A Dinner Party

Winter is the season of dinner parties. Excuses to get together with people, but stay indoors, dress up in sweaters and sweater dresses and celebrate when the sun sets early and the ever present fog leaves beads on your scarf and colors your nose.

Early evening: Accepting the invitation

It’ll be great to get out of the house. It’s an excuse to dress up, because, why not?

It’ll be fun. I’ll see people and have lively discussion. It’s my chance to be social and energetic and show that I’m a fun person.

I do things. Yes, I do things with people.

Getting ready

What kind of get-together is this? Are we talking full makeup? Or would that be trying too hard?

And what to wear. Is this too much party? Or should I be safe and go with black? Maybe it’s too sad and dark. But black is safe.

I’ll just add some color with my shoes for some fun. Heels aren’t too much. People wear heels to dinner.

Purse. No purse? Purse. Which purse? The everyday one, not too much. And coat. Definitely coat, scarf, gloves.

Okay, ready.

Wait, lipstick. Always lipstick. Yes, done.

Oh, and the champagne. Your one job. The champagne. How could you forget?

And late, of course.

The (late) entrance

Okay, hi. This is a lot of people. I’ll say hi to as many people as possible, and then just happily ignore the others that are difficult to reach. I’ll be introduced eventually. I don’t want to make a whole disturbance now. It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever see them again in my life anyway.

This is a nice spot in the room. Just nod and smile. Don’t forget to ask questions. You can talk less that way.

Yeah, I don’t understand half of what’s going on…but that’s fine. You’re the foreign one. You’re not supposed to understand. It’s a nice excuse anyhow, a nice excuse to not talk. I just feel bad that they’re trying so hard to include me. But I can also see them getting tired of that responsibility. Sorry! It’s okay. It’s okay. I can’t fix that right now.

À table

Ah finally, we’re sitting down to dinner. I can just eat. Eating is a valid excuse. It takes ALL of my attention. It does. Taking the right amount of salad from the bowl. Not looking ridiculous that I can’t get lettuce onto my fork and on a successful journey to the mouth. How to make the lettuce not overly large? Yes, that’s right. Be sure to fit the entire piece in or else you’ll look like a dumb rabbit. Dumb in all senses of the word, considering that you can’t engage in conversation like normal person right now. ALL THE ATTENTION. Okay, that’s normal.

Hm, that wasn’t enough food. I’m definitely still hungry. I thought the “I’m American” disclaimer was well-distributed at this point. There’s not really anything much left though. I can’t be the one to take all of the final drippings.

The bread! Thank God for bread. The bread will do it. Eat the bread.

I hope they don’t expect me to have followed the conversation. My brain is tired. It can only translate so much in a prolonged period of time. I also have the jetlag excuse in my pocket. I must have zoned out for the past five minutes at least. Okay, fine. Try again.

This conversation isn’t particularly exciting. Maybe I’m not actually understanding. But I think I am. Would I be having fun if I was with my own friends? Or is this really just a language thing? Or do people just get boring when they get older? Or am I just more disinterested? I think I’d still be bored if it were my own friends. Maybe I’ve been here too long. Maybe that’s all it is. This is probably what it’s like for outsiders to hear my friends and I hanging out. I’m suddenly so sorry for all of those people that have to sit through us…

Bored. Maybe this is why I don’t come to these things. Just smile. More smiling.

Woo! Dessert! This is cause for celebration.

Post hoc

Dinner, check. We have to be leaving soon. There seems to be lots of talk left in them yet. *sigh* I’m exhausted. But I still look nice.

Okay, yes? Yes?! Coats. I can do that. I have all the things. Coats, gloves, purse.

Bisous! Love you all! We should do this again? Yes, of course! Let’s do this again soon!

*door shuts*

SWEET FREEDOM.

Let’s take a walk.

A walk sounds marvelous.

Exposed.

You know the feeling you get after an evening of being hypersocial? The drink helps and the exhilaration heightens and the words flow freely. Oversharing. What I keep for myself most of the time is coming out. My own. The morning is the aftermath. You sit in it, alone. Alone with only your recollection of split seconds here and there, overanalyzing your words and their reactions and what it means for tomorrow.

No? You don’t know that feeling?

Perhaps it’s my introversion showing. The next morning it reemerges, in full recoil. I’m experienced in this cycle by now – the one where I crave social interaction, only to be met with angst afterwards – but I’m no expert. It takes that same rationalization, that same analysis to remind myself that it doesn’t matter. That no one will remember all of the bits and pieces of yourself that you left out there in the open to be judged, stomped on, and known. Not really. Everyone is also wrapped up in their own selves. The baseness of human nature is there to catch you.

