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Betwixt and Between: The Twixter Phenomenon

This material courtesy of Jeannine Pitas

In January 2005, Time announced the arrival of a new generation. The Twixters are not a type of candy bar, but a new social demographic. In “Meet the Twixters,” writer Lev Grossman (1) notes the growing number of 18-30 year-olds who “just won’t grow up,” nomads who hop from job to job, apartment to apartment, relationship to relationship, putting off society’s traditional markers of adulthood, such as marriage, children, and home ownership. Many of them live with their parents; others who live independently still receive some degree of financial support from their families. While in some other countries it is normal and even expected for twenty-somethings to go on living with their families, most Americans value personal autonomy and look disdainfully on people who fail to become independent.

As Grossman points out, many of today’s young people are idealists who are seeking not only a job, but a vocation, not merely a partner but a true soul mate. Expecting to live well into their eighties, they are taking their time to try out different paths until they find the ones that best fit.

Back in the twentieth century people relied on professional, religious and political affiliations to give them an identity. Now we live in a world where identity is no longer just given, but also chosen. While to some degree our sexuality, cultural identity, political and religious affiliations are given to us at birth and nurtured through upbringing, now more than ever these identity markers change and develop throughout the whole course of life. It is no wonder that many young people want to try out their options before making the serious commitments our society considers the defining marks of adulthood.

There is another, highly pragmatic side to the Twixters’ story. In 2001, Abby Wilner and Alexis Robbins coined the term “quarterlife crisis” to describe the maturation process that 20-somethings undergo (2). In addition to making major decisions, they also find that in an increasingly competitive job market, they are not always able to do what they dreamed of doing as adolescents and college students. Success in the professional world is much more competitive for them than it was for their parents’ generation. In the information age it is easy to find listings of available jobs, but harder to get called up for an interview when the 400 other people who see the ad on Craigslist send their resumes on the same day. Meanwhile, a university degree has declined in value while becoming ever more expensive; students may take out huge loans to pay for their education and then spend years paying them back. It often is impossible for recent graduates to pay for everything—rent, living expenses, and debt—on an entry-level salary.

However one may perceive the “Twixter” phenomenon, at this point it is a reality, and as our world grows even more complex and diverse, it is fair to predict that this life stage is here to stay. And while some members of the older generations may think that these young adults do not want to grow up, the simple truth may be that the whole maturation process has changed and that the traditional definition of adulthood no longer holds. In a world where national borders can change overnight and where companies are born and die at an insect’s pace, perhaps growing up no longer means finding stability, but learning to tolerate uncertainty.

(1) “Grow up? Not so fast,” By Lev Grossman. Time, January 16, 2005.
(2) Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties, by Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins. Tarcher, 2001.

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