There's a poker party going on in the other room. I've never actually been to a poker party, and have cleared out of the house the few times the Winemaker has hosted in the past. But, um, we have kids now, so although I took them out and kept them out past their bedtimes in hope they'd be able to fall into exhausted sleep despite there being PEOPLE! DOWNSTAIRS! EATING CHIPS!, I still did have to return home while the boys were going strong.
Now I feel like an anthropologist. We have out there 8 men, all in their 40s (I think). We've got plenty of liberals, because that's how we roll, and a couple of conservatives, because my husband used to work at a place that seemed to have lots of fairly right-wing guys. No fights have broken out, although when one made a definitive economic statement, another politely but firmly disagreed. We have the guy down the street, whom we met last summer because of our kids being kindergarten best friends, and his next-door neighbor, who brought the actual poker table. (I somehow thought that family were Mormon, but this guy is the drinking/smoking/swearing leader at the table, so I guess I was wrong on that.) We've got a couple of quiet guys, my husband being one, and a few extroverted comedians. There's even a genuine ex-con, which somehow seems like not the person to play poker with.
I sat with them for awhile, soaking in the atmosphere, but one of our friends seemed to feel like he should be talking to me, and I felt bad for him, so I slipped away. Much like when I get together with my old friends, the humor is definitely sophomoric, with plenty of teasing going on. One guy is doing some subtle bitching about his wife, and one is doing some less subtle complaning about his kids. The others are not taking the bait, and I think it's not just due to my presence. I think the not-Mormon-neighbor is the only one who had more than a couple of beers, and the only one who smoked. (Stepped outside, thank God, but still pretty stinky.) They all have been given nicknames. I think a stranger would have a hard time telling which ones are old friends and which are just meeting others tonight.
I know which guys take strategy games pretty seriously--like, say, my husband and his oldest friend here tonight, both of whom were on the national championship chess team when they were in high school. The stranger-neighbor seemed maybe a little too drunk to really focus, but the rest are all doing their best. The game has gotten quieter and quieter as this round progresses.
Conventional wisdom is that men bond over experiences, and don't necessarily share emotionally even with men they consider to be good friends. The Winemaker misses the friendships he had when he was younger--I think because in those days "the guys" got together frequently to drink and/or hang out, and now that they are all fathers and husbands first, friends second, those events have dwindled away. I think this kind of group event is still where my husband can relax and bond. My friendships, for the most part, are based around talking to one other person. We can do stuff while we talk, but the talking is the bonding part. So I don't need to invite a bunch of people over and plan an event to keep that friendship connection--I can meet one friend and her kid in the park, and we can chat and laugh over our kids' heads, or I can sit and have coffee with another friend for as long as I can get away. I understand the appeal of this kind of evening--I have a group of old friends that I love to see, because I know there will be belly laughs--but I wish for the Winemaker that he could find simpler ways to stay connected to people. Still, they're having a good time, and the only guy who got drunk is going to walk home.