For various reasons, the last five years have been isolating for me. First I got sick, then there seemed to be a new drama to deal with every ten minutes, and then being a full-time musician meant spending a lot of time alone in my house in the not-so-bustling creative hub of the West San Fernando Valley. The last several months I've been on a tear to try new things, explore socially, and go out of my way to meet new people.
This has mostly been great, and I've got enough new acquaintances from various walks of life that I've become fond of, and don't get to see often enough, that I'm considering starting back up the long-dormant parties at my house. What used to make these so great was bringing people from different scenes and social circles that would have things in common but would never meet each other and getting them in one place to interact. The '70s Shows have been doing this a little, too. It's something I seem to be able to do well and it's rewarding to see people making connections they otherwise wouldn't make.
The thing that's been a bit awkward for me, though, is finding my social groove in a lot of these situations. I'm out of practice and my inner Bill Clinton ("hi how are ya!") doesn't always surface when I want him to, and it doesn't always help that a lot of the places I'm hanging out are full of "normal" (e.g. non-musician/acting/bohemian) people, and my mere presence, a tall, bleach blond guy of indeterminate age, seems to put some of them ill at ease, which then puts ME ill at ease.
I've always been kind of a quirky guy, and I've gotten used to the fact that it just takes a while to get to know me and these things take time...but if you're in a new situation with a bunch of people you don't have a lot in common with you have to take some kind of a tack. Sometimes you get lucky and find your tribe and it's all good, but if not, you're left with an interesting choice: do you just be yourself and let others deal with it as they may, or do you put on your mask and try to fit in and wait 'til people get used to you.
Now, before you give me the knee jerk "just be yourself", think about this a second. Every time we meet new people we don't tell them every innermost secret we have. We say "hi, my name is Joseph Blow" and that's that. There's an expectation in any social situation that you play it cool until you suss out the situation, and then slowly work your way in.
The problem I run into is I can play this game, but after a while it gets so boring. It may just be that I'm hanging with the wrong crowds, but it winds up being really unsatisfactory to play it safe socially a lot of the time. People are afraid to initiate conversations, or get the wrong impression when you initiate them yourself, or when you do get talking, a lot of the time you're not really saying anything (or just listening without being asked to offer much more than a "hmm, OK, I understand"). If you do get down to an interesting topic, it's not long before you're venturing very close to the boundaries of someone's comfort zone...which brings us back where we started.
When I was younger sex used to be one of the main ways I connected with people. Don't get me wrong, I still like sex, but sex without a connection of some kind gets old and feels weird. And I find making a connection can be a lot harder than getting sex ever was.
What do you think? When you're plopped in a crowd of strangers, what's your play?