More than a decade after Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone detailed the decline in first-person interactions in the U.S., some people are carving out their own time for face-to-face contact and friendship. Even if they have nothing to talk about. But raelly, there’s always something to talk about.
A recent Wall Street Journal article lifted the cover on groups like the Dull Men’s Club and Retired Old Men Eating Out. These agenda-free clubs allow people, typically retirees, to meet with similar-minded locals to discuss, well, whatever’s on their mind. Even if it’s not worthy of the agenda at a Yale Club meeting. Or do we mean especially if?
Members tackle delightfully irreverent (just don’t call them mundane!) topics with gusto — from park benches to an animated debate on how to hang a roll of toilet paper (the latter resulted in a hung jury). In an era of accelerated pace and change, the clubs allows members to revel in the mildly fascinating minutia of everyday life among friends, similar to Seinfeld‘s approach years ago.
“We’re all supposed to be busy, busy, busy, but what’s wrong with being ordinary?” said Leland Carlson, a retired tax attorney from Nebraska, who runs the national Dull Men’s Club website, which serves “good citizens who are not setting the world on fire.”
The original Dull Men’s Club began in the 1990s, but twin trends in dullness and retirees seeking companionship have boosted membership greatly. Harvey Pierman, a 70-year-old former engineer who lives in Arizona, voiced a common gratitude for the friendship the clubs provide. “Most of the guys had a group of workers they went to lunch with every day, and when they retire, they lose that connection.”
Just as there are no guidelines for conversation, the clubs operate on a weekly schedule with just a few other rules. A Boston-area branch of about 30 members lets a menu collector bring one to share each week, while a onetime World War II Navy pilot tells two off-color jokes at 10:30. There are, however, no dues — other than a dollar toward coffee — no bylaws, no mandatory attendance and no officers.
There are also no girls — women of a similar mindset meet for a monthly “Golden Girls” club.