My first major geographical move as an adult was met with unbridled success: I got what I wanted, within a conveniently short breadth of time. This kind of fortune, like most things in life, comes with a price. With success comes hubris. And with hubris comes… expectation. And expectation can turn out either way, so when it does go the other way—you might not be prepared. But, I’ve always seeked balance in my life—or more accurately, it seeks me: for every unfettered blessing I’m bestowed, I must endure a swift lapse of misfortune to keep me humble. It’s the universe’s way of keepin’ it real, ya’ know.
When I moved from Long Beach to L.A. at age twenty-eight, I should’ve realized that I should’ve done it earlier. ‘Cause no one past their mid-twenties makes new friends, you see.
That first year in L.A. was terrible, and so were the subsequent ones incidentally. Trying to make new friends only a twenty-five-minute drive up north from where I once made friends so easily, went something like this:
My Brain: You are awesome, man. Just smile and say hi. You are mysterious, fun, and magnetic! Keep talking!
Other Person’s Brain: Get this freak away from me!
In a nutshell.
This is what happens when you’re met with initial success. You literally can’t accept the fact that the formula that once proved so lucrative for you, is completely obsolete in this new scenario.
But I can’t completely blame myself for my sudden failure; all those friends I previously made were co-conspirators for liking me so readily in the first place! Haha… It was quite stunning, and humbling, to realize that those friends were the exception to the rule though. They accepted me and were open enough to see something in myself that was glaringly overlooked by the rest of the world.
I chalk all of this malaise up into a tidy sentiment called: Finding out what the REAL world is like. In the real world, most people WON’T like you. Most people WON’T find you funny. Most people WON’T find you attractive. Most people WON’T take the time to get to know you. Especially in a city like L.A. where everyone is trying to be someone they’re currently not. Quite honestly, unless they think you can get them somewhere closer to their pipe dream, you’re just a roadblock. And no one in L.A. likes roadblocks. They’ll run you over. The sooner you learn all this, the better.
Since I was genuinely bored of (and outgrown) the bar scene, I needed other avenues to meet and make new friends. I heard from a friend of a friend (Irony? Ha), of a website just for that: Meetup. Being open-minded and proactive, I joined and eagerly took a stab at it.
One of the first meetups I went to was for aspiring “L.A. TV Writer’s”. At the time, I had the fanciful notion that I could pump out sitcom scripts for a living, all for the hefty price they typically charge. It was at a sports/casual bar on the Westside of town, near me.
When I got there, you could cut the air around these pseudo-scribes with a knife. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. “Artists” are heady individuals—it’s all that hot air.
I started chatting with this portly, amiable woman around my age at the bar. She and I shared some common ground: our day jobs were actually in the same plaza, and she also loved Long Beach. I felt harmless and noncommittal enough, but as soon as more wannabe writers materialized onto the scene, I saw her leap at the chance to extract herself from my sphere, to chat with others. I couldn’t get within breathing distance of her the rest of the evening.
Later, when I found myself sitting at the end of a long table, I found myself having as much fun as one could have at a dentist’s office: getting others to talk to me was like requesting to perform a root canal. One innocuous, quiet girl moved from the other end of the table to my side, literally sitting across from me. But in spite of this forward move, shockingly enough, she didn’t relocate to engage with me. I glanced at her expectantly, to which she looked at me with arched eye brows that genuinely indicated: “Why are you looking at me??” To which I reasoned in my head: “’Cause you walked over here and sat right in front of me!!” We traded these looks for far longer than comfort would allow (which is .2 seconds, by the way). The suspense was unbearable, not to mention the blatant silence that loomed two feet between us! I, being far less tolerant of social awkwardness, aimed to dispel it by simply speaking—asking her what kind of writing she was working on.
She answered politely, but gave no incentive for me to reciprocate. She didn’t inquire anything of me, and was not effusive in her responses. Apparently, she was there to clam up in comfort, with me! I might as well have been an empty chair.
The rest of the night followed suit. All those writers were more or less standoffish, terse, and indifferent. I highly doubt any of them attended another one of the group’s meetings again. What’s that poetic saying? We are all islands… beautiful, huh.
