remember the first time I went to see a movie by myself. It was just after college and for whatever reason my usual go-to movie partners weren’t available. I had this moment of introspection when I looked into my soul and said “well, am I going to do this?” as if there was some social stigma associated with going solo to a movie. I did it, but I felt awkward the whole time.
Today, that’s just about the only way I get to see the movies I want to see. “The Avengers”, “Prometheus”, “Spiderman”… all solo. Last year it was “Captain America”, “Thor” and even “Harry Potter”. This weekend when “Batman” comes out you’ll probably find me sitting by myself at the local Cineplex (although for this one I think I might spring for the IMax experience).
Over Facebook I came across this article from the NY Times about making friends as an adult, and it touched a nerve. I’ve joked about it before, the way the fat kid at school joked about being fat – it puts a thin veneer of confidence on the surface, but underneath it doesn’t sting any less. More than once my Facebook status has read “What does it say when a grown man’s best guy-friend is his 4-year-old son?”
When my wife has suggested, “I’ve got to take the kids to a thing this weekend. Why don’t you go out bike riding with a friend?”
“Hah!” I respond. “You know I don’t have any friends”.
**important note: In every real sense my wife is my best friend in the whole world. When I talk about “friends” and “friendships” here, I mean the ones you don’t have a mortgage and children with. They are two very different animals.**
On my mind recently has been my impending 40th birthday. As the NY Times article suggested I took stock of what a hypothetical guest list might look like for a hypothetical party and the result was, well… pathetic.
There are certainly people who play a regular role in my life, but none of those acquaintanceships seem to have the potency of the friends I made in my youth. And of those “real” friends I made when I was younger, none of them are part of my daily life anymore. I don’t need friendships now any less than I did then, and I certainly feel their absence in my life today, sometimes very acutely. But the realities of being an adult, which to my thinking is synonymous with being a dad, seem to preclude the “real”, emotionally sustaining friendships that I had in my youth.
So it begs the question:
“Where do dads get friends?”
So I took myself through the exercise of figuring out how I was going to populate my hypothetical 40th birthday party guest list. Sadly though, it became more an exercise of what used to be, as opposed to what has been for quite some time. As I examine my life, my friends seem to come from very clearly defined pools, and I suspect this is largely the same for most dads these days.
Early Childhood Friends
These are the folks you skinned your knees with, the folks you learned to ride a bike with, the folks you had the same bad 5th grade teacher with. The guy I think of as my “best friend” comes from this pool. We were inseparable from pre-school until we graduated high school. When one of those cheezy memes rolls across Facebook that reads “we may not be in each other’s lives, but we’re always in each other’s hearts”, this is the guy I think of. He and I spent countless hours beating “Contra” on the original NES, finding all the hidden secrets on Super Mario Brothers, and finishing each other’s sentences while we rode bikes together on our paper routes. When I needed a best man for my wedding, he was the only call. Our childhood shared so much DNA, in my youth I would have predicted that we would stay close for the rest of our days. Sadly, it didn’t pan out quite that way. Emails and phone calls don’t get returned, and then get sent with less and less frequency. Ten years after my wedding it was his turn to get married, and as disappointed as I was to not be invited to stand up there next to him, I really couldn’t blame him for making that call. I really hadn’t played much role in his life for the better part of a decade. History is nice, but with a lump in my throat I had to swallow my inflated notions and accept that history is just that — history.
Through the miracle of Facebook I have reconnected with a number of “old” childhood friends, and as we have moved into the professional and parenting worlds together it’s nice to find that we have things in common again. Chief among those though is the younger brother of my cribmate from infancy. He’ll tell you that growing up I filled something of an “older brother” role in his life. We share a lot of childhood DNA as well, including some serious life events that shaped who we both became as adults. When he and his wife were expecting he went out of his way to tell me – as family – before he made the public announcement. We’ve stayed tight ever since. Whenever we can we set aside time to go out for a beer and just enjoy each other’s company. He seems to share my sense of the gravity of our shared childhood DNA, and between parenting and professional realities we have enough in common now to lose track of time when we do get together. I find myself looking forward to the next beer we’re able to share together. Of all my childhood friends, he is the one who plays the biggest friendship role today – and that’s only happened just recently; something I would not have predicted when I was young.
