A friend on Twitter recently asked for advice on maintaining long-term friendships. She was having a hard time remaining connected in meaningful ways with her friends and was searching of ideas.
My advice was simple:
Center each friendship on a project, activity or goal.
Always have something to do.
Perhaps this is a male instinct, but all of my closest male friendships are anchored by specific activities and/or goals. You will never find me having coffee with a friend (my hatred for coffee none withstanding). I don’t meet with my friends for brunch unless our spouses are included. I don’t chat with my friends on the phone.
My friend and I do stuff together.
Bengi (my friend of 28 years) and I have owned a DJ company for the last 17 years together. Though our friendship does not rely on the DJ company, our business forces us together more frequently than we would otherwise. Bengi has been a a storyteller for Speak Up, the storytelling organization that my wife and I founded this year. He attends Moth events with me. We are planning to write a book together.
Shep and I are Patriots season ticket owners. We spend about ten Sundays a year together, and we spend the rest of the NFL season communicating through email and texts about our team, our tailgate plans and more. We golf together during the summer and often catch movies together in the middle of the day. He has attended Moth events with me. He is one of the first and most valuable readers of my fiction.
Tom and I play a great deal of golf together. I recently enlisted Tom to become the producer of our soon-to-launch podcast, and he is now recording the audio at our Speak Up events as well. In the past, Tom and I have played a lot of poker together. Tom joins me from time to time at Moth events in New York City and hopes to one day tell a story on a Moth stage.
Until last year when he retired, Plato and I had worked together for fifteen years. I taught his daughter in third grade. Plato and I also play golf often. He has been a Speak Up storyteller. Recently he joined me for his Moth StorySLAM. In the past, I have acted in plays that Plato wrote and directed at our local playhouse. He attends Patriot games with me. We have written articles and presented together at conferences. We are apocalypse partners in the event that society crumbles, zombies rise from their graves or aliens invade.
In 2006, he married me and Elysha. We are ministers for the same online church, and we have even worked a wedding together as minister and DJ.
Jeff and I teach together. He is my daughter’s godfather. We play golf often. We used to play a lot of poker, and I hope to play again someday soon. He reads my completed manuscripts and offers input. Over the years, we have attempted to launch several businesses together that have failed to get off the ground. We have a dream of opening our own one room schoolhouse in five years. We are constantly scheming.
Andrew is my son’s godfather. I taught both of his children, including his daughter in third and fifth grade. We are in a book club together. He has attended Moth events with me. Two years ago I introduced him to golf, and it has become his obsession. We play together a lot. We have played together in the snow and the rain. I have become good friends with his nephew, who lives in New York and joins me for Moth events often.
David is one of my more recent friends. He is a screenwriter. We don’t write together, but we frequently talk about our writing projects and share our work with each other. We listen to some of the same podcasts. We alternately encourage and berate each other when needed.
Though the tendency to anchor a friendship on an activity or a goal seems to be a more male-dominated trend, I have female friends with whom I share similar relationships.
Andrew’s wife, Kim, for example, was probably my friend before Andrew was. She is Charlie’s godmother, and she is also in a book club with me. She is also a Speak Up storyteller, and other than Elysha, has attended more Moth events with me than anyone else. She has also been an early reader of my fiction (Andrew has yet to read any of my novels), and when her children were in my classroom, she would spend a couple hours each week volunteering.
My friend, Donna, and taught together for the last 15 years, and except for two years when we were purposefully separated, we have always been in the same grade level. Donna and I golf together. She’s a character in my most recent novel. She’s old enough to be my mother, so there is a generational gap at times (she just learned how to text with reliability), but we still manage to do things together.
Admittedly, however, Kim and Donna are the exception when it comes to my female friendships, and even these friendships seem less dominated by activities and projects than my male relationships.
I’m not sure why this is the case. Maybe it’s just a male tendency.
Regardless, these are some of my closest friends. As you can see, our relationships are very much centered around the things that we do. Though there have been some heart-to-heart conversations with these men and women over the years, these talks often happen on the golf course, the basketball court or in the car on the way to a football game.
Bengi and I recently spent the day together driving to and from the Berkshires to pick up some furniture for my home. We talked for more than five hours about many things.
Some topics were silly. Others were serious.
But all of this conversation happened in the midst of driving, carrying couches and squeezing in a burger at McDonald’s.
We would never even think about meeting for coffee or lunch or talking about these things over the phone.
Coffee and lunch can be too easily skipped. Too easily rescheduled. Too easily avoided. Too many things can take priority over coffee or a phone call.
Besides, the idea that we would sit across from each other at a table without a deck of cards or something else to do while we are eating is ridiculous.