The G.I. Generation. The Lucky Few. The Silent Generation. The Greatest Generation. The Baby-Boomers. Generations that have come before have been defined by their circumstance and their historical timing in our history books. The millennials have been called that for the time period in which we were born — but we're also coming to be known as the loneliest generation. Articles cite all sorts of reasons and claim that these things are either making us lonely or are the product of how lonely we are. I reject this premise — and here's why.
#1: Social Media
When joining Facebook or Google+, you're asked to find your "real friends." The phrase is a testament to what many articles surmise. That sitting behind a computer console for hours on end detaches us from the real world interactions with our fellow man. There are certainly those who do not use social media wisely, following arguments down rabbit holes to oblivion or not being cautious with what they share on social media because the separation between those they are fighting with online hides the natural facial and body cues that hold us in check without the screen.Yet for each of these stories, there are new friendships, new connections, rekindled relationships, and reconnecting with memories through #tbt we had long forgotten that balance them out.
Beyond that, when we seek validation — through retweets or "likes" or "mics," we do so because it makes us feel less alone. It helps us recognize that there are those out there who agree with our perspectives who could not pick us out of a crowd. We develop entire online communities with people we've never met who come to befriend us. I can't count the number of Facebook debates or PolicyMic discussions or tweets that have brought about lively discussions with perfect strangers akin to hardly anything in real life We embrace these interactions in part because they make us feel bigger than our traditional social circle that was so often limited outside of these online realms.
#2: The Economy and Un/Underemployment and Student Loan Debt
The challenges facing millennials in the economy are not small. Half of new graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Mid-level jobs are disappearing in these economic times, leaving behind only low-skilled positions for graduates who chose fields with comparatively less demand. This not only affects their initial income prospects, but can genuinely put them behind other earners for decades and lower their earning potential over their lifetimes. We are on track to be the first generation in many to expect less than the generation that came before us.
Yet again, this doesn't make millennials lonely — this makes them cynical. More and more, this generation is acknowledging mistakes they have made and take responsibility for their choices, even when they acknowledge that Washington could do better by them, such as student loan rates this week. But here is the bottom line. The millennial generation is one of the largest our nation has seen and has only just begun to make itself known politically. The 18 to 24-year-old crowd increased their turnout in the 2004 election 11 points alone. They are more politically active and more willing to make their collective voices known.
#3: Holding Off On Marriage and Kids
Only 20% of millennials between the ages of 18-29 are married. Tied very closely to the economy and feeling financially secure, this crowd is getting married older, living at home longer, and starting families later. That said, we are living together with greater frequency. This approach of somewhat avoiding marriage for a longer period of time could be a reaction to our parents' generation who yielded some of the highest divorce rates our country has ever seen.
Our reliance on friendships, social connections, and shacking up together before marriage is not a sign of loneliness, but a sign of a cautious approach to dating and commitment, seeking greater certainty, before binding ourselves to legal marriage. Yet, perhaps it's just me, but when we approach marriage with this abundance of caution, we are treating the institution of marriage with greater respect. We do not want our marriages to degrade it. In fact, as a generation, 81% of millennials support extending the benefits and institution of marriage to other loving couples.
None of these factors that millennials face are because we are "lonely." The jury is still out on what might characterize us as a whole, but the idea we are isolated by our social mediums, destined to be defined by the challenges in our economy, or that our perspective on the institution of marriage somehow gives us the reputation of being lonely is completely false. My hope is, instead, we will be a generation defined by our rationality and our openness to all pathways to happiness, in spite of the challenges we face.