How To Friend Someone In Real Life

subaru note 1

I pulled open the garage door on my storage unit in east Denver, smelling the dust that had accumulated during the two months since I’d last been inside. Jayson had moved out of a 350-square-foot apartment in Capitol Hill and moved all his stuff into my then-half-empty storage unit, filling in the space around my old Subaru wagon.

On the back window of the Subaru, he’d scrawled a note in dust a couple days before he’d left for a six-month stint teaching Bikram yoga in Jakarta:


Plus he’d placed a piece of paper under the rear windshield wiper—the paper was 12 years old, pulled out of a printer at an Applebee’s restaurant where we worked in college. It had my phone number on it so he could call me and we could go drink beers together and get in trouble, which we did. We both grew up at our own pace, and we don’t drink beer together anymore or get in much trouble. We’re both address-less, sharing a storage unit, and Jayson’s taught yoga on five continents in the past year. The two of us pop in and out of Denver sporadically, the center of our weary universe the guest bedroom at our friend Nick’s house near City Park—out of three guys who have been friends since 2000, one of us is thankfully somewhat stable and happy to put up with his two old pals still out wandering around in their 30s.

Sometimes I think I’m lucky to have friends like Nick and Jayson, but I think lucky is the wrong way to say it. I think maybe we just know how to take care of each other. In our triangular friendship, I remember lots of cups of coffee, bowls of pho, checks picked up, car-seat conversations, mountaintops, trail runs, bike rides, and at least two moves of couches up stairwells that would have likely ended less rock-solid relationships. I think Nick doesn’t take enough vacations, he probably thinks I’m horribly irresponsible with money, Jayson is appalled at what Nick and I eat, and Nick and I laugh together in wonder at Jayson’s next move around the world, wondering if he’ll figure it out this year, but not caring if he does.

I e-mail Jayson photos of his mail that comes to my mailbox, Nick only half-jokingly calls the guest bedroom in his house as “Jayson’s room,” and Jayson and I can’t wait until Nick finally gets married so we can co-deliver The Wedding Toast of the Century, which will probably end in a headlock in front of everyone. I’ll drop everything to get a cup of coffee with most of my friends, but Nick and Jayson have dibs on one of my kidneys if the need arises. Or my mountain bike.

A couple weeks ago, I saw a headline on the cover of a magazine that read “How To Friend Someone In Real Life.” I thought what you probably would think: Wow. Really?

We can blame it on Facebook, or blame it on being too busy, but it’s mostly because we’re starting to suck at making or being friends anymore, in any real sense. In a generation, we went from little people who made friends based on simple things like riding bikes and baseball cards to big people who are too “busy” to meet someone for lunch if it’s not planned out a month in advance, or too shy or lazy to actually ask someone to pick a time and place to hang out.

An old friend told me that in the last years before he quit drinking, he used to see this one guy at the same bar all the time. Every time they talked, the guy would say, “Trevor, you and me, we gotta go fishing sometime.” Trevor would say, Yeah, we should go fishing. The next time they saw each other, he would say the same thing: we really gotta go fishing sometime.

But they never went. Trevor told me, “I always wanted to say, ‘How about I meet you here again tomorrow night and we’ll talk about it again? Because it’s never going to happen.’” Neither one of them would commit to getting together outside the bar.

Do we really want to go fishing with each other, or do we just think it would hypothetically be fun if we could ever manage to get around to making plans? Because it’s pretty easy. Here’s the two-step process:

  1. Hey Bob, do you like drinking coffee/eating restaurant food/rock climbing/mountain biking/something else I like? If yes, then
  2. What are you doing Tuesday after work? Let’s go Tuesday.

In a scene in Good Will Hunting, Skyler gives Will her phone number and suggests that they could get together sometime for coffee. Will says, Yeah, or we could get together and eat a bunch of caramels, because when you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as drinking coffee.

Which it is. Almost every friend activity is. Drinking beers together, trail running, riding bikes, eating tacos—it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re just changing the backdrop of a conversation, which is the building block of a friendship. Enough of those, and then you can move on to borrowing money and asking people to help you haul a couch up six flights of stairs.


18 replies on “How To Friend Someone In Real Life

  • Nate

    Nice thoughts.
    I find “friending” people in real life to be especially difficult in male relationships. For example, the word “bromance” has no female equivalent simply because it is not strange for women to enjoy each others company. Xenophobia and homophobia have really taken a toll on male relationships in the internet age. Posts like yours are a good reminder of what it means to be a good friend.

    • Kendall

      Why is it that most Subies are named after a girl? Or most automobiles for that matter. Haven’t named my latest Subie after 2 years and nearly 60K miles, but she’s been oh so good to me.

      Awesome post Brendan.

      • Miles

        Oliver Pete is the name of my Bronco II, and when my friends get in the car, they know they need to say hi. He’s carried us to many trailheads, and survived many solo excursions while his parking break was broken. Good read Brendan.

  • Megan

    Thanks for this reminder, Brendan. I had a spontaneous lunch with a friend on a Monday (on a workday…wow!) and it made me realize how rarely I do this, and how awesome it felt. And that calling some out of the blue is exactly what friends do.

  • Hannah

    Heck ya. I was up MTBing in Hood River recently, and had one my first real “friend-courting” experiences – a chick who likes to rip wanted to show me how to mountain bike! And wanted to just hang out and walk around. It was refreshing to not just fall into friendships, but actually make a meaningful effort to make one.

  • Cat

    I get what you’re sayin, but it’s a two-way street, and there are plenty of people who really don’t want you any closer than as a drinking buddy, coffee buddy, etc. People, however, are polite, and there’s no socially acceptable way to draw boundaries on that level. If somebody says to you “Hey, we should (insert activity here) sometime” and you say “Yeah, we should” and then NOTHING else, it’s a sign that (a) you don’t want to escalate the relationship or (b) you’re not sure if the invitation is sincere. Either way, you’re being cautiously polite, not friendly. If your friend had really wanted to go fishing, he should have responded to the fishing suggestion with “Yeah, we should. When do you want to go?” instead of expecting the other guy to pick the time and place. They guy kept bringing it up because he was waiting for your friend to demonstrate a mutual interest, which he never did.


    While the nature of relationships is always changing, you’re right- people are so busy fretting over their busy lives we’ve gotten off track. We’re even willing to make time to fret over our pitiful social lives, instead of taking the time to make an improvement! Let’s get back to the good stuff! Thanks for the inspiring reminder.

  • Skye

    This is AWESOME. As for how to set up that meeting… check out this great post about how to schedule meetings (in the nonprofit world, but applies generally):

    “Rule 1, the List of Three: The meeting initiator must propose, in his initiation email, at minimum three dates and times of when he is available, these aforementioned times being preferably spread over several days. We use that line all the time: “Please let me know what works best for you.” That’s euphemism for “I want to sound thoughtful, but really I just don’t feel like looking at my calendar and proposing several dates that I’m free. Why don’t you do it, and I’ll see if it works for me.” Hell no. That’s lazy. You initiated the meeting; you look at your calendar. It takes a long time to look at my insane schedule to see three times that would work for me. Do you think I just sit in my cubicle watching clips of The Daily Show all day long? Of course not. There’s also the Colbert Report.”

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