I continue through my morning, hoping that I don’t remember every moment of the night before to dwell and analyze. I work to forget. The hangover helps. It helps the not thinking. The energy has been sucked away. Still, I yearn for the next night to erase this one. The next night when I’ll see the same people and I can re-write. Again and again.

How to make friends in 20 minus 19 easy steps

1) Don’t be lonely.

2) Item #1 is in fact sufficient, but let’s keep going because lists=clicks.

3) Bite the bullet and decide what your “hobbies” are. Find groups that take part in them.

4) Identify the one or two people you enjoyed during the aforementioned hobby-wielding group gatherings and stalk them.

5) At least legally stalk them. Add them on Facebook and essentially ask them out on a friend date.

6) Friend date them.

7) Get excited when they start texting you random life details. Level “friend” unlocked.

8) Go to lunch with colleagues who hold the potential of being vaguely interesting when away from a desk.

9) Plan get-togethers to bring “friended” people together.

10) Fail at actually holding get-togethers to bring “friended” people together.

11) Give up on making friends. You are too stressed out/ unhappy/ dark/ annoying for people to be interested in your friendship. Be sad about this.

12) Be mad at all humans.

13) Realize that this is irrational.

14) Try to understand your loneliness and figure out what’s really been bothering you.

15) Get incredibly busy with your life and your plans.

16) Understand that it was never personal. You are, and have been, just fine.

17) Stop feeling lonely.

18) Stop actively seeking friends.

19) End up with a social calendar you can’t keep up with.

20) Ignore steps 2-19.* Keep it simple: don’t be lonely.

* For the purposes of offering you high-quality, evidence-based advice, I personally tested items 2 through 19 so that you don’t have to. My findings suggest that one of the following phenomena are at play in making item #1 so successful:

a) One theory is that loneliness is a viral infection. Other humans can smell the moribund stink of it on you, and as conscientious, harm reductionist citizens, they will take the very appropriate measure of initiating a quarantine. Therefore, not being lonely will protect against a quarantine and thus facilitate friendship. The vaccine against loneliness is in development, with Facebook leading global efforts. FDA approval is pending the removal of side effects such as Facebook depression and cell phone addiction.

b) Another theory is that loneliness is an addictive drug that changes neural pathways, leads to obsessive behaviour and enhances paranoia. Those addicted will suffer from seeking comfort in their victimization and developing misanthropic tendencies. As a result, they will alienate themselves from society in order to maintain access to their drug of choice.

In conclusion, don’t seek friendship when you feel like you need it most. Instead, figure yourself out, wash off the Lonely, put on some Happiness foundation, dust yourself with Pleasantries blush, and plump your smile with Good Times lipstick.

Your friends await you.

The Coupling Constant

I’m at that age. I’m at the age where everyone is coupling up. The age where things are done in couples. It crept up on me. I didn’t realize that this was a new baseline until it was impossible to ignore. I found myself on a long weekend trip of 11 people, five pairs of these 11 were (surprise!) couples. Let me add by saying that one of the sources of entertainment of the weekend was pairing up the lonely lingering one. The Couples were expected to do the entire weekend together. Maybe they normally do anyway. Still, the declared status of togetherness was overwhelming. People now come in pairs.

I found the realization disturbing whether or not you define yourself as being one half of a couple. It’s something that you don’t necessarily realize or care about when it’s just you and the other person. You’re wrapped up in life with this other person. Me and you. I suppose that’s what companionship is taken to mean. But with a group of couples, it seems to morph into something else. Navigation of the social space is different. You’re attached. You’re expected to know one another, complement one another, and present this to the world.

Now, I’m finding it a rarity for people not to be paired up. It’s all too tangible that this is the age where I should expect my peers to have significant others, husbands, and wives, if not families. Too many times in the past month have I already made decidedly wrong assumptions.

“So, you have roommates?”

“No, I have a family.”

“Oh…yeah, those are like roommates…”

It’s a different frame of mind. People come in pairs. Whether it’s the natural course of life, I’m open to debate. Companionship is, of course, a goal from a young age. It’s rooted in humans as the ultra-social species, perhaps even in our wiring for survival. The challenge of it all is maintaining independence and individuality within the couple, even if we’re horribly attached.

