Velvet hooks: guys hanging out with guys

BY ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN, Columnist
Posted 2/3/21

I mentioned to my wife that my New Year’s resolution was to hang out with more guy friends. She and I have two churches and three kids between us, so free time is rare. But she was immediately …

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Velvet hooks: guys hanging out with guys

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I mentioned to my wife that my New Year’s resolution was to hang out with more guy friends. She and I have two churches and three kids between us, so free time is rare. But she was immediately supportive: “You need that.”

I knew two guys who played a weekly round of Frisbee or, more accurately, disc golf. I hadn’t played since my undergraduate days, but this seemed like a good opportunity to spend time with them. When I wondered if I could tag along, they graciously agreed. I bought a couple of discs and met them at Rock Ridge Park just outside of Pittsboro.

This 18-hole course winding through the woods is a pleasure to walk, even on a gray morning in January. Most of my throws ended up among the trees and underbrush off the well-maintained path. We had no problem maintaining our social distance.

But we grew closer as friends.

There were no tearful confessions or dramatic declarations. But between the groans of wayward Frisbees and the occasional hurrah of a well-thrown disc, we talked about stuff that matters: our families, childhoods and church.

After a few holes, I smiled and told them that I was enjoying this. I had just chucked yet another disc off a large oak, but they knew I wasn’t talking about the game itself. I was hooked on hanging out together.

One of them shared that, on the drive to the park that very morning, he’d heard Billy Baker of The Boston Globe interviewed about his new memoir about friendships between guys. The book is titled “We Need to Hang Out.” What a coincidence!

Baker’s premise is that American men have difficulties building and maintaining friendships. Women talk face-to-face, but men talk shoulder-to-shoulder. In order to form bonds, men need a shared activity like ball golf or disc golf. Baker called this a “velvet hook” — something fun that makes a connection between people.

I played disc golf back in college, but hanging out was never a problem in those days. There were intramural sports, parties and guys just lounging around the dorm playing video games like Mario Kart. Marriage, parenthood, career — what’s popularly called “adulting” — have brought many beautiful and rewarding aspects to my life. But it’s also true that now I need to make much more of an effort to hang out with other guys.

In the pandemic, any human connection is more complicated. But velvet hooks can be safe, especially if the activity is outside. Men can talk shoulder-to-shoulder if they wear facemasks and keep their distance. For only $20, you can buy a decent set of discs. And it’s free to play at Rock Ridge Park — a local treasure for friends to share.

I played nine holes that morning before I needed to get back home to the laptop, cell phone and family. In the parking lot, I made a joke that I’d love to play next week, if I could still move my throwing arm!

But I’d already resolved to play again with them. Even if my arm was so sore that I had to throw left-handed.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church and author of Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is currently working from home with his wife and three children.

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