A few weeks ago, I sent a text to my buddy Bruce Henderson, an HR exec in the Twin Cities. It's a text I have sent to him many times over the last few years.
"Yo! How's your calendar looking this month?"
We are childhood friends. We are also fathers with jobs that grant us a lot of frequent flyer miles but not nearly enough time to socialize. My struggles to find time to connect with my homeboy made me think about a larger concern: What has happened to my social life since the pandemic began?
I admit the pandemic played into my introverted nature. I can turn on the personality when I'm asked to, but that is not my norm, so the constant solitude did not impact me the way it affected others in my world. I had my small crew and I felt socially sufficient. Before the pandemic, however, my circle grew every year and I actively cultivated more social connections.
Today, I continue to search for the path to reboot my social life to pre-pandemic levels, beyond the bubble I created for myself during those challenging times.
My messages and e-mails to acquaintances and friends in recent months have all been ambitious. "Hey! Let's make time for lunch!" or "What's up? Been way too long. Happy hour soon?" And this is my favorite: "I was randomly driving through your neighborhood and figured I would reach out. Feels like we should connect soon?"
What does that even mean? I drove down your block and that was a sign that we should grab coffee this week? Maybe?
These open-ended invitations and responses show I am longing for connection but also don't tie me to any obligation or date. And that's the problem. That's my problem. Maybe it's our problem.
Per the Survey Center on American Life's "The State of American Friendship: Change, Challenges, and Loss" study, 9% of men aged 30 to 49 and 13% of women aged 30 to 49 lost touch with most of their friends over the last 12 months. In the same age groups, 43% of men and 43% of women said they'd lost touch with a few friends.
I feel that.
If friendship is a neighborhood, then the people down the street — those folks I kept in touch with on occasion before the pandemic — are either gone or they feel too distant to touch again. I think that's part of life and change. But the people next to me, around me — the ones with whom I have relationships that go beyond the casual or professional layers — I still feel like I'm searching for some of them, too.
"OK. How about the end of May?" Bruce responded to my recent text about meeting up. "That work?"
Bruce and I met when we were kids. Our fathers — Melvin Medcalf and (Big) Bruce Henderson — were best friends and they lived down the street from one another. Bruce and I went to the same schools. We rode the same buses.
Everybody in the neighborhood knew our fathers, too. They were a couple of Black fathers in the Milwaukee suburbs in the late 1980s. Big Bruce stood about 6-foot-6. I would lie to kids and tell them he was at least 8 feet tall.
My parents had seven kids. At one point, they had children in day care, elementary school, middle school and high school. My father drove a blue and white van that was slightly smaller than a space shuttle.
Both men were difficult to miss.
When Big Bruce died more than 20 years ago, my father never replaced him. I feel like Bruce and I living in the same city is a chance to extend their friendship.
I know I can do more to strengthen that relationship and others in my life.
In my friendships, sometimes I assume we're good no matter how long it has been since we've connected. I travel a lot and I have friends around the country I might not see for years, but when we meet, there is no doubt that our respective friendships remain strong.
Every relationship, however, demands maintenance. While I want to leave the door open to more organic connections and relationships in the future and put more coffee dates and social events on the calendar, I am still struggling to find my social stride now that the world has opened up again.
I am trying to change that. I know these connections I crave require an effort that goes beyond a few text messages or DMs.
A few weeks ago, I took out my calendar and I reached out to some folks. Lunch with my homie Jana Shortal, the KARE 11 personality and new mother, will happen soon. Reggie Wilson, her coworker and the sports director at KARE 11, and I finally have a date and time to meet in person. Tom Horgen, the Star Tribune's senior manager of audience strategy and my best friend, have agreed to monthly meetups to supplement our 24/7 DM stream, mostly about 2000s hip-hop and pro wrestling.
I think that's a solid start.
"How about May 22?" I responded to Bruce's text about connecting soon. That date worked for both of us.
On Friday, Bruce and I will meet up for the first time in a long time.
And I'll make sure we don't leave dinner before we put another date on the calendar.
Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online.