"You mean 'buy the cow" -- 'no one wants to buy the cow.'" Jen said, hitting Josh on the back of the head. "It's a wonder you get any milk at all."

"I think our generation grew up with too much marital carnage," Alice offered tentatively. A graduate student in her late thirties, she was new to our group and was still getting the hang of how we talked about the world. "We spent our adolescence ducking and covering as families up and down the block went off like bombs. We get post-traumatic-stress symptoms just going home for Thanksgiving, like revisiting a combat zone."

I paused, as they waited for my theory. I could see that all their ideas had merit. But even though it was true that the idea of marriage had lost some of its traditional importance and had been grievously damaged by the ice-storm divorces of the seventies, we all claimed that we still desired it. We often talked of marriage as if it were the finish line of this leg of life's race. There seemed to be something more going on with our delay, something getting in our way.

"I've been thinking that, for me, the problem is you guys," I said, pausing to let that sink in. "I mean, how would I get the momentum up to get married when I'm always hanging around with my friends? I spend more time talking about my love life with you all than I do having one."

"And I thought Julia wasn't coming on this trip," Josh said in a stage whisper to Jen. "But look, he's channeling his girlfriend for us."

"You know what my dad was doing when he was my age?" I continued, a little riled by Josh's comment. "He had a steady job, he was married to my mom, and they were having me. I can also tell you what he wasn't doing: He wasn't driving to the desert with two dozen of his friends to build a haiku-for-beer camp."

"Worse than channeling," Jen said with mock concern. "I think Julia's possessed his body. Ethan, are you in there? Quick, someone call a priest."

As annoying as they were, my friends were right. I was speaking for Julia, who had recently, in a series of intense arguments, all but convinced me that my life was stuck. It had started because the weekend of Burning Man had conflicted with her best friend's wedding in her hometown of Athens, Georgia. I had ill-advisedly suggested that my group's yearly pilgrimage to Burning Man was equally important to me as the wedding of her friend was to her. Not only would Julia not concede this point, she found it jaw-droppingly bizarre that I would even make such a comparison.

The fights became intense because the wedding-versus-Burning Man debate was emblematic of Julia's belief that my friends were stunting my growth -- delaying my graduation to a more adult existence. She would list the details of my life as if that conclusion were obvious. In my early thirties, I was a freelance writer making a hand-to-mouth living. I shared a large flat with a Zen monk, a musician, a filmmaker, and three other people. I insisted on being at the Rite Spot restaurant every Tuesday night, when my group of friends would meet for dinner. I attended so religiously that I would schedule trips not to miss these Tuesday gathering. Julia had one or two close friends, but she couldn't see the point in carrying on, as I did, with a group of two dozen. "Your life is Seinfeldian," she told me, "except with all Georges. You know what that show is about? Nothing."

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