Trying to get unstuck

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.)

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7 thoughts on “Trying to get unstuck

  1. It is so true! I must admit that I got sick of the party scene pretty fast…I had only been living inside the beltway for 6 months. That is when I realized that I needed to do something about it and I started with a monthly Poker Night and a monthly Board Game Night which were a lot of fun and unfortunately as the years have gone by I have let them slide with the busyness of life. I moved on to Cocktail parties which were really fun but they took a lot of work (and money) to have on a regular basis. But I think that it is so true that having a hands-on social activity that is on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis helps create and foster friendships versus all the random parties. I will say that I have met a lot of people at TOT, but the reason that we actually became friends was because I had a regular activity that I organize to invite them to 🙂

  2. First off, this blog post rocks! I really like your idea of an actual service group, whose activities start with Mass. Saturday mornings seem to be a pretty open time-frame, although that could be challenging following upon Friday night partying. 😉 Another thought is utilizing the centralized diocesan Young Adult Ministry’s calendar and publicizing and encouraging one another to join forces with parish service events that already exist. There have been opportunities for pro-life work, nursing home visits, food pantry assistance, yard work, etc. However, I don’t know that that would achieve the regularity conducive to friendship you so sagely hit upon.

    • Good points! That’s a big part of my point, though–that while the diocese and even parish groups do offer service projects here and there, it’s not something regular you can just plan to be part of. It’s a great start, though!

  3. I think you pretty much just summed up my whole post college experience in a few paragraphs. I’ve been practically forcing myself to go to parties, but somehow end up feeling more awkward and unlike myself than when I got there. I loved the part about “entrenching ourselves in the ‘shallow zones'” — that’s the perfect way to describe it! It’s hard for people to really know another person from 15 minutes of surface level chit chat, but actually taking part in a continuous get together helps build actual relationships. Thanks for putting it so simply!

    • I guess awareness is the first step toward fixing the problem, right? 😉 Time to get out there and be the difference we want to see in our own social lives. It’s good to hear that I’m not making this up, or that the experience is more universal than me and the few friends I’ve had the chance to talk this over with. Ever the activist, now I’m trying to run up the “now let’s do something about it!!” flag. Ideas: welcome. =)

  4. Janet bemones the lack of ‘community’ in our circles that you hit on in this post. To build community, you cannot rely on parties. Parties are meant to celebrate occassions (sometimes rather obsure ones, but nonetheless occassions). Building community consists of:
    1) consistancy (props to MB for pointing this out more than once)
    2) dedication – you have to reward showing up on a consistant basis
    3) love – giving everyone who want to join a ‘fair shake’ and loving those who participate
    4) encouragement – helping one an other improve, giving constructive feedback, complimenting a job well done!
    5) building toward a goal – laying out the purpose for being and every time, making progress toward a goal or the purpose for being
    6) loyalty – having a respected leader or small group of leaders who are supported by the majority of members, doesn’t mean they are dictators, but that they can make decisions for the group
    7) co-operation – the community must work together toward goals, members who consistantly disrupt need to be addressed in a loving but firm way
    8) shared expectations – members must understand what is expected from them and what they can expect in return
    9) Authenticity – props to MB again for this one, in the context of a community, it means being open with the other participants and honest with oneself about strengths and weaknesses
    10) Group vulnerability – community members commiserate with one and other when a circumstance or problem impacts the group, they work together to ‘get through it’

    I made that up with the help of a few articles I pulled up. But I think if you keep these 10 things in mind when planning a ‘repeatable’ and consistant activity, you can grow a community. Sports are great because they have a few of these things built in. We can do almost anything and, I think, if we include these guiding principles when forming the community we’d have great success.

    BTW, to emphasize the importance of taking action, or as MB puts it “doing something about it,” just read this quote:

    “Activists engaged in community building efforts in industrialized nations see the apparent loss of community in these societies as a key cause of social disintegration and the emergence of many harmful behaviors. They may see building community as a means to increase social justice, individual well-being and reduce negative impacts of otherwise disconnected individuals.”

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