Sadly though, those in-person meetings happen only a few times a year. The text messages we send geeking out over porsches or my son’s Optimus Prime costume are great, but they aren’t ultimately sustaining in a day-to-day sort of way. Ken won’t be able to move his schedule around to go see “Batman” with me next weekend.
High School Friends
Man, were we tight, in a time where we had to huddle together for mutual preservation. There was a group of 10 of us that pretentiously called ourselves the “Dead Poets Society” after the Robin Williams movie because we fancied ourselves as artists/intellectuals just outside the margins of the “cool” crowd. High school years are short but intense, and our connections to each other were forged in that fire. We stay in touch as much as possible via Email, Facebook (not everyone in the group has accepted Facebook as the new world order yet) and the odd reunion, but ultimately we’ve scattered across the country. We have our own lives now, separate from one another. Although they would all be invited to my 40th birthday, none of them will be going to see “Batman” with me either.
Again, the years were short, but intense. Bonds forged there aren’t easily broken. During those years I invested the greatest portion of my friendship energy into my college girlfriend. For 2.5 years she was my best friend. Together we learned what it meant to be in a committed adult relationship (and then later how to have an adult breakup). I wouldn’t be who I am today without the benefit and lessons learned from that relationship. We didn’t end things with any high-drama, so you might think that those shared experiences would be enough to keep us connected to this day. Not so. She lives in Germany now, and despite my many attempts to reconnect, she just doesn’t seem interested.
There were other people from my college years who I have genuine love in my heart for. My fondness for them won’t ever go away. But again, none of them play a role in my daily life. They are old friends. Not here-and-now friends… with one exception.
During those years I made unlikely friends with a hot, young, (married) housewife, school teacher, co-worker, 10 years my senior. Our connection was immediate, potent and (contrary to the gossip-mongers at the school) quite innocent. She and I remain as close as ever to this day (her kids were the Ring Bearer and Flower Girl at my wedding). We text/Email/call whenever we get the chance, and it’s like no time has gone by. Her name is a must-have on my 40th birthday hypothetical guest-list. Sadly we live 300 miles apart, so she won’t be going to see “Batman” with me either – though she totally would if she could.
Dental school was another short but intense period where friendships were formed in the white-hot forges of shared traumatic experience. More than a few marriages happened between classmates of mine. My classmates and I have the benefit of parallel professional lives today, and shared traumatic memories from younger years which gave us a lot in common, but we were adults when we met, and are even more so now. That means we have families and careers to manage. Our paths cross often at conventions and alumni events, but never much beyond that.
There was one guy from dental school who had the potential to be a here-and-now friend. We carpooled together every day, and again the connection was immediate and potent. We even naively tried to go into business together after graduation (easier said than done). Regrettably though, he doesn’t have much bandwidth for anything beyond his office, his family and his church. Unreciprocated one-way attempts on my part to keep the friendship going after school weren’t returned in kind. Today about all we exchange is a hearty handshake and back slap at a convention, and a cheezy card with the kids on it over Xmas. If he showed up to my hypothetical 40th birthday party I’d welcome him with a smile. But I don’t know that we need to go out of our way to invite him. If we did, he probably wouldn’t show up.
As far as the other dentists in town go, we’re all stuck in our little caves doing our thing on our own. There’s nobody from that pool to go see “Batman” with either.
