In Providence: Don’t Speak

If you get invited to one of their get-togethers, it’s a good idea to bring something that’ll keep you occupied.

“It’s not that you’re not allowed to talk, we just don’t require it.”

The idea came to them in a group text. A joke about what it’s like being introverts who still crave socialization and wondering out loud how to have it both ways.

“I forget who it was, but somebody suggested parties where you could go and just sit around quietly without feeling like you had to talk to anybody.”

With vaccinations on the rise and the promise of being in small spaces together again, it’s understandable that people who never really felt comfortable in social situations might feel a bit apprehensive at the notion of having to gather themselves up and get to networking again.

“We’re all happy that this is going to be over, but I know, for me, I really liked knowing that it was cool that I could just stay home and feel like I wasn’t missing out on anything. It’s this weird thing where I don’t want to miss out, but once I go somewhere, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. Do I have to be funny? Do I have to tell a story? I’m lost as soon as I get there, and I want to turn around and go home.”

All of this made perfect sense to me. I was just telling a friend that when you’re a homebody who also has a bad case of FOMO, you crave the winter days of blizzards and cold weather that keep people inside. When summer hits, you feel like you’re wasting your life doing what you want to do and that which makes you happy, namely binge-watching murder documentaries and texting your friends about them.

People say things to you like, “Hey, what did you do last night? Did you go out?” and you feel like saying, “It was a Tuesday, Claire. I know it was 80 degrees, but come on, can’t I just stay home? Please? Netflix just released a five-part series on a guy who conned 17 women into thinking he was Tony Shalhoub.

She understood where I was coming from, because we both suffer from that strange, socially misunderstood phenomenon–

Summertime Sadness

“This time of year is so bad for me. It’s hot. I don’t want to go anywhere, because it’s so hot. I have constant boob sweat. It smells like meat everywhere, because everybody is barbecuing. I hate the mosquitos. I hate having to wear sunscreen all the time, because I sunburn as soon as I step outside. It just sucks.”

I’d found my new best friend.

“You should come to one of the parties after you’re vaccinated.”

Most of them work in the medical field, so they’d gotten their shots a while ago. That’s when they had their first get-together, and it was a big success.

“I brought my needlepoint. A few people brought books. One of the guys I work with came, and he brought this big puzzle with him, like 1,000 pieces, and we all did that for a while. That was really popular. Yeah, people really liked that.”

The party only had one rule–

No Forced Social Interaction

“If you want to say something, you can say it. It’s not like ‘No Talking At All,’ but it’s like, ‘You can put something out there, but nobody has to respond to you if you do’ and there is this feeling that, like, you should try to limit how much you’re talking with people, unless you really have something to say. That was the easiest way I think we all described it: Only say something if you need to say it, but don’t feel like you need to fill in the silence.”

Honestly, it sounded like heaven.

“We all hang out a few times a week now. It’s become this– Like, I never got into hobbies or clubs or anything, because when you get nervous being around people, it’s hard to make friends or go out a lot, but now, I get so excited to go to the organizer’s house or, like, I’m hosting this week, and I can’t wait. To have my place with all these people in it? I mean, you do get lonely. Even if you’re not good at socializing, you get lonely. That’s the hard part. Now that you can ask people if they’re vaccinated and start making plans, it’s just nice to be around people, and I feel good that we came up with this solution to be around people we like without it being this high pressure thing of having to, like, entertain each other. That’s the part I was dreading, because I haven’t done it in so long. I was never good at it in the first place, but after a year of not going to parties or bars, I was so scared to get back into that. This is a way to, like, get us all back into it without getting all worked up about it.”

Ironically, by removing that pressure, some of the members of the No Talking Necessary Club (I named them, all royalties are mine) have made plans to do things that will, in fact, necessitate conversation.

“Tomorrow I’m going to have dinner outdoors with somebody I met at one of the get-togethers, yeah. I’m looking forward to it. We were both doing needlepoint, and she came up to me as we were walking to our cars, and we started talking, yeah. I don’t know. I like her. She seems cool. We’ve already hung out for hours, but we’ve only ever said three words to each other until she asked for my number so we could make plans.”

I asked her if she was worried about finding things to talk about on the date.

“But that’s the best part, we both know we’re cool with not doing that, so yeah, we might talk or we might not. I’m happy to just sit there and eat with her. I know we should get to know each other, but you can still learn a lot about a person just by being with them and enjoying the energy they give off. That’s what I’ve learned from spending time with these people. I’m not just happy because we’re not talking. I’m happy because they’re all nice people who aren’t asking me to do anything I’m not comfortable with, and that means a lot, because I would be scared to ask for that. If it hadn’t been for somebody suggesting this, I would have just kept making myself be this person I wasn’t comfortable being, and so, yeah, like, I’m just glad I don’t have to do that anymore, and now I feel like the person I am when we all hang out is someone I can be all the time if I want to be.”

If you’ve been feeling this strange sensation of wanting the pandemic to end while still not wanting everything to go back to the way it was, that’s not unusual.

“You know, I’m really good at puzzles. I never knew that before, but I think it’s because I don’t want to do them on my own? It’s fun when you have, like, six people working on a puzzle all at once.”

While many of us agreed that change was needed from a societal level all the way down to how we interact with each other, it’s easy to forget about those declarations when the weather warms up and the world reminds us that while the before times weren’t perfect, we at least knew how they worked.

“This week, we’re all going to watch a movie. No phones. No checking email. We just have to sit and watch the movie. It might become a regular thing.”

But they didn’t work for everybody.

“We might have to start organizing this though, because word is getting out, and more people want to join, and like, pretty soon we won’t be able to fit everyone in the same place, so we might break it up a little bit more.”

In fact, it’s probably safe to say they didn’t work for most people, and the people who struggled the most are often the ones who stayed quiet.

“You should see all the messages I get about it. I can’t believe how many people just want to sit around with us. It’s great.”

So maybe another look at the expectations we put on ourselves and each other is necessary.

“It makes you feel like you’re not so alone, you know?”

I guess that’s something we do need to talk about.