As a young, single woman clawing my way through the cornfield-surrounded concrete jungle of Fargo, one of my favorite books was “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
Nowadays, almost any female between the age of 4 and 84 has heard of it, thanks to a series of “Bridget Jones” movies starring Renee Zellweger. But to truly capture the humor and internal turmoil of the main character, you have to read Helen Fielding’s books, which hilariously captured the foibles of a British 20-something trying to find love, respect and workplace success in the 1990s, despite her complete lack of discipline, emotional control or self-awareness.
Bridget smokes, eats and drinks too much, gets tangled up with her bad-boy boss, struggles to relate to her narcissistic mother and generally makes so many bad decisions that even I, as an extremely clueless 20-something, felt superior to her. I have foolishly assumed life will be like this for 20-something single women for generations.
After all, haven’t we heard the gatekeeper parts of the human brain don’t fully mature until the early to mid-20s? Haven’t young women struggled with entry-level wages and boyfriends ever since Mary Tyler Moore first stammered that she needed a raise to Lou Grant?
But then I started reading various articles about millennials and have seen people like my godchild make incredibly mature decisions, and I am not so sure. We already know kids mature faster these days. When you grow up hearing about school shootings and graduate from college with $100,000 in debt, you have to.
Here are just a few ways — some based on actual facts, others based on my admittedly unscientific observations — in which it seems millennials are redefining Bridget Jones.
They are homebodies: A 2018 journal article found that Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 spend 70% more time at home than the general population. “Mean Girl” memes seem to celebrate the art of the modern hermit. Insta feeds may show young ‘uns ziplining and climbing mountains, but they show just as many hunkered down at home with a glass of wine.
Pinterest is rife with illustrations of bun-clad, bespectacled introverts canceling plans so they can cuddle up with their kitties and watch Netflix. Etsy sells T-shirts that proclaim: “It’s way too people-y outside.” A November article on the Quartz site (qz.com) traces this homebody movement to the internet, which has given rise to a “collective, public performance of solitude.”
To me, it makes sense. Life has grown increasingly more expensive and stressful — and constant exposure to social media can make you feel like you’re constantly performing — so it might just be easier to order in and work on your cross-stitching.
They have healthier habits: I recently read a Forum story about the #sobercurious and “sober by choice” trends spreading across the country — and even reaching Fargo. As someone who attended college in an “Animal House” culture and couldn’t even attend a party in my 20s without a few beers to relax me, I deeply admire these teetotalers-by-choice. I also like how they have almost made it trendy to choose not to drink, and how they talk about eschewing alcohol as a way to feel healthier and better about themselves.
When I was a young woman, it seemed like I mainly encountered two types of people: people who drank a lot, and people who didn’t drink at all, because they were in recovery. It’s nice to see individuals who are consciously choosing to alter their lifestyles before addiction takes over and makes the choice for them.
They’re settling down earlier: A recent paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis notes that fewer than 40% of millennials were married in 2016, compared with almost 60% of young adults in the late 1980s. I say: Statistics, schmatistics.
This is based purely on anecdotal evidence, but, to me, it doesn’t seem like this trend has extended to our region. In fact, it seems like I’m hearing of more and more young couples getting married during or after school than I did in the 1990s or early 2000s. I feel like the “stigma” of getting married early isn’t nearly as strong as it was when I was in college. Back then, the formula for success seemed to read: “College, then career, then marriage, then mortgage, then dog, then baby.”
My theory is that this move is driven purely by finances: Couples are finding it cheaper to live as one, so they no longer need to pay for separate apartments, grocery bills or Netflix accounts.
So, there you have it. Today’s millennials are more sober, responsible and committed than I was at their age. They’re kind of like old people, except they can rock mommy jeans and they are Insta rockstars.
Move over Bridget. It’s time for “Margaret Thatcher’s Diary.”
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at email@example.com.