Love, Etc. #4: Hanging Out
My recent obsession has been how hanging out with friends changes in your thirties, but, it’s not really that, “in your thirties” that hanging out changes.
It’s true that in our thirties, a lot of my friends have big jobs, have kids, have more things to do on a schedule that isn’t entirely their own, and hanging out has changed, naturally, to follow that: we see each other a few times a year, instead of every few days; we get home before midnight; nobody smokes; and only some people drink (and a lot of us won’t eat anything on a regular restaurant menu).
It’s true that hangout trends correlated to age bend slowly uphill. It’s really, painfully true, the trope that after thirty-ish every hang plan is made over a long text chain or email thread and rescheduled at least twice. It’s true, and so unfathomable to the version of me that still feels like a teenager, that I never seem to find myself anywhere, like a bar or a house party or on country backroads, just randomly, anymore. It’s true that as much is lost as gained when you make changes in life to make things “work.”
But, I realize that all of that change that happens with friends, over time, is not linear, and not as specifically age or decade-oriented as I thought it was, because what are someone’s “thirties” anymore, really? From my kaleidoscopic kid perspective, being 18 was cool, and anything over 25 blended into a smog of adult responsibilities, and I was sort of right: in our recent history, being in your twenties meant something about your life that was definitely distinct from your thirties, and forties, and fifties. But, now that eighty is the new sixty, as people live longer and better, and get married and have kids later or never, and as careers become jobs in an economy that rewards flexibility and undermines stability, age is more of a choose-your-own-adventure than a predetermined marker of what was, or should be, happening.
This is may be especially true for secular lives in cities like Toronto; my hometown friends who married their high school boyfriends and continued to live in the neighbourhoods we grew up in spent their twenties very differently than I did. (The dynamic of mutual and simultaneous envy and pity between the people who stayed and the people who left is my favourite thing that nobody wants to talk to me about.)
The idea that certain ideals should be achieved by a certain age is appealing to anyone looking for guidance or context, but it’s not really how it goes. Even the idea that your twenties are for partying, and exploring the vastness of identity and possibility, doesn’t resonate for people who spent their twenties broke, alone and terrified. In my friend groups, the first wave of marriages started falling apart around the same time the third wave started. The most committed partiers now have their own companies; some real work nerds have left corporate jobs to travel and do whatever. The friend groups themselves have also contracted and solidified, in ways I wouldn’t have guessed a few years ago.
It’s that diffuse quality that actually explains how hanging out actually changes as you get older. Instead of being led by the age itself — in our twenties, or thirties, or forties, or whatever, this is just what we do together — we’re led by priorities, which are out of any familiar order. My friends who want to know about dating online are often in their forties; the youngest Millennials are and have to be more committed to their careers and businesses as gig culture consumes long-term, full-time jobs. The persistent “trend” of age and what it brings aside, the one that has me fulfilling every social cliche I saw coming, it feels like there are more friendship possibilities as time goes on than when we were all tripping over ourselves at 25.
In the last couple years, I’ve gotten married, gotten a dog, and bought a house. While I’ve dropped a domestic anchor, I feel more needful of my friends, to help me understand and handle this very condensed period of life. Seeing less of my friends, in aggregate, has made me so much more aware of how important they are to me, so much more so than I realized when I spent most of my time with them. I still lament the ways that hanging out changes with age, because it’s the same as missing the spacious freedom of youth, but losing that isn’t losing everything.
The "Love, Etc." column also appears in the Toronto Star.
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