Twentysomethings finding neverland, living at home

A new book looks at young adults who choose not to grow up

by Keri Carlson

If you’re a post-college graduate who temps, hooks up and rents, then consider yourself a delayed adult and a twixter. These terms – meant to insult – describe a now Census-acknowledged group of 20- to 30-something adults who have yet to commit to careers, marriages or mortgages.

As Time magazine portrayed the twixters in 2005, the new generation of young adults depends financially on their parents (often living back home) and refuses to accept the socially constructed ideas of adulthood responsibilities. Basically, kids these days have a Peter Pan complex of not wanting to grow up.

While many articles on the twixters paint them as confused, spoiled dependants, they do acknowledge that there are no signs of the delayed adult trend waning or reversing. Similar to social trends in Europe and Japan, statistics show the average age of marriage and home ownership continue to rise.

Twixters: They’re here and won’t pick a career. Get used to it!

But could there be any advantages to twixterhood? Or is this generation too immersed in “Simpsons” reruns, McSweeney’s subscriptions, online dates and Mom’s homecooked meals to be saved? And does this mean humans soon will become like zoo pandas – content to eat spoon-fed bamboo with no desire to procreate?

A new book “Before the Mortgage” – a kind of for twixters by twixters guide – offers a more optimistic glance at the new demographic.

“Before the Mortgage” began as a zine by friends Christina Amini (now an associate editor at Chronicle Books in San Francisco) and Rachel Hutton (now an editor at Minnesota Monthly). After they left their unsatisfying jobs in New York, both moved back home. As a way to keep in touch and as Hutton said, “share the weird things we were dealing with,” they began a literary zine. From 2001 to 2005, Amini and Hutton put out five issues of stories they wrote with other friends and contributors.

The book features pieces from the zine and inclusions from some of Amini and Hutton’s favorite authors after whom they sought for the book. With writings from the likes of ReadyMade magazine founder Shoshana Berger, “This American Life” contributor and author Sarah Vowell and Found magazine creator Davy Rothbart, “Before the Mortgage” is perhaps a who’s who of twixter writers.

While the collection of essays ranges from topics of bad jobs to bad dates to bad apartments, each tries to understand what it means to live with independence – but not responsibility. The book argues that the end of adolescence does not have to lead straight into adulthood and explores life in this limbo.

“We have more options,” said Tim Gihring, who wrote an essay on fake dating. Gihring, a University alumnus, writes for Minnesota Monthly.

“The social pressures have been somewhat relaxed, and the younger generation is refusing to stay put or compromise,” he said.

“We have the luxury of choice,” Hutton added.

The bright side of delaying adulthood, Amini, Hutton and Gihring agreed, comes from the ability to explore. Unsettled adults can try out different cities, different loves and different careers as if they were outfits. Finding oneself now is like shopping at the mall – with parents’ allowance money.

Amini and Hutton said they looked for writers and essays that showcased the passion and enthusiasm the new generations have for following their interests. But equally important, the writers had to be able to poke fun at themselves. “Before the Mortgage” gives twixters more credit than Time, but it also laughs harder.

Still, the book doesn’t exactly dispel the twixter stereotypes. While delayed adulthood has become an influential demographic, it still is an exclusive club. Twixters are assumed to be college-educated and live in a metropolitan area. But mostly, for this culture to exist, there has to be a level of affluence. There is a kind of privilege needed to have the freedom and time to explore options – which is why parents play such a large role in delayed adulthood.

“We’re able to benefit from our parents being settled,” Gihring said.

“If my parents were relying on me for income,” Hutton said, “I wouldn’t be a writer.”

Even for those who have supportive parents, critics of twixters question at what point do adults become completely financially independent. Will it ever happen? And for those delayed adults whose parents cannot help support them, will their lifestyles only worsen the country’s problems of debt and bankruptcy?

Delayed adults are still a relatively new phenomenon, so the impact of this culture is unclear. But Amini said she isn’t too worried.

“There’s an attitude of ‘we’ll figure it out when we get there.’ And I think we will,” she said.

“Saving for a pension isn’t the only way to show responsibility,” Hutton said.

The new wave of young adults might not be concerned with traditional responsibilities; but within “Before the Mortgage,” there’s a sense that this delay is to make sure to get the most out of life and to not get stuck with wrong decisions.

Maybe twixters will end up like zoo pandas, or maybe they won’t. The point is it’s their decision.