an extended family unrelated by blood
October 9, 2003 10:13 AM   Subscribe

what do you call your circle of friends? Two years ago, Ethan Watters wrote an article in the NY Times Sunday Magazine, covering the current phenomenon amongst adults who are marrying late, waiting for the 'right one', and using an extended social circle to fill the need for intimacy and emotional support that has been traditionally provided by a marriage. He has expanded the topic into a book covering groups of friends that have the characteristics of 'an urban tribe' bound by a shared culture of inside jokes, origin myths and communal rituals. Does this apply to your social set? Do you have a Yahoogroup or a Friendster bulletin board that is used to plan movie nights, pubcrawls or group vacations? Does introducing a new romantic partner to your friends feel more stressful than introducing them to your family? Conversely, do you need a chart to track who has dated whom, who has slept with whom, and who has had more than their fair share of drunken hookups? Or is this all one man's conflated introspection of his extended bachelorship?
posted by bl1nk (24 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
what do you call your circle of friends?

Imaginary.
posted by jonmc at 10:24 AM on October 9, 2003


and the whole "drunken hookup" phenomenon is overstated and happens mainly to the more good-looking and socially adept among us. But it makes great fantasy fodder.
posted by jonmc at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2003


Related article.
posted by arielmeadow at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2003


Hey, what an interesting posy, bl1nk - thanks!

The last time I married, three years ago, for the third time, at the ripe old age of 45, I was lucky enough to marry someone I not only love but like. Big problem. Well, I used to lead an unadulterated bohemian life, surrounded by very good friends I've had since I was a boy. Although they're all married too, we always met and went out on our own, as the "couples" thing is always unpleasantly forced.

Now I very gladly (but unexpectedly) find my wife has become my number one friend, in terms of anything to do with intelligent conversation, camaraderie, good fun, silliness and deep, late-night discussions about the meaning of it all. The union of love and friendship is easily the greatest discovery of my life.

So I'm all "friended up" all of the time. The result: I see my friends only now and again and, since I'm always with my wife, it's become the "couples thing" I formerly dreaded. And the tragedy is I don't miss the old days at all.

If one is lucky enough to concentrate all intimacy and interest in one single person, the need to compartmentalize one's live (friends, lovers, family) suddenly disappears.

"Couples" meeting "socially" continues to be extremely boring, though - as half of each one always has a much lower emotional and intellectual investment than the other. As most people are not fully satisfied by their relationships (keep trying!) they find it difficult to be wholly themselves when accompanied by their SOs. My point is, once you strike rich, there ceases to be any difference. If you love and like the person you're with, you'll be fully honest, loyal and as true to them as you are to yourself.

But yes, marrying late helps. As long as you get your young marriages in beforehand. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:43 AM on October 9, 2003


posy: a floral arrangement of links, nicely disposed and conducive to appreciation.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2003


I noticed this about ten years ago. It holds pretty true among my friends and groups I'm tangential to, but I think inevitably things like careers and marriages and children will normalize the generation into traditional patterns. I don't think there's anything revolutionary going on.
posted by sudama at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2003


> a chart to track who's dated who


Try ballroom dancing in the same community for five years. No matter who you go out with you've dated someone who's dated one of thier Xs. Rather scary and yet comforting like a beat up car..
posted by woil at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2003


One problem I have with the urban tribe theory is that it doesn't account for the loners and the inner introverts, nor solitude in general (see Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone for fascinating stats on this and info on social capital), who are just as susceptible to remaining single (or marrying and remaining the kind of couple you only meet up with in small groups), but who rely upon more exclusive coteries. I don't know if Ethan Watters will attempt to show in his book how personality type factors into how these cliques are formed and maintained. But to me, that seems pretty key if you're going to generalize about an age group. Certain temperaments and special interests attract each other in groups, sometimes by design and sometimes by accident. Insular loners won't necessarily get along with wild extroverts. But then again, they might.

