We went to a birthday party yesterday. Parents of one of Jeremy’s former students from a few years ago have become good friends, (I previously wrote about them here,) and they share February birthdays, so they threw themselves a combined party to celebrate them both hitting 40. That’s quite a milestone, although one that is in the past for me. (As my next milestone birthday approaches quickly, 40 looks great in the rearview mirror!) It was a fun afternoon of old friends and new ones, never mind the bitter cold we are having currently.
It is interesting to me, going to a party where I am not sure I will know many people. Jeremy is such a social person that he can walk into any room and put people at ease, conversations springing up like weeds in a freshly dug piece of bare dirt. I swear the man can talk about anything with anyone; it’s a quality in him that I admire very much. I am not like him in that way, though. It is odd to me (though I get it, I think,) that in my professional life I talk to “strangers” regularly without a thought. I don’t get particularly nervous standing on stage before a packed house to introduce a concert, say, or to talk to a room full of parents at a meeting. It comes with the job and, as long as I feel prepared, I am generally fine with it. I frequently call parents on the phone to share issues with their children, nothing any parent wants to hear, and I feel comfortable doing it, even if I don’t enjoy it. A party or social gathering is completely different for me, though. I don’t remember always feeling this way, nor do I remember when exactly this started, but I have a certain level of anxiety about social situations like these. It is usually manageable, and being with Jeremy helps a lot, as he can swoop in and rescue me from awkwardness in a flash. I don’t think many people notice; it’s not as though I am quivering in a corner. (If I am wrong and you DO notice, please don’t tell me. I may never attend anything again.) I’m just more content to let conversations happen around me when I am among people I don’t know, participating occasionally when I feel like I have something to add. It is a strange sensation to me, and I can’t quit explain it. If you’ve read Jenny Lawson’s brilliant books or blog, she describes her hysterical party-attending anxiety-induced misadventures perfectly. I’m not that stricken, thankfully, (sorry, Jenny,) but I can relate completely. It’s just different degrees of the same problem; Jenny is a million degrees and I am a hundred. (Jenny is a bit of an over-achiever.) This image that I saw on Facebook sums it up pretty well, too.
I wasn’t completely anxious yesterday. I was pretty sure I would know at least 1 or 2 people. This helps to keep the angst in check a bit, familiar faces with whom I know I can converse without losing my shit. And this was true at the party. It also helped that Wendy, Brian, and Emma, our hosts, have 2 awesome dogs, Boxers, who are always fun and very easy to talk to. Unfortunately, yesterday Hawkeye had been banished to a bedroom just before the party started because he ate an entire wedge of very expensive (and presumably delicious,) cheese off of the table. This made Jeremy and me extraordinarily happy, although we missed his presence and conversational ability, because it made Guinness and Barney’s counter-surfing habits seem almost normal, and we were clearly now not the only dog parenting failures. (Sorry, Wendy and Brian, but thanks for the self-esteem boost.) Winnie, however, was still among the party guests and so she provided welcome breaks in the form of snuggles and kisses.
It should come as no surprise to me (although it seems it always does,) that people whose friendship I enjoy will have friends who I also enjoy. I am pretty sure that is how friendship is supposed to work, although I know it doesn’t happen every time, but it still catches me off guard me when it does. The folks at the party yesterday were great: laid back, friendly, and easy to talk to. We share more than a few common interests with Wendy and Brian and we found that was also true with many of their friends. It really was a fun party, and after a few minutes, I found myself fairly relaxed. Winnie helped.
There was a friend of Wendy and Brian there who looked vaguely familiar to me. It wasn’t an “I know that we’ve met before” moment, but more of a “Hmm, who does she remind me of,” moment. It wasn’t strong enough to say something about it to her, but I mused on it throughout the party. She was a smiling, happy person (which, I am pretty sure we are all supposed to be while at a party, but which comes more naturally for some than others,) and she had a quick wit and a hearty laugh that put me at ease. She was a beekeeper, we learned, which is an interest that both Jeremy and I have, and the conversation flowed comfortably. At one point, rather than pouring our own, she sipped my sweet birch infused vodka and I sipped her blackberry whiskey. (Both were amazing, by the way; well-played, Wendy!) We ate, sipped, and talked. It was mellow and enjoyable.
As we left the party, I told Jeremy that I felt like I knew her. Somewhere on the drive home, it finally came to me – I thought she might have been someone I knew from high school. Now, that would be 30+ years ago, so admittedly it was not a certainty. This morning, I got on Facebook and did a little searching. (Some of you are calling it stalking, I’m sure, but really, people, you are supposed to find old
boyfriends friends on Facebook, so I am deeming it non-creepy!) As it turns out, she is somebody I went to school with. She is a year older than me; her brother is my age. I would not say we were close friends in high school, but friends by extension, as high school friendships go. Mystery solved!
However, here is the thing that grabbed me, again, in this situation. The girl I remember from high school and the woman I met yesterday share the same body, of course, but couldn’t be more different, at least based on what little I am able to remember from 30 years ago and the first impressions I got yesterday. That is neither bad nor good; I mean that sincerely. I didn’t know her well enough in high school to really know her interests. What I do recall was her sense of humor and continuous smile, still present today, at least yesterday. Oh, and her cheerleader uniform. 🙂 What astounds me, sort of, are our current commonalities, the discovery that 30 years later we have common interests and, perhaps, sensibilities. That is cool and unexpected.
Rationally, I know that people change, that we are repeatedly shaped and reshaped by our journeys, and thank goodness for that. I am not the same person I was 30 years ago, but the world is not the same place it was 30 years ago, either. Still, when I cross paths with somebody after some length of time, I am often dumbfounded anew by the evolution of people. Being (now openly,) gay adds a complexity to these situations. I’m not that naïve to believe that nobody knew – or thought they knew – that I was gay in high school or college. Still, it’s a little bit like coming out each time I reconnect with someone from that time before. I’m working on giving those folks the benefit of the doubt in this regard, as I have been so warmly welcomed by so many of these old friends. I have to remember that people change, and often beautifully.
I am continually astonished by the twists our paths take in life. It is dazzling to me when the invisible web of connections, the six (or fewer!) degrees of separation become visible. I imagine a map of my life, the path never straight (no pun intended,) but rather curling and crossing itself, weaving about the page, with hundreds or thousands of other lines interwoven, drawing apart and, sometimes, back together, no visible pattern but weirdly meaningful. I believe sometimes we cause the shifts in these lines ourselves, when we make major changes in our lives, but often the lines create their own paths, and the purpose for those paths remain a mystery. And sometimes one person’s path approaching and connecting with ours draws the paths of others nearer. Who’s to say if that’s for the better or the worse; I’m sure both are true. I guess the best we can do is just keep chugging along on our paths, and work on being open to the opportunities to connect with those whose paths we will cross, for the first time or after many years. For me, that might mean I need to keep a dog around to help me break the ice.