I understand now why people hate trying new things.
When I moved to LA., I was my usual self: Let’s go out and meet new people and try new things!
Little did I know everyone was like that once—when they were three years old. Then they realized everything sucks, so you might as well stick to what you like.
Meeting new people is best if you’re under the age of twenty-four, or through a mutual friend (to vouch that you aren’t a complete loser), or when you’re under hypnosis. Any other scenario is as likely to produce a favorable outcome as winning the lottery in Antarctica.
In L.A., no one likes anything outside their neighborhood. If you suggest going to a bar or a club, say, two miles away, you’re immediately shot down with the terse L.A. response: “No, I don’t like that part of town.” And you’re immediately deemed an outcast, because you don’t speak their same lingo: Perpetual Letdown. People in L.A. love to be exclusive, and when I say people I’m talking about people. Not celebrities, not people who are aspiring to be celebrities. Normal, “average”-looking people who could wake up in Pittsburgh and look like they belong there.
L.A. is warm, but its people are not. It’s not like how they’re portrayed on TV or the movies: peppy, happy to be under the perpetual sun, or grateful to be within such close proximity to the grandeur of the ocean… If you arrive here with a smile, they’ll immediately know you’re not from here.
I love trying new things (yes, I’m adventurous, get over it!). But after a while, the law of diminishing returns starts to well, reveal diminishing returns. How many times are you gonna keep feeding that slot machine quarters without getting anything in return?
When people say “no” to anything outside their comfort zone, it’s not necessarily because they’re lame and you are awesome. Okay, sometimes they are giant dorks—the type who secretly hopes new friends and a dream job will literally just knock on their door and they will just sign the form to accept. There are bozos like that. But as I’ve learned through my many forays into the unknown, sometimes saying no to something new is really just a form of self-preservation. If you know you’re gonna hate the new thing, or more importantly: the new thing is gonna hate you (I’m looking at you, trendy bar that I won’t name in Hollywood that I went to—as it turns out—for no good reason at all, because I misread my boss’s directions). Sometimes you can suss up through past experience that “Hey, this really isn’t gonna be my scene or my flavor, or my drug”.
This is really hard for me to accept, much like the majority of people in the world who won’t accept a person who just doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s an affront to my innate wiring: For gawd’s sake, we’re put on this earth to EXPERIENCE!
Some people are, to put it bluntly, sensitive. They can’t abide showing up at a place where they’ll feel judged, ignored, or at worst—forced to make small talk. I guess I have thick skin, or to put it less flatteringly: I’m just blithe and willful. If I go somewhere new and I’m flatly rebuked, instead of crying big baby tears on the inside, a perverse part of my brain lights up: ‘Hey, I’m in a weird situation! I’m experiencing something someone who looks, acts, and thinks like me—shouldn’t be experiencing! Woooaaa!!!’ I’m an armchair-twice-removed-backseat-driver-faux Anthropologist in that regard. I revel in being unwarranted, observing foreign environments once in a while—as long as I can return to my comfy little world afterwards. I’m the guy who has to peak behind the curtain, even if I might get my nose snapped off by the vicious crocodile that’s behind there.
I’m not bragging. It comes with a price. I’m not insensitive. Thick-skinned and sensitive are not mutually exclusive. I’m sensitive enough to absorb all those negative reactions, but I’m still curious enough to do it again. And again. ‘Til eventually I show up at a grizzly bear wrestling contest, or a hipster bar in Los Feliz and—you can read the rest of it in my obituary.
Do you ever look back and ask yourself, while gagging: “Why was I even friends with that guy?” AAaaaaaacccckkkkkkk!!
But seriously. Sometimes we lean on people—aww, isn’t that sweet/ romantic/technically unsound?—because we needed them at that particular time in our lives. It’s a natural part of life—like zits, falling down because your foot’s asleep, or… gagging to get that hunk of mucus out of your throat.
You know you’re taking one of these trains to “Meh” Town when:
You never integrate this person with other people in your life, because you know it will have the same effect as heating a popcorn bag inside your gas oven.
You look forward to having dinner—not having it with them.
You spend a lot of time talking about innocuous things like… movies. ‘Cause seriously: it’s the most exciting subject in the history of mankind, that ISN’T personal or revealing. What did people who didn’t like each other—even TALK about, before the invention of celluloid? Oh right—patterns in the universe that emit heat or cold.
You never develop a single inside joke to share intimately with one another, or even tell a joke —in the most extreme cases. It’s all just… well, movies probably. If you’re lucky: there’s a terrible thing that happened in the news that week. That’ll fetch you some fodder for a brief shining moment.
