I wrote it down in pencil: “Theology on Tap at 7 PM.” I wrote it in pencil because I dropped my pen behind the desk a couple days ago and don’t feel like searching for it. Also, I wrote it in pencil because, metaphorically, that’s how I view all social engagements — subject to random erasure.
I wrote it down on Sunday, when I was feeling extroverted and energetic. Today was Monday. I was feeling neither. I was feeling like curling up on our stained loveseat and reading the novel I picked up for fifty cents at an estate sale.
I wrote it down on Sunday, when I was an idealist who hoped 7 PM would spark the friendship of a lifetime with a hipster but orthodox casual theologian who used the word “ironically” after everything and wore her hair in messy buns. Today was Monday. I was a pessimist who knew nobody ever made friends at social events. Social events were things to be endured, not enjoyed.
“Theology on Tap at 7 PM.”
Throughout the day, I grew crankier with that social engagement written on the back of my mind. I grew annoyed with Erich’s cheerfulness and jokes — as if a social engagement wasn’t looming over our lives, threatening our evening’s happiness. As if.
Erich and I aren’t the most ideal couple for socializing, after all. Our conversations alternate between Pokemon Go and the problems with Protestantism, or occur simultaneously. We hadn’t willingly small-talked in ages. What do normal people talk about these days?
To make matters worse, we hadn’t talked too much to each other lately, either. I had fallen into into my introvert reverie, reading, writing, thinking, and staring off into space. I’m a horrible wife. Horrible wives don’t make friends.
I washed the dinner dishes to atone for it.
“Theology on Tap at 7 PM,” and it was 6:35 PM, and I spilt dishwater over my shirt. No. The last thing I needed was a reason to think about my wardrobe. Maybe I should have thought about it harder, though, because I ended up wearing black glasses, a brown shirt, and gray shorts. My black glasses tilt sideways, too. Classy.
Theology on Tap is a Catholic event, so obviously it’s at a pub. I never understood event planner’s obsession with hosting public affairs in ambiguous public locations. “Natty Oaks Pub.” Where? Are we sitting at the bar? Are we gathering at a table in the back corner? The front corner? Will there be signs? Please tell me there will be signs. Please don’t make me track down a service member and ask him where the Theology on Tap event is occurring, only to find out he doesn’t know, and we just stand there awkwardly, hoping someone in your group is comfortable enough in her own skin to ask every bemused person if they’re here for the Theology on Tap event. If you don’t have signs, please give me the courtesy of having a bubbly greeter. Deal?
There were signs. There were signs at every point where I wanted to stop and say, “Now which way?” I liked these people already.
There was also pizza, which I ate because I succumb to peer pressure at every social event, even when I’m stuffed from the potato, egg, and bacon scramble I scarfed down thirty minutes earlier.
There were also name tags, which is an unfortunate necessity of these sorts of things. I don’t mind baring my soul to people, but I do mind baring my handwriting. One thing about name tags, though — “Hello, my name is” tags automatically make you look friendly. I chose that type. Erich took the blank ones, because he is a confident man who doesn’t need a name tag to finish his sentences.
We ended up sitting at our own table, smack dab in the center front of the room. Smack dab in the center front of the room. (Erich chose the table. His excuse? “I didn’t understand the layout of the room until after we sat down.”) It was one of those four-legged tables that wanted to be three-legged at unexpected moments.
They gave us Starbursts we could not eat, which meant only one thing: forced socialization. “This is why you’re here, Bailey,” I whispered to myself. “This is a good thing. Small talk — good. Eating Starbursts after small talk — better. Taking the remainder of Starbursts home to eat in solitude — best. Endure.”
Find a person you’ve never talked to before and ask them the question that corresponds with your color of Starburst. Well, that left everybody. I made eye contact with the first female I saw. (You can take the girl out of evangelical youth group, but you can’t take away the gender segregation.)
I knew the drill: say inconsequential things through a huge smile that you felt in every word and every facial crevice (you know what I mean?), and they would say the same inconsequential things back, and we would laugh at those inconsequential things and pretend that interaction mattered, even though, as twenty- and thirty-somethings, we know it never did.
