The oldest among the Millennials, those who have forged their lives for better or worse without marriage, are beginning to look back to grapple with their emotional perceptions, often through novels to see how others do it, observing how cultural changes affect the sexes in different ways. The emancipation of women flourishes among men as well as women, but the liberation distributes disappointment unequally. The passion my parents felt, that moved them to elope and that caused many members of their generation to marry and confront the obstacles of a conventional commitment, is often quickly dissipated today in casual sex. Nothing new there. But what seems to have caught women by surprise is how easy it is for men to slide into the older chauvinist attitudes they thought were gone with the feminine mystique.
The narcissism imbedded in the masculinity of chest-thumping, no matter how camouflaged by a designer shirt from a metrosexual thrift shop, has merely taken on new forms. The novelists characterizing the experiences of the Millennials demonstrate that feminism may have changed the message, but it didn't strip away the old male privileges. "Boys will be ashamed of being boys," observes literary critic Marc Tracy in The New Republic. "But they will be boys."
With insight and wit, Adelle Waldman, age 36, captures the moment in her novel, "The Affairs of Nathaniel P." Her male narrator, using his generation's dating experiences, observes the acute injustice of current sexual mores. Prepare for the cringe when she describes the way women in their 30s take diminishing interest in their careers and seek a committed relationship just as the men lose interest in the diminishing sexual attraction of the "aging" female body in tight jeans and sleeveless dresses.
If, in this scenario, 30 is the new 20, it nevertheless suffers some of the emotional pain of the old 40s, as women confront the self-centered immaturity of their men. This generation finds itself stuck in drawing room comedy without the drawing room. Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right, you can't go home again. But many Millennials do, and there's the rub.