As I write this piece I am dining on what appears to be a fancy sort of delivery Lunchables, tiny soy nuggets packed in their own partition of a plastic container along with chunks of pineapple, a small chunk of squash, and a dipping sauce, all separated to prevent intermixing of flavors or anything messy. I would have adored this meal as a kid, and I adore it now. Does this mean that I am a child, or reverting back into one, stamping my foot and demanding that my foods not touch? More dramatically: Only last week, let's say, I went out and drank so much wine that the next day I might have regretted certain behaviors, or even forgotten them completely, only to regret them anew when I was reminded of them by others. Does that mean I am trapped in my teen years, or maybe my booze-guzzling twenties? Does it mean I have...regressed?
What if, when I reach the age of nearly 40 and have children, if this happens to happen, I decide to go out on the town regularly, sowing my still-wild oats, with a bunch of other moms in a clique we give the name "Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts"? Does that mean I'm spiraling out of Benjamin-Button control...or just kind of an immature self-absorbed jerk who, maybe, has always been that way?
Amy Sohn, whose first book, Run Catch Kiss, detailed the trials and travails of a sex columnist whose career life (and other aspects of life as well) paralleled her own, has a piece in The Awl today that brings up these questions, particularly the latter. In it, she describes her current-day behaviors with her mom friends—behaviors about which she has written her latest book, Motherland—because these behaviors are so, in that regressive sort of word, "epic." Let's begin with the topic of names. She writes, of her pals,
We call ourselves Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts. They dubbed me a Hooker because I wear tight clothes and smile a lot. Sally, a stay-at-home mom of boys, is a Slut, because she’s always touching her body. The Drug Addict is a therapist who can drink a bottle of Cabernet in one sitting. (All names and some details have been changed so I don’t lose more friends than I already have.) Some work and some don’t. The working ones complain about their jobs and the non-working ones complain about their husbands. We go to different restaurants, drink too much and make fun of the Catholic at the table because she is pregnant with her fifth child. (She is a Slut.) We argue over which of each other’s husbands we would have sex with if we had to.
Oh, yay. Wacky women who call each other demeaning names in that carefree, I don't-give-a-shit way that demonstrates that they are "owning" those names, taking them back from the patriarchy, or whatever. (One might speculate that the real way to retrieve things from the patriarchy would be to not call ourselves sluts at all, not even in "fun," but that's digressing and right now we're talking about regressing. Point being, the ladies have fun, and if complaining about their lives is what they call fun, so be it; it's just that the nature of the complaints—Guys in New York suck! My husband sucks! My job has always sucked! My kids are annoying!—tend to change with time and life circumstance.) In her essay on The Awl, Sohn goes on to relay tales of her (mis)adventures, in which her pal Sally shows her her "tits" upon request; the gals pile in the back of a car driven by a divorced dad who offers them sex (an offer that is considered gratefully given the age of the women, says Sohn, even though no one takes him up on, apparently); and they all stay out late smoking and drinking and having a grand old time.
Sohn compares the life of Hannah Horvath and her friends in Girls to her own life as a "married, monogamous, home-owning mother"—how oddly similar they are, she marvels, even if she's not actually doing much of anything seen on the show. She writes, "My generation of moms isn’t getting shocking HPV news (we’re so old we’ve cleared it), or having anal sex with near-strangers, or smoking crack in Bushwick. But we’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives."
Oh, but there's more: Sohn asks, "Why do moms in my generation regress, whether by drugging, cheating, or going out too late and too often?" She claims that this is due to the pressure of being a parent, the pressure of being an "adult," with someone's interests always on you, on you like white on rice, never letting up, the obligations, the interminable duties, the wee totlings clutching at your skirts screeching "Mommy, mommy, mommy!" It's just too much, says Sohn. It drives a person to day-drink, to form "clubs" with faux-insulting names, to declare a new era of "regressives," and ultimately, if they're writers, to write whole books "about five New York City parents who act out mid-life through adultery, marijuana or Grindr."
Because, never forget, this essay is about getting you to read a book; Sohn's new book. Maybe this is even a "fun read," if you like these sorts of things, an insider look at what happens behind the closed front doors of brownstones belonging to a certain set of people in Brooklyn. But know that Regressives are not real people. This is not, actually, a widespread social movement or troubling trend inspired by, as Sohn puts it, moms jaded by parenthood and bored by life. "Regressive" is just a way of saying that you have found life to be not exactly what you wanted or expected, and that you are doing something stupid and rebellious about it—but chances are, this is behavior you have evidenced throughout the many years of adulthood before you actually became 38 and a mom, for example, or 36 and a home-owner, or 28 and a grownup with a live-in boyfriend and a real job. If this is how you're behaving as an adult, it's not that you're suddenly bored or suddenly over-pressured. You've probably always been a little self-indulgent, a little inherently dissatisfied, a little bit of a monster—which is in fact what Adam calls Hannah in the last episode of Girls.
People don't change that much. What you are is generally what you are, unless you decide to be vastly different and really work hard to uphold that decision, so the chances are if you're calling yourself a regressive now, you've always been bored with the status quo, rebellious, unsure you wanted a life with all the standard bourgeois trappings of adulthood. So, fine, move to the city and live the way you want. That you're rebelling within the confines of a certain bourgeois standard, however, by, say, cheating on your husband and not using birth control, like one of Sohn's friends, doesn't mean you're regressive. It means you're taking dumb risks, and maybe a little bit dumb, or certainly careless, yourself.
But writing a book about all this doesn't mean you're regressive, either. It means you're pretty much the same as always; incorporating the anecdotes and titillating, possibly tawdry tales from true-or-semi-true life experiences into articles and maybe a string of chapters that will, you hope, help you pay the bills. As Sohn herself admits at the end of her long Awl essay, "Nothing changes, except you have to pay a sitter."