Of all the factors that form friendships and acquaintances, I've found that, regardless of temperament, it's usually the other person's parents that are the closest to mine. Not sure if there's any direct correlation that's been established. But on this wavelength, we haven't even begun to consider class, education and status. Nor have we burrowed into the unspoken social networks in place across vocational and special interests. The kind of favors and opportunities that change individual lives and careers.

We could almost suggest, based upon the findings of Putnam and Watters' hypothesis, that the idea of public networks has subsided in favor of private networks, particularly in urban pockets. Not unlike the move from Great Society government assistance in the 1960s to privatization and dependency upon industrialists and corporations in the 21st century.
posted by ed at 11:19 AM on October 9, 2003


The sexchart is absolutely insane. 1700+ people in the "big loop" how do they get confirmation? And how many STDs are floating around that group? It's insane.

psychotic_venom -- pvwife

There's my sexchart.
posted by psychotic_venom at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2003


I agree with MC's point about couples meeting socially being dull as death. Something happens to people - myself included - when they're with their parner and other people, something deadening. Yet many people feel uncomfortable in couple-single groupings too. The "couple vortex" is very real, pulilng you away from your single friends.

I wonder how much of this is purely an urban thing. I moved from a small town in northern Utah to DC a year and a half ago, and I can say that I've never felt so alientated from my fellow man as I do here, or at least very aware of the tenousness of social connections. I see many of my good friends at most once every few weeks, which is new and weird for me, and it almost always take significant effort.

Granted, the Utah situation had a somewhat unusual, circle-the-wagons mentality - a few hundred "normal" (ie drinking and skiing) grad students surrounded by mountains and Mormons - but still, I felt like I had a much more solid circle of friends there. And this "urban tribe" business just seems to mean a close circle of unmarried friends who are past the average age of marriage.

I wonder how much of this is an American thing, too - our culture can be incredibly cold and alientating, and no moreso than in the big cities. I can't wait to get out of here.

And WTF does "compulsively readable" mean exactly? I imagine someone twiching and picking scabs in a reading chair somewhere, flipping pages like swatting flies.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:37 AM on October 9, 2003


So the current crop of 20's-30's tends to marry later than their parents. Why does it warrant deep analysis?

Let's be different from our parents' generation in another way: let's not get caught up in analyzing ourselves. Find your friends and fulfill your emotional needs any way you want. Just don't discuss it like it's important. The only people who will this information remotely useful are marketing departments.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:44 AM on October 9, 2003


I'm not sure that this tribe phenomena only has to do with people getting married later. At dinner a few weeks ago my parents were discussing how sad it was that "young people" were so eager to put themselves into couples. According to them, they spent most of their youth in a big pack of mixed singles. Around age 23-24 the pack started moving to different cities and marrying off (my dad's best friend from college is married to my mom's sister, just for example.) It's absolutely fantastic to watch them all get together at holidays or their childrens' weddings - they are the most fun party group I've ever seen.
I think it's a great thing. My fiance and I have been part of a group a little like that for years without any weirdness of being in a couple. I can only hope that my "tribe" is as durable as my parents'.
posted by synapse at 12:13 PM on October 9, 2003


I was going to ask if being a registered MeFian counted as a tribe, then I read the linked article and decided that the topic as presented in it was so banal that I didn't want MeFi to be associated with it. And what Miguel said (only 1 marriage for me, tho).
posted by Lynsey at 2:40 PM on October 9, 2003


Thanks, Miguel. I guess it would help if I contributed a bit of my own experience to this data point, and I am curious about how much of this might be unique to my own generation (or not as other posts seem to indicate)

My group of friends does match the dynamic that Watters outlines. Our nucleus formed shortly after graduating from university, and was originally formed around our city's indie music scene back in '96. People saw each other at clubs, exchanged e-mail addresses and became friends outside that scene. Someone had a standing Tuesday night coffeehouse hangout date and folks were invited to drop in whenever. People got to know each other at coffee and eventually we formed a majordomo list to make it easier to plan events (far more efficient than having to maintain long CC: lists for party invites) but the event-planning eventually gave way to a virtual living room dynamic. People would discuss sites that were forwarded to the list (a la Metafilter), others would ask the list to recommend a mechanic for them, others would use it to find roommates.

