October 14th, 2003


Friends. Less Evil Than Marriage?


Two friends rejoined the ranks of the Single and the Damned last week. One was a result of the “new city + new job + new M3 + 150 miles from girlfriend” equation. The other’s in the “off” phase of an on-and-off again relationship, but tried to emphasize to herself that this time it was permanent by getting her belly pierced.

At this rate none of us will be married ‘til we’re in our fifties. Or perhaps ever.

Back in the day this meant that we’d be herded into a wooden hut, which would then be doused with gasoline and ignited with a ceremonial blow torching. But times have changed, my friend; and not only have we stopped setting old people on fire, but young professionals are putting off marriage & staying single in historic numbers.

There are several reasons for this. One is that with all the disturbing divorce statistics, we’ve become more cautious about getting married to the wrong person for the wrong reasons.

Secondly, your close network of friends and acquaintances is a kind of urban tribe that functions as a pseudo-family - in fact you probably spend more time with them than with your real family. This tribe fulfills most of your social needs, such as emotional support and an endless supply of heroin, thereby delaying the need to go start your own traditional family.

Third, sure things might be great the first couple of married years. Maybe even the first five. Then that blessed mix of passion and contentment stagnates into boredom. Eventually the boredom breeds a restlessness that ripens into resentful irritation. Decades later, the two of you are sitting across from each other in your dining room, quietly sipping your chicken soup in mutual disgust. Next thing you know people are reading about your wife on the Internet, and how she smashed your testicles with a hammer because you wouldn't stop snoring. So anyway...

Of course I didn’t come up with all this on my own (except the third one). What, you thought I was edumacated or something? I’m just regurgitating material from Ethan Watters' new book, Urban Tribes.

Now that I've revealed my source, I might as well just end this entry by just copying and pasting his writing. Being true to our list-loving generation, the guy has his own "top five" lists. I've included one below:

Ethan's Top Five Reasons Why Being in an Urban Tribe Is Bad for Your Love Life:

1. Some tribes are not so good at making the friends-of-friends connections that are our best hope for finding love in the city. If the boundary of the tribe becomes too rigid, your social life can stagnate. One warning sign is when there are too many events to which only the group is invited. Tribes are best when they are part of a network that connects you to new people.

2. "Cock blockers" (i.e. a male who, through futile sexual importunings of every woman in sight, ruins the romantic chances of coyer males.) If they are in your group, these men can create a kind of force field that repels available women. Cock blockers are almost never successful and, like leprosy, often scare new women from coming to group functions.

3. "Queen bees" can be problematic for men and women in the group. A queen bee, usually an attractive and charming woman in the tribe, demands that all flirtatious energy be directed toward her. If a male in the tribe brings a new love interest around, the queen bee can be counted on to find that woman lacking. No woman, a queen bee will attest, is good enough to date the men in her tribe. She's sweetly protective but her motivations are greedy. For the women in the group, the queen bee is the equivalent of the male cock blocker.

4. Friends in our urban tribes often resist "losing" us to new relationships. They fear that if we have long-term romantic partners, we will no longer be available to them. This is an understandable fear because this is exactly what often happens. You can try to get your friends to accept your new romantic partner into the tribe, but:

5. Trying to integrate a new love into the group can be an exercise in frustration. Queen bees and cock blockers can get in the way. Also, there can also be ambient jealousy between the group and the new partner. This can cause simultaneous tension in your friendships and your love life.

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