But alas, eventually one day, like a long overdue diagnosis—you realize it’s run its course. If you’re lucky, you came to this realization first—and the other poor sap has to learn through the Rule of Two: he can only attempt to say “hi” or plan your next dubious outing TWICE, before giving up due to your lack of interest. If you’re even luckier: both of you share this brief moment of psychic connection and part ways simultaneously! This moment of cosmic clarity is usually preceded by something telling but unremarkable—the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: a dinner where he showed up late— again—for the eighth time; the misguided “mixer” where his friends met you for the first time and hated you; or he keeps spacing out when you talk about movies.
Next thing you know, you’ve decided to block his posts on Facebook ‘cause you can’t stand his face anymore, and those cheesy affirmations he posts ten times a day/ via pictures with quotes, or actual quotes he managed to assemble with words that probably came from his crap factory.
You think back with smug satisfaction at your own astute, albeit delayed action of “cleaning house” in this area of your life. All is right, now.
Fast forward to four months later—you find yourself clicking on his Facebook profile again, out of boredom (hey, you have more free time now, so…). With mild disgust/perverse curiosity (like peering out your car window at a mangled possum corpse on the side of the road) you wonder: ‘What’s this bastard up to these days?’
Then you see that the world order is, indeed, still upheld after all: his cheesy affirmations are still littering this corner of cyberspace, along with posts of his ugly, cheesy friends that you hated too. And you can’t help but smile pitifully (at him, of course), with that familiar feeling rising up from your chest—say it with me:
Why was I even friends with that guy?”
There was a time when my days become longer and quieter and lonelier and much, much less enjoyable. The scary thing was: I hadn’t even realized that it’d happened, until long after it did. I’m not the kind of person that falls into the traditional definition of depression, but that doesn’t mean I’m impervious to disappointment, confusion, and apathy either. For me, I think I’m just not built for depression. I’ve never been fatalistic, and I don’t blame other people for my problems either (unless I’m driving behind a slow driver; that person in front of me can go to Hell by referral of me, yes). Beyond genetics of course, I think disposition and personality determine your likelihood of falling into that great void. So maybe I wasn’t officially depressed, but I certainly was undergoing whatever my equivalent of it was.
I was in my early thirties, and hitting my first truly earned plateau of—I don’t want to say “disappointment”, but it wasn’t exactly jubilation at my life’s successes either. I had realized that I’d logged everyday of my life for the past few years, trying to build and work towards something ostensibly—but that all I’d done was lay one brick on top of the other until I’d built a wall against my true self. I’d lost track of who I was, for the base need of surviving and keeping up in the world. Somewhere in that process, I’d lost something—a vitality, a spark, me.
All of a sudden, I found that I gained a bittersweet empathy towards all the angry, troubled and occasionally depressed folks I’d encountered in my past. And believe me: L.A. is full of these types. Suddenly, with alarming clarity, I saw the world through their eyes—cloudy, desperate, and spiteful. This was an insight I’d rather not gain.
Five years prior, a mutual friend named Craig absconded from my social circle on his own accord. I wasn’t surprised. Prior to that, he was prone to sporadic outbursts of accusatory quips and tactless diatribes against people with no ill intent toward him, including me. It didn’t seem likely that he could keep that up much longer without repercussions. The only people, perhaps, who can get away with that kind of behavior—are funny or well-loved people, and Craig was neither—although he didn’t realize that initially. That was one of his many problems.
One night, during a group outing to see Alice in Wonderland—that unremarkable remake by Tim Burton, Craig showed up with his trademark antsy demeanor—all nerves and disaffection. He wound up sitting next to me, and we politely broached each other for updates on what we’d been up to. Craig—again, with his other trademark bluntness, blabbed that he was going through some logistical issue at work involving some man who was basically stalking or harassing him.
I stoically expressed my sympathy. I don’t recall if I substantially pressed for more details, but I do recall that Craig proceeded to dispel any further discussion because, in his words:
“You haven’t been through something truly bad before. You won’t be able to relate.”
By this point, this kind of admonition from Craig was commonplace. I, being rather passive and genial, did the equivalent of turning the other cheek—although slapping a certain person’s cheek would probably be more effective at this point.
More about Craig: he was eight years older than me, worked at a rather banal job at the main gas and electric company in the city, and as I alluded to: only mildly liked by our shared circle—though that was quickly dissolving, for reasons I’m sure you can guess by now. Craig had disclosed briefly before in the past, that he had depression issues. I never gleaned what was the impetus for his condition, presuming it wasn’t my business.
