Not so long ago, the average Sri Lankan, in his youthful mid 20s, had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, possibly a degree if he/she was fortunate enough to get into one of the two campuses in the island, financial independence, marriage, a home, and children. Today, most young folks in their 25's hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and an irresponsible reliance on external entities. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
"We are sick of hooking up with guys," says a female writer in Colombo. What she means by "guys", is males who are not boys or men but something in between. Guys talk about communal differences as if they are being oppressed by it; a guy's idea of a perfect night could be a hangout at a Nite Kadey with the boys down the street, or a sleepless evening browsing some internet chat site hoping for a hookup and some online sex with an unknown who could be of the same gender pretending to be otherwise. One female writer wrote, "I had to stop several times and think: Wait, did I date this same guy?"
For most of us 59ers, the cultural evolution of pre-adulthood was a journey filled with exciting challenges, hurdles, victories, and defeats. Bollywood delivered a lifestyle of songs and running around trees reaching out for Saree falls in the early 50s. Hollywood dished out a great array of movies that kept us all spellbound waiting for the next release at the Majestic, Savoy or Liberty. Then came Television deepening the mind mashing, dishing out the multi flavored soups of all sorts of rubbishy soaps and drama, laced with violence and conflict. And eventually we had the world wide web with all its hidden and clandestine communication and relationship offers through social networks and chat rooms.
But for all its familiarity, pre-adulthood represents a momentous sociological development. It's no exaggeration to say that there are a large numbers of single young men and women struggling to survive independently, while also not having enough ambition and courage to initiate a true relationship between themselves that would fill up their dreams and future.
Yes, at other points in our local history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry, and yes, office girls and bachelor executives have been working and finding amusement in back seats of Morris Minor taxi's across all our cities since independence. Today's pre-adults are a different matter.
What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.
Still, for these women, one key question won't go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by a group of sloppy friends who spend their days playing video games, getting into bar brawls, gorging on fast food, smoking pot and unsuccessfully planning to meet up and have online sex with people they have never met before. Facebook and Twitter have also given rise to a new mode of cloak and dagger communication where anything goes.
So where did these pre-adults come from? You might assume that their appearance is a result of spoiled 24-year-olds trying to prolong the campus drinking and hook-up scene while exploiting the largesse of mom and dad. But the causes run deeper than that. Beginning in the 1980s, the economic advantage of higher education—the "college premium"—began to increase dramatically. Even before that the "Sinhala Only" policy had already eaten up a good slice of potential opportunities. The 30 year ethnic war made another mess of these growing minds. And then the internet comes along and swallows them up all.
Good jobs usually go to those with degrees. And degrees take years.
So where have all the good men gone?