Maternal Instincts

Maybe it’s my age or something. Maybe it’s me becoming more of my parents with each passing day. Maybe it’s the current world climate, or the way I consider death to be a very real, tangible possibility today or tomorrow. But my propensity to worry (excessively) about the well being of other people has been kicking in lately. In a bad way. In a (semi-) irrational way. To the point that it can be debilitating for that short period of time.

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Smartphones. Computers. Laptops. iPads. Email. Facebook Messenger. Google Hangouts. Skype. iMessage. WhatsApp. Viber. The list goes on and on.

In today’s messy, globalizing, technologically advancing, multitasking, fast-paced world, we’re constantly connected to a seemingly eternal universe of information, and to each other. We’re connected to the ones we love and the ones we hate and the ones that we will never know in any sense of the word. I can send a message to a friend in Geneva, a friend in London, in Paris, in San Francisco, in New York, in Phnom Penh, in Yaoundé, in the length of time it takes my thumbs to move about on the keyboard of my iPhone – which, I’ll say, is not that much time. J I can do this with the click of a few buttons, for free, from the comfort of my desk, my local coffee shop, my daily bus ride, or in the middle of a lengthy statistics lecture. I can successfully communicate with my friends and family at any time in nearly any place and expect to receive a message back.

Now, let’s examine that last part: expecting to receive a message back (assuming that the message compels a response). I like to think that I’m a reasonable person. I wait a good amount of time for the response, allowing for a varying time range depending on who you are and the topic of discussion. I know who will respond within five minutes and from whom I shouldn’t expect to hear until next week. I know that my sister will respond immediately to a video of pug puppies, but conveniently “forget to respond” to a question about how her math class is going.

But there are some instances, when I don’t hear from someone within 24 hours, where Messenger’s Active 23h ago brings up my latent anxiety, releasing the monster perpetually lingering just below the surface. It’s that instant where my brain involuntarily jumps to the worst possible possibilities. But even as rationality takes over, remnant unease remains. In these few in-between hours, I wonder if my brain is simply programmed around loss and death. Perhaps this is just me.

Still, the response lets me know that they’re alive. I’ve clearly passed the stage of – “oh, they’re not answering because they don’t want to talk to me,” or “they must be upset with me,” or “hm, they must not have network.” No. I’m at – “SOMETHING BAD MUST HAVE HAPPENED.”

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Kind of. It’s more like – “well, I hope nothing bad has happened.” …repeating over and over and over again in my head…I hardly find that any better.

Where does this come from? This bubble of latent, and sometimes not so latent, anxiety and worry. Worry, when this other person is simply going about living their life. Yes, my friends and family simply have lives. Lives where responding to the multiple messages on their phone or email or Messenger is not a top or only priority. Being disconnected is something that we strive to do in preserving mental health, sleeping better, creating and maintaining real human connections, improving focus, gaining time, and life balance in general. This should be an admirable trait, to live unconsumed by digital connection, instead of shackled by a relentless need for connection. So when we’ve come to depend on it, to classify it as part of daily life, as a guaranteed mechanism to reaching another person, but possibly also exacerbating an underlying paranoia, does it become damaging?

On the one spick_maternal.jpgide, I’m convinced that heightened anxiety runs on both sides of my family. Fine. I’ve learned to cope with it in various ways: yoga and exercise, a balanced diet, regular pampering, reading, hot showers, acknowledgement of the importance of rest and leisure. But more generally, where does this tendency to worry come from? Is it related to a projected ‘maternal instinct’? If not, what is it? Is it beneficial manifesting in this way? Is this normal? Or am I the extreme? How much of my reaction is shaped by the current social and political world forces? How much is driven by fear? How do I separate the rational from irrational reaction? When is it valid to worry? Would it help if I made greater efforts to disconnect, making my world just a bit smaller?

Whatever the answers to these questions, I’ll just be over here, monitoring the Active 23h ago, hoping for the update, awaiting your response.

On the Brink.

I’m on the brink. I can feel it coming soon, the barrage of events that happen that make you realize that time is passing and life is happening.

“He’s sick, just old age illness,” she says. “He looks pale and slow and sad. I go to see him more often now to cheer him up. He seems happy when I’m there. I washed my car at his house, and he sat on the stairs to watch me. He’s a lot quieter. I asked him to go for a walk, but he doesn’t want to anymore.”