That night at the movie theater though, was one of the last straws for me. Even I knew that what Craig had said to me was completely out of bounds—whether it was true or not. There’s no excuse to be that crass and derogatory toward someone who did not attack you or elicit such a response.
As you can guess, our exchange that night hung awkwardly between us like flatulence—only, it continued to linger as we all went out for dinner afterwards too.
While we all waited for our table that night in the lobby, Craig continued to subject me to his drab, dismal mood. This is when I made an egregious error—my revelation of ignorance on the issue of his depression. In a misguided attempt to cheer Craig up, or simply steer the tone to lighter ground, I chirped:
“Hey, well I have some good news! I’m going to Paris, France with my friend Jeremy next month!”
Now, you take a guy who’s down on his luck, prone to smugness about his seemingly inconsolable needs and issues, and justifying his own actions at the expense of others—and you give him the news of unabashed good fortune that’s just been bestowed on someone else, and what do you think you get?
I should’ve known better. It was like slapping him in the face.
Craig recoiled—as if he just smelled something utterly foul. His reaction was immediate:
“Why don’t you just DATE Jeremy?!?” he hissed. Which was a futile concept by the way, since me and Jeremy had as much sexual chemistry as a duck and a tortoise. It was beside the point. Craig’s quip was all he could muster to express his disdain that someone else dare be blessed with good fate.
With this one-two punch from Craig that night, I learned my lesson on unhappy people. The rest of the night, I pointedly avoided him. I guess to corroborate my own innocence, I’ll point out that Craig ostensibly realized the error of his ways and tried to retract his behavior, later that night. He put on a genial face and made a concerted effort to say to me:
“Hey, we should hang out again soon, okay…?”
I didn’t respond. I had gained that much forbearance by that point. A small part of me was glad for his effort, but I knew he was a lost cause with me. His initial tirade that night stung, mostly because it was so uncalled for. I knew we weren’t capable of sustaining a normal friendship.
Two months later, Craig simply vanished from the social group—never turning up for events again. Like I said, I wasn’t surprised. He alienated everyone, including those who only meant well for him. I’m not blaming Craig, but to use the exchange between the two of us that night as a microcosm: no one on either side was capable of fixing the other.
Cut to five years later, there I was stuck in my own malaise. Although nothing horrifically bad had happened to me (if you don’t count constant social rejection, loneliness, professional disappointment, and disillusionment!)—nothing remotely good had occurred either. That’s what got me. I felt as though if I’d walked through a trap door that linked then to now, the transition would be seamless: no significant gain had transpired in all that time. I hadn’t moved notably forward, in any field in life. I never took Craig’s words from all those years ago to heart because they were never worthy, but I was aware of the irony: now, his crass words were usurped by my own personal adversity.
If his misfortune was the equivalent of a full-on assault, mine was a slow, insidious disease. Both were potentially lethal in their own ways, regardless of the difference in conditions.
I was facing such prolonged uncertainty on the social front for the first time in adulthood, that I’d begun to understand certain people I knew who just didn’t give a fig about making friends anymore—who veritably gave up on it. I used to scoff internally that someone could be so resigned to a life of solitude and disuse. But after seemingly endless rejection, I got it: making friends truly was just luck, and luck by definition is rare and unlikely. Why set yourself up for constant turmoil and insult, by trying to charm people who are immune to your virtues? I’ve literally seen even the most popular and likable people I know go through this. Trust me, no one is impervious.
I saw how years of idleness and stagnation can deteriorate a person’s will and spirit. It was finally happening to me. I thought I was indefatigable, and in some ways I was—I held up for a long time, if I say so myself. But this monument to faith and persistence was crumbling, like a fallen idol. As mentioned, I could understand the other side now: the cynics. The hardened, broken souls who believed that that those who did believe, were simply suckers—innocents and fools, on their way to certain doom for their faith. Was I ready to convert?
I’d always prided myself on being adventurous up until that point—I was the guy that loved trying out that random dive bar, or getting onstage to sing karaoke, or… meeting new people. But now that I’d gotten older and weathered more experiences with varying degrees of success, I could see why people were the way they were. The prominent lack of adventurousness in others that once baffled me and provoked my covert pity was starting to make sense. Maybe they were onto something. They already knew how disappointing life was; they just beat me to the punch line. Rebuking anything new was really just a form of self-preservation. If you know you’re gonna hate the new thing, or more importantly: the new thing is gonna hate you, why put yourself out there? You might come off as a party pooper, but at least you’re not one foot deeper in your own hole of issues, defeat, and humiliation. Yep, being boring was starting to look more and more appealing to me… (shudder).
