Yesterday I wrote about going to a stranger’s house for a house party where I was the weirdo that no one knew. Today I will bore you with the story of a more extreme case of meeting strangers, this time strangers I met online.
A long, long time ago in a jail not too far away I needed a way to connect with others while spending my days alone. This was so long ago that the best option to communicate with others with similar interests(or at least the best one I knew about) were listservs. I joined a few listservs about libraries and books. One particular book-related listserv rules about going off-topic. There were some people on the listserv who enjoyed going off-topic. These people were told they were no longer welcome on the listserv. These people were my favorite people on the listserv, so when they started a splinter group on another listserv, I followed them over. Thus was born the Book Barn and the legend of The Great Ignored(me).
We spent years talking to each other on the Book Barn. They weren’t just people on the Internet. They were my friends. Eventually, a plan was made for some barners to meet in person. The meeting place was a barner’s house in Pittsburgh. I was going to drive up from Maryland. Two others were driving over from Cleveland. Yes, my Internet friends lived in the home cities of terrible football teams. I was able to overlook that.
I will admit that I was a little nervous about driving to a strange city to meet people I had met online. They make Lifetime movies about people who do this. I told my wife that if I got there and the people were really weird I was going to call her from the bathroom and tell her to call me in a few minutes to pretend I had an emergency and had to leave. It didn’t come to that. I’m not saying they weren’t weird. Just that they were no weirder than me. So, I spent the weekend hanging out with people I met online. We had a good time. We toured part of Pittsburgh. No one murdered me.
The Book Barn has gone away, but I’m still friends with several of the barners on Facebook. Maybe some day it will be time to meet up in person again.
I actually have three different things I considered writing about today. One was another post about the effect of moving 500 miles away from everyone you know and losing contact with all of them. This was brought to mind after a place I worked at in Cincinnati appeared in a dream. It seemed a little sad, so I opted not to do that one today. One was a whiny post about views on the blog, but I figured no one really wants an inside baseball post about how my views have gone down and I think it is because I have to share to a page and people aren’t seeing the page.
The winner was inspired by seeing the following in my TimeHop:
This post was prompted by a few rejections for jobs. I think it’s funny, but it’s not entirely accurate. I was only rejected for a prom date once. I was only rejected once because I only asked one person. I only asked one person because I was not someone for whom doing something like asking someone out is easy. I was a socially awkward little weirdo who was sure that no one would ever say yes to me. It is a miracle that I ever asked one person. It wasn’t going to happen a second time. There was no way I was going to go through working up the nerve to do that again only to be told no. I went to prom alone. I only danced a couple of times when two of my neighbors took pity on me and asked me to dance with them. I generally hid from rejection by not asking in the first place.
I went to college and shockingly was still a socially awkward little weirdo. I spent the first year and a half trying to overcome that with alcohol. So, I became a drunken, socially awkward little weirdo with bad grades. That wasn’t working for me, so sophomore year I went cold turkey on the alcohol, started working harder in school and got more active in the Baptist Student Union. At some point around that time, I discovered I could hide some of the socially awkward little weirdo stuff with jokes and sarcasm. I worked hard on honing those skills. I was still a socially awkward weirdo, but now I had jokes. Somehow in college, I convinced someone to go out with me and then somehow convinced them to marry me. Almost 27 years later she still refuses to admit her mistake.
Adult, married Tater is still a socially awkward little weirdo. I still try to cover it up with humor and sarcasm. I have also developed a pretty good fake inflated ego as a new twist to my cover-up. I’m not sure anyone is fooled. Not being in the dating game makes it a little easier. I can’t imagine ever having to go through getting up the courage to ask someone out again. I need to make sure I am always extra nice to Mrs. Tater.
Note – this post is more personal and introspective than usual. You should read it fast before I have second thoughts and delete it.
A friend on Facebook shared an article this weekend that said the biggest threat facing middle aged men is loneliness. While I am surprised that people think it is the biggest threat facing middle aged men, I’m not surprised that middle aged men are lonely. I am a middle aged man. I think I was born a middle aged man. Loneliness has been a constant in my life. I can be in the middle of a crowd, at a party, etc and still feel alone. I have many acquaintances and not many actual friends. I talk to people at work and then to the two people who live in my house and that is the extent of my social life. I do occasionally have a text conversation with my brother.
In person, I pretend a lot of times that I think I am someone that everyone loves, but really, deep down, I always assume I am someone that people don’t really think about at all. I’ve always felt that way. I was part of a social group in high school, but felt that I was the one who didn’t really belong. I felt the same with groups in college and I feel the same today. In every group, I feel like I am the expendable one. I have social anxiety when it comes to parties and other gatherings, so I would rather just not go. This leads to the life referenced above. I spend most of my life isolated from the world. It’s OK now while my family is there, but I am looking toward a lot of alone time when my daughter leaves for college next year.
Another problem is that I have always had more female friends than male friends. I now work in a world that is predominantly women. In the one group I socialize with on a regular basis(I am the expendable one) I am the only man. This also is a limit to developing close friendships. It is harder and more complicated when the friendship is across genders. You always have to be aware of any impressions of impropriety and there are limits on what you can discuss from your personal life.
So, no, I’m not shocked that loneliness is a problem for middle aged men. I would like to say that since I am aware of the issue that I can take steps to do something about it, but that would be a lie. I will continue to spend my time watching TV and reading books when my family is not around. It just seems easier that way.