottoming Out and Moving Onwards Series. Find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Traveling abroad is great for providing examples of socialization, because being in another culture lays bare how truly so many of our rather fundamental beliefs are essentially arbitrary. This is not to say that many of them aren't quite good ideas or ways of doing things, just that there are plenty of other great ideas and ways to accomplish things, and why you chose one over another is mostly dependent on the society you grew up in.

Take living with you parents, for example.

In the recent years, there's been a bunch of panicky articles about this in the American media; 20/30 somethings who had moved out of the house were moving back in because of the tough economy. The articles especially focused on college graduates who had to move back in with their parents after college because they couldn't find any work. I'm sure there was even some cutesy nickname attached to it, like re-nesters, or something like that. I don't care nearly enough to search for it.

Anyway, the point is that these people moving back in with their parents were not only seen as quite an abnormal development, they were seen as some sort of commentary on our society. Some posited them as a sign of how bad our recession is. Others claimed that kids today just refuse to grow up, what with their cartoons and their music and their invasions they just can't stop fighting and whatnot. But all of them saw this as an inherently negative or backward step for both these young adults and, more-or-less, the country.

Because we have a powerful cultural narrative in American about what it means to be an adult. And for the vast majority of people here, this means leaving the home at 18, probably getting a degree of some kind, buying a house, getting married, having kids, etc. But all of these latter steps are predicated on the idea that you've left your parents house.

Where I was overseas, the situation was the exact opposite. Many people only left their house when they got married, if they even left the house at all. And because of various cultural, religious, and economic restraints, younger sons and daughters may have to wait a long time to get married. Most people I met were prety surprised to learn I was no longer living with my parents at the tender young age of 28, what with the fact I was neither married nor had any children. Who cooked for me? How did I manage a household? Etc.

So really, this is just two versions of ways to do things, specifically where to live. Neither of them is inherently good or bad (they both have their upsides and downsides), but we tend to think the one we do is normal and that doing it another way is odd at the very least, horribly wrong at the worst.

It's also a good example of how understanding how a social process works in no way prevents you from being a part of it, whether you want to or not. So I know, for instance, that living with your parents or not is essentially an arbitrary cultural script, so it's not really anything to worry about it. But I live in this particular cultural context that says it's odd. So anytime it comes up that I lived with my parents for most of the summer, I'm quick to explain how it was a really unique circumstance, it wasn't for a long term, etc.

And that, of course, is if the subject is even brought up in the first place. Because even though I've never felt judged by anyone about this and they always understand (especially when I offer my now well-rehearsed explanation), I can still feel how out of step with the normal cultural script this is and feel pressured to explain why I've deviated.

Though of course now I'm living on my own again like a grown up, so I can just pretend it never happened...

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