Outside, looking in
My name is Ellie and I do not socialise. I think it looks like a fun thing to do, but at the same time I'm mystified by the whole thing, and mostly engage in solitary pursuits. I fundraise, I write, I learn languages and instruments, watch nonsense on YouTube, laugh a lot and text compulsively.
Occasionally I like to see one of my many friends; to have a proper, deep conversation, or conversely a side-splitting session of absolute hilarity. Part of me wants to stay in that moment, and keep them for ever. I'll be having so much fun that I tell myself I should do it more often, and maybe even arrange to see another one. Eventually, my beyond-introverted nature forces me to switch off, so it's probably best that friends make the first move to leave, while I'm still wanting more time together. Even so, I can't help thinking about their other friendships, and whether those are closer and better. I'm not jealous; simply insecure.
Joining two or three friends for a catch-up is harder. In fact, it was even hard (OK, impossible) in the playground when our children were younger. I was never sure if it was acceptable to approach two close friends if they were already talking to each other. Who makes these rules? A manual would be nice, because I sure as heck missed the bulletin about Acceptable Behaviour. When it comes to organised meet-ups in the park or at someone's house, I'm often working. The remainder of the time I'll make myself busy so that I don't have to go. It's not that I don't want to go... well, it's PARTLY that I don't want to go. I'm mostly just scared. Once there, intentionally or not, I analyse all the pairs: Friend A and Friend B; friend A and Friend C; Friend B and Friend C. Where do I fit in? Do they see each other socially? Do they all go out without me, even though I'd make my excuses anyway? When we talk, it's lovely, and just how it always has been. I feel like a bad friend for working too much, neglecting my relationships, and crying off our meetings more often than not.
Party, social dinner or larger gathering? It's just not happening. No. Absolute. Way. I didn't attend my school leavers' parties, either in Year 11 or Year 13, and didn't feel bad about it either. I avoided all of the whole year group get-togethers apart from one, which I found hellish and never wanted to repeat. And so, I say no. If it's a good friend, I'm happy to be invited. I just don't want to go. There have been a few exceptions, including weddings and 50th birthday parties, which I've attended with my whole family. I had my kids to focus on, and therefore something to 'do'. There were pleasant, quiet moments, which became fewer and further between, until I yearned to escape.
Tonight, it was an outdoor concert. 'Outdoor' and 'concert'... two things which should absolutely float my metaphorical boat, and both of which (in other circumstances) are capable of producing heady delight beyond all other pleasure in my life. This was a final musical knees-up for my 16-year old at her current school, other than a music trip to Belgium this week that I'm not going on with her! I've been to all her concerts and wanted to hear her play. Last year, I sat alone on the grass, bathed by the summer sun, enjoying the music but feeling increasingly desperate. You see, the social angst and relationship spiderweb thing increases exponentially in the presence of several hundred other people. All the friendships, networks, groups, acquaintances and conversations draw imaginary strings between themselves, creating so much mental noise that it blows my mind. Last year, I kept myself calm(er) by texting the friends on my very short Safe List and trying to look like I was deep in conversation, so that I wouldn't have to speak to anyone. I'd see someone I knew, but then think, what if they were there with their husband or partner? Then I'd see a couple of my casual friends sitting together... but couldn't approach them in case they had planned to go as a pair, or were waiting for someone better, or having a private conversation. I decided that in future, it would be better to offer to help out with some of the musical groups. I'd then be there as 'staff' (even though I'm not), I'd have a defined role and specific people to talk to. Good!
Except, it didn't work out that way. I was supposed to be in the community steel band that played as people arrived, but I've made it to far too few rehearsals this term (people-related angst, as above; overwork; trying to help a child through her GCSEs; and at times being immune suppressed myself). My daughter didn't seem bothered about taking part a while back, so I thought the event might bypass us completely, until a few days ago when she told me she was heavily involved and asked me to go. So I went. I took my husband along so that I wouldn't be alone, and met someone else there too. I hoped they would dilute the hundreds-of-people-interconnectedness-web a bit. They didn't - it's not their job to work miracles, after all - but at least there was someone to talk to, someone to sit with, and I was never left alone.
I managed better, and for longer, than last time. Don't get me wrong... I LOVED the music and was absorbed in it for maybe half of the time. By the end though, I was sick and tearful with fear, and raced back to the car as fast as my bendy feet and ankles would allow. Then I bumped into a lovely mum that I hadn't seen since pre-Covid. She said hi and asked how we all were. I started to have a nice conversation with her, and calmed down slightly, until my daughter came to fetch me to tell me we needed to leave. Bloody typical!
The way I was left feeling at the end wasn't surprising, and in many ways was familiar. It did make me think that at this point in my life, I'm probably not really going to improve. It's possible that even trying to do so would involve increasing amounts of exposure to distressing situations, and it would be far easier to maintain the status quo. Which reinforces the fact that (a) I don't fit in and (b) it's mainly my own doing. Sometimes I do wonder if any of those hundreds of people would actually miss me if I just dropped off the face of the earth, but how much does it matter anyway? Nobody is indispensable after all.