One night, I caught a PBS travel show about Paris, France, and I realized how far I’d strayed from that young adult who got to go to such a glamorous destination a few years prior. What was supposed to be a herald of more fine things to come in my life, was actually a first and last hurrah—a peak: because nothing else had or would equal it since.
My view of life’s great pleasures such as traveling to foreign locales, was starting to fade. Would I ever attain them, as I so rightfully presumed I would in my youth? Was it all over? Had my chance passed? Where do I draw the line between making concessions now, and persisting?
One morning I woke up—and I wasn’t even particularly sad or upset. But I felt it: I felt hopeless. And furthermore: I felt how hopelessness could swallow a person up, rendering them immobile. Again, nothing specifically awful elicited this response that morning, but that’s it: I don’t think emotions are necessary to facilitate hopelessness. Because it’s the absence of any conviction, that is the true portent of hopelessness. I also just felt for the first time in my life that I wasn’t sure where I was going anymore. That morning I thought:
Now I get the (possibility) of (depression). It’s a sense of powerlessness. When you consistently do all that you can to move forward to achieve your dreams and goals—and still nothing happens?
That’s a huge fucking blow.
You start to think you have absolutely no power over your own life and your own fate. There are few realizations more demoralizing and crushing than that, in this mortal world. If you can’t even control what happens to you, what the hell is going to happen to you? What are you going to do?
I didn’t want to talk about this with anyone in my immediate life, for fear of alarming them, naturally. I tried sharing this new revelation with an exclusively online friend that I had, who was around my age. I couched it as tactfully as I could into one of our email exchanges.
He didn’t get it. He offhandedly remarked that he never felt that way before, basically. Lucky guy, but it didn’t help me.
I even shared it with another online friend who was fifty years old mind you, and even he expressed the same dissidence. He was fifty, and never felt hopeless before? Geez! What was his secret?
With a present that was no longer appealing nor pleasurable, the past naturally started to attain renewed zeal to me. Anything that reminded me of my early to mid-twenties never failed to produce an allergic response in my psyche: a weepy spasm of wistfulness for better days that seemed implausibly blessed, considering how incapable I was of attaining anything remotely similar anymore, in almost the same conditions! How the hell did I go kayaking with friends two miles down the road from my apartment? How the hell did I go out four times a week, with people I truly liked at that? How the hell did I fit in so effortlessly? Seriously.
This is a whole subcategory that could warrant its own chapter: the past. At its best, our past is hauntingly beautiful: a testament to our best selves—our highest hopes and ideals. We were so young and beautiful and full of life then, yes. Those memories should be treasured, and they are irrefutably and rightfully you. At worse, the past is a ghost that haunts us. It’s a poltergeist that lurks in the darkest corners of our minds, lunging forward when you are at your most vulnerable, bullying you to indulge it with your precious (and limited) time on Earth. It’s a succubus that doesn’t want you to divert your attention to what’s more important now: the present. In my weakest moments, my lower self wanted to dive back into my past, like it was a pristine pool of clear blue water on a warm summer day.
I could see in retrospect, how other people in my life had preceded me in this awareness. My best friend Danny, who moved back home to Palm Springs a few years previously, was likely a prisoner to his own past—which manifested itself in his arrested development. Now that he was no longer living off his parents’ dime as I always suspected in Long Beach, he was just… living off his parents’ dime in their home, in Palm Springs. I didn’t resent him for it. It was his life, and what he chose to do with it was his business. But after five-plus years of hearing Danny’s lack of initiative in any field in his life, not to mention him turning forty at that: my view of him began to change. With my new revelations, I could see how someone like Danny was simply afraid of growing up. It is a terrible sight to behold: the carefree days of just living day to day are terrifically alluring in comparison to forfeiting it for a paycheck, a mortgage, a family, or simple responsibility and solvency for the rest of your life. It isn’t exactly a choice as much as a necessity, for most of us. That’s sobering, and some of us lack the fortitude to resist turning tail and fleeing at first sight.
Toward the waning (but ongoing) course of this downward spiral, I found myself walking through an apartment building on a late spring day. As I walked down the hallway, I heard a baby cry inconsolably behind a closed door. I surprised myself by my own response: I instinctively pondered at the gift that was bestowed upon this new person—the most valuable and covetous of all: Life. A new life, undeterred and boundless. A chance to manifest a destiny anew. I quietly marveled at the beauty of this potential, and all its unfound glory. It wasn’t simple envy; it was recognizing a truth outside of myself.
I couldn’t help thinking afterwards: would Craig have thought the opposite, or anything at all?
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.