Mixing friend groups can be tricky. There is no transitive property of friendship that says because you and I are close, and this other person and I are also close, then you and that person will get along swimmingly. I once encouraged friends I introduced to each other to get together without me, and it led to a meltdown at a baseball game when one of them had too much to drink. I’m guilty, too, of ducking behind a column when I’ve spied a friend of a friend whose company I don’t enjoy coming my way on a subway platform.
There’s a subtle art to intermingling people from different parts of your life. It takes intention, and you need to be willing to set aside your own ego. Perhaps that’s why a pal from college once told me he avoids mixing friend groups at all costs. The comment annoyed me at the time because I was single and resented that he was keeping me compartmentalized away from a pool of vetted men. The joke’s on him now, though, because I’m planning a dinner party for the New Year that’s designed to expose him to people outside our tight circle of former student-newspaper nerds.
And he has his own (very charming) new girlfriend to thank for it. I met her at a housewarming party my boyfriend and I threw this fall, where our respective tribes were sardined together for the first time over batched Aperol spritz and the contents of the entire Trader Joe’s snack aisle. Sometime in the 11 p.m. hour, as I scanned the room to ensure all my guests were having the Absolute Best Time Ever, I noticed that the new girl and my boyfriend’s best friend from high school were almost literally rolling on the floor laughing. I couldn’t hear what was so funny over the 30 other voices babbling away in one body-heat-filled, 20-by-13-foot space, but witnessing the moment made me smile. Here was a woman who came to the party not knowing anyone at all, and another who’d driven into Brooklyn from New Jersey knowing only a handful of other guests, hitting it off as if they’d grown up together.
I mentioned how happy that connection made me the next time I saw the couple. “Oh, yeah,” the girlfriend lit up. “We’re Instagram friends now!” Endorphins flooded my brain. Here was an opening! I’d already told my boyfriend’s high-school friend and her fiancé that I wanted to have them over for dinner. And I knew from experience that budding friendships wither when neither party takes the oddly vulnerable step of making a concrete plan to meet up again. Why not create the conditions for these two vibrant souls to keep vibing?
Lately, people in my social circle have been vocal about experiencing bouts of loneliness, whether because the pandemic limited chance social encounters, or because some folks are getting married and starting families and these big life events naturally shake up larger group dynamics. Some have asked me to introduce them to new people they could rope into their early-morning tennis matches or bring to Off Broadway shows. Before 2020, I may have felt an instinctual need to gatekeep my other friendships for fear of blowback if folks didn’t end up getting along. I’ve since learned that fear is unfounded. Even my friends who got into it at the baseball game quickly moved past the tiff and continue to hang out.
I want to make these connections for my friends because I want them to have fulfilling social lives. So the serendipity from that housewarming party is what I’m making a concerted effort to bring into 2023. I’m going to play platonic matchmaker and challenge myself to host a dinner once a month where I invite over four to six people who don’t already know every other person in the room. College friends, work friends, friends who can’t remember precisely how we met all thrown together over a roast chicken or a pot of homemade pasta and Bolognese sauce and something bubbly. It will scratch my itch to smother everyone I love in home-cooked meals now that I live in an apartment with a kitchen to support it (my mother is Italian American; this impulse is written in my DNA). But I’d like to think that I’ll look around the table and see that everyone is too busy chattering at each other to polish off the meal and already making gestures toward meeting again.
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