Houston…we have a problem
A common saying tells us that you have three kinds of friends: friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for a lifetime. I’m fortunate enough to have some friends who I believe could be friends for life, but I also have a lot of people who I would consider just friends for a season. Some of these people are folks who I’ve met out at a bar. We share stories, laughs and some fond memories, but sometimes there’s that thought: Is this person really my friend?
Going out is such a staple of adult life for many people over the age of 21, and yet with so many people around you, it can also be a lonely experience. There is no universal experience to friendship, and with that sentiment, what does it mean to establish meaningful relationships in the bar scene? There’s such an appeal to friends at the bar. They’re usually low maintenance, up to grab a drink and chances are you’ll already be going to the same place. It’s an easy approach to friendship, but would this friendship have any meaning (beyond a brief greeting and exchange of pleasantries) if you saw them outside of your shared drinking spot?
Let’s break it down for you. We’ll use pop culture references to paint this picture. In television shows like “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Cheers” (to name a few), their characters routinely meet in one central location, whether it’s a bar or coffee shop. Television takes this idea of bar regulars and turns it into a staple of their daily lives. But, I always ask myself, how are these people able to find time almost daily to be with their friends? They usually all met in their respective locations (with the exception of those with sordid back stories) and hit it off, almost instantly becoming best of friends. Yet their friendships persist and transcend past the bar scene. It’s exciting and makes for decent, easy-to-follow television, but does this set an unrealistic standard for people going out?
In the real world, anyone with a few years of adulthood behind them realizes that friendship is a little more complicated, and few friendships reach that level of intimacy (and those that do are hard to maintain with the pressures of adult life). I have relationships with all sorts of people from the bars I frequent (Baja Betty’s, Gossip Grill and Redwing to name a few). People there truly treat me like family. But, in these same places I have people who I see that I don’t really know, yet there’s this appearance that we’re close. We hug; we sing songs and share conversations in a space that usually lends itself more for loudness and camaraderie. But, that’s what you look for when you’re out in the scene, isn’t it?
The answer to all of these questions is pretty nuanced. In my own experience, I love meeting new people and forging connections, but, at the same time, it can feel a little stagnant. As someone who’s lived in San Diego from elementary to college, I’ve always felt like I’ve had an easier time with maintaining a social life. But, as time has gone on, I’ve come to realize that friends always do come and go, and the desire to build new friendships can be draining. At least for me, making connections in the bar feels less like building and more like maintaining a status quo. There are no expectations other than be here at this time and have some cocktails or a coffee or whatever gets your night going. In a sense, it feels like they take on the role of fixtures in a routine. If I were going through a hard time and needed a close friend to confide in, these are not likely to be the friends I would call upon.
At this point, if you’re unsure who among your friends are bar friends, think about the types of people you talk to on a regular basis. If you tend to only exchange texts to plan what time you’re going to the same place night after night, there’s one of your answers. If it’s hard for you to picture what they might look like in daylight, that’s also a sign. They’re usually people you know where your lives are connected through one place. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re still connected, just in a different way. You may not have a friendship that would give the “Golden Girls” a run for their money, but bar friendships are rewarding in other ways. The biggest is reliability. You know that, going to your favorite bar, you will almost certainly have the relief of knowing someone in the room who you can chat to and laugh with, even if you’ve only chatted in passing before. The bar regulars you connect with, like all friendships, can be complex. Yet these friendships, like all the others, hold a central location in the diverse patchwork of social connections that we maintain. At least I like to think they do.
Top five tips on making connections:
- Don’t be afraid to get to know the staff at whatever establishment you go to. It frequently helps with the process of connecting with patrons.
- Life isn’t like TV and movies. Relationship building takes time and work.
- As the “Friends” theme song states, “So no one told you life was gonna be this way.” Life is unpredictable, and so are the people that you meet. Be open to finding what you least expect in the seemingly strangest of humans.
- Bars are loud, and so are the people. When you’re going out, it’s bound to happen that you may not get to have those deep, beyond-the-surface conversations. Change your expectations.
- There’s an appeal to nightlife, but don’t be afraid to make the right connections with friends that maybe do more for you than just meet you out at “the club” at midnight. Bar friends can be enriching, but having only bar friends in your life can also be lonely.