Recently, I met an old friend from high school for happy hour. He lives out of town and was in town for an alumni ceremony honoring the basketball coach he had played for in high school. I wasn’t able to make it to the festivities, so we met separately the next night at my favorite bar and grill for cocktails.
After we exchanged hugs and pleasantries, I asked how the previous night had gone. He said “fine,” but there was a hesitation in his reply. I probed a little deeper and he started talking about how uninterested he’s become in socializing with large groups of people. I knew there was a reason we were friends.
I have been in the same state of mind for a while now. I love my friends and I love meeting them out, but I no longer have any interest in going to large social gatherings. When I am in a large crowd of people, even people I know well and enjoy, I always feel a little left out and a little awkward. It’s hard for me to follow a conversation when there are multiple conversations going on around me. Not to mention the fact that in a large group you have to raise your voice to be heard and no one feels comfortable sharing their intimate selves with the table next to them.
I know that the changes in my hearing have made a difference in my willingness to be in a crowd. I struggle now to hear a conversation when there’s a lot of background noise to distract me. It’s harder than it used to be to filter those sounds out and focus on the softer words being spoken conversationally. I struggle hardest when the person I’m talking to has a low voice; my ears have never heard those lower registers well.
Being at a crowded function also makes it hard to have a conversation beyond “How are you doing? What have you been up to? Where are you working? How’s the family?” I want to know your hopes, your dreams, what inspires you, how you feel about issues that are going on in the world. All of this is hard to feel safe discussing in a large group setting.
It seems to me that whenever you’re in a large group there’s always someone who will shut down conversations by trying to force their opinion or beliefs on the group. Or someone who makes everyone’s achievements into a competitive game of one-upmanship. I realize it’s their own insecurities that make them go those routes, but I also realize I don’t have to play along with them.
When I’m around friends I haven’t seen for a long time, I want to catch up with everyone, not just the people who happen to be standing or sitting near me. There have been so many times that a number of us have gotten together for a meal and we end up at a long table. I’ve left those evenings feeling like I didn’t have a chance to communicate on any level with people who I care about and would like to know more about.
I prefer engaging with people somewhere that we can really talk, not just exchange pleasantries. I have no interest in yelling over loud music to hold a conversation. I certainly no longer have much interest in waking up with a hangover. (Please note: I have no objection to drinking or the effects of drinking, it’s the hangover thing I have issues with.) When I’m in the mood to socialize, I like to talk to people, hear their stories, find out similarities and differences and celebrate both.
Curiously, for someone who doesn’t enjoy crowds, I do enjoy sitting at the bar in restaurants. When you sit at a bar, you can choose to do your own thing or you can interact with the other people at the bar. People are more open to conversation when they sit at the bar, and it seems most of the people I run into that way have curious minds and are comfortable having intellectual (or silly) conversations with a stranger.
I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had a fascinating conversation with someone I have never met before and will probably never meet again. I love the things I’ve learned and the opinions I’ve been made aware of that I might not have heard if I were in a large group or at a party. The serendipity of those connections make them even more amazing to me.
I have come to accept that while I am certainly not a hermit, I am definitely no longer a party girl. So, to all of my friends, old and new, I love seeing you and I look forward to our time together. If there is a large gathering, don’t be offended if I am not able to attend. It’s not because I don’t want to see you, it’s because I want to see you in a setting where we can actually relate to each other, not just parrot off our current life statistics.
Call me and let’s make plans, just you and me.