Something eventually had to give.
I’ve maintained a certain level of personal distance from Philadelphia ever since S and I moved here. It was always supposed to be short-term. We came here specifically so she could go to nursing school and the plan was to leave shortly after her graduation.
I was ok with refraining from establishing any permanent ties as a result. Ask anyone who knows me even remotely well and they know that my overall goal is to rid myself of life on the east coast and head west. It’s a deep-seated desire that, for lack of a better term, just calls to me.
So, this plan was a great one. Come here, do what we need to do, and get out. Philly was a good enough spot for a temporary layover but a long-term stay was never in the picture.
Until great things started happening for S.
Her career has been amazing thus far and her acceptance into the most prestigious Master’s program in the country for her chosen profession served only to cement one newly inescapable truth:
I was going to be in Philly for far longer than I’d originally intended.
I was ok with being mostly alone for the past couple of years, but future isolation, especially for years further still, was simply not in the cards. Something began to become apparent: I was going to need to start making some friends.
Trying Not to be the Weird Guy
Making new friends as an adult is hard. Like really freaking hard. Think about it. When you’re a kid it’s so damn easy.
“You have that toy? I love that toy. We like the same thing!!”
“Wanna be best friends?”
Fast forward a couple of decades and it becomes infinitely more difficult.
“So, dude, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you here at this bar. Look, I don’t know if you ever wanna hang out or anything but here’s my number. Hit me up or something.”
S suggested that I check out a few Meetups around things that I like to do. I figured that standing on a corner with a sign proclaiming “Friendless writer with an interest in hiking, camping, and backpacking seeks someone that likes going on long walks through the woods” wasn’t going to get me anything but a psych evaluation, so Meetup it was going to have to be.
The concept of Meetup is an interesting one. It basically takes the entire paradigm that we were taught about the internet when the thing first started and turns it completely and totally on its head. You remember those days, don’t you CoolGuyinParadise154? We all had screen names and handles, you never shared your location or any personal details, and if you actually went out and met someone that you’d met online…well…you were going to die. There were no two ways about it – you were going to die and it was going to be gross and hurt the whole time you were dying.
Meetups encourage in-person meetings for groups of people who share common interests. I was surprised to see the number of groups centered around things that matter to me. The groups appeared to be active and full of a wide range of ages. I began to become cautiously optimistic.
Memorial Day weekend was fast approaching. The weather was supposed to be gorgeous and S had to work for pretty much the whole thing. Interestingly, I noted that one group was doing a Memorial Day weekend camping trip in a location I’d never been before.
It took me a minute to process this.
“Friendless writer is considering spending multiple days and nights in a campground surrounded by people he’s never met before.” This sign seemed far more likely to land me that psych eval than the previous sign.
On a whim, I reached out and contacted the event organizer.
“So, here’s the thing. This looks like it could be something pretty cool. But, I’m just a dude with a wife who works a lot and while she’s doing her thing, I’m just looking for some people who enjoy doing the kinds of things that I like doing. I’m not looking for a drunkfest or orgies among the trees – that would probably get me in trouble when I got home. Is this, like a real thing or is it more like Singles in the Woods Making Out While I Nurse a Beer and Sadness?”
Not long after, a reply arrived.
“No worries good sir – we are simply a group of cool people who enjoy doing cool things. If you would like to do cool things, you should come and do cool things with us.”
This was it. It was the moment of truth. I could either sit at home on Memorial Day weekend and work while having deep conversations about hard topics with my cats or I could throw caution to the wind, pack up my camping gear, and drive somewhere I’d never been to go camping with people I didn’t know.
Fuck it. We’re doing this.
It wound up being one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. I went into the situation with no expectations. I know camping and hiking like the back of my hand and I would be completely in my element in the woods.
Maybe if I hadn’t known that I could be 100% self-sufficient on arrival, I would have thought twice. Knowing no one and being dependent on others would have been a little too much for me. But the woods are an extension of my own house at this point. I’d be in my element, strangers notwithstanding.
I don’t know if all Meetups go as well as this past weekend did. If they do – I mean – I don’t know why every single person with access to a computer isn’t a member of a Meetup or five. But what I experienced over the course of three days was a coming together of personalities, stories, backgrounds, and histories that made for what can only be described as something that was truly beautiful.
There were moments that touched and challenged me in ways that I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. There was laughter – there was so much laughter – and there was time when the silence as one person would share an experience was deafening.
We camped. We ate. We hiked. We traveled. We shared food and we shared vehicles. We shared resources and we shared the things that made each of us who we are.
And just hours prior, we had no idea who the other person was.
Days later and I am still moved and touched by what I experienced over the course of 3 days with people whose names I had just learned. I hope I cross paths with many of these people again – be it in the woods or another activity as the result of a Meetup or through coming together for a drink or a meal as friends.
But, one thing is certain – none of it would have happened had I not taken a chance and a blind leap. I’m so glad I did.