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Living in Limbo: When You’re Not a Millennial, But Don’t Quite Feel Like Gen Z, Either

Has anyone else noticed that the generation in which you identify based on your birth year is suddenly a defining personality trait that has (most likely) become a viral meme or thread on social media? It’s the recent vendetta against the side part, skinny jeans, and crying laughing face emoji for me!

You can be on the cusp when it comes to your horoscope, but what about which generation you belong to? Us late ’90s babies lie right in the middle of where the Millennial era ends and where the Gen Z era begins. Depending on your source, some say that if you were born in 1998, you’re technically part of Gen Z, whereas others may classify you as the last year of eligibility for the Millennial era. A simple Google search can send you into oblivion, leaving you clueless about which era you actually belong to. Honestly, who makes these rules? They’re confusing af.

New Girl Nick Miller Frustrated GIF
Giphy / Fox
If you scroll through TikTok or a popular Twitter thread, it’s hard to not feel like you have either “MILLENNIAL” or “GEN Z” tattooed on your forehead based on how your hair is styled and if you still use the crying laughing face emoji instead of the skull emoji in texts (you know which one I’m talking about). Can the Millennials catch a break? Generally stereotyped as spoiled and lazy, it seems like the Gen Zers are here to pile on the scrutiny. 

If it’s broken down, social media (our beloved Buzzfeed, more specifically) tells us that Millennials are defined by some of the following: 

  • You rock a side-part hairstyle
  • You wear skinny jeans
  • You use the crying laughing emoji in texts
  • You still take selfies, and you age yourself by even using the word “selfie”
  • …and the most iconic of them all, you still associate the words “black dress” with 3OH!3’s iconic song, “Don’t Trust Me”

Before Millennials start feeling completely under attack by their slightly younger generational counterparts, a little fun fact is Gen Z may be having less sex than you! So really, who should feel bad for who?

However, we know Gen Zers must have some defining characteristics, too. So what are they? Like everything else, it depends on who you ask. I would loosely characterize Gen Z by the following:

  • Social media, and the Internet in general, runs through your veins — shared family desktop computer, who?
  • You frequently demonstrate signs of being socially awkward, as a result of point number one
  • You have incredibly dark humor
  • You are trying to pull off ’90s fashion trends that you weren’t even alive to witness (but you can probably find all the accessories you need in your parents’ or Millennial sibling’s closet — would you look at that!)
  • You are repulsed by the idea of “settling down”

One of the most entertaining parts of this divide is Millennials who decide they’ve had enough and clap back at Gen Zers who seem to be relentless with the criticisms (plot twist: Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” is actually about the Gen Zers war on Millennials).

Let’s be honest, this content can be hilarious. This ongoing debate is the basis for some laugh-out-loud social media posts. For late ’90s babies, you might get a bit more enjoyment out of it all since, in reality, do you truly identify with one group or the other? 1997, 1998, and 1999 babies seem to have a pass, or on the contrary, “the best of both worlds” (I just had to honor our queen, Hannah Montana, regardless of which generation you align with). Interestingly enough, Buzzfeed mentions the term “Zillennial,” which might be the answer to this identity crisis.

New Girl Nick Miller Trapped GIF
Giphy / Fox

Frankly, I check every box down the list of Millennial and Gen Z characteristics that I mentioned. When I truly think about this, and even ask my friends, “Do you feel like you identify more with Millennials or Gen Zers?” I’m able to develop a perspective that helps ease this feeling of generational isolation, and here it is:

Generally, my first vivid memories of childhood begin around age 10. That means some of my first memories of life are during the 2008 recession (fun stuff, right?!). Nowadays, as disturbing as it is, kids much younger than 10 years old have iPhones and iPads attached to them. Me? Oh no. I was out tearing up the streets of my neighborhood on my bike that had a little basket on the front and making intricate dance routines on my trampoline. My first experience with the Internet was instant messaging my friends via AIM (my IM sound was the guitar riff from “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones, hbu?). To get in touch with my best friend, I had to have her house phone number memorized. Blockbuster was a household favorite! We would go pretty much weekly, and I always picked up games for my sister’s original PlayStation console. I had a devastating ugly phase in grade school, that it seems younger Gen Zers just skip right over. When cars started having DVD players installed, it felt like technology was unstoppable and now looking back, it truly was.

I clearly had my Millennial childhood, but now, as a twenty-three-year-old working professional in the midst of a global pandemic, is when I recognize where I fit under the Gen Z umbrella. 

Maybe adopting the title of “Zillennial” means you can continue rocking the side part and skinny jeans, even if you are technically classified as Gen Z. At the end of the day, even though you and I might find ourselves stuck in limbo between these two opposing generations, I’m lucky enough to say that I was able to experience the orange Rugrats VCR tapes, and also the introduction of the revolutionary DVD. My house, once upon a time, had (hold in your gasps!) a landline and although the chord may not still stick out of the wall, I still lived through a time where phone numbers had to be memorized or written down (excuse me as I let out a sigh of relief now that there is a whole app devoted to saving contacts). 

Today, I recognize where I owe my Millennial roots and my Gen Z future kudos.

But by all means, continue enjoying the comical content that the Millennial vs. Gen Z war has created, but also be reminded of how unique our lives have been, in the best way possible. Who says living in limbo is a bad thing?

Now, everything I discussed might make it seem like World War III could be brewing, but don’t be fooled it seems that maybe the generation can reach a compromise, at least on jean style.

Follow Hayley Berry on Instagram.

Boston-based twenty-something who's a self-proclaimed Bloody Mary connoisseur and Billy Joel karaoke aficionado.