Chairs were spread out in a semi-circle under the pine trees. There was a selection of wine, beer, and water bottles on the back porch. At the other end of the table was a platter with potato chips and some sort of dip. People milled about, drinking their beer and chatting. I didn’t know any of them, but many of them seemed to know each other. At age 50, I appeared to be one of the youngest people there.
I had been invited to this gathering of gardeners in the little village within the city in which I live. It’s more than a neighborhood – more like a collection of neighborhoods. We are holding a garden tour this fall, and if you have more than two daffodils in your yard, you got invited to this meeting.
Eventually, we settled down and held the meeting. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about. It was what happened afterward.
It feels anti-climactic, honestly, but we all hung around, chatting and learning about each other after the meeting was over. Then, when everything was put away, and it was clearly time to go, we did the parking lot hangout. You know – that thing where you stand in the parking lot and are reluctant to leave because you are having such an enjoyable time and don’t want it to end, so you lean against the car and keep talking.
Honestly, after the last few years, just that felt remarkable. Meeting new people with which you have something – anything – in common.
There is a joke that goes to the effect that nobody wants to talk about Jesus’ biggest miracle – that he was in his 30s and had 12 close friends. That hits closer than I want to admit.
I mean, I have friends. I even have close friends. People I click with on a cellular level. But most of them live elsewhere. A wonderful aspect of this current technological age is that I am incredibly close to people I no longer live in close proximity to.
But local friends are harder. I mean, on one level, this makes sense. If I have the entire online world to pull from, that is a wider pool to choose from than just my village is. I can pick and choose more selectively, tailor my interests, and find people with whom I have many levels of overlap, rather than just “We live within 2 miles of each other, and both grow roses.”
But is that amount of overlap enough? Before the Internet, when you moved away, you just lost people. They were gone, and then you made new friends in the new town. But now, you can keep your old friends forever.
Meeting new people has been hard the last few years. I 100 percent do not recommend moving to a new city just before a global pandemic happens. In retrospect, that was poor planning on my part. Even discounting the pandemic, meeting new friends seems drought with peril in these politically divided times.
The other day I met a new person, and we sort of clicked. In the parking lot, I crawled their Facebook feed, making sure they don’t support things I have spent my life working against. The relief I felt when I saw their Black Lives Matter post was palpable.
Another guy I know isn’t on Facebook at all. He told me it’s easier for him to like people when he doesn’t know much about their beliefs. I get what he’s saying, but I’m just not interested in having friends with whom I have to hide parts of who I am.
It’s complicated. And lonely.
I don’t know if any of these people at the garden party today will eventually become my friends. I sort of hope so. But even if they don’t, tonight felt nice all the same.