When you become a parent, it’s hard to make new friends. Other parents assume your life outside of home is over and you have little to talk about besides the discounted children’s museum membership you purchased on Groupon. Friends without kids are even worse, you know they’re going out, they’re just not inviting you. So you follow their unconstrained lives on social media, barely able to avoid leaving a pitiful “What happened to my invite!” Facebook comment. The result: You hang out at Walmart. So much so that you get to know the staff. Unfortunately, even your retail relationships die once you realize how efficient self-checkout can be.
I’ve recently tried to meet new new friends so I can expand my network and have more people to give high fives to. It sounds easy, and maybe it is to some, but due to the demands of adult life—kids, Netflix, marriage, and so on—significant friendships just seem less likely to develop as we get older and more stuck in our ways.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I met someone while sitting alone having sushi. The guy, a Filipino dude in his late 20s, asked to have a seat at my table, which was the only open seat in the house. I obliged, but kept my head in my plate. The first words out of his mouth: “Are you married?”
Look…I smile at everyone. I have great posture. I once worked as a greeter at the Gap. And maybe I’m a fan of Lady Gaga. So yeah, every now and gay men will shoot their shot.
But that’s not what he was doing.
I told him, “Yeah, been married almost two years. Got three wild kids.” He went on to explain, “Congrats, man. I was asking cause the closer you hold your chopsticks, the more recently you were married.”
I looked at my bony fingers…didn’t make any sense to me. We would spend the next 15 minutes talking about weddings.
He was engaged and his fiancé wanted a big, expensive wedding. His main gripe was that he was a DJ and knew enough people in the entertainment industry to pull it off for damn near free. But she had a preference for paid vendors and not his homie that dabbles with Photoshop and could probably make suitable wedding invitation, or not.
I told him how my wife and I had our 100-person wedding for well under $10,000. He was impressed. I know it because he said “That’s legit.” I was about to break out the YouTube video, but thought that was overkill.
My meal was soon finished and I left after a fist bump. Traditional male norms kept us from exchanging contact information, though maybe we would have if either one of us was gainfully employed and had business cards. Still, if I see him again I’ll say, “You’re the guy from the sushi spot!” and we’ll talk more about weddings and “how brides be crazy” and perhaps become friends.
Anyway, my time with the sushi bro led me to think how difficult it is for men to form new friendships. I say men because my wife meets new friends all the time. She’ll say hello to someone in the neighborhood, who’s also of the two X chromosome variety, and the next thing you know they’re baking each other cookies and drinking Trader Joe’s wine during working hours like they’re the Definitely Not Rich Housewives of Chula Vista.
But with men, especially married men with kids, there’s a block, and I think it’s due to this need to protect.
When I meet a new friend I wonder if I can bring this potentially crazy ass person around my home and family. If there’s any indication of an inability to solve problems without brawling (especially if I can’t whoop him), or if he discusses women with Trumpisms and “grabs ‘em by the pussy,” I keep my distance. This wasn’t the case when I was single and childless and only sober weekday mornings.
I’ve found that other men with families feel the same. This need to defend, like pursuing unfulfilled athletic dreams through fantasy football, appears to be innate in us. No matter how friendly we appear, we’re guarded towards newcomers.
Outside of requiring a full psychoanalysis and background check from friends, I’m not sure how to overcome this social hesitance. I suppose my wife could arrange what amounts to adult playdates with her friends’ husbands, but that’s only for the type of couples who have joint Facebook pages.
Regardless, I will try to be more open, or better yet, do a better job of staying in touch with my old friends by avoiding the self-checkout at Walmart.