We were gathered, once again, at a friend’s lake house in Connecticut to drink too much beer and smoke too many cigarettes. Some of us—the women—had quit smoking. The men ashed half-heartedly into empty beer cans.
Just think,” someone murmured. “We’ve spent the same time out of college that we spent in it.” No one wanted to think about that. College felt like it should be in a rear view mirror: as far away as it felt, it was closer than it appeared.
Had we any school spirit, we would have referred to it as our annual reunion party. But we weren’t exactly the reunion type. It was more like an ad-hoc get-together for us to return to the friendships, secrets, drama and sexual tension that had been left unrequited in college.
I had left my boyfriend at home.
Just three years ago on this weekend, we had played beer pong, flipped canoes and swing whiffle ball bats into unsuspecting orifices (namely eyes). Now, the girls we were napping. We were tired. We slept late, applied liberal amounts of sunblock, dozed off outside and woke up with burned noses while the boys continued their long tradition of boozing, boating and beat-downs.
“26,” I said sensibly to the girls, “is when you’re supposed to get tired.” As if it was a known fact. I leaned back, peering out at the glistening lake, and as watched the guys lit more cigarettes and threw each other into the water. “We can’t party like we’re 23, or even like we’re 24.”
At least I couldn’t. At 23, we had all emerged from college as newly formed adults. We had graduated into a still-strong economy that allowed us, if we wanted, to secure decent jobs. We were spoiled, bleary-eyed babes, still in love with the idea of ourselves and the promise of the unknown. The hangovers were manageable.
By 26, things had changed. The girls had locked down careers. One was completing her third year at a prestigious law school after spending the summer working at the White House. Another was heading up the PR of a successful advertising agency. Someone else had taken their company public. I myself was working my way up the digital media ladder.
But the boys took their time. They were only 26. One of them was working on a farm in California. Another was temping, making just enough money to continue a marijuana habit that everyone else had kicked. Two were living at home, “figuring things out.”
Most of the women had paired off into couples back in the real world. We were shown old emails from unhinged ex-boyfriends and told flowery stories of almost-proposals. I mentioned my boyfriend in passing, careful to tread the line between sharing and bragging.
The guys ran back from the lake to look at the farmer’s pet llama. “My girlfriend,” he laughed.
“Where’s your man?” everyone asked me. My man, I explained, was at home in New York. Our home. We had moved in together.
The guys shook their heads. Most of them were still single, still incredibly unaware of their not-yet slowed metabolism. Living with a woman was akin to surrendering to whatever that feeling was that that made them want to curl up for a nap at the lake, or quit cigarettes, or lose interest in their flip cup tournaments. The feeling that had taken over the women. At this moment, it was unnecessary. It was unimaginable.
“He’s older than you, right?” someone asked.
“Yes. He’s turning 31 next week.”
“Oh, a five year gap is perfect,” she responded. “And 31 is a good age. He’s probably mature enough for you now. Definitely a good age to move in together.”
“Oh yeah. 26 year old guys are morons. Look at them! They’re still man-babies. But 31 year old guys are ready to settle down and think about kids already. Their biological countdown is finally approaching baby-o’clock.”
I glanced at my Y-chromosome peers. They had gathered around the picnic table to pick apart a dead wasp. Maturity, it seemed, was definitely the issue at hand.
The men were content to smoke cigarettes on the patio and slap each others sunburn. They talked about old friends and new women.
“He got engaged, can you believe it?” one of the guys asked.
“Yeah,” another responded. “He’s always been an idiot.”
They made hot dogs on the barbecue and stuffed marshmallows into their mouths only to spit them across the lawn. They grinned big, sugary smiles.
Maybe 26 year old women are more mature than 26 year old men. Maybe it was just my particular group of friends, full of head-strong ladies and calmer, slower guys. But our maturity didn’t make us any happier, did it?
After a while, we all walked down off the deck and sat on plastic chairs on the dock. We took a pile of beers with us and scratched fresh bug bites. The crescent moon set over the trees.
Fireworks exploded across the lake, slowly, one by one. Minutes went by, and then another one shot up and broke open, flashing pink and blue and white and blinking back into the echoing chamber of the valley.
It was an amateur act. For all we knew, it could have been another group of 26 year olds sitting on the dock with a cooler full of light beer.
“More!” one of the girls called across the lake, her voice rising. “More!”
I clapped my hands and whistled.
“Wait,” said the guy who was now a farmer. He said it quietly, at first. We stopped shouting to hear him. He was patiently nodding, looking over at the other side of the lake with happy, intense eyes.
He repeated himself, even softer this time. “Wait. Just wait.”
His eyes moved back over the women and he smiled, knowingly. Then he glanced back at the guys. “Don’t rush them.”