March 14, 2014

Millennial memoirs #1: Superficiality

Instead of a great big post on what you can learn about the Millennial generation from Katie Heaney's memoir Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date, I'm going to break it up into separate posts on a single theme or observation.

For reference, she was born in '86, and is somewhere between 25 and 27 when writing the book.

I've read from the first chapter that discusses her crushes in kindergarten up until the last chapter in the "college years" section. From age 5 to 20, the only thing she notices about boys is whether they are cute, hot, beautiful, dreamy, adorable, sexy, etc. It is the only thing that attracts her to a boy, and it is the only aspect about them where she notices details — eye color, hair color and style, height, tanned or not, which celebs they resemble, and so on. She also recalls how they dressed — sweatpants, sideways hat, emo earrings, etc. To reiterate: what she notices about boys does not mature at all from kindergarten to senior year of college.

Hers is the most superficial mind I've ever found myself inside of. Young girls not too long ago certainly noticed whether a guy was cute, hot, or whatever, but that was only one (perhaps big) part of what drew her to him. There were all those other components of "how he makes me feel," his personality, demeanor, and character. Only one guy (so far) is shown with any detail on these dimensions, but she is uninterested in him because he's not cute / hot / sexy. He even confesses that he likes her, but not hot = not bf material. They remain friends who occasionally hold hands at drunk parties.

Girls also used to notice physical states about a guy that were not generic enduring traits like hot, sexy, etc., but were mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. The way they stand, or sit, the way their voice comes out, or how it sounds in different contexts, how they fuss around with their hair, or whatever. The things that make him, him. There is absolutely no detail about these things, as though she didn't even observe them in the first place. It's like being color-blind — only identity-blind. She is numb to any sign of distinctiveness about the guys she sees. They are just cartoon cut-outs of the pattern "random hot guy."

That's certainly been my experience with them, on the whole. When I was tutoring them, they'd call me cute, gorgeous, etc., but rarely wanted to open up or get me to open up. At '80s night, they sent their representative over to tell me, "My friend thinks you're hot!" rather than "is interested in you," or something more normal-sounding. A few years back, a 15 year-old strutted right up out of the blue and said, "...Can I have your phone number?" I tried making a playful joke back: "Why...? What are you gonna do with it?" She didn't respond with "I think it'd be fun to hang out" or "You seem like a cool guy," but "Cuzzzzzz... you're CUTE!"

It's odd how Millennial girls don't try to stroke your male ego when coming onto you. Guys don't evaluate themselves so much on how dreamy they look, so hearing catcalls is not as ego-boosting as the traditional forms of flattery, that play up their qualities in general.

That also goes along with a recent comment here that Millennial girls feel awkward calling you by your name. At one point in college, she and her friend walk into a coffee shop and see the dreamiest looking guy working there. Although they learn his name is Sam, they refer to him amongst themselves as "Barista Boy," a generic term that would cover any old hot coffee shop worker. He is a type, not an individual.

You might have thought that a generation that only notices each other on a superficial level would be somehow more decadent, libidinous, and so on. All they say about each other is "cute boy" and "hot girl." Sounds like they got sex on the brain. And yet it's the same generation that is too awkward to do much with each other.

When you think about it, though, only noticing the most superficial aspects of other people is a childish trait. Fourth grade girls can go crazy over what Justin Bieber looks like, and give clear details about what they like, yet they couldn't begin to give a good character portrait. You need more social experience and connections during adolescence to be able to pick up on those parts of a person, and to articulate them.

Note: I'm talking about merely noticing those idiosyncratic character traits and mannerisms. Some young adults might not value them in addition to looks alone, but they could all at least pick up on them. The Millennials are not good observers about such things in the first place.

That solves the puzzle, then. Since Millennials are more infantilized than other generations, they only pick up on superficial qualities in other people, they don't have much of an honest sex drive, and they have a bratty self-regard that leads them to dismiss connecting with others, who are all so totally not worthy.

It's important to bear in mind that Heaney is not a stuck-up cheerleader type, or whatever you might imagine her as, given how superficial she is. She's a socially awkward goody two-shoes, who holds intermission every once in awhile to deliver a feminist manifesto. Somehow those traits support each other, though — like if you fundamentally do not trust or value men, you block out all of the things that make them human and reduce them to their surfaces, indeed going further to treat all hot guys as only slightly different carbon copies of the Platonic hot-guy essence.

For a comparison with Generation X, see Kerry Cohen's book Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity. I won't review that one in detail here, only to say that it's the opposite in every way. She was born in the early '70s, and the events take place during the '80s and early '90s.