(If I was the precocious heroine of a mainstream novel, I would say that out loud to my jaded future husband. I am not the precocious heroine of a mainstream novel, and, frankly, do strangers really appreciate brute, sarcastic honesty? No. Not unless they’re your future husband. And I have a husband already.)
The red Starburst question made us pick between chocolate and cheese. Why do people assume chocolate is a safe subject? It’s not. I am part of a minority group of women who can live without chocolate and even prefer to live without chocolate. Instant social ostracism.
The yellow Starburst question covered one thing I wanted to cross off my summer bucket list, and I said, “Uhhhh” and cocked my head along the angle of my tilted black glasses (because I don’t have a bucket list because I’m too busy trying to figure out how to reunite the church and I’m scared of skydiving).
“I want to finish moving into my new apartment,” I said; “you know, get rid of all those extra clothes and things to Goodwill.” (Is that a grammatical sentence?) “Wait, that’s not a bucket list thing,” I panic. “That’s a to-do list. Sorry.”
This was not going well, as usual. And I instantly began preparing myself for the awkward silence to fall, that chill moment where we both chased after our runaway train of thought while covering with friendly laughter and said, “Yeah, that’s awesome” at the same time.
The awkward silence fell.
Think, think, think. Books! Books show you’re educated and thoughtful! “Have you read that book about the, uh, the, um, the magic art of cleaning up or something?” Dang it, woman, you just saw this book at Barnes and Noble! What is wrong with you?
“Yeah! I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things about it.”
“Yeah! Uh, I only read the first part, and then I don’t remember why I stopped reading it [who cares?], but [actually, I don’t remember anything about what it said — oh!], um, I loved the part where she talked about only keeping things that brought you joy, because there are some things I don’t want to give away because they make me happy [none of this is making sense]….”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Some things are sentimental.”
“Yeah,” I laughed (why?). “That’s awesome.”
I liked listening to the speaker — a much safer social interaction, even though my four-legged table rocked across the concrete floor every time I touched it. When I wasn’t wondering whether everyone was looking at me when my table groaned, I was debating whether I should eat the Starburst candy in front of me, because chewing a Starburst is not a discreet matter. I decided to eat three.
It was also difficult to decide if I wanted to ask a question after the speaker finished. On the one-hand, speaking up as a newcomer might show intelligence, confidence, and genuine curiosity. On the other hand, who but a show-off, goody-two-shoes noob would ask a question the first day she showed up to new territory?
The speaker didn’t take questions. Instead, we received a set of discussion questions for our table — our table of two. Nobody invited us to pull over our rickety table and join them for a rousing discussion on third-world poverty, so Erich and I talked between ourselves.
You know, I felt like we really connected. We talked about things important to me — deep things, good things. He shared some interesting information on the difference between USA flags and German flags. We smiled and laughed. I felt at ease, like myself, accepted. I liked this Erich fellow.
I also liked having an excuse to book it out of the pub. “Oh, look at the time,” I said. “I’m late for my Skype date. Let’s go.” We took our Starbursts and smiled our goodbyes in a way that conveyed we were leaving because we had to, not because we were purposefully avoiding freestyle socialization.
“I made friends!” Erich said, in the car, breaking the silence.
“That’s nice! Who’d you talk to?”
“I don’t remember their names. I talked to a girl who’s been a teacher for three years.” (You talked to a member of the opposite sex? Serious respect, man.)
“Did you mention your wife was a teacher?”
“No. I wanted to give the appearance that I was single.”
I smacked him.
“I’m kidding. I didn’t think about that. I’m bad at talking.”
“Me too,” I said. We sat in silence a while. “Should we go back next week?”
“Sure,” he said.
I wasn’t sure. “We’ll probably just end up talking to ourselves again.”
“That’s okay. We needed to talk to each other.”
We smiled, like people always do to conclude a story like this. I made a friend, after all.
What’s your experience making post-baccalaureate friends?