Sunday, February 21, 2016

How to Make Virtual Friends And Find Your Tribe

Making friends after you've become a parent is hard. That’s one parenting truth people forget to warn you about. It can be a friendless endeavor.

Often, it starts by losing the friends you had before your kids came along. They fade away. Some do so by continuing on their pre-kid trajectory. Others have kids of their own and recoil into their new lives. You’re still “friends” with these people, technically, but you never see them.

The act of having a child then hinders your ability to replace those friends. Lack of sleep, diapers, soccer practice, it takes up all of your time. That challenge seems to grow exponentially with each child.

I know because I have four kids. And a few years ago, I had no friends.

Of course, I had my brothers. But they had to be friends with me. And they each had their own circle of friends. I had guys I’d been friends with my whole life who I’d hang out with and laugh with on the rare times I’d see them. But they all live hours away, or are so caught up in their own lives that the best we can do is say “We should get together more” when we happen to randomly see each other once a year or so.

When it came to regular interaction, I had no one I could chat with, laugh with, or interact with. I had no one who would ask me to get a beer after work, or to watch the big game, or just to complain to or listen to about dumb life stuff. You know: friends.

I took pride back then in thinking that my wife was my best friends. Which is an honest and sweet sounding thing, unless your wife is also your only friend.

Back when I had no friends, I also worked from home. You can probably see where this is going. Working from home also hinders the whole friendship thing. I had guys I’d meet up with on work conference calls every few days. But we didn’t exactly have conference calls after work hours, unless there was something really bad happening. And because I worked remotely from home, I couldn’t “grab beers” with them when the official crap was done for the day. Despite the fact I got along well with these guys, they didn’t exactly fill the friend void.

And here’s the thing about us people. We need friends. We’re social beings. We need people beyond our kids, and our spouse, and our coworkers, and our families. We really do. Because there’s stuff you can talk to friends about that families won’t react well to, that coworkers don’t want to hear, that your wife is sick of hearing, and that your kids won’t understand.

Back when I had no friends I also began writing this blog. Those two things aren’t related. At least, I don’t think so.

So to recap: I had kids, worked from home, wrote a blog, and had no friends.

And then the weirdest thing happened. A stranger who also happened to be a dad and a writer reached out to me. His name was Oren. It turns out, he had lots of friends. And he invited me into his group. It was a Facebook group of fellow dads and writers from all over the world.

Me and a few hundred of my closest friends listen to
Michael Strahan talk about fatherhood and life.
One of many highlights from Dad 2.016 Summit.
It sounded odd. But suddenly, when I wasn’t busy toiling away at work stuff, or driving kids to soccer practice, I had a group of people that I could laugh with and joke with, tease and debate. Some of them were work-at-home dads like me. Others were stay-at-home dads. And some worked at offices, and did their best to parent and write about it. There were divorced dads, gay dads and Canadian dads. There were funny guys and finance guys. Guys with 100,000 followers on Facebook and guys with 100. They were all dads who wrote. They were like me.

I had virtual friends. I’d found my tribe.

I know what you’re thinking -- or at least, I know what I was thinking at the time. I also know what my brothers were thinking, because they razzed me. Virtual friends aren’t real friends. They’re just pixels. Things that let out a “bing” when they respond to you.

I thought about that some. And it’s true, in the age of the Internet, and Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easy to make virtual connections. But it’s hard to make those connections feel real.

Still, for the past three years I’ve been interacting with these fellow dad writers online: laughing at their jokes, reading their articles, and hitting “like” when they post pictures of their families. We talked about world events, shared beers though “drink threads,” and picked on each other about whose professional football team sucked the most. These virtual friends filled a void in my life that was created by parenting, and was ironically refilled by the same endeavor. They helped me through a time when I needed friends.

I grew to really like these guys.

Then a very sad thing happened. One of them got sick and died. That was Oren.

