Monday, October 18, 2010

Reunion Regrets

I hate small talk.

I can do times I even initiate it, but, druthers given, I'm usually happiest to remain unengaged.  If I "go in" at all, I prefer to go in deep -- not because I consider myself, the other person or the topic deep, necessarily, but because I want to give the interaction its full due.  They call it "being in the moment" these days.  Any exchange -- whether it's about fuel mileage or someone's mastectomy -- has a proper duration, and this then depends on context:  a chance meeting in the supermarket, a social gathering, a symposium on the subject, etc.  It feels equally wrong to either cut something short or run it into the ground. Balance is the sought-after goal.

At the end of the day, people seek out the shared and quotidian. Can you believe this weather!?   Oh, really, where in Florida?  Even how about them Mets??  gets problematic because you may be talking to a Red Sox fan.  And forget about politics, religion and money...unless you're with a like-minded crowd, preferably someone whom you know won't slug, denounce or rob you (and, even then, it can get dicey).

So, what do you do when the shared topic is what I've described recently here as that great societal birth-canal, high school, and the social situation is your class reunion?

Well, if you are me, you don't go.  And, if you are my boyfriend Jay, you're perfectly happy with this arrangement because you are also gay, childless, rabidly political, uncomfortable with small talk and ran screaming from your hometown.  It would be easy, perhaps even enjoyable, to go through the litany of reasons why, for me, high school was a horror (which it was)...something to be survived (which I obviously did), but the truth is there were also bright spots during those four years and a number of good people (classmates -- older and younger -- and faculty) who helped me through them.  There are, in fact, plenty of people from my class I'd enjoy seeing again, but it won't be in a reunion setting (which unfortunately means it may never happen).

Before I'm written off as a crank, let me be clear:  I have no desire to pillory the time-honored tradition of reunions, even high school reunions.  They serve a wonderful purpose and are clearly enjoyed by many.  But I think you have to be a certain kind of person.  First and foremost, you had to have, on balance, enjoyed your time in high school.  Few get through secondary education completely unscathed, but I'd be willing to bet most look back on their pre-adulthood fondly:  no workaday lives, no kids, no mortgages, first loves, first cars, football games, dances, etc.  For those of us who didn't and/or couldn't enjoy this period in their lives, high school qua "high school" [that's for you, Reg!] is not a memory worth revisiting -- people, yes, but the experience or the institution, no.  Secondly, you have to like a party -- especially one populated with a cast of characters that run the gamut from people with whom you are still in touch to people you don't remember at all and everybody in between.  Some relish this idea; it fills others with apprehension or even dread.

As much as I might like to be a member of that former group, there's no getting around the fact that I'm simply not.  And I don't think I'm alone in this.  Despite my aversion to small talk, I'm actually a very pleasant and friendly kind of guy. (Ask anybody!) What I lack -- and I think is necessary for the full class-reunion experience -- is the ability to work a room.  I've noticed this at weddings, funerals and other events that involve disparate groups of people.  I tend to engage just a few to the exclusion of the many, and, at the end of the evening, I realize I've failed to speak with others, on occasion the person(s) I came expressly to see.  For this reason, I much prefer small gatherings, where a conversation can extend to the whole dinner table, for instance, and/or just the person next to you.  The fact that reunions are not and cannot be like this, means I'm letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  I recognize this, and I accept it.

Ultimately, this is the real reason I declined invitations to three class reunions in the last 12 months:  college (20th), graduate school (10th), and now high school (25th).  I was around many more like-minded people in college and graduate school, but it was my same social requirements that resulted in my taking a pass.  I know I'm potentially missing out, and though this may cause me regret, I also know myself well enough to acknowledge this is my truth and be ok with it.  In a more humorous vein, I think this quote from Audrey Hepburn's character Regina Lampert in Charade (a favorite of Jay's) sums the feeling up nicely:  "I already know an awful lot of people and, until one of them dies, I couldn't possibly meet anyone else."  For me, I guess this includes re-meeting people.

[Image via Universal Pictures' 1963 movie Charade.]