UrbanTribes

Excerpt from 'Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment' Confessions of a yet-to-be-married By Ethan Watters

"What ever happened to getting married?" I asked a carful of friends. This was half a dozen years ago while we were on our way to Burning Man. The U-Haul trailer we were pulling carried two dozen eight-foot lengths of two-by-fours, thirty bedsheets, a couple hundred yards of rope, thirty cases of beer, and all the other makings for our homegrown art project. Our plan was to string the sheets, à la Christo, along the desert, then offer other Burning Man attendees an ice-cold Sapporo beer for writing a properly constructed haiku on the sheets. Burning Man, a kind of wacky desert art festival, was a yearly event for my group of friends. Along with the makings for our interactive art installation, we had approximately twenty pounds of Gummy Bears, fifteen pounds of Twizzlers, food for five days, three hundred gallons of water, a variety of costumes, and one hundred green glow sticks so we could keep track of each other in the desert night. A total of twenty-five friends were headed from San Francisco across the Sierra toward our rendezvous in the Black Rock Desert that day. Significantly absent among them was Julia, my girlfriend at the time.

It was because of that absent girlfriend that the subject of marriage had been on my mind, the issue having recently and contentiously come up between the two of us. I knew that others in the car had been thinking about it as well. We were all in our late twenties or early-to-middle thirties, yet none had found brides or husbands. Although we were all older than our parents were when they had us, the idea of having children ourselves still seemed a far-off abstraction that came up only when someone asked whether we "wanted" children.

There was a growing sense among us that our postcollege/prefamily life was stretching into an awfully long time -- five, ten, almost fifteen years for some -- and that maybe we had missed a turn somewhere. Our parents, having suffered through introductory dinners with a half-dozen to a dozen prospective mates, were becoming concerned. They worried for us, or, if they were less generous or more eager for grandchildren, accused us of being "slackers," a word they had come to understand from listening to public radio.

Jen, a fast-thinking criminal defense lawyer who was often first out of the block with her notions, answered first.

"Women have their own careers and resources and they no longer need the institution of marriage to survive," she said. Jen had grown up in middle-income New Jersey but had managed to shake off most of the trappings of that life in her hipper, less-permed California incarnation. "It's simple economics. Most women still want to get married, but fewer women feel like they have to. Besides, we have those things to help open jars now."

"It's the breakdown of tradition in the city," said Adam, a documentary filmmaker and true child of left-wing Berkeley. "Our families can't force us to do anything anymore, and the church has even less power. We put ourselves first now. We can't get married because we're tragically selfish."

"It's simpler than that. We're not getting married because it's no longer required before having sex," offered Josh, a tall, handsome underachiever who was always pragmatic when it came to sexual issues and opportunities. "You know, if the milk is free, who's going to sell the cow?"

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