Cures to the Millennial Dread: Staying In is the New Going Out

For the past 8 and a half hours, from approximately 7 PM on a Friday night until 4 PM on Saturday, I got a chance to feel young again. Not as if I was old old…it’s just that I’m not young young anymore. I’m almost 32. My sister is 19. For some unfathomable reason, I’d accepted her invitation to go out with her and her friends. Nothing fancy, she said; a concert, then a little bit of partying. What could possibly go wrong, I thought. Let me tell you, when you’re over 30, the simplest answer to this question is: probably everything.

As a teenager, I developed deep feelings for hip-hop. It gave me, I felt, ways to learn about self-expression, artistic freedom, talent and work, and a sense of non-conformity, the type you could feel proud of, the type that allows you to show up in baggy pants and XXL size T-shirts as the 158 cm tall fragile bird of a girl I was, and feel totally confident.

That is why, perhaps, my sister turns to me with the sweetest smile that only younger siblings have as a form of complete adoration for their older kin, and asks me on a rainy Wednesday afternoon if I cared to join them for a concert of a local rapper, let’s call him IJUSTSHOUT, later that week. Now, I am deep in some tragically boring internal communication presentation when she pops the question and— with half a mind focused on the usual corporate sentences I tried to reconstruct from last year’s material and the other half trying to suppress the existential dread I, as a good millennial, always feel when I imagine doing this for the rest of my life — respond with a quick ‘yeahsurewhynot’ said in one single word that sounds more like a sigh. I have no idea what I set myself up for.

Don’t get me wrong: in my twenties, I knew what it meant to party hard. Even later, when I already had a full-time job, we would go out 3-4 times a week to drink, dance till dawn, and delude ourselves into believing that this was it, the best days of our lives. (Later we all hope to be wrong about that.)

There is something quite biological happening in the body around the time you hit 30. Even in pre-COVID times, the urge to go out started to decrease dramatically, at least in my case. Having to go out, an activity that used to be a choice instead of a chore, becomes more and more of an elaborate process. Back in the day, I did not have to know where I was going, how long I was going to stay there, what I was going to eat, drink, for how much, how crowded the place would be. The only detail I cared about was who I was going out with, but even that wasn’t a solid part of the deal; others could join, I could start the evening with one circle of friends then meet others later on. There were no calendar notifications or iCal invites needed, let alone scheduling a date days, sometimes weeks prior to the event. Nowadays, I even keep track of my freaking period.

I am no longer equipped to handle everyday spontaneity for crying out loud. Those days are behind me.

Following our short discussion, I call my sister to clear up the details: when the concert starts, when we’re meeting, where we’re meeting, how long it will be, which friends of her are coming. To her credit, she responds in full sentences and with much love and patience to all the questions that must have sounded to her like our parents questions usually sound to me and are accompanied by the occasional roll of the eye as if to say: do we really need to make such a big deal out of this?

We were planning to me at 8:30 PM which is approximately 2 hours later than what I would have preferred, but hey, I have every intention of staying cool and flexible. To prove my point, I am already at the meeting point by the concert hall —which is actually on a boat —at 8:25 PM. 

I keep glancing at my phone with the nervous look of first-daters afraid of being set up. No messages, no apologies of being late, tough, technically, it’s already obvious that my sister and her friends are going to be late. At 8:40 PM, a sharp ping in my pocket and a one-liner on my screen: ‘Heeey, should be there in a few minutes. R U there?’

Oh, child, you’re still in that sweet spot when you don’t know the worth of time, the value of hours, of minutes – enjoy! Yes, I reply, I’m standing by the boat, waiting for you. (For half an hour, but who’s counting — of course, I keep this part to myself; I’m trying to be cool, remember?)

So here I am, standing by the party boat when they finally arrive. My sister seems to be sort of tipsy, and her two friends are already wasted. (It’s 9 o’clock, people!) The concert could have been nice, but it’s too crowded. I don’t know if I ever liked being in crowded places, but COVID definitely did not help. It’s the type of hip venue that uses pallets as furniture in the bar area and has a neon sign above the counter that reads “YOLO” (you only live once — in case you were above 40 and could not make sense of the abbreviation right away). Everywhere I look, I see kids in their late teens or early twenties. I say ‘kids’ now, but I remember feeling almost old, not in a physical but spiritual sense in my early twenties, with the secret wisdom of zen masters hiding behind my wise and curious though still unseasoned eyes.

At least these kids don’t even pretend to be wise now. My sister pushes through the cramped space, squeezing herself through with the confidence of knowing the exact spot we need to arrive at, or at least believing that somewhere over another few sets of shoulders and rhythmically bouncing heads, there is some room for us. My sister is among those people who have a natural talent to lead without having to declare themselves to be leaders; she cares about others and her silent courage talks too loud to be ignored. She does not even do this, it’s more like who she is.

The concert starts and even though I love the genre, it takes half a song to acknowledge that this is not going to be my type of music. Again, lack of subtlety…it’s too loud, too much in your face with whatever message he’s trying to convey, if there is any. Most of it sounds like a child mumbling amid some feverish dream, yet, looking around, everyone appears to be ecstatic about the performance. I switch my focus from the jumpy kid on stage with the microphone to the audience. The way their faces change as they move with the sing-along from one verse to the other, the way some are imitating the drums, others the guitar or how they keep elbowing each other in the ribs to indicate ‘Did you hear that? What a great line’. My sister, a well-read, sometimes dreadfully mature 19-year-old is now singing along too, her long beautiful hear flowing like drapes in and out of the shadows and into the light. Her huge blue eyes are closed for a few seconds then unlocked with excitement, a sequence in continuous repetition.

