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Friends in middle age

I spent the weekend visiting my friends Aaron and Lauren in Philadelphia. They met in grad school, which is where I met them. They just so happened to end up getting married. I visited them when they moved to Los Angeles and Boston, and when they moved to New York, I got to see them fairly often. About 4 years ago, they did the sane thing and left New York to buy a house elsewhere.

Fortunately, that elsewhere was in Philadelphia, and it takes me about 2.5 hours to get there. It’s quite a convenience to have close friends living in a different city with an extra bedroom, especially when that trip costs under $50 round trip.

The weekend wasn’t meant to be anything crazy; just catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. I took care of their cat for a week back in August, but the last time I saw them was for the Super Bowl when the Eagles lost to the Chiefs.

Most of the weekend was spent playing with their kids and eating meals. Aaron and Lauren have good jobs, a great home and three beautiful kids. I’m sure they’d be somewhat embarrassed to hear it, but I have no qualms telling anyone theirs is a model family. They’re not putting on airs about it; they’ve just carved out a nice life. Their kids are thoughtful and pleasant, too. You can get a sense of a parent just by how a kid acts. I’m biased, of course, but they’re rearing a good crew.

The thought dawned on me last week that I’ve known Aaron and Lauren for nearly 15 years; we met for the first time in September 2009 when we were starting journalism school in Chicago. These were my first real post-college friends. Now we’re all around 40 years old.

One of the oddities of the pandemic, for me, is how that 10-year span from 25 to 35 years old accelerated. Maybe its the confluence of health problems, stage in life, and just the number of being 40, but it has only recently sunk in that my real life—the one that has involved a professional career—has already gone on for 15 years.

Back when I was 25, one of the driving forces for me taking a job that seemed flimsy was this: I didn’t want to wake up when I was 40 and feel like I’d been afraid to try. Now that I’m nearing 40, I see how that logic made sense at the time, but was perhaps misguided. I don’t regret making that choice, and in the end, things have turned out fine for me.

It’s just interesting to see how any number of choices lead us down the paths we take. I dedicated myself to building up my career in numerous ways in New York. I had a few relationships that didn’t last. By and large, I’m on my own, doing things my way. There’s always something to improve, but I’m happy with how my life looks today.

In contract, Aaron and Lauren have had one another to build in those times. I sometimes wonder what choices I would have made if I had the gravity of a partner pulling me into her orbit. That has only been the case on occasion, but I put my work ahead of anything else in my early thirties. On the other side of the pandemic, I question sometimes whether that got me what I was looking for. The reality is, though, what I’m looking for has evolved over time.

There’s something to reading The Little Blue Truck Leads the Way twice in a day to a 2-year-old. That’s not something that happens in my bachelor pad. But when you see how happy it makes her, well, you get why people are into their kids. I was telling Aaron this morning how I’ve attempted to teach my niece and nephew a saying I learned recently: There are friends for a season, a reason and a lifetime. Aaron and Lauren are of the third kind.

Overall, it was a quiet and restful weekend. I ate good food and got out of my little bubble here in Brooklyn. Normally, doing and trying new things is what drives me. But in this case, catching up on old things brought me the same amount of joy—if not more.

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