So here’s a fun fact that might surprise you if you know me: I went to my first college ‘party’ recently.
Before I go on, let me provide you with a few annotations to the above statement. The first is that I put ‘party’ in quotes for a reason; that being, it wasn’t really a party. Or at least it wasn’t a party in the sense that people traditionally think about college parties— lots of students packed into a small space, abundant alcohol, super loud music, lewd activities happening in dark corners. Maybe that’s a pretty stereotypical portrait of a college party, but I guess that goes to show you the reality of me never having been to one before. If you know me, or even if you’ve read this blog for a little while, the fact that I’ve never been to one will probably not surprise you even in the slightest. Even considering I’m more than halfway through my third year of college.
Anyway. So if it wasn’t a real party, then what was it, and why did I feel the need to call it a ‘party’ (in quotes) if it wasn’t one? Well, it was… a social gathering. To be fair, this wasn’t my first social gathering of college. I may be a bit of a recluse, but I’m not that much of one. It’s just that this social gathering was something I would classify as a party in my head, even though it was on a small scale.
Here’s what it actually was: an outdoor campfire, hosted by one of the senior RAs at my school, with a group of that RA’s friends, and any other people who happened to be passing by and want to stop and talk. There was music, and at some point, people were even making snow cones with the snow from the ground (we’re in New Hampshire, lest you forget) and maple syrup. I was there for over an hour, and there was socializing going on, and it took place on a Friday night between the hours of 9 and 10:30 PM, so I count it as a party.
So what was I doing at this social gathering, you ask? Well, good question! As you know, I don’t get out much. The fact that I’m calling a campfire, which took place outside in the cold, with a maximum of 15 people at once gathered there, and was hosted by an RA, a party, really goes to show you that I don’t get out much in the first place. The point is that I did get out, last Friday night. And it was enough of a learning experience for me to write a blog about it.
The reason I found myself at this social gathering is that I was invited. One of the roommates of the RA who hosted the fire is a good friend of mine, and we were leaving a church event (because nothing says ‘Catholic college’ like leaving a church event at 9:00 on a Friday night), and he mentioned that it was happening, and lo and behold, I found myself there.
Here’s the thing: I obviously would not have ventured out at 9:00 on a Friday night and sought out this social occasion for myself. The sole reason I found myself at that fire last weekend was because my friend invited me. I know this seems kind of self-explanatory, since I wouldn’t have even known it was going on if I hadn’t crossed paths with him at the church thing and had him mention it to me, but the point is that I only socialized that night because somebody took the time to invite me to do so. Without the prompting from my friend, I would’ve gone to bed at 9:15, and that would’ve been my Friday night.
And now here’s a bit of social honesty which might make me seem a little strange: when I do social things, I don’t usually do them for myself. I actually am pretty certain I never do social things for myself, because, as reclusive and unnecessarily edgy as this sounds, I don’t like going out. But I like having friends, a lot, and I understand that a part of friendship is doing social things. When I do social things, I do them because I want to be an active friend. I don’t want to be a recluse, and so I have to leave my room every once in awhile. Even if I don’t feel up to it, or if I think I’m going to feel awkward, or if I’m being mopey about my social life.
Friendship, in my slightly stilted, autistic understanding, works sort of like an exchange. When people think of me, and include me in things, I feel that I owe them something— because they do that out of their own kindness, and that means a lot to me. Being an active friend, and doing social things, is how I attempt to do my own part in the exchange of friendship. When someone includes me, I owe it to them that I follow through and stay involved. I’ve learned over the years that if you turn down too many invitations, or flake on people too many times, they’re going to assume you just don’t want to hang out. If you remember my extremely mopey freshman year Thanksgiving post, I’ll give you some perspective, two years removed: I really didn’t deserve to be at that gathering of my high school friends. I’d done nothing but turn down their invitations to hang out, all through high school. I hadn’t held up my end of the friendship bargain, and they’d assumed, as a result, that I didn’t want to be part of the group.
Friendship is a two-way street, and I won’t lie and tell you that putting in my part of the deal is easy, as a person with autistic social skills. The thing I’ve learned is that I can’t just use autism as an excuse for being antisocial, because that’s going to result in me having no friends, the way I felt like I did coming into college. Being socially isolated is not a good thing, as I explained in this blog post from quarantine. To be sure, I place a huge value on alone time, to recharge and recoup— but too much alone time means you’re isolating yourself from people who genuinely care about you as a friend. And if you do that too much, you’re going to lose those people. Friendship doesn’t work like something you only do when you feel like it— you have to put in the effort, or it’s no longer going to be there anymore, just as was the case with me and my high school friends.
Now, to give my high school friends some credit: I do still see them on occasion, during school breaks and such, and they’ve been kind enough to continue inviting me from time to time when they hang out, despite how whiney and dramatic I was about us drifting apart when we moved on to college. The thing, I guess, about my high school friends, is that I barely see them, since we’re all all over the place now for school, and that’s okay, because that’s how our lives are now.
The point I’m maybe working towards here is that I think there’s this idealized picture of college. It involves a lot of partying, a lot of fun, and a lot of socializing. Two and a half years into college, I can say with certainty that I’m not living out the stereotypical college experience. None of that has anything to do with coronavirus, to be honest, because I’d be just as antisocial as I am now even without all the coronavirus stuff in place. But last Friday night gave me a small glimpse of what college actually is like, for people who aren’t socially stunted, and that put me in an interesting, reflective place, which led to this blog post.
I think the best social occasions of my college life thus far have all occurred because friends thought of me, and I took them up on spontaneous offers. I still remember going over to a senior friend’s apartment one Saturday in the fall of 2019 because she invited me for pancake breakfast. She might not remember that morning, but I do— I was so touched by being included that I kind of teared up a little bit when I was walking back to my dorm. Last Friday was another example of being included. There’s a special kind of belonging that comes when people invite you to group gatherings, and maybe that’s just because I’m not used to it.
Did I live it up at the campfire? Ha, definitely not. In fact, I felt a little awkward— not that that’s new for me, in social situations. I bounced around between conversations, awkwardly latched onto the two people there who I knew well, and did my best. Even though it was a little weird, I’m glad I went. Because if I don’t put myself out there, I’m never going to be included the way I want to be.
It’s not that I’ve ever actively been ‘on the outs,’ socially, so to speak. My middle school, where my ‘social life’ began, was a place where everyone is friends with everyone, so I didn’t really get any experience there. I wasn’t a loner in high school, but I wasn’t popular. I have friends at college, but not a close-knit group of them. Because I’ve felt I have to overcompensate socially all my life, just to keep afloat, I can’t even tell you how much it means when somebody invites me somewhere, includes me in something, or thinks of me in times when I feel I’m isolated. If I can keep paying my dues socially, and putting myself out there, even if it feels weird, I think I’ll count college as a social experience I did right.
For now, though, that’s all. Here’s where else you can find me.
Next Time: On auditory processing.