The Demographic Shift - 4

We need some new rules. This is what Johnny tells me as he relates the story of his personal demographic shock. It's big. Much bigger than screwdrivers, writes Gordon MacMillan.

New rules this is what he said when he called me far too early on a Saturday morning. His girlfriend Sara has had an age-related panic attack and left the country. Like I said big.

Sara, it turns out, packed her bags and moved to Paris – overnight. It is true women do have great organisational skills. I’m always impressed. It would take me weeks to move to Paris. I ask him what she said.

"She said she panicked that she suddenly had this fear that she was running out of time. That she was 33 and that after two years together she wasn’t sure about me. Oh, and there had been this job offer in Paris for three months."

"Paris, you're kidding, right?"

"She says didn’t mention it before as she wasn’t going to take it, but then the panic set in so she booked her ticket, packed and left."

"And she just went? Just like that."

"She phoned from Paris. She said that she was worried that another two years would flash by and she would be 35, in real trouble and it would be too late."

"Too late for what?"

"She’s worried that having spent two years together - in separate flats, which she felt the need to mention - she said she can’t wait another two years to find out that it’s not going to result in anything."

"She said that?"

"She said she doesn’t have another two years to waste and then have to go through the whole thing all over again."

"I’m confused. Has she left you or not?"

"I asked her that and she said she wasn’t sure. She wants to talk."

"So what does that mean?"

"Technically, she seems to be making her mind up."

"So she might dump you?"

"That possibility seems to exist."

"And your plan is?"

"I’ve worked out I have three options. Option one: dump her first, which I don't want to do. Second option: do nothing and wait to see what happens, which isn't really much of an option."

"Don’t tell me your third option is the nuclear option?"

"G, the third option is always the nuclear option. Thing is I’m just not sure either of us want to get married, but what I have concluded is that we need some new rules - to help avoid panic attacks. I’ve been thinking about this since you started talking about this Demographic thing. Everybody seems to be panicking.

The New Rules

"It’s a manifesto. It tears up what we already know and addresses the changes in how we live now. It’s about how we previously all thought that certain things, and certain interests, have to happen or stop at particular points in our lives. Music, whatever. No one ever said it, but somehow we all know it to be true. It’s like we’re pre-programmed to complete a whole set of tasks like some Bill Gates bot. It’s like there's a route map and the map says at Junction X turn left and drive straight for two years. No stopping.

"Whether it’s buying first house; being in a stable relationship; getting a career going; change careers; settle down; maybe even get married and have a child or two; moving out of the city – preferably to the middle of nowhere where you will talk about schools, decorating, renovating and lack of decent local restaurants, bars and any kind of social life, and; at the same time you will call up your friends in the city, who will generally not want to visit you, and complain. And you must do all this by the time you’re 35."

"It's the cut off point for 18-34 year olds. The key target market."

"It shouldn't be. I’m saying that while this all still exists and works fine for some people it isn't some absolute truth that works for everyone. You only have to look at our lives and the lives of our friends to know that the world is different, it’s just that not everyone seems to notice. People are still trying to impose the old rules upon it. Still trying to skip to a faded beat."

"You mean Sara don’t you?"

"Not just her, but Sara's panic got me thinking. Susan’s the same [this is true - Susan is in a really similar boat having been dumped very recently after a couple of years. Like I said, we worry about Susan]. So are you and I. Not to mention Paul and Alison et al. We all feel it, we all feel the pressure. And one of those pressures is for people to do the things at those particular points in their lives. That’s all hard to change I know. All I’m saying is that it is possible to change. We’re not the same as the generation before or any other one. We still want to travel like we did when we were 20, we don’t want to do it like our parents or our older brothers and sisters. We still want to discover new things. We don’t switch off. Not to mention the fact that we won’t be able to retire until we’re 70. Things are changing."

"I’ve been thinking about that. I’m worried I’ll have to become one of those old age pensioners with jobs in DIY stores giving my expertise to youthful DIYers just to keep me in Rice Krispies."

"You’re obsessed with DIY."

"Only because I don’t know any."

"DIY aside, I also think it’s important we don’t panic if we haven’t ticked every box. It isn’t over."

"Is that just 33 year old women who up and leave the country and move to Paris?"

"It’s all of us. It’s 33 and 34 year old men worrying about buying screwdrivers and failing to commit. No one should panic. The old rules should be ripped up and you should live your life and do the things that you want irrespective. Don’t lose your friends, you still need them, and don’t give it all away because you think you have to. What do you think?"

"You know I agree with you, but somehow I can't quite suppress a really pretty horrible feeling - that feeling that we're more media types trying to hang on to our youth whilst at the same time failing to make any decisions about anything. Anything at all."

"Funny you should say that."

"How funny?"

"Oh pretty funny. Sara said the same thing, but she's wrong."

"What else did she say?"

"I'll tell you when I see you. I've got to go running. Need to keep the fading youth reasonably toned."

After Johnny hung up I started to wonder how we actually got anything done when everyone seems to be completely pre-occupied with the demographic shift – completely obsessed with how the future might turn out. Susan would love what Johnny has to say. I'm sure it would go someway to cheering her up. She needs cheering up. Her situation has deteriorated and Susan like the rest of us is weighing up serious options.

The Demographic Shift is a new regular column on Brand Republic as Gordon MacMillan charts his own demographic timebomb.