This is the catch-22 of life: when something simply bad happens to you, how are you supposed to know how to react—if it’s never happened to you before? There is nothing in your wheelhouse to prepare you for this. So that first encounter will simply be your one-way initiation by disaster, and God forbid if it occurs to you again—you’ll be all the more able to duck, sink and cover like a pro. Right? Well, keep reading.
That first year or two living in L.A., I was like a chicken with its head cut off: No one wanted to be near such a freak. Oh, and I kept running around, persisting, regardless of the discombobulating experiences I endured on the social front.
I went to another writer’s group—this time specifically for Lesbian, Gay and Bi or Transgender writers. I figured, two for one! The odds are in my favor, right?
Regardless of how poorly received I was in the previous Meetup, I wasn’t going to throw in the towel just yet. (I’ve such a high tolerance for rejection, which in hindsight I believe is more flaw than virtue. Much like pain, rejection serves to warn you that you’ve gone over your threshold). I waltzed into that meeting at Starbucks on the Westside like a teenager joining a “Twilight” fan club. I couldn’t wait to talk about Jacob! What I didn’t realize was: I’d walked into the detention room.
About a half dozen of us gay scribes sat face to face, the median age being a decent high-30s, which is fine by me—I flatter myself into thinking I’m mature for my age anyway. Well, mature for a gay man/writer, ha…
As we went around the room sequentially, introducing ourselves and discussing any current projects we were working on, I soon learned how jaded and indifferent these people were. The contrast between their age (ahem, late 30s, early 40s) to their somewhat crass, tactless bedroom manner in speaking to veritable strangers —was jarring to say the least. I couldn’t comprehend why they bothered to show up in the first place, only to be predisposed toward disappointment. And I being such an optimist, was so clueless that it didn’t register to me this wasn’t going to turn out well.
When I divulged to the group about my TV writing plans, someone naturally pressed me for what TV shows I drew inspiration from. I confidently disclosed my love for some of the best-written shows of that year: 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation… Silence.
These aspiring writers, had NEVER seen what were two of the most acclaimed, innovative, and arguably funniest comedies of all time!
I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, where I’d wandered into a parallel universe where everyone looks the same and speaks through a series of clucks and meows.
All the group members looked at me sheepishly. One said: “Oh, well I liked 3rd Rock from the Sun…”
The only remotely amiable person there, by way of Northern California of course, offered gently that she’d heard of 30 Rock, and that there’s “that gay skinny character named Kenneth”—to which, I had to correct her that he wasn’t in fact gay at all.
Another woman in the group simply couldn’t bear putting on a front any longer, and went off on a tirade that she wholly didn’t care for the show, and didn’t like Alec Baldwin, or “that Sarah Palin-lookalike lady with the glasses…” She said this with all the finesse of a junior high teen rebuking someone for being on Team Jacob. She was probably pushing forty, by the way.
The rest of the meeting proved to be lackluster, as you might expect from “writers” who had barely even heard of two highly-revered, well-written TV shows. Yes, I just pulled a snob card there. It’s not even snobby; it’s just fact. It’s like a minus snob-card actually. The next one I pull is free.
For the remainder of that irrevocable Saturday afternoon in that coffee shop, I was met with resigned indifference and probable covert disdain, every time I tried opening my mouth again. My youth, my race, and simply my tastes probably played into it. I do think that (some) older people tend to be ageist against younger people in these types of scenarios: someone like me is deemed green or unworldly, or just as likely: intimidating.
I never went to another meeting with that group again, although I told myself in the back of mind that I should. Again, the attendees from that disastrous first meeting didn’t seem to show up to subsequent ones, according to the website. I would’ve been safe from the Jacob haters.
Still not giving up, towards the end of my second year in La La Land, I joined a Meetup group specifically for “Gay 20-Somethings”. Down to the essentials. The turnout was impressive, and given that they were young—they were less jaded by default.
In one of the earlier events that I attended, there was a Chinese American man about two years younger than me, named John. John wasn’t fat, but he wasn’t thin either. He had some meat on him, or some robust bones underneath. He was far from attractive, but not hideous either. He was simply average.
