Jan 15, 2002

I'd like to say a few words about something that bothers me from time to time. This concept is a hard one to adequately describe, I think, since I've been trying to figure out how best to explain it for a couple weeks now. So here goes....

Well, the Christmas/New Year's season ended just a few weeks ago, and with that time of year also came the typical Christmastime social gatherings and the general spirit of socialness. At this time of year it is customary for college students to return home for the winter break. This combination and the situations that arose from these two facts produced some interesting thoughts in my head.

In my life, I find that at times it's hard to figure out exactly what the right way is to invite other people to events and activities. Sometimes it's easy, as in "hey, buddy, wanna go see a movie." That works for some people. But not everyone. Of course, it's always harder to invite the other half (girls/women), because there is a lot more to think about. What are my motivations? What is the invited one going to think? Do they understand where I'm coming from and why I'm asking? Do I know where I'm coming from and why I'm asking? If they say yes, what will be my response, and is that response in line with my better judgment? If they say no, will I be disappointed beyond reason? If they say yes, will they be annoyed and feel like they were somehow trapped into it?

These are questions I spend a good deal of time considering, at least in the back of my mind. For my part, I know at times I have an independent urge, and when I have my plans made, I sometimes don't want them to be changed. If I am invited to do something else, there is often a hurdle in my mind which goes something like, "but I have my plans made already. Waaah." Usually, when I get over that hurdle and go, I'm glad I did, but it's something that often seems to come up in my mind in opposition of my social life.

So anyway, after living my life for several years, I've gotten quite adept at trying to pre-empt rejection, which is a good way to prevent pain, but is not at all a good way to be social. What I do, I think, is try to give the invited one the benefit of the doubt...trying to never be pushy, except perhaps in a joking manner, and trying to catch any glimpse of "Oh, ick, do I have to?" in their words or expressions, so I can back away. So hopefully I don't pressure people too much into doing things they don't want to (I am so good at saying, "It's okay" when people know I might have a reason to be upset!), but I also think that I might have more success if I tried a little harder at getting people to accept invitations.

But aside from my asking tactics, invitations are just annoying in general. There are plenty of times in life when I wish for telepathy -- to be able to figure out what exactly someone else is thinking -- and invitations are one of those times. I think to be able to capture the first few moments of thoughts in someone's head after an invitation is announced would be very enlightening. I would have to temper that with reality, realizing that as I said above sometimes I need to convince myself that I want to accept an invitation. But still, I think the first reaction of someone to an invitation is good evidence of what someone's attitude is toward the inviter.

Then there are the logistics of the pseudo-date-that-isn't-a-date-cuz-that-would-be-horrible. This is the group philosophy, which in general is a good thing, but also is annoying when a social event can't happen if it is one guy and one girl. That is an awkward situation if the two people are not sure what the purpose of the activity really is, with one or both thinking, "is this a date? does he/she think it's a date?" -- whatever a date is. So, to ease this awkwardness, we do things in groups, which makes life easier, but also can at times be less...deep, for lack of a better word. Group dynamics is a topic I've pondered about a lot too, and there are some groups that foster creative thinking and generally getting to know one another better, but some groups are just frivolous or thoughtful conversation-killing. So it upsets me at times that the implicit rule is "groups or nothing", as if I would get the wrong idea if it were one-on-one. Okay, so maybe I would get the wrong idea, because I'm stupid sometimes, but it still seems unfair for some reason, and sort of a statement of, "I don't trust you to be my friend unless we're in a group." Ouch.

And of course there are the politics of invitations as well. Invitations are exclusive, usually. If one person is invited, specifically, then others are excluded. In these cases, explanations are necessary. Most folks wouldn't mind for couples to eat together -- cuz that's what couples do, and there's a recognition of relationship there. People don't mind when casual coworkers have other lunch plans, because after all the lunch is casual, and anyone can do something different if he or she chooses. But the in between times are the tricky ones. If I invite one person to some special event, am I then obligated to invite everyone else too? Really, this isn't a huge problem, since the law of rejection takes care of most others. But it is a problem for the invited one, with the necessary question, "Why is he inviting me? Is he a psycho? Is he stalking me?" or whatever else people think in these situations. So, exclusivity and what it implies is just one more reason to reject an invitation.

With these thoughts in mind -- thoughts of preemptive rejection, the group philosophy, exclusivism, and the general cold shoulder that often comes to the inviter -- I sometimes wonder what people do to rise above this. I can be many things, but really I will always be me, and therein lies a problem, I have to assume. For whatever reason, people seem to enjoy my company to some extent, but to go beyond that usual extent, like to accept an invitation to some special activity, has implications, implications that many are not willing to live with. People are always nice in their rejections (of course), but that doesn't stop me from being a bit upset by the usual pattern.

So what is my plan of action following these thoughts? Well, I can't simply give up invitations, because for all their awkwardness and problems, they do often end up being successful social outings. What's that song lyric? "It's the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live" (from The Rose), or "Never settle for the path of least resistance" (from I Hope You Dance). So I will not give up on invitations, and will continue to learn how to invite with the right attitude and accept the response, and maybe even trust people that they aren't just ignoring the invitation or making excuses.

So, ya wanna go see a movie? :-)

Joe Clark