All the while, we still hung out with each other at clubs, parties, restaurants, etc. Couples would pair off, some would marry, others moved away, but in general, through seven years, we've all kept in touch and the core of the group still sees each other on a regular basis.

I guess this is where technology can play into Ed's thoughts. One of the unintended benefits of interaction on a mailing list is that there isn't the need to monopolize attention as one would in a party conversation. It's easy for more introverted individuals to sit back, absorb the discussion and interact when they feel comfortable, with the anxiety or self-consciousness associated with being a wallflower at a party. Hell, if there's a common amongst our group, it's that we were all the weirdos, nerds and antisocial geeks that kept to themselves in high school, and we initially bonded over our shared sense of alienation. Ironic, that.

However, part of what marks our group as different from Watters' thesis is that we don't lose 'tribe members' to marriage. Part of that has to do with marriage within the group, but even folks who pair up 'outside the tribe' still bring their partners to events, and still participate in our online discussions. We aren't possessive either (Watters' allusion that urban tribes can be 'jealous' of external longterm relationships strikes me as kind of cultish and freaky), and now, as more of us settle in the city, marry and approach the next phase of having children, it'll be interesting to see if we retreat into our nuclear relationships or wind up extending the community into another generation.
posted by bl1nk at 2:46 PM on October 9, 2003


I wrote:

It's easy for more introverted individuals to sit back, absorb the discussion and interact when they feel comfortable, with the anxiety or self-consciousness associated with being a wallflower at a party. Hell, if there's a common amongst our group, it's that we were all the weirdos, nerds and antisocial geeks that kept to themselves in high school, and we initially bonded over our shared sense of alienation.
Note to self: not much good hitting preview, if you aren't going to check for typos.

That's supposed to read:

It's easy for more introverted individuals to sit back, absorb the discussion and interact when they feel comfortable, without the anxiety or self-consciousness associated with being a wallflower at a party. Hell, if there's a common theme amongst our group, it's that we were all the weirdos, nerds and antisocial geeks that kept to themselves in high school, and we initially bonded over our shared sense of alienation.
posted by bl1nk at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2003


Heh. Rachel Greenwald, I'd like you to meet Ethan Watters. Ethan, Rachel.

Not suggesting a double post, b|ink, just related topics. Similar angst, different way of dealing with it.

(I'm superficial in these things, but "tribe" makes me a little uneasy.)
posted by philfromhavelock at 3:25 PM on October 9, 2003


you guys have friends?
posted by dabitch at 3:38 PM on October 9, 2003


groups of friends that have the characteristics of 'an urban tribe' bound by a shared culture of inside jokes, origin myths and communal rituals. Does this apply to your social set?

Of course, although it's gotten fairly tenuous in the decade-and-more since most of us have lived in the same country, and since many have married and reproduced, and some died. Still, there are in-jokes and references to offhand remarks and events 20 years ago that we all still understand implicitly when mentioned in passing....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:03 PM on October 9, 2003


psychotic_venom -- pvwife

There's my sexchart.


Beats the median here:

name of user -- right hand
posted by y2karl at 11:41 PM on October 9, 2003


absolute best comment on this, from Mayor Curley:

let's not get caught up in analyzing ourselves. Find your friends and fulfill your emotional needs any way you want. Just don't discuss it like it's important

I feel EXACTLY that way about SO MUCH of what gets "analyzed" these days . . .


METAFILTER: Don't discuss it like it's important
posted by yesster at 6:31 AM on October 10, 2003


Beats the median here:

name of user -- right hand


Handy tip: Use the left hand, it'll feel more like it's someone else.
posted by jonmc at 6:36 AM on October 10, 2003


Well, some of us are left-handed.
posted by nath at 12:55 PM on October 10, 2003


Just don't let the right hand find out, lest you be bitched slapped by the left side of the brain.
posted by y2karl at 1:12 PM on October 10, 2003


er, well, you get the idea...
posted by y2karl at 1:13 PM on October 10, 2003


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