I have this problem. I’m a really bad party-goer. I can’t seem to stay at them, and my personality grinds to a glazed-over halt whenever I’m forced to. Standing in restrictive going-out garb on a Friday or Saturday night, being shouted at in my left ear by booze-addled, distracted people is my idea of purgatory.
Over the years I’ve developed some unique tricks to circumvent them. I ride my pushbike to nightclubs – in heels and the full regalia – so I can make easy, and early, getaways. Or I arrange to meet friends beforehand for dinner and then rack off at ten to leave everyone to whoop their way into the night without me.
I’ve always wished I could party. I’ve persisted at them for years. But recently – and it took years of rubbing the cat’s fur the wrong way to get to this juncture – I’ve worked out that parties and me, well, we’re a square peg and a big round hole.
It’s funny. I’ve been on this search for “a better life” for some time and it’s involved slaying through all manner of gnarly resistance and ego-protecting armour. It’s been exhausting. But, frankly, not as exhausting as living with the resistance, as many of us do. We do stuff daily that grates with our true selves – go to gyms, meet the same toxic friends for brunch each month and remain in cul-de-sacd careers – often for decades. Such sustained disconnect eventually renders us unable to access our true selves, to know what we really like.
But this week I stumbled upon advice that addresses this pervasive issue head-on. American writer Gretchen Rubin started a “Happiness Project” blog two years ago and it’s now a New York Times bestselling book. I got an advance copy this week and leaping from page 10 was this salient lesson: “Be Gretchen”. As in, “Be [insert your own name here]’”.
Gretchen worked out she didn’t like doing stuff everyone else found “fun”, and that happiness was about embracing her Gretchen-ness and doing what she liked doing, such as reading kids’ books and collecting bluebirds. She won’t ever be the kind of crazy cad to jet off to Paris or go to a jazz club at midnight. Which makes her sad. But it’s just not her.
As she laments, “you can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do”. Which is just so damn true; I think I’ll make it my email signature.
Sure, but how do you work out what you like doing so you can then go about doing it? The gazillion-dollar question, right? Gretchen advises thinking back to what you liked doing as a kid. Which is very Jungian and fine if you can recall a time when you weren’t trying to fit in to the collective’s idea of fun.
Me, I thought the challenge could be tackled by signing on to a dating site. Not to date, but to go through the process of filling out the questionnaires that ask you what you like to read, how you like spending weekends and what kind of person you’d like to love you. Yep, odd, but I figured it was a nifty way to be forced to consider what it is that makes me me. There’s nothing like knowing you’re about to be judged by thousands of strangers to hone your attention. And to ensure you get the sales pitch right.
So this is what I came up with. I don’t like drinking pina coladas, hen’s days, going to malls on weekends, taking photos when travelling (it disrupts the flow; I punished myself for years trying to capture my holidays because “that’s what you’re meant to do”), organized sports, car chase movies or lying by pools. I like dinner parties, grilled figs, adrenalin-fuelled solo sports and talking in tents. When I got stuck on a question (what do you prefer, adventure or DVD nights?) I visualized myself doing the activity. If it appeared in colour it was “me”, in black and white it wasn’t, and indicated resistance.
The final chapter in this experiment, of course, is to start living out your preferences. Which takes practice, and fighting the urge to revert to work or “duty” when it gets a bit hard. As Gretchen says, you have to schedule time for fun. Me, I generally find Friday and Saturday these days pretty free.