Used to Be (aka: Seeking Community When You’re a Nonconformist)

colorful latex balloonsWe used to have parties. It is one of those observations, briefly uttered by one of my kids, marking the contrast between who our family is now compared to who we used to be. Or maybe it is less about our family, and more about who I once was. I used to throw parties. Big, noisy parties full of distant relatives or church group acquaintances. Small, intimate gatherings with close family friends. Colorful and silly children’s parties, messy with icing and confetti and cupcake crumbs.

Used to.

Back when I was a different person, I used to throw parties, which are now distant memories of music and laughter and food successes and failures. I used to receive invitations to parties, too (and not just the everybody-come-and-spend-your-money types, either). And every now and then, in moments of loneliness, or perhaps in a passing celebratory mood, I think, how nice it would be to invite a few people over! How nice it would be to have an excuse to cook some special dishes and mix up drinks and dust off the party games which have not been opened in several years. But then I think, now whom shall I invite? And just like that, my sense of enthusiasm for party planning deflates like a loosely tied balloon. friends party

Whom shall I invite? Who is my group? Planning a party was so much easier back during the days when I was part of a primary group or two. Now, I am no more than a drifter, skirting around communities of people which either change so rapidly that I rarely see the same faces twice, or are so large that I wander around, lost; or are so well-established, that I do not see how I can possibly contribute.

I recently tried to make friendship a tangible goal. Throughout the summer, I made it my personal growth project – like a mission, to try things that I had not tried, in order to change the situation. Make friends. Join the group. Be social in real life. And so, I attended Meetup event after Meetup event. When I met interesting people, I asked for their contact information, so that I could stay in touch. I said “yes” to going out on a few dates. I put away my iPad and forced myself to join the conversation, or even (gasp!) start a conversation with someone I did not know well.

The results of the summer project? Well, I had some enjoyable conversations with people I will probably never see again. I did a few fun things that I can now check off on my personal list of Neat Things I Got to Experience in Life. I learned some new ideas from strangers which continue to change me in small but significant ways. I learned that coming out of my cave is not always scary and disastrous. And I think that I even managed to make a friend (though at times I am still unsure if I have yet earned the right to use that term).

topsy turvy weird bird

But as positive as the results of my summer project may have been, I am still sadly lacking in the social department, with little more than superficial connections. Perhaps I could squeeze my way into some social group the old way – by watering down my personality so that I can conform to the norms of the group. As much as we like to think that our society honors the individual and celebrates diversity, the truth is that nonconformity makes us uncomfortable. It is human nature to form our social groups based on commonalities. Be yourself! We preach. But if “yourself” happens to be too weird to fit into a group, then learn to love yourself, be your own best friend, save yourself, date yourself, treat yourself, enjoy time alone, because obviously, you’re going to have to.

Sometimes I wish that there were some website for people seeking meaningful non-romantic social connections. Something like Linked-In for bestfriend wannabes, where you can post a personality resume. Something like:

Name:

Tiare (aka The Girl From Jupiter)

Roles You Could Potentially Fill in a Social Group:

Comedian

The Melancholy Intellectual

The Clueless Airhead who has no idea what is going on down here in the real world

The sweet, cookie-baking Nice Girl who still feels guilty when she says bad words

*The Storyteller

Things You Are Into:

Writing stories & poetry

Sports (esp. soccer and tennis)

Classic literature, films, music, and other esoteric shit

Silly memes, YA books, vampire shows, and other shallow things that keep life from being too serious

Camping, hiking, geocaching, nature

Cooking and baking

Talking in a British accent, like a valley girl, or in Spanish when the mood strikes me

Handicrafts

Daydreaming about world travel

 

Then, anyone who registers for the site can come along and browse one another’s Desperately-Seeking-Social-Group ads, and say – ahh! Just the right type of weird individual to fit into my ideal social group! And with a few clicks of the mouse, I have created an instant community of people to invite to a real-life party at my house. Friends Wanted Advertisement

Okay fine. Maybe the world couldn’t work that way, exactly. And maybe it would be foolish and dangerous to invite a bunch of carefully-selected strangers into my home for fun. People do lie about who they are, after all. But I suppose I am feeling nostalgic, or wistful, wishing that there were some way to fast-forward to the magical day when life will cease to be about who I used to be and what I used to do and will suddenly be what I wish it could be.

But some goals simply are not tangible.

 

 

 

The Unwritten Rules (aka: Young-at-Heart)

image Do you know what I really felt like doing today? Skipping. I mean, there I was, walking downtown in my cute, professional-looking dress, when I was suddenly overwhelmed with an urge to skip to the train station. Why? Oh, I don’t know — because the sun was shining, and the sky was so blue, and because I am still young and coordinated enough to skip instead of walk.But I did not skip. I took a deep breath, then continued to walk at a dull, steady pace, like the rest of the grownups. Because skipping is one of those things that just isn’t done.

As far as I know, there is no grand master list of written rules for things which one mustn’t do after the age of 21. But nevertheless, the rules exist. It is not proper to show up at a friend’s house uninvited. It is not appropriate to grow vegetables and flowers in place of a square, green lawn in many suburbs. It is not okay to go about speaking in a fake British accent (and definitely not in PigLatin). It is okay to feel young-at-heart, as long one does not wear a bikini over the age of 35, or blow bubble-gum bubbles, or eat Lucky Charms cereal, or watch cartoons.

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Adults playing

But why do we have so many rules? Why, in order to be accepted in society, must we dress and speak and move a certain way? Now, I agree that some rules are necessary. Rules that keep people safe, for example, or rules created for ethical reasons, or to keep order in society. Clearly those are useful and necessary. But what about the unspoken rules — the ones which tell us what is and is not socially acceptable? I mean, yes, we should all look down on people who wear socks with flip-flop sandals, because ew. So déclassé. But if, while standing in line at the supermarket, I were to break out singing Seasons of Love (and secretly hoping that everyone else would join in, like in Improv Everywhere), then I’m pretty sure I’d get a lot of oddball looks, and maybe even kicked out.

So, I do not break out singing in the supermarket. Or wear flip-flop sandals without socks. But you know what? Tomorrow morning, I may just kick back with a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal while I watch an episode or two of Adventure Time. Because life is short. And some rules are just stupid. And maybe it is the giving in to those occasional bursts of feeling young-at-heart that actually do keep us young. Not to mention happy.

And so, when I stepped off the train today, I chose to give my inner wild child permission to break the rules. I tilted my face up toward the shining sun and blue sky, and skipped, carefree, across the parking lot. And felt a lot better for it.

 

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