David Usborne: Our Man In New York

In the lonely city of 'Friends', you're lucky to have one


It is a long time since I've attended a stag night and I was not sure what to expect last Wednesday evening as I made the long subway journey up to Pampa, a restaurant specialising in Argentine food, on 98th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Pampa is famous for its steaks but not, as far as I knew, for cigars and naughty strippers.

Surely, the groom-to-be, Peter, was not the type for such shenanigans. He is an intellectual sort and the very idea made me giggle. But then again, even though he and I go back more than 20 years, I began to wonder how well I really knew him. He is a good friend for sure, but for a long time we have been lazy about our relationship, only rarely seeing each other even while living in the same city.

All this is churning in my mind as the Number 3 train rattles north. I began pondering the same question that has recently been put to all Americans: who are my real friends exactly? I seem to bump into acquaintances every day, but how many could I turn to in times of crisis?

This comes up thanks to a widely advertised study in the American Sociological Review that purports to show that as many as one in four Americans do not have a single friend they can comfortably confide in. The average American has just two real confidants. Twenty years ago, when the last such study was conducted, that was three.

The notion of the lonely American is hardly new, stretching back to the pioneers sowing the first crops in the vast emptiness of the plains. The Harvard professor Robert Putman drew our attention to it in 2000 with his best-selling book, Bowling Alone, which explored the collapse of traditional community institutions, such as the bowling team, that gave people reason to leave their front rooms of a Friday evening.

New York, I would like to think, is different from the rest of America. Another friend ­ all right, good acquaintance ­ recently moved from her apartment in Hell's Kitchen, where she loved to throw roof-top parties, to a suburb of San Antonio in Texas, finding herself with a nice home, a nice pool but a lousy social life.

To see another soul during the day she must get in the car and drive to the mall. This would surely be enough to make many a housewife ­ or househusband ­ desperate.

But though this may be the city of Friends, it is not a place where holding on to friends is easy. When you are 20 in Gotham, you give yourself to the night and all the strangers who share it with you. At 30, the slavery of the clubs and private parties gives way to the slavery of work. At 40, you realise you're exhausted and you flee town for good. Who's had time for friendships?

So, thank goodness for Peter's stag-night, an occasion for bonding (if of the male variety) if ever there was one. It is my little piece of self-assurance that I have friends, I really do. Never mind that when I arrive at the restaurant I realise, of the eight other men present, I know only Peter and one other.

But when guys are in the mood to gossip (hens nights are surely dull by comparison) a great deal can be revealed in a single meal. It was Nick who set the mood, arriving with a hilariously inappropriate gift for Peter: a pristine copy of The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick-Up Artists by the former New York Times writer Neil Strauss. From then on, the conversation became stuck in a rut it refused to leave for four hours: the sexual chronicles of every man at the table, Peter's especially.

The young waiter was transfixed as would have been Peter's fiancée who rang three times asking to swing by and join the fun. And three times permission was denied. If she already knows all of Peter's secrets I wonder if she knows those of the married man sat next to me, who confesses to an intriguing private hobby, photographing nude models, whom he pays (but never has sex with) according to how naughty they are in front of the camera.

After some consideration, I think I can conclude that Peter is one of those friends I could turn to for support if life gets ugly.

As for most of the others around the table, I have some work to do. Fortunately we will all be meeting again soon: the upstate country wedding is in three weeks. We will just have to find other things to talk about than sex. Parents (and the bride) will be present.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Good old days? Social justice had real meaning for those who lived through the war  

Social justice is political pie in the sky

DJ Taylor
On the run: As budgets tighten, people take up cheaper activities such as jogging rather than golf or sailing  

Street harrassment: There are some things only a man can explain

Katy Guest
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam