Sunday, October 28, 2012

Peter Pan

Saturday morning at breakfast (Tommy Colina's, best eggs benedicts I've had in Omaha), I saw a young couple, maybe five years older than me and Joey, sitting at a table eating breakfast with their young son, who was just the right age to be dancing in his highchair.  Looking at this young family, my thought was "wow, they are way young to have a kid".  I've noticed lately that parents in general are getting younger and younger.  It's a nationwide epidemic!  Of course, the reality of the situation could not possibly be that I am an adult and at the age that people get married and have kids.  (Are you kidding me?  I'm barely done being a kid myself!)  It's interesting to me that my mind goes to a widespread change in American culture rather than the logical explanation that, over time, I have grown older and out of teenagerhood (which I was only too quick to make myself comfortable in), to adulthood, which, despite having a job and a fiance, still feels way too old for me.

My boss and friend Rabbi Josh Brown shared a theory he read (posited by those smarter than myself, presumably wielding science) that adolescence doesn't actually end until a person achieves stability in his or her life.  "Stability" is not firmly defined here, as it differs from person to person.  Prime stabilizing candidates include finding a life partner, starting a career, buying a home, and having a child.  I do have a job and a partner, but it is a one-year position (hardly "stabilizing"), and my partner and I are in the process of changing our relationship from an informal one secured through a question and a kiss between teenagers to a very formal one secured through contracts and a huge celebration with our friends and family.  Again, it hardly feels like a "stable" moment in our relationship.

One of the courses I took in graduate school was Culture and Romantic Love, a seminar course that was mostly based around discussing an criticizing readings assigned from the professor.  One of the most highly-criticized books we read was Love is a Story, a collection of individual examples and analyses of the different "story" types that relationships can fall into.  There was the "collection story", in which people use their partners to fulfill roles or fill holes in their lives; the "fairy tale", which hardly needs explanation; and the "game story", which we all admitted to playing in at least once, where the "three days rule" comes into play and entire conclaves of women need to be called to determine the appropriate steps to take in a new romance.

One that particularly stuck with me, though, was the "journey story", in which the partners are always focusing on the next great adventure together.  The book chooses to illustrate the folly of living this love story (all the love stories in this book seem to end in disaster) through a young couple that decides to pack up their lives and road trip across the country to open up a restaurant.  The restaurant will probably fail, but that's okay because the couple will just start a new adventure.  Like young sharks in love, as long as they keep moving, their relationship will survive.  If they find stability, they won't know what to do with each other and the once-exciting relationship will crumble under the crushing weight of normalcy.

This picture may only make sense to Kaylen and Brianna.  
When I read this story, I couldn't imagine how any relationship could really stop being a journey.  Looking at my own, it certainly always felt like we were always moving, heading toward some goal.  First we were just getting to know each other and learning how to date through the hardest semester of Joey's undergraduate career.  Then it was the semester leading up to Joey's semester abroad, and figuring out what that would mean for us.  The Paris Semester was an emotional (and literal) odyssey in itself, followed by The MCAT Semester, then The Year of Med School Applications (AKA Learning to Live Off-Campus), and The Year Apart (AKA The Year of Many Job Applications).  Never did I really feel that we were in a comfortable, settled place that wasn't likely to change.  Presumably, the relationship could then continue either to a breakup or towards engagement and marriage.  Since I didn't have my own experience in that realm, I thought of my parents.  After they were married, they had a kid (me), then another (Janna), so those were clearly two big adventures.  And even within that, there's The Newborn, The Toddler, The Newborn and Toddler at the Same Time, The Teenagers... I can't really see a point where things won't still be changing for them, even if it's all stuff they've done but now they're the parents instead of the main players.  I imagine that First Daughter's Wedding is a journey, as is Second Daughter's Graduation and whatever else is in store.

Perhaps the reason that it seems to me that we're all kids doing adult things is because I can't see the stability on the horizon that is supposed to signal the end of adolescence.  Beginning adolescence was obvious.  I got invited to parties that weren't thrown by parents, I learned to drive, my friends were the most important things in my life, and I stayed up all night doing homework.  Beginning adulthood is much more confusing.  I'm getting married and actually have a job where I'm in a position of some power, but it seems "stability" will have to wait, because we're still at the beginning of our journey.