I’m not sure what ought to concern me more: that multiple people assumed I would connect with the recent film “Tiny Furniture” or that, when I finally watched it (home, with flu, on New Years Eve)–I actually did.
The movie—written, directed by and starring the obscenely talented, obnoxiously young Lena Dunham—centers on a college graduate from Tribeca as she moves back home, gets a job as a hostess, alternately bickers and snuggles with her mother, and attempts to date transparently unavailable men.
For the record, I did once live with my parents while working a hostessing job in Manhattan for just over four weeks in the fall of 2008. Also, I may have gone to a small Midwestern liberal arts college (Macalester) not totally dissimilar from that attended by the protagonist (Oberlin). I may be known to occasionally pursue men who blatantly ought not to be pursued. And it may, perhaps, be the case that—those writerly aspirations notwithstanding—I’m still not sure how I’m going to support myself when I grow up. (More specifically, when I finish my MFA.) Also, I do have an occasional habit of snapping at my mother in one moment and, the next, tossing my feet on her lap.
What separates me, through, from the protagonist of “Tiny Furniture” (besides, among other things, more vanity and less successful parents), is that she’s twenty-two and I am twenty-seven. I’ve been out of college five years to her few months. By the time she was my age, Cleopatra had two children and an empire. More recently, my mother had a husband, a career and three stepsons.
But, a lot’s changed since both of their times. Or so, at least, I like to tell myself.
That’s one explanation for the fact that I don’t inhabit a constant state of panic about my persistent instability. Another is that I have other, less abstract things to constantly panic about: attempting to write, attempting to teach, men. Finally, I don’t panic because most people I know who are my age live, basically, in the same boat.
We’re all smart, well-adjusted and well-educated types. All of us are either working or (mostly) in some form of graduate school. Many of us—though we struggle to fathom/recognize/accept it—are yet to be completely independent of our parents financially.
I realize this is not a representative sampling. My friends and acquaintances undoubtedly reflect my distinct life experience: growing up in New York and attending a giant magnet school there, going to a good (not to mention expensive) college, working in public radio, being in graduate school.
In other words, I recently read that the average marrying age for women in America is somewhere around twenty-five.
But I guess, the thing about being twenty-seven nowadays (probably like a lot of other ages) is that there’s no such thing as “normal.”
When I was home for break, a guy friend showed me a feature from an old issue of Esquire magazine with the subheading: “A group portrait of five key ages in the lives of women.” The magazine photographed a handful of woman at 18, 27, 35, 44 and 55 and published the photos—in which each wears variously scanty white tops—alongside a token quote.
My friend showed this to me in eager hopes of receiving my own, expert 27-year old take. I received his request with more than a little skepticism: I’m not used to crafting my social commentary around the wisdom of men’s magazines. (As you know, I prefer the far more sophisticated, and female-oriented, texts of Oprah and Vogue.)
But I can’t say I wasn’t intrigued. What I noticed was that the women’s quotes represent a range of perspectives: some rejoice in the opportunities they see ahead. Some bemoan giving up their professional dreams, while others celebrate achieving them. One woman voices the collective fear of losing parents. Another trumpets the importance of “partying before the husband comes along.” On some level, I identified with all of them.
I’m not sure what, if anything, makes twenty-seven a “key” age. But for whatever reason, it does seem to capture the complicated experience of, as that New York Times article put it, “emerging adulthood” today: it’s just as acceptable to occupy that extended adolescence we (or at least, movies) usually associate with the year after college as it is to have a family and a career already nailed down. That range is unnerving—but it’s also comforting.
At twenty-seven, we might not have it all figured out yet. But we also have the self-awareness to know that no one, really, ever does.