The Mysterious Fence-Sitters of Gen X

by Beverly De Soto

I am puzzled by Generation Xers. No, really. I know that they are regularly termed ‘slackers’ by Boomers, and I do think that’s a bit unfair. I’ve taught graduate level Finance classes to Gen Xers – albeit in a military environment – and I have seen little evidence of the whining and slacking they are accused of.

No, what astonishes me about Gen Xers is the fence-sitting. About, literally, everything. About their LIVES.

It’s eerie, actually. An entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything. Marriage is too scary. Choosing a serious career path is too hard. Then, there’s the living-at-home-forever syndrome.

It’s eerie, actually. An entire generation of people who adamantly refuse to commit to, well, anything.

All of this means we are facing something entirely new in the history of the world: an entire generation of middle-aged teenagers. Adults, whose tastes and ideas are substantially the same as they were as teens. Baseball caps worn backwards, pants drooping ostentatiously over protruding bellies, wolfing down Big Macs while flashing expensive manicures.

The snarky humor — an ironic “awesome” — is the familiar byword for this entire generation.  They perch on the fence, en masse, mysteriously refusing to step off onto the solid ground of adulthood.

Why is this?

People tell me it’s the bad US economy. But here in Germany, the economy has been going gangbusters, as the car companies sell luxury vehicles to Chinese manufacturing zillionaires stuffed full of American cash. (Just in case you were wondering what happened to America’s prosperity, but I digress.)

Nevertheless, for some mysterious reason well-compensated German Gen Xers in secure jobs supported by an all-encompassing welfare state, are most comfortable sitting on fences, too. (As a result, most of the women in the almost-empty maternity wards here are over 40, with many of them pregnant by sperm donors.)

The snarky humor — an ironic “awesome” — is the familiar byword for Generation X.  They perch on the fence, en masse, mysteriously refusing to step off onto the solid ground of adulthood.

This story repeats itself all over the developed world, regardless of whether there are jobs available.  What, exactly, is going on here?

Gen X Weddings

I think Gen X weddings tell us a lot about this afflicted generation. The wretched excess. The vast sums borrowed for a once-in-a-lifetime ‘destination wedding.’ A lifetime of debt to enable two ordinary people to stand barefoot on a tropical beach amongst the uncomfortable guests with sand in their shoes, taking pretty vows that mean nothing. The obese bridesmaids stuffed into strapless gowns, tattoos emblazoned on their plump, self-tanned appendages.  ‘Bridezilla’ burning her dress afterwards.

And the wedding night? Long past the point in their relationship when sex is a fearful delight, Xers collapse in exhaustion in their ‘bridal penthouses.’

And well they might. After the parties and the obligatory travel comes the hard part: life, and re-paying their crushing debt.

Oh, and arguing about whose ‘role’ it should be to cook, clean and care for babies. Especially in the face of ruthless layoffs, with resulting unemployment or underemployment. And then there’s always porn, of course, the ultimate solace for men stripped of their dignity and self-respect.

Long past the point in their relationship when sex is a fearful delight, newly-married Xers collapse in exhaustion in their ‘bridal penthouses.’

Surreal ‘judgmentalism’

It’s all so surreal — as if we are descending into a time when, try as they might, an entire generation’s attempts at legitimacy end in self- mockery.

Xers desperately crave legitimacy, which they imagine comes from spending money. At the same time, they insist on their ‘right’ to acceptance, regardless of how unacceptable their appearance or behavior may be. For some strange reason, they are blind to a plain fact that every other generation has acknowledged:  One cannot demand respect, or legitimacy. These things must be earned.

The problem is not them, they continue to insist. Crotch-grabbing — literally or figuratively — as we see so often on Facebook, is ‘free speech.’ Squeezing a size-20 woman into a dress designed for a sylph is not unseemly. Sleeping with an array of ‘partners’ before the eyes of their children is not wrong. Mortgaging their future because they ‘deserve’ a $2000 handbag is not problematic.

The problem is the imagined ‘intolerance’ of others. The worst crime one can commit, in the eyes of this generation, is to be ‘judgmental.’

‘One should not judge, lest they be judged,’ we are told, in sepulchral terms. It’s as if this generation deeply believes that life should be a merry chase, an inchoate chaos, from which we should have the ‘right’ to extract as much pleasure as possible. And that, folks, is about it.

