New Year’s Eve was ok in the end. We went to the gay street in Manchester and found a decent looking bar that wasn’t packed but still had a lively atmosphere and good music. The decor was pretty trendy as were the people. We were lucky to get a seat early on and it looked like it was going to be a reasonable evening. Next to us a couple of women started chatting to us pretty much straight away. I had trouble remembering the last time I’d even had a conversation with a lesbian. In the London bars, it’s strange but women and men just don’t really mix. It should have been nice, but they were clearly drunk already and not making a great deal of sense.
I always feel suspicious of strangers’ motives when they talk to me and appear friendly. P meanwhile thinks it’s great and encourages me to see the positive side of it. He certainly encouraged the women in their attempts at conversation by responding to all their questions and laughing at all their jokes. All I could do was try not to look awkward as I sat there feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
My problem is that underneath the friendliness of strangers all I can see is hidden nastiness. I will always assume that strangers dislike me and that they are just making fun of me when they’re being nice to me. Is it just me?
I find small talk nearly impossible because quite often I just don’t know what to say to fill in the gaps in the conversation. Our new friends meanwhile seemed capable of talking for England. How on earth does a person talk non-stop for ten minutes to someone they don’t know? What do they talk about? Even as I was thinking myself above it all last night I was scanning my brain for safe subjects to introduce into the group chat, so as not to appear anti-social, but nothing felt safe. Favourite music, TV programmes, books: my inner critic judged all of it too risky, therefore I was forced to stay quiet with my arms folded for most of the time.
When I was at school and people were discovering that I was an introvert they used to ask me why I was that way, and my answer was always that I didn’t know what to say. Today I know that’s not true, I know I actually have a lot to say to someone when they are a trusted friend. When it’s a stranger I’m too busy worrying about why they’re talking to me and whether they can be trusted to say anything real.
When you have drunk strangers there’s the added complication that comes up when they discover you don’t drink. For eight years I have carefully honed the perfect answer to the inevitable question “why don’t you drink?” I say I just don’t like alcohol, and for most people that’s enough. For some people it clearly isn’t enough, usually people in bars and clubs who are already drunk or on their way to being drunk. I know from past experience that if you like being drunk, coming across someone who doesn’t can be an unsettling experience. This type of drinker doesn’t have to say anything, I can always tell when I’ve unsettled them by their face when I say that I don’t like drinking. One of the women next to me last night had been perfectly friendly and interested in getting me to come out of my shell up until the point when she found out why I wasn’t drinking. After that, things turned quite quickly. She stopped talking to me and went quiet for a few minutes, as if she was contemplating things. A short while later, P was trying to explain some app on his phone to her and she suddenly exploded. “Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid!” P hadn’t done anything of the sort, I think: she had taken something he’d said the wrong way and gotten upset. I could almost have predicted how things would go, because I used to behave the very same way.
At that point I knew I had to leave and go back to the hotel. I had already told P that I might leave before midnight, if things started to get too crazy, so he wasn’t surprised by my early departure. The lesbians hardly noticed that I was going. I couldn’t take any more and I was in no mood to people please by staying any longer.
It feels like I’m newly sober again and learning how to be authentic in my life. I realised that I didn’t like bars and drunk people eight years ago when I first got sober, but I guess I never really acted on it because for eight years I kept going to bars with P and exposing myself to the behaviour I didn’t like. Today I’m not willing to put myself through it any more because, quite simply, I don’t have to. I’ve discovered that actually, I can do what I want to do.
So I can’t go out on New Year’s Eve again. P will just have to understand. It may mean I don’t celebrate the new year with anyone again, since I don’t currently know anyone who’d be willing to celebrate indoors with me, unless I make these new friends in AA that I keep thinking about. Oh well. I think from now on I’d rather be indoors on NYE and potentially a bit bored than outdoors and potentially a bit scared. If I’m indoors and bored I can always just go to bed!