Set for life

I’ve been prompted to write this by something my friend said to me; that when we were teenagers in the sixties we thought we were set for life, and what shocks we both had ahead of us. She is right. At that time we were sharing a room, living away from home for the first time, and doing a very responsible job, looking after very young children in a Barnardo’s home.

The job, and the fact that we didn’t have parents telling us what to do, gave us a false sense of our own maturity. We felt grown up, we certainly acted like grown ups in our everyday lives. We were well behaved, stuck to the very strict curfew times imposed on us by the home, where even being two minutes late meant you were in the office the next day having to explain yourself.

Added to all this, things really were different in those days. They talk about the swinging sixties… the sixties weren’t swinging that much for most normal young girls in rural Britain. Yes, we had the wonderful fashion, and the excitement of a revolution in music, and all these things were reported in the papers and on TV for the first time. We teenagers were the centre of attention, and we knew it, and we liked it. It had started in the fifties, to be fair, with rock and roll and new fashions just for teenagers, but by the mid sixties there was an explosion in the fashion and music worlds, and we were lucky to be there and caught up in it, even if we were only on the edge, with our home made dresses and ultra short skirts.

Despite the label “Swinging Sixties”, and the advent of the pill, things really hadn’t changed a lot since our parents’ time. People certainly didn’t tell anyone if they were having sex outside marriage, and divorce was still very uncommon. I was shocked when my friend told me her aunt was divorced. I was even more shocked when I later discovered I also had an aunt who was divorced… I think it was some sort of dirty family secret.
For these reasons it was normal to get married when you were very young. People regarded themselves as “on the shelf” if they were not at least engaged by the time they were about 23.

And so, when I met my friend, and room mate, she was 18, and already engaged, and that seemed absolutely normal. She certainly seemed old enough to be contemplating settling down for the rest of her life. She wasn’t the only one. I got engaged at aged 19, absolutely certain that this was “IT”.

But as she said, we were both in for shocks. At the age we were, we were really quite naive and certain that the only problems ahead of us would be the odd argument with our devoted husbands. We would end up walking into the sunset with the men (boys) we had chosen, and everything would be sweetness and light. That is, if we ever thought about the future at all. I really don’t think I did.

Now, years later, we can look back at some of the horrendous problems we’ve had to face, and see how we were setting ourselves up for those problems in those heady days of mini skirts and The Beatles. Today’s teenagers have different expectations and problems. There’s no expectation that girls should marry before having children, and there’s no shame in divorce, and there’s not even a problem with allowing parents and Grandparents to know that they are having sex.

I think for that reason, people don’t tend to marry until they are older. there is no longer a need. There’s no shame if you get pregnant, and no shame if a girl ends up alone to look after the baby. Things have certainly changed.

One thing that hasn’t changed though, is teenagers themselves. however mature they feel themselves to be, they are still barely out of childhood. But ask any 18 year old now, whatever their circumstances, and I bet they still have the same attitude underneath, that we had… they are set for life.

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