Oddly enough, this group of people seems to be the closest thing resembling “real” friends that I have today. 11 years ago a group of us formed up in anticipation of the release of the first Star Wars-themed massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). Think about it like a special-ops team hand-picked and put together for the purposes of building a virtual community, including city buildings and operations, resource management, social hierarchy… while at the same time fighting the empire. We immersed ourselves in the experience and reveled in every minute. Although the game itself didn’t last, the community did, and 11 years later we’re still gaming together regularly (although admittedly less so as the geriatric-factor increases). These are people who, with a few exceptions, I’ve never met in person. Yet we speak to each other regularly and help each other to achieve common (ingame) goals. They were there when I got into dental school, when I married my wife, when I graduated, when I became a father, when I started my own business, and everywhere in between. I feel a very real kinship with these people, and genuinely feel the loss when one of them moves on.
And yet there’s the proximity-factor. Though I can easily imagine the lot of us getting together regularly for the release of every geek-anticipated cinematic blockbuster (and indeed some of them who live near enough to each other do), none of them live close enough to go see “Batman” with me either.
These are they guys you run across by sheer circumstance. We wind up seeing each other again and again at the same birthday parties and the same dance recitals. We know that our wives text each other constantly, chat it up whenever the kids let them, and complain about their husbands together over cocktails at mom’s-night-out. To our credit we try to set up the dad-friend thing, but it never works out quite as easily as it does with our wives. “Oh, you like to mountain bike too? We should bike together sometime”. That works until you figure out that the other guy is Olympic-class, and you’re sucking wind like the weekend-warrior that you are. “Hey, a bunch of us professionals get together for breakfast once a week. You want to check it out, see if it’s something you like?” You check it out, but the whole Rotary-esque club-vibe with dues and bylaws just really isn’t your thing.
There’s one dad in my (wife’s) sphere of influence that has potential. He’s a professional, and a dad of 3, and a comic book geek, with an un-dorky wife. Sound familiar? Our daughters hit a lot of the same extracurricular events and our wives get along famously, so our paths cross regularly. If there were a match.com equivalent for dads needing friends no doubt the matching algorithm would put us together in a heartbeat. We geeked out together over “Promethius” for months leading up to its release, and even planned a nerd-worthy, Dad’s-night-out event to go see it on opening night with a bunch of other dads. This was exactly the sort of thing I used to do in high school and college with my buddies. Finally. Alas, life got in the way, the Dad’s-night-out event fell apart at the last minute, and I wound up seeing the movie by myself (so did he a few days later).
Getting the windows of opportunity in each of our lives to align most times just isn’t practical. We’ve tried to work up something similar for “Batman”, but haven’t managed to connect the dots so far.
Naturally, these are the most important ones. I feel very lucky that there isn’t any serious angst in my immediate family that interferes with our relationships. I have trained my youngest sister particularly well in the nerd-arts. She would go see “Batman” with me on opening night if her extremely dense social calendar wasn’t already booked for that night. But those openings are few and far between. I can call my sisters my “friends” without any hesitation. But being friends with your family isn’t quite the same thing.
My dad and I are friends too. He has more history with me and more trust in me than any other man in his life. He needs his time with me. I see the same dynamic between me and my son. There is definitely some tongue-in-cheek when I say “What does it say when a grown man’s best guy-friend is his 4-year-old son?” but there is also a lot of truth in it. Ultimately though, the laws of nature demand that a son grows beyond his father. My son loves me, just as I love my father. But I suspect I get more out of my “friendship” with my son than he does, just as my dad does in his friendship with me.
The day will come when my kids are old enough to geek out and go see the next “Batman” with me, but those days are still years away. Even so, those days are finite. My kids will grow up and move out on their own to grow their own friendships. Thankfully, hopefully, that’ll leave me with my #1 best friend of all.
She fulfills me in countless ways. She enriches my life beyond words. She is far and away the best thing to ever happen to me. She is the yin to my yang. She is my best friend.
As much as I love her, and as much as she loves me, I know she’ll understand when I say, it’s not the same thing.
I think the NY Times article hit the nail on the head when it said “the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.”
For what it’s worth, I’ll probably be seeing “Batman” at the local Imax theater sometime Saturday… by myself.
It may be a bit of a bummer, but that’s just the way it is.