I went to my 20-year high school reunion last June. I ordinarily wouldn't have gone, but Brett ended up DJing the party so I felt like I couldn't skip out. A friend asked that I analyze the event from a psychological, sociological and anthropological standpoint and report back to her.
"Andrea, all these people have a social lubricant that you do not have. It lowers their inhibitions and allows them to interact more freely with one another. Alcohol." ~Brett Fox
So, since I'm a lot more confident in my social interaction than I was in high school I went in figuring that I could interact comfortably with pretty much anyone I would run into. I was only expecting to see half a dozen people that I still know because I'm friends with them on facebook.
It actually would have been easier if it had been a room full of strangers. There would be an openness to getting to know anyone there. And it wasn't like there were boundaries or cliques or anything like there was in high school. It was just weird because people are looking for their friends. And if you don't know the person, there's no point in chatting them up. There's also a huge added level of awkwardness because everyone is wearing a badge with their name and yearbook picture. So, there's all this sneaky sideways glancing to see if you can catch the name and recognize the face before approaching and talking to someone. It's quite evident when you are deemed unworthy by someone who had previously been approaching because they thought they might know you. And you hug EVERYONE. For no reason. I hugged a dude I hadn't seen since eighth grade graduation.
You would have had a much easier time because you would have a wingman. Brett was DJing so I was flying solo. After about 15 minutes I had seen everyone that I knew and it was evident that this wasn't the place for making new friends. So I went over to the DJ booth and reported my findings to Brett. He suggested that I just start chatting with people, even if I didn't know them. Honestly, in most other circumstances that's what I would have done but it was really, really hard for some reason. I felt myself starting to hang back and peoplewatch rather than try to socialize.
Then it was time for dinner. I was toward the front of the line so I got pretty much first pick of seats. I chose a table right near the door where everyone had to exit after getting their food. Surely, someone I knew and had already talked to would see me and want to sit with me. Person after person exited and I watched as everyone veered off in different directions. I ended up sitting at this 4 person table ALONE (with Brett when he wasn't up taking care of the music.) I'm sure it wasn't me, it just happened that way, but I was pretty much ready to call it a night after that.
I once heard a comparison about a rider on an elephant to the subconscious mind. An elephant is a huge beast. There's no reason for him to do anything the rider wants him to. The rider might think he is in control of the elephant, but in reality all he can do is ask politely for the elephant to go in a certain direction. If the elephant chooses otherwise there's not much the rider can do. The subconscious mind is one huge elephant. You might think you are in control of your thoughts and feelings but when stress and anxiety strip you down your subconscious is going to do what it is programmed to do... what is familiar and comfortable.
So this is where I ended up after dinner. Sitting at a table by myself watching people socialize and dance with little effort while I watched and tried to blend into the background. Just like I had done so many times as a teenager.
Unfortunately, now I am more aware that sitting by yourself and not moving at a party or dance is not socially acceptable. So instead of being nestled a cocoon of comfortable familiarity I was wrapped in self-loathing. I finally mustered every ounce of willpower I had and forced myself to get up and wander. Because you look less desperate and silly wandering than sitting by yourself. Before I knew it I was standing in a shadowy area of the deck trying to blend into the background again. I hadn't planned it that way, it just happened before I realized it.
I finally spotted the table where all the people that I knew where sitting. (Any surprise that all of my friends chose to sit at the table furthest away from all the loud music and action?) I wanted desperately to go sit with them but I was held back by some fear that I couldn't identify. Did I really think they would reject me? No, they are all nice people. Did I really think I would have nothing to contribute to their social interaction? No, just let me tell a few stories and they'll be rolling on the floor. After playing out the worst case scenarios in my brain, I realized that my fear would be that I would get over there and they would say that all the chairs are being occupied and there would be a weird awkward moment, chair-wise.
I may be a social dork, but I'm a resourseful social dork. So to conquer my fear, I grabbed a chair from the closest table and dragged it down the path with me.
They watched me coming. I couldn't see their faces in the fading twilight. I took a deep breath and plunked my chair down and said, "I didn't realize how much it would suck to not have a date tonight!" Silence hung in the air for an unbearable and interminable moment, then... laughter. "Of course!" they cried. "Pull up a chair! Your husband is doing a wonderful job! It's so good to see you! Tell us about yourself and your family!"
Crisis averted. I settled in to have a fairly pleasant evening catching up with a the very few people I would have wanted to see at the reunion anyway.
The very last song was "Jump Around," which I knew Brett was playing just for me. I thought, "I'm not a dancer but anyone can jump around. I'll hit the floor since this is the last song." As I tried to squeeze in among the long, tan legs, high heels, and short skirts on the dance floor, I realized that 20 years makes little difference in who you are. Not only could I not squeeze in physically, but I was on the outside in other ways as well. I finally gave up and retreated to my safe little hobbit hole, with the other hobbits, far from the loud music and drunken dancing, hugged everyone again and went home.
P.S. It doesn't matter in the slightest what you wear.
This was my report. It sounds like I had a terrible time, but in reality I look back on the evening with fondness. It confirmed to me that the people I had as friends in high school are still the people I would want to hang out with today. I have good taste in people.
Also if I hadn't gone to the reunion I would have missed out on this delightful interaction when two VERY drunk girls who I barely remembered from high school stopped by my table...
Girl #1: Heeeyyyyyy... *peeking at my badge* I .... remember you?
Girl #2: Yeaaaaaahhh.... she was in our... uh.... one of our classes...
Me: I'm not sure, but it's nice to see you anyway. Are you having fun?
Girl #1: Yeaaaaahhhhh! It's time to PAAAAAAAR-TAY!!!!
Girl #2: Heeeeeyyyy! You don't have... *hic*... a drink. Where's your drink?!
Me: I'm just drinking water tonight. I'm good.
Girl #1: Noooooo.... lemmemme buy you a drink!
Girl #2: You don't... *hic*... have a drink. Where's your drink?!
Me: Thank you. I'm good with just water, though.
Girl #1: Lemme buy you a drink! *fumbles with her wallet and dumps its entire contents on the ground* Oops! *bends over in her too short skirt, flashing everyone on the dance floor*
Girl #2: Oh, sh*t! *bends over to help pick up the credit cards and spills her drink in Girl #1's hair*
Girl #1: *doesn't notice the booze in her hair* Heeeeeyyyy! Where's your drink? You don't have a drink! Lemme buy you a drink!
I kid you not, she dumped her wallet on the ground again, retrieved it again, and said, "Heeeey! You don't have a drink!" again. This would have gone on all night if I hadn't distracted them by promising to get the DJ to play their favorite song. He never did, but I don't think they noticed.