Joining the Tribe Or How to Make and Keep Friends as an Adult Gay

By Scott King

The first six months I lived in Atlanta, I dated around. This guy told me he loved me after four dates. We broke up at Joining Hearts.

So much drama.

As I prowled through the city that spring and summer, I tried to treat people with kindness and respect. Sometimes I failed, sometimes the guy I was dating failed, and sometimes things ended amicably.

Regardless, I was constantly worried about collateral damage. I didn’t want to get a reputation, and I didn’t want to burn bridges or interstate connectors.

That’s when I realized how big this city is. The LGBT community, the commuter community, and the metro area itself. All of them vast and storied and a bit overwhelming.

Facebook helped. I was like wow, so-and-so doesn’t know so-and-so. I’m going to get off scot-free here.

As the glitter of that summer literally faded, I met and started dating someone for real, right as the leaves turned. My bf had a large, tightly knit clique of friends. I didn’t really fit in with them, but most of them were kind and accepting to me right off the bat. Most of them. They made matching t-shirts for the members of the group. They even made me one.

My boyfriend and I broke up the next year right before Christmas. On Christmas Day, I ordered Chinese food with my best friend in town. We drowned our sorrows in soy sauce. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra raw.

I knew I had to regroup. Even though I didn’t click with them, I had studied my boyfriend’s clique, their interrelationships and their dynamics as a group, the whole time we were together.

They looked at friendship as a linear thing. Not as a cycle or a circuit as Atlanta can often feel. There are so many different groups of people floating around here and intersecting.

Every person in the group was looked at as a whole soul, not as their permanent or temporal connection to the group. Each person and each relationship had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And while you’re at the beginning, and while you’re in the middle, you never know where you are, until it’s the end. It could be the year-and-a-half like my boyfriend and I lasted. Or it could be for life, especially after marriage equality happened. Put a ring on it, they told me with their eyes.

I think they were onto something.

In bigger cities, connections with other humans can be very brief. And I don’t mean connections just of a sexual or romantic kind. I mean that moment you have with the lady at the counter as you share a laugh about something ridiculous going on outside the shop window. That connection may be temporally brief, but it is spiritually infinite.

That’s the way friendship should impact your life. The majority of my best friends are those I met in college or in grad school or in the prodigal years where I was waiting tables and living hand-to-mouth. Probably because we had a long but finite amount of time to spend together in an intense and intensely structured set of circumstances. That’s what bonds people together.

When you get outside of structured environments like school or work, it’s harder to make those connections, and it’s more difficult to build the intimacy of unconditional friendship. I mean the kind of friendships where maybe you haven’t talked for a year, but, when you do pick it back up, it’s like no time has passed, and no closeness has been lost.

So how do we do this? How do we build friendships in adult life that are as solid as those we had with our war buddies, our childhood companions, and our adolescent co-conspirators?

Here are my suggestions:

Get into trouble with your gays. Learn about their real taste in music, not just what they pretend to be into. Learn what their flatulence smells like. Learn how they deal with stress and how they interact with strangers.

And yes, you can work out to your heart’s content the week before, so that if you end up at a beach or in a towel in a hotel room, all those accidental group photos will look good, on Facebook on Grindr or on the wall at the post office.

DM your peeps, even when you don’t need something, even when you’re not lonely. People, especially those who know you, can smell desperation. And no I do not mean a fragrance for a man or woman by Calvin Klein. I mean that transparent stank that makes people not want to hang out with you. It also leads them to believe that you don’t actually want to hang out with them, that you’re just looking for someone to hold onto while surfing the void.

It’s not groovy.

Don’t overdo it on the ass-kissing or gratuitous compliments, either. Just share things that you think are funny or interesting. You know, the stuff you have in common with them that made you friends in first place.

You don’t end up where you don’t belong. You can’t make everyone happy; you’re not tequila.

When people screw you over, untie the knot and let loose. Mix in tequila and a few metaphors, and you’re ready to start fresh. Fresh as the lime in the coconut.

Netflix can wait. Get your keys, get your phone, and walk down the street to join your friends at the place. 92% of the time you’ll be glad you did. You’ll make connections, and you’ll move things forward. Those are pretty good odds.

Think about how nice and obsequious you are to someone on whom you have a crush. Now relax a little bit and think about how happy you want that person to be, not just about how happy you want them to make you. Then treat everyone you meet like you would that crush. Treat yourself that way, too.

And then just be. Be love.

And then let’s be friends.

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