Every week, I look forward to Fridays for one reason and one reason only: happy hour. It’s an opportunity to apply much-needed social lubricant, strip the stress of work away and blab about more pressing, inevitably more memorable things in life: What are we doing tonight? What should I wear? What new procrastination methods will we explore this weekend? It’s an ideal time for twenty-something bachelors like me to forget the pressures of the world and highlight their youth through inebriation, frivolous gossip, and raucous humor; it’s easy and dependable—a guaranteed way to relive the no-strings-attached days of college.

A few weeks ago, though, I looked around and realized that my routine happy hour haven was morphing into something different… and more adult. We still had our beer. We still had our appetizers. We still had the 90s rock soundtracks. But in front of me sat Nia and her boyfriend Stephen; to my right, Ada rested her head on Emil’s shoulder; and at the end of the table, Lauren held hands with her beau, Matthew. Meanwhile, I renewed my vows with a pint of Shiner Bock and a platter of fried bar food. Refreshments aside, this happy hour was not quite the bachelor’s paradise I intended.

In the last half month, I’ve accumulated a list of about nine or ten friends and acquaintances that have gotten engaged; three of my closest friends began dating someone seriously; and when I came home to visit my parents for the holidays, they were in the midst of celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. No matter how busy I’ve been or even where I’ve found myself, I haven’t been able to escape the reminders: I am unattached. And I wonder if it’s this pressure—not anything more natural or innate—that urges us to mate for reasons other than, well, mating.

In kindergarten, I remember being obsessed with Kids Incorporated on the Disney Channel. They were the cool kids that I wanted to be: singing and dancing guys who always got the singing and dancing girls. I wanted to be cool too, but I didn’t really have the training to be a singer or dancer, so I settled for the next best thing: getting girls. Although I was only five, I remember slipping Vanessa—a Filipino girl who lived two blocks down—a note during class that said, “Want to go on a date? I want to take you to Mann’s Chinese Theater.” According to my vast catalog of facts from afternoon television shows, Mann’s Chinese Theater was where only the most glamorous celebrities went to see their movies; it made sense that we kindergarteners followed suit. After all, these things were all the rage on TV: girls and movie premieres. I had to do them both.

In junior year of high school, all the cool kids had significant others. The president and vice president of our school KEY Club were both coupled, smothering their boyfriends with shoutouts in our monthly newsletters and lavish gifts for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and any other holiday for which demonstrating materialism would be a key ritual. Popular students asked each other to the winter ball; seniors invited socially-keen underclassmen to their otherwise exclusive prom events. To be privileged in high school was not necessarily to have high grades or even nice clothes; it was to have crushes and have those crushes realized into hand-holding, balloon-carrying boyfriends and girlfriends.

I had to be involved, and it was only a matter of time before coveting my classmates’ relationships transitioned into crushing on a specific girl to occupy my time and wallet. For eight months, I pined for yet another Filipino girl named Anna—feeling alive and moved and like a real high school student. So this was what it feels like, I thought, to be head over heels. I bought into the romance of the unrequited. I thrilled myself with the chase. I tasted life in the shoes of every cool teenager I saw on screens small and large. All of this—this eruption of feeling and want for a girl—this all made me seem, somehow, normal.

Eventually, I told her I liked her, and as things to tend to go for me, she just wanted to be friends. In retrospect, I’m glad nothing ever happened; at 16, I didn’t really know I was gay, and I wouldn’t have wanted to come out and make her think that she somehow was responsible for any perceived shift in my sexuality. But at the time I was devastated. With her rejection came the demise of my dream prom, the flowers and balloons I would’ve given her gladly in February, and the potential for the movie in my mind to play out in real life.

Since then, and with the added injection of critical analysis skills that comes with a college education, I’ve learned to closely scrutinize my motivations for crushing, dating, and—eventually—having sex. Because the world has so much influence on the make-up of our thoughts and actions, I’ve come to be skeptical of my own feelings: do I actually want to go on a date with this person, or do I just want the possibility that, later, his warm body might end up next to mine—because that’s what should occupy my nights as a twenty-something? Do I like this person, or do I just need someone other than my platonic friends with whom to spend my time? Do I have feelings for this guy, or do I just want to verify the fact that I can deeply feel?

As 2007 gives way to 2008, I know that a few things will rise with the number of the year. With every new happy hour that passes, I know that I will increase the number of friends who will be in serious relationships. I will lengthen my list of people engaged or already married, and I will receive more pressure from family and friends to join that particularly privileged list. I will see more romantic comedies telling me what my life as a young professional should look like, more one-hour dramedies to demonstrate what sex in the city should feel like, will live through more holidays meant for spending time with someone I don’t have. And as much as I can challenge these forces and their impact on that which I truly intend and feel, I can’t help but notice that at the next happy hour, more and more of the people I surround myself with will have succumbed to acting their age—that is, to being with someone else. In real time, not in the world of film and TV, my happy hour partners in crime will dwindle, making way for the next generation of college grads to transform from bachelors and bachelorettes to boyfriends, girlfriends, and fiancés. Normal or not, then, I will be left behind if I don’t catch up to where I am expected to be.

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