"Quarterlife" Vs. The "Return Of Saturn": Which Existential Crisis Is More Stupid?

Illustration for article titled Quarterlife Vs. The Return Of Saturn: Which Existential Crisis Is More Stupid?

I will never forget the first time I noticed the term "Quarterlife crisis." I was about to turn 25 and I had just left a big-time newspaper job in Los Angeles to try magazine writing (and phone sex!) in Philadelphia. I was in the throes of a really really wise platonic-romantic entanglement with someone twenty years my senior. We had just seen the movie Lost In Translation. And the movie, something about it...spoke to me. I started doing that thing where you reverse-read all the movie reviews of the movie you just saw to try and figure out what it was... and some critic referenced ScarJo's Quarterlife Crisis. That's it! A crisis. See, I mean, it wasn't like I assumed, after dropping out of college and entering one of the nation's more tumultuous industries, that it was going to be, like, easy. It's just that...well...what was "easy", anyway? It's not like I was joining the workforce following a two-year stint in the Navy SEALS. What did I know of "hard"? I didn't even know what the Navy SEALS really do; I don't even know anything; nothing! Ohh, how I hated myself.


Okay. So...back to quarterlife crises. Somehow, it passed. Do they exist? I'm inclined to think: "no."

But then it happened again: I was 28, single following a long bout of monogamy, unemployed, broke...depressed beyond comprehension, depressed beyond my worst depressions in the past; at once rationally, because I was so much older this time, and irrationally, because I was actually wiser, too. And that's when the wacky flight attendant roommate came through the door from her latest trip to Bishkek. (True story!) "It's Saturn returning," she explained, and gave me some book about astrology. That night I went to a party and saw a friend from high school. "How have you been?" he asked, and I gave some face.


"Oh man, your Saturn's returning, that's the worst," he said. (Trend story alert: straight men who openly reference astrology; WTF.) But seriously, "Saturn Returning" was exponentially more ridiculous and melodramatic than "Quarterlife Crisis" — had we done no growing up in the intervening years? Had we actually been devolving? I began to think we were all just devolving, which was probably true. And then I thought, maybe confronting the sense of vulnerability that sends us into the arms of ridiculous concepts like "Saturn Returning" (and also, religion and the book Eat Pray Love) is just another part of the process. Maybe it's evolutionary biology, forcing us to manufacture these little existential crises every few years to confront the true nature of our hackneyed human condition to substitute for the kids we would otherwise be having.

And then I got a job and stopped thinking about any of this shit. Maybe these "crises" are just ...unemployment! I asked the Jezebels. They hadn't really had Quarterlife Crises, except for Dodai, when she was 25. How did she get past it? "I thought about moving to Hawaii and writing poetry," she said. "And then I got a job.

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I'm a believer in the quarterlife crisis. I'm also a believer in the fact that, while they are real, they are limited to an upper-middle class strata of overachieving college graduates. I don't judge the quarter-life crisis: all my friends went through it. (I probably would have if not for the fact that I completely uprooted from where I wanted to be to move in with my fiance, then got married and settled into domesticity... though I'm only 25 now, so who knows, I may yet hit it.)

But i think it strikes people who were good students and never really questioned that they would succeed. now, all of a sudden, there's no solid validation lik you get when you receive an "A" on a test. If you're unemployed after college, you feel like a failure, and even if you are in work, you're not the top of the pack anymore: you're entry level and therefore not the best of the best in your company, even if you do well. Honestly, I think the lack of a "this is what successful people do" guide is daunting for people who did well in the confines of academia. Because there's no ONE clear socially acceptable path to take after college, people are at a loss and freak.