Throughout our lives, we make friends. On playgrounds playing kickball, over a game of quarters in college, in offices working collaboratively and repeatedly on another PowerPoint presentation. Sometimes it is serendipitous while taking the A train. Sometimes random through a friend of a friend at some other friend’s party. And sometimes it takes years of touch-and-go connections that can start with tumult finally coalescing into true admiration and respect. But whatever or whenever it happens, you are the master of your own fate, captain of your own friendships.
And then you move to the suburbs. Where the sweet scent of fresh-cut grass leaves your post-adolescent social life controlled by your pre-school child. Yes, who they like, you must like. (Or at least pretend to like.) It’s speed-dating thrust on you by the “Red Light, Green Light” generation. One sunny day, they’re sharing blocks and two weeks later, you’re feebly constructing interesting conversation and breaking bread with a couple of blockheads aka “Little Skyler’s” parents. Little fingers joyously playing with manipulatives to enhance fine motor skills and you’re manipulated into a fine night of dining with Jack and Jill. A tedious hill-top rendezvous of overpriced wine that hopefully will satiate Jack’s overinflated, underfed ego before you go tumbling off to bed.
Two for the seesaw and it’s four for paella followed by a fist-full of Paxil. Saturday soccer leads to Saturday-night double dates where the din and discourse provide only culinary indigestion. Talking politics with inarticulate living-room diatribes offering no room for debate. Missiles of mass destruction? Who needs drones when old comb-over Curt is droning on about derivatives and divots? I’m already shell-shocked and bombed before the latest rage in chef-inspired bombes hits my plate.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a social animal. I thrive on chitchat and banter over a greasy spoon burger or bed of high-end wilted organic greens. I talk to anyone and everyone (according to my kids who text and tweet in desperation while I converse with the entire CVS pharmaceutical staff). But I’ve been to too many old goat rodeos of red wine and Whole Foods cheese in some French Country meets Navajo chic great rooms to know adult play dates are not often fun and play (or great). I may love my suburban home-on-the-golf range but do I have to see every imported range in renovated kitchens near and far? I might choose to live with a picket fence and a shed full of unopened pickling jars but do my kids get to pick my friends? Can’t I choose the pick of the litter myself?
And it doesn’t get better as the kids get older. Yes, they no longer care about Curt’s little princess (who they stopped being friends within milliseconds) but now they dance, dribble and dive afterschool and weekends, which means you’ve been enlisted in a sideline posse of highly enthusiastic parents that act like lemmings on a ledge. Pizza and Panera’s in every town from Boston to Baltimore where teammates meld while parents spar over checks and New Balance running shoes. Forget date night or those best friends that live only fifty minutes away… you’re too mentally and physically fried to see them or even watch NetFlix. It is Love it or List it on HGTV, a Facebook like or two and off to dream about days of endless bongs and relaxed banter gone by.
But just when you think the grass is greener in Facebook flashbacks, it happens. You look across the bleachers and there’s a guy with the same pained look as you. Suddenly, your eyes meet, followed by the nodding of the heads and gentle smirk of collective indignation over black cookie-cutter SUVs. He too has had enough of cocktail shenanigans and insidious play dates gone bad.
Breaking free from the shackles of a white colonial, black-shutter conformity and acquiescence, you both tentatively make your way to the water fountain where two “Hey’s” erupt in laughter that flows as easily as it did when you were 13. All at once, you’ve once again have made a new friend in a high-school gym deep in the heart of the suburban darkness. And you have your kids to thank.