Go Ahead, Push that Button; The Hippies Say It's Ok
Since I started teaching courses on generational theory a few years ago, I’ve become something of a generational, um, enthusiast. Let’s put it mildly and say that I have distinct, inalienable opinions on the generations of Americans alive today. G.I.s? They pushed us forward, for better, and often for worse. The Silent Generation? A fascinating, under-studied producer of enigmatic and memorable individuals. Baby Boomers? Hmmm.
Boomers aren’t parents of todays 30ishes (for the most part), so I don’t feel too bad saying that they tend to be horn-tooting, attention hogs who refuse to retire (Jay Leno, anyone)? Sure, they staffed the protests and rallies of the cultural revolution of the 1960s, but those protests and rallies were for causes whose architects were members of the Silent generation before them. Sure, they vigorously opposed one of the worst wars in history; the Vietnam War was an abomination, and I’d have protested it too. I’d have done it with my clothes on though; just sayin’.
But, as I pondered the phrase “it’s complicated” as an accepted vernacular expression denoting some crazy clusterfuck of a relationship situation, I realized that we all owe the Baby Boomers at least one important thing. Before the Boomers, unlabeled, flexible, relationships (good or bad), would have been cause for ostracism; undefined-ness simply wouldn’t have been permitted in the suppressive social era generated by the G.I.s’ post-WWII desire for familiarity and conformity. You were either dating in a socially appropriate, rigidly diagrammed fashion, or you were married. If you weren’t either of those things, you were single. Now, this isn’t to say that complicated feelings and relationships weren’t happening in the stereotypically quaint, pastel 1950s, they just weren’t discussed; they were driven underground, making those who were having them feel even more conflicted.
The Baby Boomers openly rejected the black-and-white relationship expectations created by the G.Is; they married later, procreated later, and for more than just shits and giggles, they perpetrated the sexual revolution (I am loathe to link to Wikipedia, but I figure it can’t hurt here), in which sex became a more natural, expected part of pre-marriage romantic relationships, rather than the taboo, forbidden, fraught act that it had become in the 1950s. Roe vs. Wade and the FDA approval of the birth control pill (largely both Silent Generation causes) helped the young adults of the Baby Boom toward a sexual freedom that directly contradicted what the G.I.s had tried to instill in their Baby Boomer kids.
It took courage for these Boomers to separate so completely from the restrictive, unrealistic values their parents espoused, and for that, the Baby Boomers should be complimented (though of course, the theory of “safety in numbers” was vastly on their side; they outnumbered their G.I. parents by a cool 20 million and the Silent Generation by almost 40 million). And while today, many Baby Boomers have (somewhat stunningly) adopted a sharply conservative attitude toward the behavior of their children (the Millennials, who are being told not to do drugs and not to have premarital sex by their parents who, in 1968, probably did it by strobe light in the Haight after smoking a tie-dye-papered fatty), the relationship freedoms that the Boomers brought to American society still linger.
So, go ahead and have your on-again-off-again, your fuck buddy, your “sorta”; or, more seriously, go ahead and talk about that divorce-in-progress, or that new, budding relationship you don’t want to jinx. We all know better than to judge. There’s even a button you can push for the unnamed or unnameable on your Facebook profile; just check that box for “It’s Complicated,” and anyone who’s smart won’t ask questions, or better, will ask the right ones. The Baby Boomers gave us this ability, and even a somewhat jaded late-Gen-Xer like me can thank them for that. So, thanks, Boomers, for bringing the complexities of relationships out of hiding. I wave a paisley, hemp-dyed flag in your honor…