How to Age Gracefully and Not Be “That” Gen Xer
As social distancing becomes part of our national response to coronavirus, #GenX is trending on Twitter as my cohort loudly and proudly instructs our neighboring generations, “Calm down, we have been practicing #SocialDistancing for this our whole life. Turn on the tv or read a book, and just chill. It will be ok.” My feed is filled with memes from my favorite Brat Pack movies, and I had to override the app that keeps me from wasting time on social media to read them all. This generational war has been in the back of my mind lately because I fear I am becoming “that” Gen Xer, always complaining like Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine’s character in Steel Magnolias), when I want to age gracefully like Betty White.
I’m mid-to-late 40s and like all the #GenX tweeters and Amber Fraley, I’m proud of it. Which could be part of the problem. I love that Gen Xers are small in numbers but so vital to society these days. As the “middle child” of the generations, we are as the negotiators. We are responsible for mediating between the “big sister” Boomers and the younger Millennials. We do this in the office, in politics, and now during a pandemic.
This same sense of pride about being Gex X is what also makes me worry I will turn into a Ouiser, not a Betty. I increasingly find myself bitching about “those Millennials,” thinking (sometimes out loud), “Stop complaining, when I was your age, we had to…”:
- Carefully stretch out the cord of the house phone and talk to potential boyfriends from the kitchen pantry to get any privacy. Yes, we actually talked to people on the phone…;
- Listen to the entire tape to hear our favorite song, because fast-forwarding and stopping in the right place, was virtually impossible; or
- Negotiate with my brother to get to watch “my” show because there was only one TV in the house and Facts of Life was before VCRs.
I keep waiting for, “Walking uphill to school both ways, in the snow, without shoes,” to come out of my mouth before I can stop it. Sometimes my jabs at Millennials are in jest, sometimes cathartic, and sometimes very, very real. It’s the real jabs that make me feel like Ouiser. But I cannot be an effective diplomat between generations if I am predisposed to be irritated at one side. So, I have developed some coping mechanisms to channel my inner Betty White when I am triggered and start down the path to Ouiser-ville.
Don’t try to get on my good side…. I no longer have one! — Ouiser Boudreaux
Trigger #1: Warping the English language
Millennials’ most significant offense in this category is that they misused literally enough that in 2013, Webster’s decided to adopt it as a contronym. I know other words that are their own opposite, but the rest have always been that way (cleave is a personal favorite), so I don’t find them annoying. Other language offenses? “Side hustle” is just a second job. “Influencer” is merely a new word for spokesperson. And I can’t keep up with what the most politically correct term for anything because they change so fast I will never be woke (which Webster adopted it in 2017).
When I remember to, channeling Ms. White on this issue is straightforward. I remind myself about all the times I told my Grandma, “We don’t say ‘negro’ anymore.” I humor myself by checking out which words were added to the dictionary the year I was born (triathlon). I reflect on the fact that just two years ago, I hated the word “trigger” as an emotional word (and am now using it in this essay with ease). And when my inner Betty gets on a roll, I recall yond language hath doth changed since Shakespearean times, and I can get over it (except for the abuse of literally)
Trigger #2: Rudeness, real and perceived
Keeping their eyes glued to their phones during conversations. Not getting up to give their seat to older folk and pregnant ladies on public transportation. The irritating, condescending tone at which they say, “Ok, Boomer.” “Multitasking” during meetings. Once, I had an employee email me, in the middle of a meeting he was supposed to be leading, about taking some time off. Did I mention never taking their eyes off their phones?
I have to admit, I have a little fun with this one, especially on the bus. If I am sitting, I make a big deal about gathering my belongings and loudly asking if the person wants my seat. If I am standing, I nudge a millennial or cough loud enough to get the younger person’s attention over their music and then gesture to let them know they need to give up their seat. Most of the time, the Millennials are on their feet instantly, genuinely feeling guilty they were too engrossed in their phone to notice a “Boomer” needed a seat. I use similar coughing tactics in meetings and have perfected the “teacher eye” to let them know when “Ok, Boomer” is too harsh. I think Betty White would be proud.
Trigger #3: Hubris
Millennials are woke, and the rest of us are too old to learn new tricks. At least that is how it sometimes feels when we are:
- Scolded about what we did to the environment;
- Told how they will never be able to pay off their student loans;
- “Millennial-splained” about NCAA basketball players being exploited; or
- Scoffed at for how “lemming-like” we are for letting our Boomers bosses dictate where and when we work.
This is when I genuinely struggle to channel the great Betty White. “I don’t know how people get so anti-something. Just mind your own business take care of your own affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much,” is probably the best piece of advice one person has ever given. Ever. Too much? But seriously, I know in my 20s and early 30s I knew better than my bosses as well (although I believe I was much better about hiding my superiority). I try to remember this while I breathe deeply and channel Betty White to mind my own business.
I don’t know how people get so anti-something. Just mind your own business take care of your own affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much. — Betty White
Like the hashtag on Twitter, explaining how I ward off becoming a Ouiser has been a little tongue-in-cheek (and a lot cathartic). But I do believe it’s the responsibility of Gen Xer to age gracefully and play the peacemaker. Boomers will, statistically, be around for about another 25 years, and Millennials, merely by their larger numbers, can influence our politics and our workplaces. More importantly, they will be responsible for us in our old age. As Gen Xers, we are independent and stay out of the fray — it could be easy to just let the other two generations duke it out. But we will eventually be the elders; it will be easier to set the groundwork now to age gracefully, like Betty White.
Annisa Wanat is a nonprofit consultant, storyteller, writer & international development professional. For more information visit www.annisawanat.com