I can tell you something I learned: If you think virtual friends aren’t real, then you’ve never lost one the way we did. I bawled. We all did. Hell, I’m crying as I write this. Sorry.

Also in the past three years, this dumb blog thing helped me reconnect with a lot of old friends, real friends who have scattered across the country since whence we met. Friends in places like Colorado, and Southern California, Maine and Florida, Saranac Lake and Rochester. People I’ve known throughout my life, who now have kids and struggle with all the same crap us parents face -- including the challenge of making friends -- but who just happen to live far away.

Some of the Old Friends I just met.
I’ve also broken through on a more local level, getting up the gumption to join a group of fellow dads who have kids at our local elementary school. And I started working from an office again, rather than home.

Now, I have people, both real and virtual, that I can get a beer with – though I rarely have time to do that.

Still, I felt I owed something to these virtual friends, the ones who befriended me when I had none. And I owed something to myself. I needed to make them real.

This past weekend, I went to a conference for dad bloggers, writers, and authors, and other people who just care about fatherhood issues. It’s called the Dad 2.0 Summit. This was the 5th annual gathering and the first one I could attend.

To the uninitiated, it may sound like a strange thing – a bunch of dad bloggers hanging out at a hotel. It’s much more than that, though that would have been enough. It’s a conference for the people on the cutting edge of what modern fatherhood means. As I told my kids, it’s kind of a big deal.

For me, it was a homecoming. A surreal one at that. All those guys who were just “bings” and pixels were suddenly standing there before more, extending their hand to shake, and offering to buy me a real and actual beer.

It was surreal. And it was also very real.

One of the many cool things I got to take
back from the Dad 2.0 Summit.
I finally got to meet these guys I’ve known for three years, and to make some new friends, and laugh, and joke, and celebrate, and cry. I got to mourn the man who introduced me to all these dad writers and do that surrounded by these friends.

So today, I feel like a person with lots of friends. And you’ll be happy to know that my wife is still my best friend, and that doesn’t sound lame to me at all.

But there’s a lesson here that I hope others can draw from my story. It can be hard to make friends. But none of us are truly alone. There’s people out there who are struggling with all the things you’re struggling with, facing the same obstacles, enjoying the same outlets. You just have to find them. Because they are there, and they are real.

So, find your tribe, befriend them, and meet them. You won’t regret it.

I certainly don’t.

Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy. Learning Lessons from a Little Boy, Tip of the Hat to Single Parents, and Thanks to My Backup, and New Year, Few Expectations


Josh said...

There is something nice about being able to say you have found your tribe.

Cort Ruddy said...

You're so right, Josh. Thanks for reading.

Frank Priegue said...

Wow Court your post hit home. I'm a SAHD to a 16 month old son. I'm living your post, although I'm sure I'm not the only one. It feels good to part of a Tribe that gets you.

Cort Ruddy said...

Thanks, Frank. Glad it spoke to you. And it certainly does feel good.

Andy said...

So glad we got to meet. I didn't know you had that direct connection with Oren. What a legacy that guy left. I also am with you on how making friends as a dad is difficult and strange. How fortunate we all got to get together!

Kevin McKeever said...

Good stuff and so true. Keep up the good dadding, new friend. Kevin

Cort Ruddy said...

Thanks, Kevin. Looking forward to San Diego.

Dave said...

We definitely have to hang in San Diego. Can't wait, dude. Fuck, that's a whole year away? I CAN'T WAIT. Well, FB will have to do in the meantime.

Cort Ruddy said...

Looking forward to it. Already got my conference ticket booked. Can't wait either. What a blast it was.

Lance Somerfeld @ NYC Dads Group said...

It was great to finally meet you in DC. Loved reading this post and agree that being part of a community is of paramount importance. Having a social group of dads on my crazy parenting journey has been instrumental in maintaining my sanity.

Cort Ruddy said...

Good to meet you too, Lance. What an amazing event. So many guys I would've liked to talk to more. And you're right, that support system is critical. The City Dads groups are doing great work in that regard.