Years and years ago, so far
back that it feels like a dream now, I used to do something
called hanging out.
There was no ultimate purpose to it.
I wasn't networking or cutting deals or paving the
way for my future.
I'd go to such-and-such a place around such-and-such
a time to meet someone. This could be a person I knew very
superficially or barely at all.
Think back to your own past.
In high school, you'd go to the football game on
Friday nights and just hang out.
No one really watched the game.
You'd drift around the bleachers, running into
classmates, and exchange some banter.
An impromptu gathering at the ice cream parlor or
arcade might end the evening.
When I went away to university, there
were more opportunities to hang out than ever before.
I no longer had the same people in most of my
classes, and those in my dormitories were not the same
people I saw in class.
I'd order pizzas off the cuff with dorm mates,
arrange to meet for dinner with a classmate whose name I
just learned, agree to go to a party because a friend of a
friend of a friend told me about it.
After I graduated college and moved
overseas to Sweden for my first real brain-cell killing job,
hanging out became slightly more regimented.
I had to work a normal workday, so I couldn't go out
and about whenever I pleased.
Yet when I look over the old photographs, there was
still plenty of hanging out going on with people I now
hardly knew. I
visited a friend in the south of Sweden, and we drank
aquavit with his buddies over parties which went long into
the night. On a
trip to Finland over the Christmas season to visit another
friend, it seemed with paltry effort that hanging out just
Move ahead a few years and I was
backpacking around Asia and Africa where hanging out became
almost mandatory, now with people I didn't know an iota.
There were group hangouts in the islands of Thailand
and spontaneous group dinner hangouts in the India's north,
with plenty of generic corny hangout photographs to go with
friendships evolved on the quick.
A guy you met Monday at the bus station might wind up
as your travel companion for the next two weeks.
If I had to pinpoint a time when the
hanging out turned into a drought I'd have to say it was
around the time I moved to Los Angeles, shortly after coming
back from my three year whirlwind trip.
I didn't know anyone in Los Angeles at the time.
It wasn't very
easy to meet people, and on top of that, I wasn't very much
in a frame of mind for wanting to meet anyone to hang out
newfound sense of self imposed isolation became the norm
I've endured ever since.
It's easy and simplistic to conclude
that the amount of hanging out you do is in proportion to
the amount of real responsibilities you have.
In high school and college you have few real
In early adulthood, straight out of college, you're
still relatively footloose and fancy free.
Backpacking around the world involves a different set
of responsibilities, but not ones which impinge on hanging
out. By the time
I got back from my trip and moved to Los Angeles, I was
pushing 30. By
then, many in my age group were married or in serious
Some had kids.
Hanging out required time less people had.
Those are all valid reasons to be sure
but incomplete ones for the attrition of hang outs, as I
soon realized when I left the United States later to travel
around Australia by car.
Australia is billed as a backpackers' paradise or at
least it still was when I arrived there at the end of 2005.
The country has very lenient working holiday visa
can be mentally challenged and from the planet Mars and
still be able to secure a working holiday visa for Australia
as long as you are under 30.
So how much hanging out did I do in
Why not, if hanging out is proportional
to your responsibilities?
I had saved up a quite a bit of money and didn't need
to work. I could
stop wherever I wanted whenever I wanted and do any
activities I wanted.
Surrounded by backpackers, shouldn't hanging out have
been as common as drinking a bottle of overhyped Australian
Backpackers in Australia tend to be on
the younger side.
Though 30 is the ceiling for a working holiday visa,
you actually meet very few 28, 29, and 30 year olds.
The masses of backpackers I kept running into were
under 25 and probably away from home for the first time.
I was far better traveled and independent.
Some of the girls I encountered were cute, but they
were too young and immature and had no interest in a man my
age. Early on,
as this realization became crystal clear, I tried to shy
away from accommodation I knew backpackers would frequent.
I stayed in private pub rooms or camped whenever
possible, gladly avoiding group hangouts with the young
foreign backpacker contingent.
But once I got to Western Australia, the stops became
fewer and further, and visitors seemed to all decamp to the
Running into the same folks again and again, you'd
think this might build a camaraderie.
Well, it might've if I had been ten years younger.
But as I ruminate about it a bit more now, age wasn't
the big deal breaker for me.
It was the times.
Had it still been 1996, I probably would've had more
inclination to hang out with barely legal backpackers.