All of this insanity is, of course, way too much for the average human being to endure. If every single certainty in one’s life – morality, beauty, truth – easily falls victim to ‘spin,’ then why would a normal person ever get off the fence?

There’s no safe ground on which to land.

It’s all so surreal — as if we are descending into a time when, try as they might, an entire generation’s attempts at legitimacy end up in self- mockery.

A deep, pervading distrust

Clearly, Gen Xers’ fence-sitting belies a deep distrust which today pervades the West.

What do they distrust? Well, everything. Our institutions, our laws, and each other. This lack of trust is so deep, it’s almost as if they cannot bring themselves to risk anything.

I find this fascinating. Catholic Gen Xers were the first generation brought up entirely in the post Vatican II church, where whatever ‘Father Bob’ said, went. The only sin in this ‘Catholic’ world-view is that of intolerance – though you’ll not find this in the Ten Commandments, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This, of course, makes the idea of ‘sin’ laughable. There is no right and wrong in this world view. There are only ‘choices.’

The absence of ‘sin’ as a concept thrusts us into a nightmare world which no New Age platitudes or pseudo-scientific ideas can rescue us from.

The only salvation from this bad dream?

You guessed it.

The absence of ‘sin’ as a concept thrusts us into a nightmare world which no New Age platitudes or pseudo-scientific ideas can rescue us from.

Enter Catholics

Truth be told, I have been stunned by the faithfulness of the Catholic priests of this generation. Choosing the priesthood in the face of overwhelming cultural headwinds to the contrary. Risking derision, marginalization and worse from their families and peers. Taking a thankless job, without even the comfort of a wife and family to sustain them.

They are intelligent, patient, hard-working men, thoroughly versed in their Faith. They have dedicated their lives, with total commitment, to the Church. And nothing – not sex scandals, not the Lavender Mafia, not overbearing parishioners, or hostility from the media – will deter them.

How is it that men of such stellar quality can emerge from the confusion and despair of Generation X?

Many – though not all – of these amazing men celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.  They are drawn to it, inexorably. When you ask them about this choice, they revert to an uncharacteristically emotional way of speaking.

It was ‘the Holy Spirit,’ they say, not without irony. And they mean it.

Are they happy?

Compared to their peers, these Catholic priests of the Gen X generation are suffused with joy. Something – some Love – keeps them anchored to a commitment they are wholly, deeply and completely surrendered to.  They are not sitting on any fence.

And they’re not alone.

Compared to their peers, Catholic priests of the Gen X generation are suffused with joy. Something – some Love – keeps them anchored to a commitment they are wholly, deeply and completely surrendered to.  They are not sitting on any fence.

There’s the homeschooling families – most of whom are Gen Xers and Millennials. Poor as church mice, most of them, dependent on a husband’s modest income.

Refusing to contracept and abort, they cheerfully bear child after child. Then, they raise and educate these children on a shoestring budget, often making a Catholic parish the center of their lives.

There’s also the Gen Xers who are reverting and converting, in droves. They show up at Regina Magazine on Facebook, and they ‘like’ everything they see. Catholicism – its deep power, mystery and eternal verities – is what draws them. Regina Magazine’s focus on the beauty of our culture is what fascinates them.

“Awesome,” indeed.

The Price Catholics Pay for a Future

Such choices are deeply counter-cultural. They fly in the face of the accepted ‘wisdom’ of a Gen X generation not at all hesitant to condemn – notwithstanding the need for ‘tolerance’ – any deviation from their fence-sitting worldview.

This has a cost. I lurk in Facebook rooms where homeschooling mothers lend sympathy and support to each other. Often, they are painfully ostracized by their families, peers and even their parish priests! They are ‘too Catholic,’ they are told.  They are ‘extremists.’

But something – some Love – keeps them soldiering on.

And they are saving the Catholic Church. While other Catholic Gen Xers desert to dogma-averse, big box churches with good coffee and comfortably uncertain morals, these families raise children who are staffing the growing new traditional Catholic Orders.

And the converts and reverts are marrying, and having children — or discerning a serious religious vocation.

Deo gratias, all of these people are the real Future of the Catholic Church.

And that makes for a merry Christmas, indeed.

Often, homeschoolers are painfully ostracized by their families, peers and even their parish priests. They are ‘too Catholic,’ they are told.  They are ‘extremists.’


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