Following another weekend round of parties, Sunday night found me, breathless and head-achy and somewhat morose, curled up in the chair in the corner of my bedroom I’ve designated for thinking/writing/praying/staring reflectively out the window. Mostly I just stared out the window, but I did a little bit of thinking, too. And in talking with the roommate and various other friends, I decided two of those thoughts might be worthy of bringing up on this blog, because they’re definitely not relegated to my own head. So here they are, ready to be dissected and discussed, both on this WordPress site and (hopefully) in person as well.
First, you all know I love a good party. I’ve definitely blogged on that before, and it remains true. But I have been noting with increasing unease this trend in the young adult community toward nothing … but … parties. Okay, so it’s more than a trend. It’s almost a rule. You want to see your friends? Have a party. You want to meet someone (in the full significance of the term)? Have a party. Go to a party. Get dragged to a party. In whatever way necessary, get thee to a party, grab a beer, and scream at strangers over loud music about your career and life goals, and try to make yourself as charming–and authentic–as possible. Be social. Be yourself. Make at least 15 new Facebook friends per weekend. This is what it means to be a thriving, healthy, happy young adult.
My pastor even told me once, about a year ago, that if I felt called to get married I had something akin to a moral obligation to go out on weekends. “You can’t be sitting around at home,” he told me.
I do agree with this, of course. You’re not going to meet your spouse if you’re hiding out under a rock. Nor are you going to have much of a social life. Still, this exhausting fact of parties every night of every weekend seems to be lacking something. There are two problems I’ve noted most pointedly:
1) Very few people are truly themselves, in the sense of being comfortable, relaxed, and able to be known, at parties. I know for a fact that I’m not. It’s difficult to meet someone who’s wearing his “I’m at a party and I’m actually feeling pretty awkward right now” mask, just like it’s difficult to be met when you’re wearing that same mask.
And 2) parties do not give a very firm foundation for authentic friendship. I will say from experience that parties among people who are already friends are a blast; but trying to make all your friends in the context of, “We met at so-and-so’s party in April” gets a bit exhausting. And when I look around at most of my closest friends right now, they’re not the people I’ve partied with (exclusively, anyway). They’re the people I’ve lived with in some way.
Meaning, the people with whom I have shared my life, whether as physical roommates, in prayer groups and Bible studies, in works of service, or friends from school.
And this leads to my second point. Just like most of us aren’t making many authentic, lasting friendships in the course of our breathless runs from party to party, our friendships with members of the opposite sex aren’t blossoming, either. And I mean that in two ways: we’re not becoming better friends with one another, and we’re not really able to explore the possibility of maybe becoming “more than” friends, because we’re getting stuck in this limbo of shallow social relationships, restricted to party-appropriate conversations.
Not only are we all stuck in the “friend zone,” we seem to be entrenching ourselves in the “shallow friends” zone. (By this I mean, we’re not even becoming GOOD friends in the fullest sense of the term, learning to really love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.) And I think a large part of the reason why lies in the point I made above: true friendship is based on a shared life–not just a shared social scene. Our life is composed of so many diverse, rich pieces: prayer, work, study, community service, hobbies, trips and adventures, even basic things like exercise. Parties [should] occupy a really, really small portion of all that, and yet they’re taking over the whole.
So friendships aren’t blossoming and people aren’t dating. And we’re all getting frustrated because we all feel a little bit…stuck. I can’t speak much from the male perspective, but on the girls’ side, we’re organizing parties and doing our hair and wondering when the men in our lives are going to step up and take some initiative. Then again, we’re not sure we want them to because it could really make things awkward, throwing off our carefully organized social structures. So the vicious cycle carries on.
I wonder what we can do to combat this trend? Organizing the occasional service project or rosary dinner seems like a good start, but are there things we can put in place that have more permanence and regularity, so that people have a sense of truly belonging to a growing community, and not just showing up for the latest Facebook event? For instance, instead of now and then gathering for Saturday morning Mass and work in a soup kitchen, what about starting an official group (and naming it) that goes to Saturday morning Mass every week and then spends two hours in service? Even if people don’t come every week, they could have the permanence of knowing it’s an institution, and it happens weekly.
A hearty kudos to those who already do this. One great example comes to mind–a good friend of mine organizes a weekly ultimate Frisbee game in a local park on Sunday afternoons. They’ve been gathering young adults from all over the metro area for the past three years, and it’s still going strong. And guess what? Authentic friendships…and I think even one or two marriages…have come out of that group.
But if Frisbee’s not your thing (and I admit, it isn’t mine), figure out what is. Then see if you can gather a community of like-minded people around you to participate. That’s my first suggestion for beginning to break out of the social inertia we’re all finding ourselves stuck in: regularity. Friendships are based on a shared life, which implies permanence. Parties are by their very nature impermanent things–as are shallow friendships and relationships.
(Beware: much more on this topic to follow, as well as a close look at dating as it seems to be developing in our Catholic circles…and why modern dating may not be the best trend to follow for those of us who aren’t part of the hookup culture.)