There was a huge difference between
traveling in 1996 and 2006. The 1996 traveler had no access
to internet, iPods, mobile phones.
By virtue of the times, he would've had to be a more
independent traveler and think on his feet because he
couldn't rely on a quick search on the internet to save his
night, the 1996'er would've had fewer options to distract
couldn't retreat to his room to watch a video on his phone
Naturally, such a person would've been more inclined to hang
travelers have even less reason to hang out than the
travelers of 2006.
With everyone armed with a smart phone and 24/7
internet access, I can imagine a dozen backpackers sitting
around a table not communicating with one another, but with
friends and contacts on their mobile devices.
Technology may be beneficial in being able to list
more friends on your social networks.
As far as actually being in real communication mode
with them, it's just a downer.
But technology isn't the real reason
the hang outs declined.
Technology just exacerbates the reality of how little
you have in common with most people.
With tech distractions an arm's length away, it can
be tempting to occupy your time reading an e-Book or
watching a YouTube video than chatting away with two
strangers at the opposite table who themselves are probably
entranced by their own mobile devices.
There are too many instances to recount where I was
having a conversation with someone, bored out my skull,
thinking how much I'd prefer to be in my room watching the
final few episodes of a mediocre sitcom than hanging out
right there and then.
Modern technology makes it very, very easy to steer
clear of dreary company.
You don't have to be backpacking among
twentysomethings to come to this conclusion.
The backpacking backdrop just makes all this more
older you get and the more experiences you have under your
belt, the more difficult it is to be intrigued enough by new
acquaintances to the point where you'll make the investment
necessary to turn them into lasting friends.
You didn't have that problem as a teen or as a
Hanging out came naturally back then.
You developed a history without even trying.
Which is why it's so common to keep in touch with
childhood friends you could have very little in common with
shared history at a critical time in your life cements the
The fact is as you get older you do
have to be more selective with your time.
There is a very noticeable opportunity cost of each
hour you spend doing something less than worthwhile, and
that includes hanging out with people you're indifferent
about. My wife
and I went to a mixer a year ago and met a Singaporean lady
and her German husband.
They were 10-15 years older than we.
The Singaporean took an interest in my wife,
exchanged cards, and initiated a hang out.
My wife became ill before the appointment and
cancelled, and the two never met up after that.
Though I encouraged the get together, my wife made a
very valid point.
She had very limited free time, and she'd prefer to
spend that time hanging out with me and her son.
Unless the meetup could be conducted as two couples,
she had no interest.
I'm no different.
I have two old friends I've known since I moved to
Thailand. We all
live in Bangkok, but I haven't seen them much since I've
We've probably made equal effort to get together.
When the hanging out does occur, it's when I initiate
it, and that's because I choose the time, always a time my
wife is unavailable.
When they offer up the invite, it's most often over
the weekend, during my wife's and my more limited free time
cost per hour goes up, and I opt out.
This is how it always works.
We put some kind of price on our time and weigh
whether one option (= hanging out) will yield the same value
as another (= looking at the wall with a gin & tonic).
I was at my gym
chatting with a Briton in his mid 40's I regularly see
there. He was
telling me how he'd just moved onto a newer, younger,
prettier, more promising girlfriend.
Only two months prior, he'd been raving about his
then current live-in girlfriend.
You meet a dime a dozen guys like this here in
brain couldn't help assessing if he were someone I would
care to devote additional energies meeting elsewhere.
Nearly all of the time nowadays, the answer is no.
And it's a mutual no.
These same people are not dying to hang out with me
either. For the
same reasons as I, they have better things to do with their
time. They put a
higher premium hanging out with their own girlfriends,
watching a senseless reality television show, or gaping over
a porno spread than hanging out with me.
That's just the way it is. The older we
get, the more regimented hanging out becomes.
We have other commitments and priorities.
We don't spontaneously go to a party thrown by a
friend of a friend of a friend anymore.
We make arrangements days in advance.
As part of a couple,
the biggest factor determining whether we'll go or stay
could be if the company is another couple, too.
There really is some truth to the adage
you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
The dog could learn new tricks if he felt so
motivated, but the new tricks he's being shown aren't too
different from the ones he already knows.
Consider the dog has a beautiful companion waiting at
home and a few bones to keep him busy, and no hangout stands
a chance getting him out of the doghouse.
Hanging out, once so liberating and spur of the
moment, becomes the activity you partake of when you've got
nothing better to do.