after a certain age

A few days ago a New York Times article posed the question: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?.

…people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now… As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other…

When we first moved here four years ago, we attended a 40th birthday party for a neighbor, M. We had been here only four months and we were invited by M.’s husband. I remember thinking something to the effect of, “Wow, that’s really cool they included us… We have to go, we’ll get to know people better, and make friends… We need friends!” (Party-inviting neighbors were sure to create those three conditions noted above!)

I got to know a woman at that party–we chatted for much of the evening and really seemed to click. We exchanged phone numbers and said to each other, “we should hang out.” I was excited, but I waited a reasonable number of days (5–reasonable, right?) to follow up with a phone call. I spoke to her husband, who seemed nice and said he’d pass on my message. I never heard from her. I felt like I’d just had a bad first date. It was the first time I’d had that feeling in over 12 years (which could be why I recall it so vividly).

Indeed, it is hard to make friends after a certain age. As the story notes,

By that point, you have been through your share of wearying or failed relationships. You have come to grips with the responsibilities of juggling work, family and existing friends, so you become more wary about making yourself emotionally available to new people. “You’re more keenly aware of the downside… You’re also more keenly aware of your own capacity to disappoint.”

But if you want to make friends, I’d imagine the inverse of the above statement is true: it’s a matter of making time, making your true self available, knowing that the possible upside is worth the risk of a downside, and believing that everybody, not just yourself, has the capacity to disappoint.

On a beautiful afternoon after that 40th birthday party (right after my phone call to the hoped-for friend), I looked out our living room window and saw three of my neighbors on a front porch (T., P., and M., on M.’s porch). At the time, I was playing on the living room floor with our nearly year-old son and three-year old daughter. It’s how I spent most days back then.

“Let’s take a walk!” I announced.

We headed out, and I walked right past the house.

“Look, honey, grown-ups!” I exclaimed to our daughter.

My neighbors laughed and I came up with the kids to chat.  The three were talking about their plans to see a concert on the upcoming Sunday night with a fourth woman who lived about 45 minutes away. T. seemed to indicate that the late commute might be hard for her, given she had to work the next morning. She seemed to indicate more than that, something that I sensed but can hardly articulate now. I sensed some sort of opening.

In a fit of who-the-heck-do-I-think-I-am bravado, I heard myself speaking.

“Oh, she doesn’t want to go!” (I had no idea who this poor woman was.)

“Would you want to go?” asked T.

“Yeah!” replied me.

And with that, we saw the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I love being of a certain age.

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