Friendly Match-Ups

It was the perfect day for a wedding. As birds chirped, guests sniffled and the bride and groom exchanged vows, I sat in the back row and reflected on the wedding party, all dutifully standing at attention up front. The bridesmaids, decked out in periwinkle, were my former sorority sisters from college. The tuxedo-clad groomsmen were all my college drinking buddies. And most of the bridesmaids and groomsmen were married or engaged by now — to each other.

Come to think of it, only one groomsman was still single. And, of course, me. (And I had hooked up with that groomsman the night before. What did that say about our group of friends?)

Some people might call our group of friends "incestuous," but the phenomenon of friends becoming lovers had obviously transcended the Northwestern Class of 1997.

After the wedding, I traveled to New York City to visit an old friend from high school. He was in great spirits because he had just fallen in love with a beautiful, intelligent woman. She also happened to be my best friend from high school. Seeing these two, suddenly cuddly, suddenly tender, suddenly optimistic about their future was, well, unsettling. I should have been happy that all my friends are finding love and comfort in the arms of my other friends. But honestly, it freaked me out.

"Why is it," I ranted later to my roommate, "that all my friends are marrying each other?" I took a big slug of whiskey and declared, "It’s a little pathetic. It’s kind of like giving up on the outside world."

My roomie got a guilty look on her face and said, "Well, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I think I want to marry Randy."

I was incredulous, shocked. Randy was our old friend from more than 10 years ago, who she never sees, who has a girlfriend and who lives in another city.

"He just understands me," she continued, "and he has always been there for me."

Great. Now even my roommate was in the enemy camp. I had noticed lately she had been spending a lot of time on the Web site, Friendster. Friendster is kind of like a six-degrees-of-separation dating site, where you can scope out your friend’s friends as potential love interests. Clearly, this "friend loving" is a national trend.

I started to wonder about that old phrase, "you can’t go home again." Maybe, by finding your future through a friend in your past, you really can connect with a simpler time — a time in high school when the future seemed limitless; a time in college when you rallied against impending adulthood. Plus, late-20s growing pains can be harsh — suddenly you have financial responsibilities, friends scattered across the country and insecurities about careers and relationships. Maybe we all felt like better people 10 years ago. And maybe our old friends help us remember that. But is that any reason to marry them?

I flipped through a bunch of old photos, gazing at the new brides and grooms in uncomplicated times — when our biggest problem was misplacing the keg tap. In every photo we were smiling, cuddling, buzzed and delirious. Did all my friends know back then that they were intended for each other? Was their love and devotion always there, but just hibernating?

I began to wonder if there was any one of my friends that I might fall in love with one day. I racked my brain, trying to figure out if I could, someday, see anyone else in a different light. I came up blank. Then, I wondered in reverse, how come none of my friends wanted to marry me? I was momentarily affronted until I remembered that I couldn’t fathom a future with any of them.

I looked up from my photos and around my living room. I did have a house, a dog, a pretty nice television for a girl, a fledgling career, and, yes, lots of friends. Maybe my future has been brighter for being alone. Maybe my future will continue to be enhanced without marring someone that reminds me of my past — who instead reminds me of the present.

As I tucked my photos away I realized something. Here is the thing about friends: whether you marry them or not, they will always be there for you. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Lilla Zuckerman is the co-author of the recently released “Beauty Queen Blowout: Miss Adventure No. 2,” (Fireside).