I'm 45 years old and I made a new friend
I think. I hope.
“Finding a new close friend at this stage in life feels like winning the lottery.”
I wrote that sentence over two years ago in a piece about friendship.
At the time, it was just over a year into the pandemic, which felt like an eternity, and still felt like it wasn’t ending anytime soon. Knowledge workers like myself had been forced to work remotely from home, something I had done in the past with less than stellar results. Instead of increased productivity, it led to disconnectedness and loneliness. When the pandemic hit, I was worried that it would lead to more of the same.
Committing to writing, interacting with readers like yourself, and meeting other writers on a similar path was what saved me then. The rise of Zoom helped too. It became normal to reach out to someone in a writing community and see if they wanted to hop on a Zoom chat. It was like a virtual version of the coffee meetings I used to do when I worked in startups in SoMa, the South of Market area of San Francisco.
Toward the end of the piece, I wrote this:
“Sure, these online friends can’t show up at my doorstep in Sonoma unannounced… But they can send me a DM, comment on this piece (hint, hint), reply to a tweet, hop on a Zoom chat, or any number of other online interactions.”
Yeah, sure, okay. I do have good online friends I’ve met in this way. I’ve even met a number of them in real life at this point. I also now work with some of them. That’s great and I’m grateful for all of it. But I still yearned for a local friend. And yet, in the intervening years, I’ve done basically nothing to find one.
On a recent Friday afternoon, I decided to make the 30-minute drive to practice golf at a range and nine-hole course in the middle of a horse racetrack at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. I’ve become re-addicted to golf lately. I’m devouring videos and podcasts and jumping at the chance to get out and play or practice anytime I can—and the fairgrounds course is the perfect spot to get in some quick practice in the late Summer evenings.
When I play the course, I usually go out on my own so I can hit more than one ball and try different shots around the greens and whatnot without feeling like I’m holding anyone else up. Everything was going smoothly that day until the 6th hole when the group ahead of me slowed down.
As I was standing there waiting to hit my tee shot, the guy behind me finished up the 5th hole and started walking my way. I had seen him steadily gaining ground on me for a few holes and I had been staving him off, because if he joined me that meant less practicing for me. This might sound strange to anyone who knows me since I’m generally a personable guy who can get along and converse with just about anyone. And I do it all the time on the golf course with random strangers too. But on this day I was feeling more like a lone wolf than a social butterfly.
“Mind if I join you?” he said.
“Not at all,” I said while silently sighing in my head.
“I’m Jacob,” he said as he reached for a handshake.
I was annoyed that the slow play ahead forced me out of the comfy zone I was in. Yet, as we chatted between shots, I quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. Most notably, we played at a similar skill level, although I could tell pretty quickly that he was a little better than me. Not to brag, but I’m a better player than most people I encounter, so it was refreshing to play with someone who was clearly a solid player. It brought back memories of playing with my friend Trevor who was the head golf pro at a course I worked at down in Santa Barbara nearly 20 years ago. We’re still friends to this day, but since we live about a seven-hour drive away from each other, we don’t get to hang out very often.
When Jacob and I were done playing, I took off my hat and shook his hand, which is the customary—dare I say gentlemanly?—thing to do at the end of a round. For most playing partners, that’s where the story would end. We’d go our separate ways and rarely, if ever, run into each other again.
As we walked to the parking lot, I asked him questions about his work and considered asking him if he’d want to meet up to play again sometime. I felt some serious resistance and a voice in my head telling me that it would be easier to just part ways. The feeling was not too dissimilar to asking someone out on a date, which I haven’t done in over a decade now, and which, for two guys especially, can feel quite vulnerable, which is why we often don’t do it. But I pushed through those feelings because for years now I’ve badly wanted to find a more local friend. Finding one who’s also a decent golfer was a bonus. And there he was right in front of me. So I popped the question, and I could immediately tell that he was glad I asked too.
I grabbed my phone and we exchanged numbers like two strangers who met in a bar on a Saturday night, but with more sunshine and no alcohol involved.
When I got home, I told my wife Allison, “I think I just made a new friend.” I couldn’t help but smile as I said it. Her eyes lit up and she smiled too. Because she was keenly aware of how long I’ve longed for a close local friend. And she knew how much I had stepped out of my comfort zone to make it happen.
Okay, cool, so now we all lived happily ever after, right?
Making friends in “real life” can be hard when so much of our lives revolve around our partners, kids, immediate family, or even the online spaces we engage in. After you do meet someone, it’s not like you magically become best buds and do everything together while skipping and holding hands. It takes scheduling, coordination, and communication. And at least one person has to initiate those things.
In the past, I’ve rarely been the one who takes charge and figures out when and where I hang out with friends. I’m a pretty chill guy who tends to go with the flow and I’m usually up for just about anything. That’s not so conducive to being the one who makes plans.
But lately, I’ve been spending way less time on social media and have made a concerted effort to reconnect and keep up with old friends more, even if I don’t live close to them anymore.
For example, there’s my friend Danny who was a coworker and housemate of mine when I was going through my divorce. He also golfs and we used to play a fair amount 10 or 11 years ago. We’ve met up here and there over the years—to grab a beer in SF and watch a Giants game or for the occasional golf round. But we fell off once the pandemic hit. I reached out to him this past January and we’ve been meeting up roughly once per month to play a round ever since. Coordinating hasn’t always been easy and I’ve definitely done most of the schedule wrangling to keep it happening since his work can be busy. To his credit, he recognized it and even texted me “Dude I appreciate you so much,” once, which I appreciated too.
I used to sometimes get resentful about needing to be the person to keep a relationship going. It felt so one-sided. It felt like those friends didn’t actually want to be my friends. It felt like they didn’t care.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that we’re all way too busy in our own little bubbles, just trying to get by, day by day. And I’ve realized that those friends do want to stay connected. They do want to meet up for that round of golf. They do want to pull their heads up out of their work or their phone or whatever else is less important than the friends we make—and attempt to keep—along the way in this fleeting life we’re all living.
And so I texted Jacob and asked when he could play again. But our schedules didn’t align in the coming weeks. And then I was traveling. And then I got sick. We hadn’t been in contact at all for a couple of weeks. But then I texted again, and we found a day that worked. He set up a tee time at Northwood, a somewhat hidden gem of a course where each hole is surrounded by majestic redwoods.
And I played terribly.
But it didn’t matter.
We grabbed a beer after the round and sat on the patio enjoying the late afternoon sun and the sounds of players teeing off on the first hole. We talked about golf, our lives, our work, writing, and more.
And before we parted ways to drive to our respective homes, he said, “Let’s do this again sometime.”
I’m curious about your experiences with friends:
Have you found it hard to make new friends as you’ve gotten older?
Have you made a new friend recently? How’s it going?
Do you feel like you’re always the one coordinating stuff with your friends?
Have any advice to share about making and keeping friends?
I’d love to hear more in the comments!
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