“So did you get up to much this weekend?”
“Yeah no, it was a pretty quiet one actually, grabbed dinner with some friends on Friday then went to a couple of bars on Clapham High Street, my friend was DJing – had a pretty early one, got an Uber home. Saturday morning I had my yoga class (so hungover!) then met some friends for lunch in this Lebanese deli place in South Ken. Had a complete nightmare of an afternoon because the cleaner cancelled on me and I had to rearrange my Tinder date because I’d double-booked myself! Nipped to Whole Foods to get supplies for my friend’s barbecue, then went to a house party in Camden and out in Shoreditch afterwards. I got completely wasted and bumped into this guy I was seeing a few months ago – absolute carnage. Yeah so on Sunday (massively hungover) I went to the gym for my personal training session, then got brunch with some friends. Did some shopping on the King’s Road, came back with three bikinis, went for Sunday roast with my flatmate, soooo many carbs, I’m actually on a juice cleanse this week … Then we all went out to this alternative community-run open-air hot tub cinema cocktails & kebabs thing in Peckham. So yeah just a standard weekend really!”
It’s 9 o’clock on a Monday morning and the same conversation echoes up and down the offices of London, from Stratford to Streatham. Welcome to the world of the London Young Professional.
Don’t be fooled by the name. The LYP is so much more than an under-35 in a white-collar job living no further away than zone 6. If you recognise any of the following characteristics, you are probably an LYP:
- At least a quarter of your salary goes on gym membership and (optionally) a twice-monthly wax and manicure
- You’re very much free from wheat, carbs, gluten and possibly meat
- You live in a box room (double bed is a NECESSITY) in a gentrified former slum with aggregate rent payments that could bail out Greece
- quarterly appraisals with your grad scheme’s career counsellor indicate that you’re enjoying moderate early-career success
- You work and socialise exclusively with other LYPs
- You’re either Facebook-official with a significant other, or you’re definitely not looking for a relationship at the minute (i.e. you’re using at least three dating apps)
- It’s a walk of victory, not a walk of shame #becausewomen’srights
- You communicate almost entirely via hashtags and emojis. Your Whatsapp chats (exclusively with other LYPs) fall into two categories:
- banter – stacks of witticisms piling up on your lock screen (above that picture of your mum’s dog)
- organising fun – debating whether to eat at ‘definitively the best burger place in London’ (according to that one food blogger), or the Italian-Thai fusion pop-up slash deli in Battersea you read about in the Metro
- The rest of your time is dedicated to:
- Me me me
- Fun fun fun
- relentless consumption
(Not the disease – that would be unfortunate). I’m referring to the expectation that, come Friday 5pm, the LYP must embark on a weekly financial haemorrhage known as The Weekend, during which two or three meals a day are eaten in public places (such as roof terraces, or restaurants that don’t allow advance booking), punctuated by doses of caffeine (such as a soya latte freshly ground from pre-digested beans pooed out by mountain goats). The Weekend is measured out in liberal taps of the contactless card: at the entrance to the Tube, for a necklace you didn’t need, a lipstick the barest shade pinker than the one you already have, etc. Without forgetting, of course, that no day is complete without the god of alcohol who maketh the meek belligerent and the humble sociable.
At a certain point it becomes a little aggressive. You went out for a meal? 50 points. You went to a house music festival where your mate set your tent on fire for a laugh and it was hilarious? 100 points. You got absolutely hammered on at least one occasion? 200 points. You’ve been to every single Taiwanese restaurant in London and make ex cathedra pronouncements about the top 3? 500 points. You stayed at home, reading and pondering your own existence? Nul points.
Why the need for this competitive socialisation? Why the incessant desire to absolutely suck the juice out of our leisure hours, and with it our bank accounts, leaving only the husk of our exhausted drugged-up bodies to fall into bed (possibly someone else’s) at 5am?
I’m not sure it’s that we suddenly feel ourselves endowed with money to burn. Although there’s something novel about being a real adult with a signed tenancy agreement and contract of employment, financial independence isn’t necessarily new. The LYP typically looks back with fondness on his/her time at an average university, when the beneficent student loan funded your four nights out a week and Sunday lunch at Nando’s.
