“Adulthood is too serious. I miss stupid. I need stupid. Being stupid with your friends is guaranteed happiness.”Billy Baker
Reaching out to friends is a central theme of Billy Baker’s 2021 book, We Need to Hang Out. Baker is a Boston Globe staff writer who was asked by his editor a few years ago to write about the well-documented loneliness epidemic among middle-aged U.S. males. Baker was mortified when this assignment came his way—he felt it implied that he was a ‘loser’ who was so focused on his job that he was failing to maintain friendships.
But there is really no denying that ‘adulting’ makes maintaining friendships hard. By middle age, many of us have moved away from childhood friends and family. The day-to-day demands of jobs and families often cause our friendships to slip in priority. Baker argues that this is more acute for men and is likely tied to cultural norms that make it harder for men to open up to others and reach out, showing the vulnerability needed to create connection. In addition, Baker writes that men “Need something to do to bring them together.” While women often more easily connect face-to-face and need little more than a cup of coffee as a pretense for gathering, men connect best in “shoulder-to-shoulder” ways. That’s why we see groups of men at sporting events or on the golf course, activities that can take some serious planning, and we all know planning is not easy.
Baker’s book chronicles his quest to forge better connections with friends from his youth as well as to honor the truth he came to recognize: “I needed friends for my daily life.” He shares amusing anecdotes about failed attempts at reconnection with high school friends, as well as one particularly successful endeavor that involved a trip to Montana for a treasure hunt with college friends where, he says, “years melted away.” But, the day-to-day friendships were still lacking.
In addition to conversations with experts, Baker looked for ways to create conditions to strengthen bonds with guys nearby. His quest led him to discover ‘Wednesday Night,’ a group of older men who had been getting together on Wednesdays for decades. As Baker attempts to uncover the formula that made the Wednesday tradition successful for these men, he comes to see it as not so much as an event as “A promise. Their main activity was to show up for one another. To show intent.”
“Never have we lived in a time with more experts telling us how to strengthen our human bonds, yet never have we lived in a time when our bonds have been weaker.”
Baker eventually finds ways to build ties with a handful of nearby dads, recognizing that reaching out and showing intent was half the battle. It also allowed several of them to remain connected despite COVID, staving off the loneliness amplified by the pandemic.
I was thinking about Baker and his intent to mindfully create deeper connections with friends when I received a text chain the other night, started by a friend I had not seen in person since Halloween. The text proposed a gathering for a glass of wine at a new restaurant in town, since winter weather, busy lives, and of course, COVID, has made hanging out hard.
While my friend’s suggestion might seem to be a small gesture, it was so much more than that. She put herself out there, reaching out to several of us who hadn’t been in regular touch in months. Despite some tricky weather that night, we all showed up for each other and laughed away the evening. We ended our night with the recognition that we must do this again. Soon.