Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cocktails and Hypocrisy

I'm hosting the inaugural Cocktail Club meeting tonight, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; I'm taking a stab at creating an intentionally social group and using the hapless cocktail as an excuse. I came up with the idea because a bunch of people I really like get together on a regular basis to play a game I tried once and just couldn't see the point of, and I was jealous of the camaraderie, so decided to try a similar group in which Catan remains unsettled. I have no illusions about the chances of this actually working out - it might not - but I figure I'll set up the infrastructure and see what happens.

Since my goal is to create a small community, the Cocktail Club membership roster is carefully considered; I want folks to have the opportunity to meet new people, actually get to know them over time, and eventually become friends. Since that's the goal, I tried to keep the total number low. I included only people I really enjoy spending time with, and not even all of those. I left off people with whose partners I happen to not be friends, and I invited only a few people from each of my several social circles. It didn't really work, of course; I ended up with about fifteen people on the list, but I figure that not everyone will be able to come every time, so we should be okay.

I'm not looking for ways to exclude people, but it's impossible to be close friends with an infinite number of people, at least for me. My brain is only so big and my capacity for socializing in groups is fairly small. The worldwide Cuban dance community is huge, and I realized long ago that meeting someone once at an event is not sufficient for friendship, even the Facebook version. Even locally, I've released myself from the expectation that I'll get to know everyone. We have new people coming up through classes all the time, and even though I'm paid to help teach one class a week, it's not enough to even learn all their names, much less add everyone to my personal social life.

Also, my house is the opposite of a Tardis house. It looks big from the outside, but you get inside and it's really tiny. Occasionally I do love to cram thirty people in here for standing-room-only drinks, usually before we go out dancing, but that's not what I'm looking for with this project. Five people can comfortably sit in my living room on the couches and upholstered chairs, and with four kitchen chairs and the antique sewing machine bench, my house accommodates exactly ten people for grown-up sitting around.

I was driving to a meeting today (one of the social circles from which only half of the people are invited) and I found myself thinking about how I hope that the folks who are coming have the good sense to not tell other people about it. (Unbelievably, that happens; this summer I had a get-together and the first guests were two people I hadn't invited - one of whom had specifically not invited, and he brought some other guy I had barely even met. They were early, and then they ate all the snacks.)

And then I realized that I'm a hypocrite. I'm trying to get Twelve to be the kind of person who excludes no one, but at the same time I steadfastly defend my right to be friends with only the people I actually want to be friends with.

My past and current selves are in conflict. My past self, the scared seventh grade self, would like for everyone to be included in everything, always, because she remembers how hard it was to be excluded. She wants her daughter to go out there and be friends with everyone; to rescue all the poor lonely seventh graders so they won't feel so bad.

My current self, the comfortable-with-herself self, recognizes that this is impossible, because personalities and houses can hold only so many people and because not everyone likes everyone else. She enjoys the fact that she is now in a position to choose her friends from a relatively wide range of prospects. She wants it to be okay that she has fairly high expectations of people who might become her friends; she wants to devote her emotional energy to people who are interesting and engaging and who capably reciprocate. She realizes that her daughter should be free to spend her time and emotional energy in pursuit of relationships that she values and cherishes.

(As long as she continues to choose to pursue relationships with young women and men of the highest caliber, that is.)

My current academically inclined feminist self also recognizes that cultural norms of womanhood involve the giving of oneself to others, and identifies this as a big fucking problem. Women are supposed to provide emotional work for others in every possible way; we learn to be so in tune with others' emotional needs that we don't know how to tend to our own. We give and we give and we give (particularly to men and to children) until there's nothing left. Sometimes we're lucky enough to have other women in our lives to take care of us, but still, maybe it would be better if we focused first on meeting our own needs and then looked around for ways to help others.

Listen to your flight attendant: If cabin pressure is lost, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

Ladies: We cannot be everything to everyone. 

Okay, Twelve, I'm going to continue to expect you to be cordial and gracious with the general public and with the sixty other seventh graders in your class, but I hereby release you from being everything to everyone. You do not have to retroactively rescue your hapless mother by befriending every awkward member of your class. Again, be polite to all and sundry, but first be your confident, capable self. Perhaps you can lead by example. Would I have been less hamstrung by social ineptitude if I had had a confident, cordial role model? Okay, probably not. But in retrospect I'm not sure there *were* any confident, cordial people in my junior high, or high school for that matter.

Would I have been less picked on if my seemingly confident classmates were truly secure in themselves and less concerned with battling to the top of the heap by scrambling over others? I think so. Such a person wouldn't even have had to be my friend, but I think it would have helped to see someone my age being comfortable enough with herself that she didn't need to pick on others.

Perhaps the best I can do for the imagined reflections of myself in Twelve's sphere of influence is to encourage Twelve to be her best and most secure self.

When they all go to Washington, DC, four kids and one chaperone stay in each hotel suite; each child makes a list of her or his top five or six roommate choices, and then the teachers figure it out. I'd previously envisioned Twelve ending up in a room with girls outside of her current circle, girls who are perhaps a bit on the fringe of things at school, girls like I was. I imagined that Twelve would have some sort of epiphany of inclusion and the girl like I used to be would have some sort of transformative experience of becoming one of the gang (I don't know, it was all very vague, what can I say).

Now I'm suggesting to Twelve that she her girlfriends should sort it out amongst themselves ahead of time, so that they all request each other and get to pick their own roommates. After all, when I go to events requiring shared hotel rooms, I am fairly particular about the people with whom I'm willing to room, so I figure Twelve should be extended the same privilege.

But I still feel guilty with my short Cocktail Club list, and I still feel guilty for not trying to get to know everyone who comes through our Wednesday night class. What if I am paying my former self back for years of unpopularity by an inappropriate use of social power? It's hard to tell the difference between maintaining healthy and necessary boundaries based on my ability to function socially and the side dish of satisfaction that comes with being finally in a position to exclude others.

It's much easier to come up with new cocktail recipes. Just pick a fruit juice, an alcohol, and a carbonated beverage that go together, and fiddle with the proportions until it's delicious. Tonight's is the Pear Fizzy: Two parts pear nectar, one part vodka, one part club soda. Shake the pear nectar and vodka with ice, then add the club soda and swirl gently before straining into the fanciest possible glasses. 

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