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What a Guys Trip Taught a Middle-Aged Introvert About Friendship

What a Guys Trip Taught a Middle-Aged Introvert About Friendship

It began as ideas, good and bad, often do: in a bar.

My soccer club — a group of mostly middle-aged dads in suburban New Jersey — was enjoying its weekly post-match pint when we began talking about how fun it would be to play against a similar team in Mexico City, where several of our players grew up. The idea gradually gained momentum until, suddenly, one day last December, we were buying airplane tickets.

But let me back up: A few years ago, I moved to Madison, N.J., after decades in New York City. I knew no one there outside of my family. Busy with work and getting my daughter settled, I didn’t have much time to think about socializing. As an introvert who works from home, that was never going to be easy. As a 50-something, I’d met my closest friends decades earlier. Did I even need new ones?

What I did want to do was bring my soccer habit with me from the city. Eventually, via my neighbor Andrea, who was born in Italy, I found a regular pickup game. The first match was enjoyable and the group seemed affable, so I kept showing up.

Mostly expats, my new teammates ranged in age and background, and I enjoyed being exposed to their perspectives. The youngest, Jorge, an elementary schoolteacher originally from Colombia, was not quite half my age, and we joked about my adopting him.

As we got to know one another better, we became more like a team — complete with jerseys with our custom “Madison Soccer and Beers” logo — and our activities started to expand. We’d gather for a cookout or go mountain biking; we even tried paintball. Soon, I was telling the guys how lucky I felt to have found them, and they were saying equally sappy stuff.

After a few months, I began to realize my hunger to play soccer wasn’t entirely about the game. I was looking for connection. But as the trip to Mexico loomed, I began to have a few doubts: I was the oldest guy by some 10 years — would I be able to keep up? Did I really want to share an Airbnb with 14 others? And would I get roasted for my extreme sleep routine: eye mask, mouth tape, wall of white noise?

What if it turned out I didn’t actually like the guys that much? What if they didn’t like me?

“All relationships require risk,” Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, told me when I went poking around for data on men and friendship. “You always risk being uncomfortable with someone, or getting too close to them. If we become so risk-averse in getting to know…

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