When I enter the pitch black room a drink is forced into my hand. A circle of strangers yell at me to drink. I drink the cup quickly to make them all stop yelling at me. A man who I will never meet pats me on the back in an almost proud way and welcomes me to the party. I don’t really know anyone here. I don’t really know the Germans who dragged me to this party and I certainly don’t know any of the people dancing on the tables. I wouldn’t recognise them if I did because it’s dark and there’s a strobing light and the music is too loud and I just want to be at home and a lot more sober.
When I started university I made a decision. I was going to say yes to things. If a situation arose and the only reason I had for saying no was “but I was going to eat ice cream and watch television” then I had to say yes. I said yes when Krissie, the German who lived upstairs, asked if I’d like to have a drink with them. Before you start thinking I spent last year being drunk and deborturous, it was only a week or two when saying yes meant going to strange parties with international students. I also said yes to playing Quidditch. And introduced myself to people who are now my friends. I made the concious decision to pursue friendships with people I met in passing even when that was scary.
I was so brave last year. I stepped outside my comfort zone such an awful lot. For some people, this sort of bravery isn’t really bravery at all. It’s called life. But for me, saying yes was awfully hard sometimes.
This year has been different. There wasn’t a moment when I stopped saying yes, but somehow it seems that I have stopped. This year there have been a lot of times where I’ve consciously decided to stay on the periphery. There have been moments when I could have taken a deep breath and pushed myself. I could have introduced myself to a stranger or left the house. Or I could say no. I could stay inside my bubble. And a lot of times I’ve chosen the latter, safer option.
Last night I went to the launch for the latest issue of The Lifted Brow. The party was in the editor‘s house. Or rather on the top floor of a warehouse that he sleeps in. It was the kind of party that people go to in movies. The huge dark room had candles scattered around it. The kitchen bench served as a make-shift bar selling this incredible homebrew that someone’s housemate had made. A series of indie musicians lugged their gear up all the stairs, set up in one corner and played to a room packed with people. Adventure Time was projected onto a wall.
I knew a few people at this party. I recognised the faces of others. I could have pushed myself into circles, forced myself to have yelled conversations over the music. Instead I helped at the door and served drinks. I poured ginger beer into plastic cups and strangers complimented me on my dress. I chatted to a few people and said hello to others. More than once I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. I should push myself. I should be brave. But I didn’t. I talked to the people I wanted to talk to and struck up short, cheerful conversations with everyone else. I realised I was happy. Happy just dipping a toe outside my comfort zone.
Given the choice, I’d mostly prefer to stay at home and watch TV and eat ice cream. I prefer parties that only five people attend. Sometimes I like to stand in the corner and just watch. I learnt an awful lot about myself and about other people last year, when I was forcing myself to be brave. I’m just starting to realise that being shy can be a choice. I’ve said yes, I’ve been to some parties and drank goon with Germans. And that isn’t who I am. I like meeting strangers sometimes. But sometimes I’m content to just watch the strangers dance. Sometimes I like to be the stranger.
This year I’ve taken different risks. I’ve invested in relationships, in people. I’ve given an awful lot of myself to a few people. And I wonder if maybe that’s actually scarier than giving a little bit of myself to a stranger. I still think that life is too short to let potential friends slip away. I still think it’s important to swallow inhibitions and pursue acquaintances you think could turn out to be friends. But sometimes I’m going to say no.
I feel like maybe I’ve earned the right to retreat a little.