I’m at that age where legally I’m an adult but I’ve yet to enter my (terrible) twenties. I’m 19.
In many ways, I’m dreading hitting that big ‘2’ just as much as I am looking forward to it. Sure, I’ll be waving goodbye (at long last) to the ignorant, arrogant, know-it-all, awkward teens. But here’s why coming of age isn’t that becoming.
For as long as I can remember, hitting 20 has been some sort of benchmark to me. Like I will have arrived at being the man I’m going to be for the rest of my life: emphasis on MAN. I see twenty as the beginning of the rest of my life, during which I should make constructive use of my time, looking for a life-partner, finding that career I’m going to succeed in, and making my mark on the world. And I should do as I am told, since I will be at the peak of my powers at twenty: it’s now or never.
This attitude is all too clear in today’s youth culture, where celebrities exit their prime by age 27. And I must admit that I too feel this pressure on the modern man. A man, now, has to be both masculine and feminine, and both are defined by forces outside himself. He has to be strong and a hard worker, he must ‘provide’ and yet, almost at exactly the same time, he must be ‘beautiful’ and caring and youthful and courteous: gentlemanly as well as tough, ‘manly’ and rugged. This is a lot to achieve when you are just establishing yourself as a ‘man’ of this world.
The thing is, to just say you’re these things isn’t enough. I have to prove my worth to society. I have to prove I’m a man of all these qualities. I have to prove them to myself. So I need to take action. Action is a good word for modern men. I can’t just be courteous, for example, I have to do courteous things: holding doors open, letting women go first, being polite, helping and doing things for others whilst also being ‘tough’ and ‘manning-up’. You know what I’m talking about: not being made fun of, or pushed about, being silent about these pressures. It goes on and on.
Underlying all these thoughts of what I should do, is also, who I will become. More importantly, what kind of a man do I want to be? I could talk forever about the insecurities all men face in today’s world about ‘being a MAN’ but I wouldn’t be able to write it in one piece. However, I’ll explain it like this. If I wanted to be a career type of guy, lets say—that isn’t enough. I should also want to be a family man because just wanting a career is too cold, it isn’t what women want … it isn’t ‘feminine’ enough. Similarly, I can’t just be a family man or want to be a house husband. After all, women want to feel taken care of, provided for, don’t they? At least that is what society tells us women want.
I guess all of this boils down to the fact that at some point in your life you have to become this ‘other’ person that you’re going to be. Or rather, who you should be. I think that now more than ever, men are feeling the strain of being more than just what has been expected of menin the past. Like women have done with femininity, men of the more recent generations, including mine, now face the challenge of deconstructing the super-human, superficial ideals of masculinity.
But that’s okay because I can handle it. And I know that the thirties is when the real pain of being a ‘grown-up’ begins.
—Image of two businessmen shaking hands courtesy of Shutterstock