Monday, February 28, 2011

Social niceties

Not to bring down the emotional tone of the blog, but I want to externalize a bit of my internal situation here in that most public of private spaces, the internet. As you all probably know, I moved here (NYC) from LA several months ago, in either June or September, depending on how you count it. This was a big deal, geographically, emotionally, socially, etc. My family is here in the NY area, as are most of my oldest friends, but my home for the last few years had (and has) been Southern California. The reason, of course, was Mom's illness, but that's not what I want to talk about (at least not directly) at this point.

What I want to talk about is social expectation, social grouping, socializing. And, what the hell, socialism. I moved from a setting in which my main social interactions were determined by my job (graduate student at UCLA) and my primary volunteer occupation, political organizing at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. These were interactions governed by participation in groups, not by my own individual desire to see the people I saw. Obviously I chose to see some people more than others, but for the most part I saw the people that my activities made me see.

That isn't true in NY. Firstly, I don't have a job here. OK, I'm still a grad student, but being on fellowship, my "job" is both vague and irredeemably solitary. Secondly, I've been dealing, since I got here, with the lead-in and then the aftermath of Mom's death, and I think it's fair to say that this has made me far less socially outgoing than I would normally consider myself to be. That means I haven't found another volunteer activity to fill my jobless hours, nor have I made simple, ordinary social overtures to my old and close friends who live here. The end result of these two factors is that I spend the vast majority of my time alone, at home.

I think the main difference, for me, between NY and LA, is that my time in LA involved a lot of "let's do this." Here in NY, it's been much more "I'm doing this; do you want to join me?" There, participating in social groups, I was part of group decision making about fun things we could do. Here, alone, I can sometimes think of fun things to do and invite my friends, but my lack of energy and my general inability to initiate social situations has made that less of an option than I want it to be. I try, and sometimes I do fun things with friends, but often I end up doing things on my own, or not doing things at all.

My friends here, of course, are wonderful friends. Many of them I've known nearly my entire life. But they had lives before I got here, their own groups and habits, and I am a tricky piece to fit into that puzzle, what with my being free during weekdays (they all work) and having little inclination to insinuate myself disruptively into an established pattern. Plus, let's face it, I can be boring sometimes, and can be hesitant to do things that involve spending money, staying out late, or other violations of my Puritan moral code.

Okay, that part wasn't strictly true.

I think I realized this most fully when last visiting the boyfriend down in DC. When I'm with him, we make plans together and do things together. I'm never in a situation while visiting him where he says "I'm doing this; do you want to join me?" Except, I suppose, when he is dropping clothes off at the dry cleaners, but that's not really a fun social activity. Coming back from DC I was feeling pretty good, and I was very productive on my first day back, but after that I slowed down, had trouble sleeping, and generally stopped doing the things I like doing until the aforementioned birthday brunch yesterday.

I also went out with a friend on Saturday night, to a talk on Egypt at the LGBT center and then to dinner. That's where the socialism comes in; it was an ISO-sponsored talk that, typically, advertised itself as something with broad appeal and then in the event geared itself only toward committed socialists. Enjoyable, but not really the "eye-witness" account we had been told to expect. But this was an exception; my friend also just moved here from LA, and she doesn't have the groups, the routines, the social patterns in place.

I guess what my rambling intends to say is that I function better in groups and in structured interaction than I do when going solo. Right now I'm just relying on my friends to pick up my social slack and make me do things, but that doesn't work all the time, especially during the work day. And I miss having friends around, as I have always been lucky enough to have, who just as a matter of course want to do things together, who plan their schedules around me the way I plan mine around them.

For now, I'll keep on trying to stay chipper during my long periods of isolation known as weekdays, and I'll largely succeed, because I'm actually not as depressed anymore as this might sound. I'll go out as a special event—see a show with my aunt, or go to dinner at a friend's place, or celebrate a birthday or a holiday—but I won't have the kind of constant social life that I've grown used to and grown to rely on over the past...decade? And I'll look forward to moving back to LA and slotting back into ready-made communities of people whose social habits include me.

I think that's one of the things about Mom that always annoyed me and that I miss a lot now. Her life revolved around me and my sister, whether we wanted it to or not, even when she was working full time and involved in constant other political and social activity. Even when we were far away, the weekly phone call came; making room for us, for me, wasn't something she worked at but something that she simply did. Now, looking back, I love that.

Of course, I still don't want someone in my life who wants to do every single thing with me; that's not healthy, even in the best relationships. The boyfriend loves watching professional wrestling and I don't; I love playing in string quartets and he doesn't. Diversity of interest and social time apart is crucial. However, since we do live several hours apart by train/bus/car/plane, we're not really worrying about finding things to do separately. We do plenty separately.

I guess, again, that I'm just missing the kind of friendship that doesn't have to be doing anything special to be spending time together. Whether that is because you can sit around and do nothing together and feel good about it or because your activities are routine and are determined by work or school or simple habit, the friendship that doesn't require Special Effort is a luxury I have come to rely on.

Okay, this is highly disorganized and threatens to continue forever if I don't curtail it, so I will stop here. I love my friends, and my family, and my boyfriend. And I wish more of them were unemployed and/or independently wealthy so they could just spend their days hanging out with me. The End.


Ms. Li said...

I wish I were unemployed and/or independently wealthy too.

I'm free alllll of this weekend if you want to do something. Lounging feels like my speed these days though.

Anonymous said...

I miss your I Claudius parties and Wake for Sydney Frank and the other wonderful things you did at the Halfway House that brought people over to visit, because I am terrible at planning such things. I love how you would come find me in my room when I was painting morosely and you'd bring me downstairs for matzoh ball soup and hugs and hanging out with our friends. You are wonderful at that.

I wish I lived close enough to come do that for you now. I'll just have to drive down there and do it. :-)

Hugs to you my dear. I love you and miss you so much.

Jaime said...

I am available for entertainments evenings and weekends!