In a span of just a few months, I find myself making mental estimates as to how much time I might have left – how much time I might have left for them to meet my own children. The too real possibility is that there’s not enough. But I’ll make sure to go as soon as I can. Is Thanksgiving too late? Or maybe he will play with my hypothetical little ones.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt the urgency to get to a certain life stage. It started a little over a year ago, when my mom started making more regular trips to the emergency room than I’d like. I was suddenly acutely aware of what I was not doing. I wasn’t moving forward, progressing toward something worth building. And while I wasn’t doing that, I also wasn’t there, near her, as life is happening.

Just a few years ago, I wanted to travel – travel for work, travel for fun, and by travel, I meant live. Because how do you really learn a place unless you spend some real time there, with real people? Now I find that I’m struggling to find a way back, to somehow compromise the two. For someone who wouldn’t call herself a world traveler, my life is decidedly across borders, across several. My closest friends are scattered about in such a way that I think I’ll never find one place to be fully home. And now, so is my family.

So how do I find my way back? I’m convinced that it’s a matter of priorities. Yes, I may be in the middle of a doctoral program. But life is happening and it’s not waiting for me to be ready. For essentially my entire life, school has been at the center. (This is clearly where the Asian mother shoulder angel presents herself in all her glory.) Education is the key. Education is what will bring you far in life. Education is what no one can take from you. While all of that may be true, school alone is not life. It’s one facet. (This holds for work and career too, or just in general. I know, I’m late.) Still, in a household where education stood high above all else, it took quite a bit of time to re-work that perspective when I was out there on my own. While school happens, and will happen, life is happening.

So I’m on the brink of change – realizing the change in perspective, putting thoughts and words into actions. I’m moving forward. I’m building something. And for the first time, I’m consciously putting life first. Not because it fits into my school schedule, but because it’s important, central to connecting with people, building my world and theirs into something worthwhile.

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Sprouts

Something occurred to me as I was standing on the bus this morning, staring out the window, cramped between my fellow commuters.

I’ve never had to work at a relationship.

In my mid-twenties, I have never had to actively work and plan and strategize to keep a relationship alive and breathing and growing. Maybe this is normal, both the phenomenon and realization. But I’ve never had to – until now.

I have friends. But really, friends are selected and optional. There are people I get along with, who see the world as I do, have similar values and life goals. But friends and acquaintances can be and often are ultimately phased out if they’re not working for your life.

On the other hand, there’s family. Within this realm, there are a few kinds. Those who are way off in the distance, where it doesn’t matter whether your answer to their “how are you” is the reflexive “good” or the real answer.

Then, there are the ones in places of authority – namely your parents – and everyone’s supposed to have good relationships with your parents or else you’re deemed the kid with problems. So you maintain an amicable relationship with the parent, well, because it just makes life easier. Perhaps it’s simply an issue of acceptance.

And then, there are the ones where you’re needed. Whether as a friend, confidante, or supporter, as family, as the only one who can be there, you’re needed and yet the only connecting factor between the two of you is that you share some of the patterns in your respective genomes or were in the same four walls of each other as one or both of you was potty training. Apart from these characteristics, if you ran into each other in the world (already unlikely given your vastly divergent trajectories), it’s probable that you wouldn’t say more than a few words to each other. And would probably, in that interaction, judge each other a little bit. Or a lot.

It’s the last one I’m talking about here. For a long time, I took it for granted that the relationship would just happen. The world would happen naturally and work out perfectly because that’s what the world does in my world. But it hasn’t. And so I’ve recently realized that I have to work at it. Consciously making decisions to cultivate its little sprouts. I’ve never had much of a green thumb. This is hard work.

And it got me thinking then about the relationships that we’re “stuck” in. We don’t have choices in these. Even if at one time, the getting stuck was voluntary – like marriage. The thought of divorce is depressing. Even if the rates are looking optimistic, it still seems all too common. So we say, “they should have worked harder at the relationship.”

But then, we only get good at doing things that we practice. And how many people in their mid-twenties have had real practice at consciously working at relationships? At understanding another person? At being truly awake to their views and differences, no matter how seemingly well you know them? I’m talking about the necessary relationships, the ones that need to flourish, or you and everyone around you will suffer very real, long-term consequences. I’d venture to say few. We’re programmed to take the path of least resistance alongside being entrapped in this ideal that our own pursuits of happiness justify our choices at single points in time, even those at the expense of others.

As I got off the bus this morning, despite the anxious days and tear-filled nights, this is something to be thankful for. It’s life practice. Practice to build beautiful, rewarding relationships that only pressure me to grow. All the pressure and care will be worth it. We will only reap benefits and smell the sweet blooms when it’s all over. And maybe it will never be over. I’m ready for that too.