Where are my people?
The hollow juggernaut of social media claims to herald a world where it’s easier than ever to find “your people,” but I have to disagree. While you can connect with a wider audience that you would, say, face-to-face at some public venue, the connections you make online are far less substantive and more difficult to maintain. This blog, for instance, is only read by people I already know, and most of it is nonsense anyway. An hour of live conversation cements more bond that a month of Facebook likes and retweets. Sad, but true.
I moved to Portland almost ten years ago hoping to escape the alienation that pervades the Midwest (at least for people of my ilk). It took me several years to ease into making friends here in town, and my efforts at joining or building a clan fell short for a variety of reasons. I eventually met some very nice people (particularly within the local tabletop gaming scene), some of whom I regularly meet and collaborate with, but those tightest and most rewarding of bonds still elude me.
I tend to break friends down into three categories:
- Besties: people you are completely comfortable around, can call up at a moment’s notice for a favor or to hang out, and communicate with almost every day. You “get” each other, and you can share things with them you can’t with others.
- Sometimes Pals: people you enjoy spending time with but don’t see that often. You generally have to schedule socializing ahead of time because of busy schedules or distance. It takes extra effort to remain in contact. You spend time catching up when you get together.
- Weak links: people you’ve met online or once or twice in person but don’t really know. These people come and go out of your life all the time, and you’re generally not broken up about it when they disappear. You might hear from them every day (on Facebook, for example), but it’s generally superficial interaction that doesn’t lead to a deep connection.
When I invest time and energy meeting people—and it takes extra energy for an introvert like me to meet people—I’m always hoping to snag as many #1’s as possible. #2’s are good to have, but they frustrate me. I have an inner 5-year old who gets new ideas to do things all the time and doesn’t like to wait. #3’s are always around, but their purpose is casual interaction and as a pool of candidates for upgrading to one of the higher categories, if possible.
My time in Portland has yielded precious few new upper-level connections. This is despite the city’s widely advertised weirdness.
I’ve met quite a few smart, interesting, fun people, and my network of creative people (game designers, in particular) has gone from none to several dozen. But those precious Besties have been hard to find. Sadly, it’s a stable of folks such as these who would really enrich my leisure time. If I want to play random board games with casual acquaintances, that’s easy to do. But my ambitions are bigger than that: I want to get back into roleplaying. I want to run a tabletop car combat campaign. I want to have big Mechwarrior battles. I want to run collaborative storytelling sessions. I want to tinker with live-action games and augmented reality and worldbuilding. And these activities require a level of trust and connection I don’t feel I have with most of my Portland acquaintances (plus, I don’t sense they’d be interested in such things).
This results, in someone like me, in a kind of loneliness. Maybe I’m the common denominator, and I feel marginalized because I don’t work harder to include myself. I guess my default assumption is that people will seek me out if they think I’m fun to hang out with. They’ll ask me about my creative projects if they’re truly interested. In both cases, silence proves the opposite … at least in my mind. While my logical self reasons that I might be jumping to conclusions, the emotional part of the brain is millions of years older (evolutionarily speaking) and speaks that much louder.
As I think about this stuff—probably more than is healthy, but, hey! I’m a blogger—I remember that my Meetup.com organizer dues afford me the ability to create another group if I so choose. (You get three, and I already manage the Stumptown Gamecrafters’ Guild and PDX Card Games.) What would I call a new group created especially for my crazy, large-scale, non-casual gaming activities? How would I attract people to it? Would anyone join? All hard questions. It’s taken two years to get a regular group of attendees for Gamecrafters. Do I have the energy to incubate another nerd clan?
I don’t know. As always, the calculus of the asocial nerd distills the truth down to a few options:
- There aren’t enough nerdy people here.
- There are, but you haven’t found them yet.
- You suck, and they don’t want to spend time with you.
I try not to be a self-disparaging without proof, but the fact that people find you uninteresting or strange is never something they share with you, so concrete evidence of #3 is hard to come by. #1 is equally depressing, I suppose. The kernel of idealism at the core of this pessimist’s heart hopes #2 is the truth. If so, the effort would be worth it.
Bah. This the type of navel-gazing blather that keeps my brain awake at night. Would better sleep improve my social success rate? Would better social interaction help me to sleep more soundly? Do I ask too many questions???