It’s not Covid’s fault, although that certainly didn’t help.
I used to be a social planner, a community builder. I would round up my friends to go on adventures, host gatherings organized around board games or wine and cheese and invite everyone I knew, even if they didn’t know each other. There were friendships that formed through my events, even one or two marriages as a result. Nothing was exclusive, I would go through my Facebook friends list and invite everyone who I knew to be in the area, and even a few who weren’t just in case.
Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve managed to join or build a community, usually several. (This is probably a big part of why I have so many treasured faraway friends.)
When I returned to Vancouver in 2017, newly single after a 10-year relationship, seven years of which I spent elsewhere, one of the main motivators was to return to “my people.” I never intended to be away for seven years: two, three years tops. I had missed so many important events in my friends’ lives, I didn’t want to miss any more.
And I needed them: I needed the companionship of the people who knew me best. And my family and friends both old and new came through: an army of Samwise Gamgees came around me, carried me through the hardest times.
I knew it wouldn’t be the same: seven years is a long time. But I did my best to continue the community-building tradition. Get the old gang back together. Make and invite some new friends too. It started out pretty well — many good times were had at board game nights, pie parties and birthday fiestas — but along the way, something changed.
If I had to pinpoint the moment it changed, I’m not sure I could. It seemed like more of a slow decline, but there is one particular event that stands out:
A board game night like any other, I invited at least 50 people. 20-25 said “yes” and a further 10-15 said “maybe.” I followed up with everyone who replied and even some who didn’t to make sure I had a good idea of numbers for food. I spent over $100 on ingredients to make a giant pot of chili from scratch and a second smaller one for the vegetarians/allergy folks, and a couple sheets of cornbread to feed the crowd.
Then, as I awaited the arrival of my guests, the apologies started coming in. “Sorry I can’t make it” “I accidentally double booked” “I don’t think I can make it tonight after all” “Something came up” “I’ll have to catch you next time” and so on.
All-in four people came that night, and one was my roommate who only had to walk down the stairs.
We had a good time nonetheless, and I had chili in my freezer for a year.
I tried to write it off as a freak coincidence. Individually, no one could have known how many other people were also cancelling last minute (or worse – not even bothering to say anything and just not show up). I know no one meant to hurt my feelings. I didn’t hold it against anyone.
But then it kept happening. “Something” kept “coming up.” People stopped showing up.
After one last ditch effort — a going-away party before I left for a job on the east coast for the summer, to which a whole five people (including my two roommates) came — I decided I was done. I was leaving, anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t come back.
I went east to work for the summer, then I went to New Zealand in the fall, all the while wondering if Vancouver was really the right place for me to be long term, or if it was time to move on and direct what social energy I could manage to muster up towards starting again somewhere new.
Then shortly after a “temporary” return to Vancouver, Covid happened, and I’m not even going to go into that, because we all know how much of a social recession that turned out to be. I had a few friends I saw somewhat regularly, that stuck it out with me through the worst of the pandemic with hikes and bike rides, video games nights and the occasional beach/park beer, but overall I came out the other end of it feeling like I pretty much lost everyone else.
I still don’t hold anything against anyone. To be very clear, I love my friends — past and present — and I’ll never forget how they were there for me when I needed them most.
I know we all have our stuff to deal with. I try to focus on the friends that do show up for me. I try to be the friend that shows up.
I have a lot more one-on-one friendships now, which I’m grateful for, and most of my social life is built around those, even if most of them I don’t see very often. Maybe that’s just how it will be from now on. Maybe this is just adult life.
But even so, as I wonder why I’ve never really “got back” that social planning vigour, I’m realizing that the cumulative effect of so may somethings coming up, the hurt of so many unanswered invitations… broke something in me. Death by a thousand paper cuts, perhaps.
Socially, I’ve never really recovered. I try planning things a lot less than I used to. When I do, I give up easily, after two or three rejections or unanswered texts, I resolve to just do my own thing… or nothing at all. If people invite me to things, I’m usually happy to go. If I commit, I try to make sure I can show up. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or something. But planning…
I’ve tentatively, bravely tried planning a few things recently, while keeping my expectations low, and been pleasantly surprised by people showing up — never more than three or four but in post-Covid times, that’s pretty good I reckon. So I guess there is some hope.
But still, as I sit alone in my room on a Saturday night, filled with a renewed sense of freedom thanks to my new fully remote job, I find myself wondering the same thing I was wondering three years ago on that last New Zealand trip:
Should I stay or should I go?
Header photo: Jen Ramona / Unsplash