The weird flash this concert is ends in about an hour. We’re off to queue at the ladies, one of my sister’s friends is feeling sick. Those three remind me of the many nights similar to this, but not in a painful way like when you think a part of your life passed by too quickly and without you making the most of it. (I did make the most of it.)

I’m going to wait outside, I inform the girls behind the closed door of the cubicle. One’s throwing up, the other two are cheering her on. Walking through the door I say ‘good night’ to the bouncers and manage to score a puzzled look in return. Outside, the air is cool and dry, and makes me think of cigarettes. Kids come out flooding, groups of friends, strangers interacting. I catch a few ridiculous pick-up lines, none of which proves to be a success. (Whether girls are getting smarter or boys dumber remains a mystery, though both yield the same —and somewhat unexpected —result.)

Finally, the girls appear at the entrance, the usual post-puke glow and giggling, a drunken Santa and the little helpers stumbling across the dock. My sister passes on the intel, we have some friends in this club — let’s call it ITSHOTINHERE — you wanna come? I do not. But since I used to be a pretty shitty big sister, I shrug my shoulder and go with what seems to be taking me to all sorts of adventures so far: ‘yeahsurewhynot’.

They want to take a night bus. I pose the idea of a cab which, much like me and my friends were in their age, they’re not familiar with. When you’re in college, taking a taxi is a possibility reserved for the rich and old (in your mind at the time, it’s never either, it’s always both.)

After stuffing my little precious cargo into the vehicle’s backseat, I ride shotgun and make small talk with the driver. His daughters are around the same age as the girls in the back. We arrive at the place I used to know, used to love, actually, yet there is not a single bone in my body craving the experience as we’re waiting in line to get in. Take a second now and think about your favorite nightclub or disco or whatever you call it. I assure you, it would be completely transformed in your eyes if you were looking at the same building, the same interior only couple of years later. Which is exactly where I am right now: how the damn hell did I ever find this enjoyable?

It’s like a cave. It’s too dark inside to read the drinks and their prices above the bar, you have to wait for hours to actually get to the bar and be served by a pissy little cunt who looks at you, the paying customer, as if she was doing a favor to you out of the goodness of her heart, instead of doing a job she gets paid for. (Do NOT get me wrong, I have a huge amount of respect for any profession that has to do with human interactions because people are, let’s face it, idiots most of the time, let alone when they drink and are out partying. I would not be able to handle half of the situations this girl must face on the daily. But I, for one, is being nice and respectable, I say hello, please, and thank you, and therefore feel a little let down by her treating me like the usual customer. The girls want tequila shots when I offer to pay for a round of drinks. I haven’t done tequila shots — or any type of shots — in a while. Plus, it’s a thousand degrees inside. Not a good idea. Four tequilas, please, thank you, card, thanks. She pours, we drink. And then we must, as I’m being told, dance.

If I ever thought I possessed the least bit of talent or sense of rhythm, I was either wrong or music has changed too much for me to keep up with its evolution (or deterioration) during the past decade. I look like a ragged doll compared to my sister and her friends. They look like modern-day Spice Girls, I swear. Deep inside, I’m just hoping they would get tired in an hour or so and then we can finally go home, I could take off my bra, get rid of the makeup, moisturize, then get into bed next to my boyfriend and tell him how grateful I am about us being older and not having to go out like this anymore. But even a single hour takes forever to pass with Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup taking the dance floor by storm. It’s around midnight now, my head is throbbing with the noise that’s being mistaken for music.

Around 1 o’clock, one of them says, let’s go, do you wanna go, maybe we should go. Yess, attagirl! Let’s get the hell out of this place. Again, phone, cab driver, chitchat, the slightly intoxicated version of The Powerpuff Girls in the backseat. One girl lives in the 7th district, then we drop the second one off at her dormitory. My sister lives there too, but she seems hesitant when we pull up to the 10-storey socialist building that only seems older and uglier in the dark. Would you like to stay at my place, I ask her in a tone of voice that is surprising, startling even. We are both familiar with it, having heard it hundreds of times: our Mother talks the same way in situations that entail a mixture of care and concern, the sense of warmth you can only get when you’re back at home with your folks, regardless of how old you are. (If you’re as lucky as we are.) She smiles, again, the same type of young-sibling-to-the-older adoration traverses from one cheek to the other, and once she finally waves off the second friend, we’re on our way home.

At 2:42, I open my door with the meticulous fiddling of a wannabe burglar who has no hope to conquer the heights of his craftsmanship. We tiptoe inside and down the hallway, my boyfriend is snoring in the bedroom. I pour my sister a glass of water and instruct her to ‘hydrate’ to which, in return and instead of thanking me, she utters under her nose, the smirking goblin ‘you sound like Mom.’ I take out some extra blankets, pillows, duvet and make up the couch for her. As any gremlin would, she whines about being hungry and is halfway inside the fridge by the time I make it back to the kitchen. She takes out the risotto my boyfriend had cooked earlier and starts eating from the pot with her bare hands. What can I say, we’ve all been there.

At 3:26, the feast is over and it’s time to sleep, or at least that’s what she tells me. She lies down in her glittery dress, her mascara leaving a wavy mark under her eyes. I tuck her in and say it’s going to hurt tomorrow. We both laugh.

At 3:31, I close the door behind me, head to the bedroom, climb out of my clothes, and into one of my boyfriend’s t-shirts to literally insert myself in that tiny leaf of space between the pillow and his arms — I’m glad I’m not 19 anymore.

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