UrbanTribes

Was my life about nothing? I had to admit that Julia made a convincing case, and I was vulnerable to the criticism. My life often felt like a montage of happy, often slapstick, scenes, but I couldn't make the case that it had much of a plot. There I was holding the boom microphone on the set of a friend's independent film. Cut to a scene of my group of friends lounging in the moonlight on the roof of a houseboat listening to Noah play the guitar. Cut to the shared dinners or the roommate meetings or the writing groups . . . it didn't matter how you strung these scenes together, they didn't add up to any narrative I knew.

I wasn't joking about the idea that my friends were the problem. It would be hard, after all, to realize that your life was off track if everybody in your frame of reference was similarly derailed. Like myself, my friends were all leading busy and upbeat postcollege/ prefamily lives. They lived alone or with roommates and worked along in their careers. In their love lives, they suffered through two- year cycles that went from singleness to crush to relationship to heartbreak and back to singleness. We absolved ourselves from these failures by believing that we just hadn't met the right person. Hope springs eternal with romantic desire, and that "right person" excuse was easy for us to accept as individuals. But as we stepped back and saw that everyone around us was delaying marriage, that excuse was harder to swallow. Were there no "right people" left? An unsettling Twilight Zone-ish feeling was creeping in as we were exceeding the age our parents were when we first knew them.

I had never planned to live my twenties and early thirties in this manner. After college, my girlfriend and I moved to a low-rent neighborhood of San Francisco assuming that we were in a brief transition period between college and marriage. We lived together for one year and then another. We waited as if the decision to get married would decide itself on its own. It didn't, and she eventually left me to move on to graduate school. Being young and full of hope at the time, I assumed the problem was with the timing and discontents of that particular relationship and not with me. I began searching the city for my true love, assuming that this wouldn't take too long.

I didn't know it back then, but I was a harbinger of a massive trend. Like most modern singles, I wasn't just looking for a suitable spouse; I was soul-mate searching. Although I disliked the phrase's New Age connotations, I counted myself among the 94 percent of my fellow never-marrieds who, when asked in a Gallup poll, agreed that when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate first and foremost. Along with my friends, I discovered that searching for a soul mate wasn't so easy. Although I dated smart and charming women, the soul-mate standard I tried to apply was so elusive in my own mind that any disgruntlement could become a reason for the big what-are-we-doing? talk. I wasn't looking for that certain something, a friend once cruelly observed, I was looking for that certain everything.

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