What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Friday morning, I texted Ed: I was freaking out and just needed someone to remind me that everything was going to go smoothly. I'm always convinced, no matter how much preparation I do, that any gathering I host is going to be a disaster, right up until it isn't.
Social anxiety is such a weird beast, especially if you are an extrovert. It becomes a counter-productive monster, keeping you from the social situations that you actually find rejuvenating and invigorating. And then there's the vicious cycle of wanting to be around the energy of a group but being exhausted because you're so worried about being around a group.
I've been thinking about this Friday Night Meatballs article since the first time I read it in August. It's about how to maintain connections and prevent loneliness once you've had kids, but even with no kids to my name/household, having people over to my home and feeding them reinforces the bonds we share: friendship, chosen family, community. Of course, the first time I read it, all I could think about was why I couldn't do it -- we don't have a dining room, our living room is big but there isn't seating for 15 people, my husband can't eat regular pasta (he's got a gluten thing). In truth, all of the mental health stuff I was dealing with was a far greater obstacle.
When we realized we weren't traveling for Christmas, I knew I wanted to have people over; in the spirit of Friday Night Meatballs, I wanted to play host to the people that have formed part of the community that I love. We'd already done a sort of orphans/misfits Christmas last year, and it was incredibly satisfying -- doing it again, making a tradition of it, felt like the best possible way to mark the end of this very dark year.
Inviting people was the easy part.
The truth is that every single time we have people over, I stress out until I can't feel my face. It doesn't do me any good, and it can make it a lot more difficult to focus and get things done in an orderly fashion. Learning to push through this without giving in to the self-sabotage of canceling events has taken a long time -- now I just work hard to remind myself that probably no one cares about whether or not I've dusted the baseboards.
That strategy worked out really well this year. I used a Groupon and had someone in to clean the areas that would be occupied by guests. I ran all my errands based on a master list of things I needed to do. I showered and got myself dressed and ready before I got too distracted with cooking instead of making sure everything was done first and then having to rush. I even had time to sit down with a drink before folks started showing up.
The evening was a successful mix of different groups of friends. People brought their own amazing food to share. One guest brought her grandmother. Everyone hugged it out before they left.
And all of the gut-churning acid of my pre-party social anxiety was so worth it -- because some of us sat and debated answers for the hardest questions on the Geek Out! cards and some other folks talked about makeup and music and everything else some other folks just quietly enjoyed the chaos and petted the dog. We went back for seconds and we had dessert. We traded recipes and talked about what to do next time.
Because it feels like there should be a next time; that's the "why don't we do this more often?" factor in Sarah Grey's article, I think. It feels good and it also gets me all jazzed up and buzzing with energy (which is good because, you know, there's the cleaning up to do).
Committing to feed people every week seems like a lot to me (Amanda Blum likes cooking a lot more than me but she makes it look so great) but I think I can manage once a month, especially if I keep the menu interesting -- I want to try some of these great summer recipes when the season rolls around again. And in the meantime, hopefully my friends will like curry.
The social anxiety might never go away. Maybe I'll always be convinced that the unmatched chairs in our living room mean our place isn't fit to be seen. It is actually factually possible that I'll continue to get stuck in this weird state of both want and do not want no matter how much it sucks. But maybe one day it'll sink in and I'll remember: I might not have seating for 17 people but we'll all make it work and have a darn good time in the process. Maybe practice will make perfect. It's worth a try.