I always come away from these gatherings with a mix of emotions -- pride, joy, shame, wistfulness, belonging and not belonging at the same time. I run into people I really like but hardly ever see, and have awkward interactions with people I can't quite seem to click with or break through to, carrying on conversations and wondering in the back of my head if they're looking over my shoulder seeking an escape or are genuinely engaged in the moment.
In some ways it makes me miss doing shows. It's been a year since Bustin.' I miss the camaraderie, the sense of purpose and action, making new friends -- even if they're just "theater friends," who I never manage to really convert to IRL friends. I think making new "friend-friends" at this stage of life doesn't happen much. Especially for men, who are generally less social.
The main places and times in which you generally make lasting friendships are childhood, high school, college, first job. After that it becomes more of a challenge. There are softball teams and clubs and neighbors and things but, for the most part, once you get into the age where everyone is pretty established -- in relationships or marriages, with or without kids, and heavy into their careers and their existing circles, you make fewer and fewer friendships of the fast and lasting variety.
And, in fact, even with old friends it becomes more and more difficult to get together. I've never been one to have tons and tons of close friends. I've usually had one or two "best friends" at a time and found any more than that difficult to juggle. Others you see at parties and things but it's not like you're getting together really frequently.
For me, it doesn't help that I've been kind of nomadic. I live 800 miles from where I grew up and went to school and college and had my first jobs. So I left behind friends in Virginia and DC and Ohio. And then friends here have moved on to other places and left me behind.
So what I'm left with is the people I'm closest to in the world I hardly ever see. None of my really closest, oldest friends are even on (or active much) on Facebook. The rest? A bunch of acquaintances, "industry" friends and actually a number of people I really like and would love to spend more time with, but it never seems to happen (which I know is partly my responsibility).
I guess I really am, at heart, an introvert. Because I'm not necessarily lonely. I feel busy enough. I go out, see people. I'm not a hermit. But I don't really have many people (other than dates) who I can just call up and say, "What are you doing right now? Let's go to a movie/grab dinner/etc." Everything's planned way far in advance. Again, to an extent, that's just adulthood for you, and I know real life's not like Friends or Seinfeld with people just "popping in."
But I think one of the things theater did for me was having that automatic social network. A lot of times I can just go to shows and events alone and count on running into bunches of people I know.
Of course, it's kind of a double-edged sword. Just like the other night, I can have a ton of fun, but am left the next day with a lingering feeling of ... not quite emptiness. Incompleteness? A sort of self-conscious feeling of being "in" the group but not quite "of" it.
I headlined this post after one of my favorite songs and tried to embed the video but they're not allowing it. Which is too bad. That's one cheesy video.