Another “virtue” of mine, is that I don’t discriminate based on physical appearances. Having been undoubtedly on the tail end of that prejudice throughout my life (who hasn’t?) and knowing full well how surreptitiously worthy I was underneath, I always vowed that I’d practice what I preached on this issue. Besides, I’ve had “good-looking” friends before, and it’s not like they had super powers—if you don’t count superficial looks. So I naturally pursued a friendship with John. He fit the basic criteria of Sane/Decent/Coherent/Breathing.
At some point on one of the group’s excursions, we exchanged numbers.
A week or two later, John and I agreed to meet at a local gay bar in Los Feliz, one of my favorites because it didn’t require gloss nor attitude—two things I’m utterly devoid of at the clubs and won’t even bother to attempt at.
At the bar, we drank and chatted lightly. He lived in San Gabriel Valley with his parents, currently, where he also grew up. He had just returned from a sabbatical in New York City sometime earlier that year, in which he studied/worked/lived/didn’t earn money/somehow made it work… It was clear that his heart was there, at the expense of L.A., even though he grew up here. Well, no one joins Meetup because they’re doing well and fitting in…
Everything went well, in that nothing was particularly amiss that evening. I do remember when John finished his one cranberry vodka, I caught a glimpse of him melodramatically putting the glass down with a peculiar upwards and down motion of his arms—stretching histrionically, as though he were a ‘real housewife’ who just finished her fourth high ball.
Well, maybe he’s just not much of a drinker, I surmised.
When we bid farewell that evening, I politely offered that we could hang out again sometime.
John succinctly replied: “Oh—I’m gonna be really busy these next few weeks.”
Okay, I thought. Whatever…
What I didn’t realize was that I was ostensibly under surprisingly heavy scrutiny this entire time. John wasn’t simply looking for a casual drinking buddy, apparently. He had standards.
This—coming from a guy who was neither attractive, cool, nor popular by any means. I don’t mean to brag, but if you were to see both of us sitting at a bar in Los Feliz, I was clearly more conventionally appealing in appearances and demeanor. But to John? He was something else. I can’t help but feel though, that it’s tantamount to a guy crawling through the desert, coming upon a stream and saying: “Uh, I only drink Evian bottled water. No thanks.”
But conversely, I also get it: sometimes we can sense differences in mindset and sensibilities that foretell imminent incompatibility with someone in the future. But as I also alluded: I would’ve been fine just being simple drinking buddies with John. Not every friendship has to be the holy grail of interpersonal dynamics. I don’t think I was pushing him to be my bff/bro/emergency contact.
A couple of months later, John surprised me with a text: “Sorry I’ve been anti-social. Let’s hang out.”
Oh, okay, I thought. Maybe he was just busy.
John arranged for me to meet him at a Thai restaurant closer to his side of town, in Silver Lake. This time he was in better spirits. The food was delicious, and I always loved the boho vibe of Silver Lake. John and I had sparkling enough dinner conversation about polite and innocuous matters, continuing where we left off. He regaled me with an enticing session he recently had with a legitimate psychic, and advised me to give her a shot.
The night’s pleasantness was misleading though, because I was still the unsuspecting contestant in a game show called: “Are you good enough to grace my presence?” with John being in the deciding seat, and I running through an obstacle course to win his heart.
I’m embarrassed to admit, we did engage in a couple more nights out on the town, where I blithely overlooked red flags that were there in hindsight. John had an incessant need to say exactly what was on his mind—even out of context. This is a breed of human that is as distinct a species as Bluebirds, Bobcats, or—Assholes. People who say whatever they think, often claim that they’re just “Real”, or they simply “Have no filter”, but really it’s often that they’re just: “Lazy and don’t want to take responsibility for themselves.” It truly is just that: Life is not so simple that we can say whatever we want—whenever we want. I have a very straightforward example to illustrate my point: When you see a fat or ugly person, would you think it’s appropriate to walk right up to them and say: “You’re Fat/ or Ugly, and it’s TRUE—so I can say it”?
No, you wouldn’t. Because A) It’s completely out of context B) That person probably already knows it, genius C) It’s a dick move.
I won’t bother recalling the exact vocal excrements John unleashed towards me, but I’m sure you can imagine how I felt about them. They were never outright mean, but again—they were uncalled for. It was no accident this guy had no friends.
