The Social Checklist

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time with adults. I went to the Christian Science church every Sunday with my grandmother, and there were no other kids there. There were no kids in my apartment building. My next door neighbor, Jenny, was a brat and I hated her and her house. I never really invited people over, because nobody ever really invited me over. I went to school, and I came home. I didn’t learn how to be around people my own age, not really.

I’m watching ‘The United States of Tara,’ right now, a show where the main character has dissociative identity disorder. One of her personalities is this animal like creature, for lack of a better word, that is all scared and low to the ground and full of feeling. Squeals when touched. Runs away. That is me in social situations. I don’t know how to integrate myself; I always wait for others to do it for me. I’ve spent my whole life being told what to do. And now I’m very much an adult and supposed to tell myself. Is that what moving to New York was all about? Was I trying to tell myself? I honestly came here because I thought that, because there are SO MANY people, I would have a better chance at making a friend. But there are SO MANY people, and I haven’t found my person yet. Graduate school is lonely. I am thirty years old. I should have a solid job and a family of my own and a friend base. But I don’t. I’m a writer. Dear god, I hope writing isn’t a pipe dream. 

I never imagined that this was where I would be at age thirty. Never. I honestly never though I would leave Wisconsin. By the time I was thirty, I was going to be (still) married, with a handful of kids and a steady job, in a life that was stable. I went straight from being a tiny child to being an adult, from reading picture books to reading The Iliad. I skipped over the traditional party time high school age, blew past college years, and went right to the workforce. Who needed college?

Me. I needed college. Preferably ten years ago.

Too late now.

I was talking to a classmate last week about how much older we are than so many others in our program. On the plus side, that means I have quite a bit of life experience to write about. On the negative side, it’s hard for me to connect to people in my program because they all just seem so … young. I missed that entire stage of my life where I could hang out with people my own age and party and just … be. My friends talk about their lives, about going out, doing things, having experiences. I got married instead.

I wasted a lot of my life.

I evaluate every possible social situation through my own personal lens. I have a checklist:

Where is it? Do I know how to get there safely?

Who is going? Do I know anybody there?

What will I do if I go and nobody talks to me?

What will I do if I go and everybody talks to me?

What will I do if people talk to me and I say something stupid?

What if I go and I don’t know how to act?

If I don’t have a solid answer, I don’t go. As a result, I never go.

This week I would like to go to the bar with my cohort. I mean, I’ve been here seven months now, and I’ve done nothing with them. But I have my checklist, and my responses:

No, I don’t know where it is. What if it’s too far from the subway to walk that late at night while possibly drunk?

I will never know who all is going. Our program isn’t small. (Though it’s also not huge). And all the genres go. I am bound to know someone. But I won’t know someone.

Chances are good I will go and everyone will know each other, because they’ve already had a semester to bond. And I will be there to awkwardly chime in at random points of the conversation but otherwise not speak because I don’t know what they expect of me in that situation.

Everyone is not going to talk to me.

I will be awkward and stupid because I have never been in that situation before, the situation of being in a bar with a group of people I don’t know. It’s just a fact.

Likewise, it’s a fact that I will not know how to act. I simply won’t.

I forget a lot. I forget that sometimes I can go to things and do well and talk and act normal and people like me. I forget that like that me. I never give myself credit for those moments.

The world has taught me a lot. How to be responsible. Punctual. Bright. Sad. Afraid. Ashamed. Awkward. I am thirty years old, and I’m ridiculously socially awkward when I’m out of my own pond. New York City is really a damn big pond. And it’s scary. It’s scary to realize how old I am, to realize that I don’t have any relationships here, to realize that thinking about being alone is a scary thing.

I want to go to the bar. I don’t want to have a social checklist. But I think it’s too late to erase it. I’ve seen too much.

I think I’m too old.

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2 thoughts on “The Social Checklist

  1. You’re never too old to start over. It’s good to have a checklist, to be on the safe side. Those of us who have been hurt are always vigilant, it’s ingrained. You’ve shown bravery by leaving your comfort zone, forcing change upon yourself. You will continue to conquer your fears. Bar experiences can be an adventure, good or bad, and prime opportunity for writing material. I hope you do try it, if only to win in the face of uncertainty. Imagine yourself as a barracuda in this big pond, but swim like a neon tetra in a community tank.

  2. I graduated college at the age of 29, and in my class was a 79 year old!!! It’s never too late.

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