I have something of an admission to make. I’m an adult but not quite. I’m not on the property ladder. I don’t own a car. I’ve reached my thirties but the thought of having children and settling down hasn’t crossed my mind. I’m still waiting for the book on How To Wire A Plug & Other Stuff Dads Are Hardwired With. But, you know what, I couldn’t be happier.
Much is already known about the pressure facing women to settle down once they exit stage left from their twenties – the ferocious regularity with which tabloids paint anyone vaguely famous, post-30 and carrying a uterus as desperate, infant-hungry and unhinged is still one of the most unhelpfully skewed media narrative there is.
But what is perhaps less known is how guys too face similar pressure from those closest to us; a word in the ear, a roll of the eyes, some half-grinned expression and shrug of the shoulders by your best mate who’s been living under a giant thumb for the past decade and now wants you to stop swiping right on Tinder. It’s often unspoken, sure, but it’s there, hanging in the air like the smell of a used gym kit.
The truth is, I’m not ready to do the whole grown-up thing yet. Kids? I can barely find time to play the PlayStation for myself. Work and travel are my two loves. I’m not ready to sacrifice them for a single package holiday a year and having to chaperone a screaming infant on a flight to Alicante. I’m the living epitome of generation rent, a professional living in the capital who spent his twenties working in an industry he loves and travelling whenever he got a chance. Now it’s continued into my early thirties, I’ve got greedy. On a scale of 1 to Hugh Grant in About a Boy, I register about a 6 on the man-child spectrum, and that works for me.
There must be others who have reached a similar point where they look and wonder when the adulting begins. People just aren’t marrying as young as they were; we’re all more career-focused now, there’s a breakdown of societal norms that means the goalposts have shifted – and I’m too busy doing keepy-ups to bother going for the easy, expected goal. I’m enjoying the experience.
It’s selfish to profess delight at a lack of attachments, I know, but this year more than most I’ve truly appreciated my independence. Twelve months ago, I went freelance and I have to say, it’s been a game-changer. It’s allowed me such flexibility and incredible opportunity to work and to travel that I’m not sure I could go back to a 9-5.
One theory I’ve long held is that those of us who live in big cities are kept young by our environs. We’re trapped in a Neverland-like bubble in which we’re unlikely to get dragged into the humdrum nature of modern life, mortality and responsibility; a non-stop hubbub of brunches and Saturday and Sunday nights on the razz charging up our body, mind and souls.
Meanwhile, friends who settle down early go the other route, growing old in the blink of an eye – first comes the mortgage, then the boring saloon car, the 2.4 children – ticking each of these off like a game of Grown-up’s Bingo. Before they know it, they’ve got a full house, which incidentally they’ve tactically taken off the market because it’s near the best school.
A joint study by Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong showed that in 22 British cities, people living in built-up residential areas had lower levels of obesity and exercised more than residents in suburban houses, finding that bustling city centres were proven to beat suburban living in terms of health, wellbeing and happiness.
Home ownership is a tad overrated, anyway – go further afield to other western nations and there’s less of a taboo over renting in your later life. Very recently, I took a trip to Copenhagen and stayed in an Airbnb apartment where the occupier was in her early fifties but easily looked early forties. She travelled a lot and had lived in the flat – minus two years when she resided in Australia – for 20 years. She rented the room out occasionally to help put her son through art school. She was single, but not defined by it, worked as a design director for a major financial corporation but was a renter herself. This woman genuinely loved her life and seeing someone so comfortable in their skin, in their singlehood, was refreshing to see.
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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve friends who are clearly over the moon at having kids and getting married. As a I write this, a friend from home is in hospital and has just Whatsapped our group of friends with pictures of his first-born – a beautiful boy – and like clockwork, he’s already had two different messages from our friends with the same joke, which runs along the lines of “Welcome to no sleep”. If I imagine myself of being in charge of a mini human being, never mind the dictatorial change to my sleeping habits, I might run for the hills now. Each their own, mind. Your thirties are a big decade and however you spend it, if you’re happy then you’re doing okay.
For now though, my own plan is to see more of the world and explore continents and countries that have so far escaped my radar with the freedom I have. So far, I’ve managed to visit Iceland (some of its sweeping majesty I managed to capture on my iPhone, above), Germany and Denmark in the last month alone, putting me well on track to complete this 12 countries in 12 months challenge.
Who knows where our roads lead in the end? I say just enjoy the journey.
Images: Joe Ellison, Flash Pack