It finally ended one night, when we met again at the Los Feliz bar. John was already edgy in the first few minutes. “Why isn’t anyone talking to us?” he opined, dejected. He’d expressed this before in a previous outing too. This to me, is never an issue by the way—and I’ve met many people who will back me up on this: When you go out on the town with friends, the best way to shoot yourself in the foot is to make the misguided promise that you’ll “meet someone new” that night—propelling yourself into a higher elevation of being. Not only is it presumptuous, but it’s not even probable in a town like L.A. where everyone is secretly afraid of each other. Just go out with your friends, and if you meet someone “new”, that’s just a bonus. Duh. Win-win!
But like his drinking habits, I suspect John lacked the experience to attain this savvy.
He began to unspool that night, revealing through verbal admissions that he was “just not an L.A. person”, and “people here don’t like” him—that maybe he didn’t “wear the right clothes”, even though he didn’t look like he was out of step fashion-wise, at the very casual bar we were at.
John basically descended into a mini-meltdown, dragging me down in the process with his usual backhanded comments—telling me I wasn’t an “L.A. person either”. He was so transparent, that I literally saw his face go from concerted effort to be interested in me when I began to speak—to a dour frown, revealing his utter disinterest in me. Again, I’d never encountered this before, so I was initially genuinely confounded.
But it really was that simple: John didn’t like me. And he had no ability to conceal it… like a polite person would, ha.
After that night, I vowed never to hang out with him again. John probably did too, but retracted his natural instinct out of desperation: he texted me a couple of months later with this enticing invite:
“Hey, how are you? Do you wanna go to West Hollywood and hang out? I’ve had a terrible week.”
I thought: Oh, yeah: I’d love to put up with more of your bitching and moaning! Sounds like a blast! And why are you telling me you had a ‘terrible’ week anyway? We aren’t even close enough for you to tell me something like that!
In all honesty, he didn’t deserve a response from me at this point anymore—but being such a slave to etiquette and politeness, I didn’t have the heart to shaft him with complete silence. I waited two hours, and texted back:
“Hi. Sorry, I’ll be out of town.”
And I never heard from him again.
All these botched scenarios aside, I don’t want to imply that I got nothing out of such a well-intentioned platform for companionship like Meetup. From the very same group that introduced me to the nefarious John, I met two willing “casual drinking buddy”-type guys, in fact: Ben and Dylan. They were five and two years younger than me, respectively. And they were essentially the opposite of everything John was: accepting, eager, fun-loving, and unprejudiced. But—it probably won’t surprise you anymore at this point—there were some discrepancies afoot, from the get-go. Ben and Dylan, turns out, were too far to the other extreme of everyone who was incompatible with me previously: they were just too entrenched in the party scene—drinking multiple nights a week and not wanting to engage in any activity with me that involved anything else. If I’d met them when I was twenty-four, we would’ve been soul mates. But I was thirty. We stuck around as casual friends for a couple of years, going out now and then with no contention whatsoever, which is fine. I met some people through them, and had some truly memorable moments now and then—like a Halloween house party where an overweight girl literally broke a chair after sitting in it for an hour, and a gay guy wore a Hermes toga that revealed his balls from behind when he bent over. It’s nice not being alone for the major events like that, and I’m grateful for those chances.
I also met a guy from that same Meetup group, who turns out—lived a couple of doors down from me, on my street. He wasn’t looking for a “bromance” either though, so we just ended up as “monthly dinner companions” for a consolation prize for a while.
So my final summation of Meetup? All I can say is, I tried. My ‘monthly dinner companion’ summed it up, sadly aptly: he quipped that Meetup was for socially awkward people, so the results to be reaped from it were… the exact product of what’s sowed. I’d love to say he’s just a self-inflicting defeatist, which he is—but my own outcome proved him right. But I, still being an optimist after all this, think it was merely circumstance and would never outright attribute it to the website and its members. Sometimes things just don’t work out—whether it involves organized social events or not. That’s just life. Not just Meetup.
For all the persisting stigma and connotations that some people still place on Meetup for being “organized socializing”, it actually shares a pervasive trait with natural (“unorganized?”) socializing: no one’s forcing themselves to like you, and it’s still up to each person if they decide to befriend you or not.