Picture this: I'm at a holiday party at a beautiful home. The art adorning the walls is beautiful, the food healthy and delicious, the wines exquisite. I sip my wine, and am introduced to someone I have not met before. This guy is a player -- smart, wealthy and successful. But he doesn't talk to me; he talks at me. He pontificates.
In the first ten minutes of conversation, I know quite a bit about him. How much he sold his last company for, how many bottles of wine are in his wine cellar, how he feels about Obamacare, how many square feet of deck space he has in Nantucket, why he loves his new Tesla. And after five minutes, I have to suppress the urge to chug the rest of my wine so that 1. I can manage to live through the next five minutes, and 2. I can extricate myself politely from the "conversation" by sighing and stating that I need a refill.
This has happened to me more than once, and definitely makes me think I should spend more time feeding the homeless than going to holiday parties. It's always the same: these guys hardly ever ask a single question, and when they do, it is sometimes offensive. Once, Master of the Universe took a deep breath after his monologue and asked, "So, what do you do all day... shop?" He was not being condescending; he was just stupid. He was also very lucky the glass of wine in my hand that evening was white, not red.
And the common denominator for all of them? They were all men. I had never-ever-met a woman like that. I actually didn't think they existed. All the successful women I knew were lovely, real people to be admired -- they did not, as Chimamanda Adichie writes so beautifully in her new book, Americanah, "flaunt their membership in the wealthy club..." and exercise their right "to be rude, inconsiderate, to be greeted rather than to greet."
But the other night I met a woman who disproved my theory, and honestly, it rocked my world. In the first ten minutes of being introduced, I knew that: she was a successful New York Mergers and Acquisitions lawyer, she was on the board of directors of multiple corporations (but of course she was, she was involved in starting them up), that all her mentors were men (who would have guessed?), that her husband was a stay-at-home dad whom she directed exactly how to be a stay-at-home dad: "I told him he had to read the books that my high-schooler would read so he could help them with their homework."
"Really?" I wanted to ask, "Who does that?" But I couldn't get a word in edgewise.
And God help me, this is what I was thinking most of the time she was droning on about how she worked a minimum of 60 hours each week: "I bet your husband is shtupping the other stay-at-home wives, because I can't stand you, and I have only known you for ten minutes."
I'm not proud of that thought; I generally like to be a cheerleader for successful women. But when I meet an Ass, male or female, my thoughts do not discriminate.
The smartest people I know of either sex, of course, know how much they don't know. They are humble. They want to learn from everyone they meet. They look you in the eye and ask questions about you. Whether they are conversing with a waitress at a restaurant, the custodian at their children's school, or a Nobel prize winner, the most intelligent people I know, know that everyone has something to offer -- an insight, a story that might change their life -- or at least their perspective.
I am not worried that this woman might recognize herself in this article. She never asked me what I did. She would have no time to read and probably no interest in reading anything written by me. When I offered it up (forced it on her) at the end of the conversation, I am sure she wasn't listening.
So maybe the best holiday present you can get your kids (or perhaps your spouse) is a new book by Meghan Doherty: How Not To Be A Dick, An Everyday Etiquette Guide. And ladies, when you reach the top, please don't try to emulate the male members of the club. We can't afford to have even more Asses roaming around at cocktail parties.
Read more from Better After 50:
How To Become A Mindful Eater In 10 Days
From High-Tech Consultant To Buddhist Minister
Stranger Than Science Fiction
Read About What's Possible: She Did It All Week Long
What you want is someone to hang with near where you live. Approach this scientifically. Having a friend who lives an hour's drive away will mean you won't see them as much as the person who lives closer. So think global, but stay local. That means your local coffee shop, the local branch of the public library, they local chapter of the Sierra Club, or the local college that offers evening courses.
If you play tennis, join a club or take a few lessons at the community center. If you like to throw parties, volunteer to run the annual fund-raiser at your synagogue or church; when the board thanks you publicly at the dinner, everyone will learn your name. If you hike, join the Sierra Club. If you bicycle, join a biking group or enter a race in your age category. Here's the one caveat about following your interests: Nobody ever met anyone while watching "American Idol" from the couch.
Be open to the idea that it's OK to have friends who are older or younger. The fact that they are in different stages in life just means they bring a different perspective to the table. While a 14-year-old won't be interested in socializing with a toddler, that 10-year age gap dissipates when they get older. Why not say yes to the 30-somethings who invite you to join them for drinks after work? Invite them over for dinner with their families and get to know their kids. Their views on the world may not match yours precisely, but variety is the spice of life.
If you are post 50 and uncoupled, you might find that traveling isn't as much fun. Call it the Noah's Ark theory, but in general, we like to go places paired up. There are services that will help you find a travel room-mate. Not only does this give you someone to talk to over dinner, it cuts down those single supplements that some tours and cruises charge. Friendly Planet runs one such pairing-up service. Road Scholar offers many active adult adventure vacations here -- offers to find you a roommate if you want. Their programs and generally educationally based and draw a well-heeled and educated crowd. Cruise ships do a pretty good job of making sure solo travelers find people to hang out with; group dining arrangements go a long way toward conversational icebreaking.
Even if you've never been a joiner, now may be the time to get yourself out there. Got a new puppy or an old dog who needs some new tricks? Find a community dog-training class. If you like to cook, take a cooking class. Participate in the 5K run for charity, even if you walk the final three.
Keep your smart phone with you and ask for numbers. Sure it may feel a little awkward to say to someone you just met "Hey, I really enjoyed talking to you on this Sierra Club hike but the next one isn't for two months. Would you like to get together for a hike before that?" Worst they can say is no.
With Skype and apps like FaceTime, it's easier than ever to have face-to-face visits. Don't assume your old friends are too busy to talk to you on the phone. Most cellphone plans include free long-distance calls and for those that don't, there's Skype. Invite friends who live a great distance to come and stay with you. Show them your city. Friendships are like gardens; it's often easier to tend to an existing one than grow a new one from seeds.