It's not about sluttiness, brazen-ness, etc. It's about her need to connect emotionally with a guy, and believing that sleeping with him will make that intimate connection happen more easily. Usually that doesn't happen, so she tries again with a new guy. There are real-life characters with non-physical traits that distinguish them from one another. If anything she notices too much personal detail about others, almost to the point of being intrusive. She gets excited when she sees cute guys, but the main thing she wants is for them to want and need her emotionally. She is clingy rather than avoidant.

But this society could use some girls who are toward the clingy side (if not out at the extreme). Seeking closeness leads to getting to know people for who they really are, while avoidance and distance lead to superficiality.

9 comments:

  1. Great post. Teens and young adults are a lot more childish today. In past decades they were much more quick to adopt adult ways of thinking and adult social norms.

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  2. off-topic, but here's an article from the New Yorker about malls:
    "The End of Malls"

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/03/are-malls-over.html

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  3. Curtis, the decline of malls in a lot of the country has to do with ghetto blacks frightening white customers away. Unlike Civil Rights era "boycotts", a white boycott really does just mean quietly not buying things. The malls either don't notice or pretend not to notice, but in the long run this is far more fatal than open protests.

    There are all kinds of retail options in expensive cost of living areas that are implicitly white/Asian, at least as long as the banks allow for it. They'll eventually be sold out too. Online shopping is the inevitable future of multiculturalism.

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  4. Good link on malls, Curtis. I think malls embody the quality of impermanence in American life, which dooms each generation to find its memories sinking into quicksand. Not pleasant.

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  5. Very astute and well articulated agnostic.

    Given my experience with Millennial girls, a common reason for rejection is "you're not my type". The problem when girls have this mindset is that guys who don't conform to the media-driven Hollywood aesthetic ideal - guys who are not tall, not muscular, don't have sharp cheekbones and don't have the right hair - have no chance.

    In generations past, these guys would've used their wit, charm, charisma and masculinity to "game" these girls. But when Millennial girls say right from the outset "you're not my type", these girls have dismissed you before you can even open my mouth. In their minds, you don't exist as a sexual entity. You can't get your foot in the door simply because you don't conform to a physical archetype.

    I believe it's mostly Millennial girls that subscribe to the "he needs to be my type" mindset as they're generally shallow and very much influenced by mainstream media/social media. Women of past generations were independent-minded, not as visual, and tended to judge men as individuals and not on the basis of how much they conformed to an archetype.

    I'm also shocked by how seemingly effeminate a lot of Millennial guys are. With their primping and preening, a lot of these guys strike me as borderline gay (did Boomer/Gen X guys invest so much into their appearance?) From seeing pics of regular guys in the 70s and 80s, I don't get that vibe.

    But it could just be a reaction to sexual market forces. With girls increasingly selecting for looks over wit/charm/personality/masculinity, guys are investing heavily in their appearance. The question is what caused this huge sea-change?

    Perhaps you can also comment on the Game/PUA movement as an effort on the part of desperate average/less genetically endowed/asocial Millennial guys to get girlfriends. In generations, these guys would've compensated with charming personalities and had cute girlfriends. But in an age when looks reign supreme, average guys are getting shunned.

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  6. I think the malls will make a comeback.

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  7. "Perhaps you can also comment on the Game/PUA movement as an effort on the part of desperate average/less genetically endowed/asocial Millennial guys to get girlfriends"

    I'm not sure if girls are choosier now or not, but "Face to Face" has a previous post about how even nerds and Goths used to throw parties back in true 60s-80s. You simply didn't see young people in those days becoming totally alienated from their peers.

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  8. *the 60s-80s

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  9. Millennial girls are definitely more picky than girls of previous generations. In generations past couples were generally looks-matched and dating happened within cliques - jocks dated cheerleaders, nerdy girls dated nerdy guys, stoners dated freak girls etc.

    Nowadays even average girls are demanding "hot" guys. Meanwhile below average guys have dropped out of the mating game altogether, wanking off to internet porn and video games. The explosion of PUA/Game is a reaction to the current cutthroat sexual marketplace.

    Keep in mind that Millennial girls also have huge egos due to the constant attention and validation they're getting from social media and the influx of messages on online dating sites.

    In generations past, girls sought validation through relationships with and approval from straight men. But now all those selfies on Facebook and Instagram and the "omg soooo gorgeous <3" from their GRRRRLS and gay guy friends have supplanted actual real heterosexual relationships.

    Millennial girls have also become more visual because they spend so much time staring at screens (smartphones, tablets, PCs) and on social media/online dating sites where they're looking at pictures of people. They evaluate guys based on their looks foremost. And if you don't meet her (inflated) minimum looks threshold sorry, you're out of luck. You're not in her sexual radar.

    There was simply no such equivalent in the 70s and 80s. In fact, this is unprecedented in human history. We're in for interesting times.

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