I don’t have a lot of friends.
Listen, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty awesome. I’m funny, I tell stories with the best of them, and I’m in my element when discussions veer to the metaphysical, spiritual, or personal. I enjoy trying new things, I’m a foodie, and I’m pretty handy with a computer.
So why is it that when I take examine my personal relationships, the vast majority fall somewhere in the distant orbit of “acquaintance” as opposed to crash-landed into the solid bedrock of planet “BFF”?
This one is pretty solidly on me. Seven years ago I met my best friend. Two years later, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. I carried her over the threshold of our apartment, and she became my world. She laughed at the things I laughed at, she could follow my mind to the weird places it goes, and her own spiritual landscape was as colorful and varied as my own.
It’s only now, four and a half years later, that the thought of having more friends has even begun to occur to me. But that’s fine, you read my list a few paragraphs above, clearly I’m the life of the party. It was only a matter of time before I found a group of friends that would hoist me upon their shoulders and sing my praises and bake me tasty cookies.
I soon discovered there was a fatal flaw with that plan. It turns out that in order to get to the shoulder-hoisting, cookie baking portion of the process, you have to, you know… Talk to people.
Despite my clearly fallacious self-image as the guy with the lampshade on his head, I’m actually mildly introverted. On top of that, some part of my brain has also decided that the worst social faux paux one can commit is to be involved in a vaguely awkward social interaction. The obvious solution? Just don’t have them. Easy!
Making friends as an adult is hard. When we’re young we have school as a buffer. It widens and deepens our pools of commonality with each other. It gives us frequent and obvious reasons to interact with each other. It gives us the freedom to be a little weird, a little silly, a little strange.
Now all we have is work. Most places of employ make it difficult to connect with the people around you. No matter how close you may be, there’s still an element of competition involved. You’re afraid to show too much of your true self because being rejected could equate to losing out on a promotion or income altogether.
Even if there are people in our lives we’d like to get to know better, we have no clue how to initiate that. We’re terrified of looking creepy or weird or silly or strange. We’re supposed to be grown-ups. We’re supposed to look professional.
I would posit that men have it particularly rough in the friend department. Culturally, we’re implanted with the idea that real men are gruff and stoic. We are to be tough and hard. No vulnerability. No intimacy. During social situations, there are three things you may speak about passionately: Work, cars, and sports. If you cannot speak to those topics, then keep yer mouth shut.
For this reason, when my wife tells me she just randomly connected with a woman she barely knows over facebook and asked her if she wanted to go get coffee, my mind boggles. Men can’t ask men out for coffee. That’s like… That’s like asking a dude out on a date. The only way a real man can make an appointment with another one, is to go do something manly together. Go fix a car. Play a sport. Shoot a thing with a gun. Blow a thing up. The bottom line is that there has to be something else happening so you don’t have to use words. You know… like a woman.
When these ideas are exposed to the light, they seem ridiculous. I am not now, nor have I ever been what one might call a “manly man”. I hate cars, I couldn’t name three sports teams if I tried, and my dream job would be writing about my feelings all goddamn day. My being a manly man has never once been a concern to me. And yet…
I spent more than an hour last night waffling over whether or not I should ask a guy I don’t know terribly well if he wanted to grab some coffee sometime. Even knowing that the cultural belief is a lie, even knowing that the vast majority of humans on this planet feel flattered when someone initiates contact with them, it still felt weird. Eventually it was “what-are-you-thinking” o’clock so I went to bed without doing anything. I would just continue to live my life, just me and my wife. It worked for the old man in “Up”, it could work for me.
Except… That’s not really what we’re meant for. Even as much life and growth and joy and happiness that my wife provides on the daily… It’s not enough. We reach our full potential when we’re sharing a cup of sugar or a shoulder to cry on. Humans are made to exist in community. We need each other. We’re not fully complete unless we’re tangled and woven throughout the lives of those closest to us. We need their perspective and ideas just as much as they need ours.
Besides… what the hell are we (am I) afraid of? Even if, worst case scenario, in asking someone out to coffee I accidentally accuse their wife of being a Nazi sympathizer, what am I really losing out on? Oh no! Someone I never see and rarely encounter on facebook will stop talking to me! How will life go on?
Pretty much exactly like it always does. At least that’s my theory. I’m going to test it this weekend and try and make some friends. You should try it too. Hey! Maybe we could be friends! Let’s go do something.
Paul Allen is the editor of Hunting for God. After growing up in an Assemblies of God church, he attended Johnson Bible College for two years before dropping out. In the time since, he has more or less figured out the whole “adulthood” thing, gotten married, and holds a steady job by day and writes movie scripts by night. He currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife Leah and two cats, Ego and Karma. HfG on FB