Urban Tribes

Regarding Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family and Commitment by Ethan Watters:

The author resists defining urban tribes too narrowly, but he does argue that creating such groups is something that comes naturally to humans when faced with the need for support.

He points to the rise of the hippie and gay and lesbian cultures in previous decades, for example. But unlike those groups, he suggests that today's tribes are formed by more people and for longer periods of time - which is the case with the current generation of young urbanites, who often remain single for five to 15 years after college.

See, here's my problem (among many others, of course): I define "single" as being not in a romantic relationship of any kind. Single, I'm only now finding out, can refer to people who are not married. (That's the only explanation for the fact that the extremely attractive girl I knew in high school was among the "single" women fighting for the bouquet at the last wedding I attended. "No way she's single," I said to myself incredulously.) I've been single, in both senses alluded to above, for the entire year and a half since college, as well as the 6 years while in college. That must be some kind of record, or at least sufficiently unusual enough to warrant at least a pity date. But seriously folks...

Tribes provide structure for singles' lives, writes Watters. More than taking part in just annual events and parties, the groups often have frequent "rituals," as the author calls them, like weekly dinners, book clubs, and TV nights.

I totally buy that. No, really. I go bowling every Friday night—five-pin bowling, no less—because it provides a little bit of socializing with my friends, one of whom I've known since first-year of college. It's socializing that, despite my ruggedly introverted exterior, I desperately crave. Work is also a weekly interlude away from school, and before that it was a biweekly interlude from the drudgery of blogging. In other words, it gets me out of the house.

Dating and marriage are popular subjects among tribe members, some of whom may be married. Such discussions often help groups bond, explains Watters, who once told his friends, "I spend more time talking about my love life with you all than I do having one."

Inverse relationships....

Watters talks about both the support tribes can provide - taking on the role of parent by suggesting and approving of partners - and the hindrance they can be when members get jealous of significant others, or when they reserve their loyalty and emotion for their friends.

My friends, to an extent, take on sibling roles more than anything. I already have sibling figures (an older sister and a younger brother) who provide support and, quite often, entertainment, but I have—or had; it's complicated—another big sister role model in a friend of mine. Hopefully she knows that, even despite recent events, I look up to her as such.

Tribes are probably just another way of conceptualizing the network of friends, family and co-workers, people that can even fall into two of the categories. At a conference earlier this year, a presenter got us to write down our networks. Everybody else at the conference thought the exercise was stupid, but it was the first time I realized how big my network is, and how influential the people in that network are. The hard part for me, evidently, is not forming the network but rather using it to my advantage.

Anyhow, a good, brief article describing an interesting concept, and another blasted book to go on my reading list.

Necessarily, there's an Urban Tribes weblog.