Is it instead that, though most of our cash is hoovered up by landlords only marginally more avaricious than the taxman, our time at home is limited by how far away our friends live? Instead of trekking between suburbs on a bus, if we want to spend time with them it’s much more convenient to head for a central indoor meeting place; but these generally require some form of purchase, such as a niche herbal tea or a lavender and gold leaf cupcake.
Or is it that we’ve all got that one weird housemate and staying at home would mean having to talk to them?
I think we are still desperately preoccupied with being ‘cool’, whether that’s high-class or hipster in your particular peer group. We’re no better than our 11-year-old selves, once mortified to discover our friend got an iPod / period / boyfriend before us. We downplay everything – we say we ‘weren’t that busy’ last night, to inspire the listener’s awe at how cool we are even in our downtime; that place we ate at was ‘ok’, only upgraded to ‘amazing’ if there’s a five-star rating on our comparison website of choice to back up our opinion.
We rack up experiences and nights out so that we can casually list them to our other friends and colleagues, but what we really mean, when we rattle off the eight or nine social engagements that make up the LYP’s weekend, is ‘SEE? I’M FUN! I’M TRENDY! I HAVE FRIENDS!’
Not only does this mentality spring from a skewed view of what we ought to be, it also engenders blindness to anything other than what we’ve come to believe we should care about. The LYP’s hangouts (gyms, cafés that serve brunch, any purveyor of alcohol) are created and populated by other LYPs for the sake of having a public place to congregate in, not just to meet our loved ones but to be seen to be there, by fellow patrons we don’t yet know but might possibly want to impress, and by the camera lens (and thence our Instagram followers, and any exes who might still be checking our Facebook updates).
We become so immersed in running around London from late-night openings to dinner parties to novelty cafés; in reflecting, while we wait for the Uber driver to call, on how busy and sought-after we are, that we fail to realise we are living in a rose-tinted bubble. The LYP thinks London is the greatest metropolis on earth, fact, and goes about his/her business in Clapham Old Town as if he/she owns the place. We’re so busy thinking about what we’re going to wear on Saturday night, how to source our next date, how best to indulge ourselves when the next hangover hits, that we’re able to walk past the homeless man without a look or even a twinge of compassion, able to simply swipe to a more cheering news story when anything about ISIS comes up on the BBC news app.
The other day I was in a bar (obviously, because I’m an LYP and it was Friday) and a woman sitting nearby had brought a pushchair. Further investigation revealed that the pushchair contained a baby. At first, squeezing past this unnecessarily large apparatus, I thought this was weird. Who brings a baby to a bar? Then I realised that looking askance at another human being for occupying a public place made me the weird one. My eyes kept flicking back to this alien creature as it woke up and started moving around. I realised I had no idea how small humans behave or move. I found myself amazed that she actually reacted to her surroundings like any other person, wriggling and crying when she was picked up.
Another swathe of the population invisible to the LYP is the elderly. Where else would you meet an old person except maybe inside a place of worship – where naturally the LYP does not tread. (An LYP might possibly have heard of Jesus, but certainly doesn’t know why there are two bank holidays at Easter.) Our lives are completely horizontal: if you’re above 40 or under 20 and not a family member, you’re practically invisible; if you don’t aspire to live in London, like me, then I don’t understand you; almost everyone we talk to is from our own socio-economic background, made in our image.
Don’t read this as an indictment of youth, London, professionals, or having fun. It’s not even another lament on the ‘selfishness’ of our age, if that’s a thing. It’s about the kind of self-obsession and heedlessness that can result when you have almost absolute freedom, when no one calls you to account (‘being judgemental’ is the LYP’s nemesis); when, skipping between your townhouse and your City office, you are almost never reminded that there might actually be people out there who are not LYPs, and that theirs might possibly be the better part.
If you find yourself telling people where to get the best pizza south of the river; if you feel the urge to boast about taking a tactical chunder; if you, conversely, panic because this one time no one invited you out on Saturday; in short, if you think you might be an LYP … keep calm and build a home that you want to spend time in. Be honest. Look up from Citymapper and see the homeless woman, the old man, the child that skates his scooter into your legs. Don’t be a London Young Professional, be a human being!