Okay, I realize I’m about 4 years late on this post, because the movie I Love You Man was released in 2009, but I need to explore this again: I am Paul Rudd’s character from that movie.
I saw the movie when it first came out. It’s about a man named Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) who proposes to his fiancee and finds himself without a best man. He realizes that his wife is one of his only real friend. So, when Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) and Peter strike up a conversation at an open house, Peter decides to pursue a friendship. Sydney is a shoot-from-the-hip, hyper-relaxed guy who does and says what he likes, in stark contrast with Peter’s awkward, somewhat uptight exterior. The two eventually form a friendship that threatens Peter’s wedding plans.
The most hilarious and uncomfortable scenes of this movie for me are when Peter is first trying to buddy up with Sydney. Peter longs for a friendship, but has been so involved with his fiancee for years he doesn’t know/remember how to initiate relaxed conversations with another man. An ongoing joke is that Sydney calls Peter “Pistol Pete” early on in their friendship, and Peter keeps trying to label his new friend with monikers such as “Jobin” or “City Slacker”, each time faltering and sounding awkward. In this scene, Peter’s trying to be ultra-casual (or he might say “ultz-casz”) with Sidney:
My wife was roaming through channels the other day and stopped on the movie for a while to watch Peter and Sydney hanging out in Sydney’s garage, with Peter tripping over his words in a miserable attempt at appearing cool. I thought, “Damn, they hit the nail on the head. That is me.”
Much like Peter’s character, I have always been very invested in the women with whom I was involved. They were the center of my world, which made break-ups a bitch. But at least in high school, college, and even grad school, there was usually that group of friends so entwined with my everyday life that I never really lost ties with them. School always made it easier to find and maintain friends. But now, I’m in my late 30’s. I’ve traveled so much for school and work with my wife, that we’ve lived in 3 states and 6 towns in the past 10 years. With each passing year and each fleeting location, I become more and more inept at finding friends.
Sure, I have some college and grad school friends on facebook or folks who breeze through town every so often, but I don’t have any day-to-day friends. Many dads are lucky to have lived in the place where they grew up, or at least where they’ve spent a solid chunk of time. Or, they’re blessed with the social graces to forge new friendships. Not me. This may resonate with many dads, but I find that my current friends are family friends or my wife’s friend’s spouses. This includes a cast of very good guys, but our interactions are always couched in family gatherings and not quite the same.
I don’t have a “grab a beer” sort of friend. I don’t have a “Hey, let’s go see that shitty sci-fi/action movie that my wife won’t see with me” sort of friend. I’ve tried. I’ve hung out with people from work, with my wife’s friend’s husbands, but nothing works. I inevitably feel like Paul Rudd’s character. I’m so rusty at male-friendship banter that I think I sound stupid. I try hard to buddy-up, to get into a rhythm of conversation, but it never flows. I think that, like Peter in the movie, I’m so rusty that I get nervous, fumble over my words, and then retreat. I feel stupid.
So now I feel socially-inept and lonely. Don’t get me wrong, my wife is the most important friend I have on this Earth, and wouldn’t trade that for anything, but I don’t have any trusted friends outside of my marriage. And this is the thing that concerns me as I get older: how will my son perceive this? When I was growing up, my dad had zero friends. The closest he got was his hunting buddy, my friends’ dad from across the street. However, their relationship waxed and waned with the hunting season. They’d ignore each other all spring and summer, and then re-connect in late summer to organize their hunting permits. We’d all get together a few times in the fall and winter, and then they’d go back to their summer hiatus. It was a very functional relationship, and I think my dad’s own inabilities to form true friendships really set a poor example for me.
Now, I’m afraid of what my son might see in me. Luckily, we have family friends who we host for dinner or go over to their houses. Also, my son sees me out in the community when I volunteer for a local kids’ group that he’s a part of. So, he sees me engaged and social, for now. But as time goes by, just like I was able to assess with my own dad, he’s going to notice that dad doesn’t have real friends. My social limitations are one of my biggest embarrassments, and I’d hate for my son to see them. I’d hate for him to have a poor model for male friendship, and feel just as inept as I do one day.
I need to keep trying, for both me and my son. But as a man in his 30’s, it’s hard to know how. There are very few people I come into contact with outside of work. Even if I were in contact with new people, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Perhaps one day I’ll suffer through those awkward stages of a friendship and, just like Pistol Pete, get a nickname-worthy friend.