Walking into a room full of people can be hard. A party isn’t just a party, especially if you’re an introvert like me. They are work.
But it’s summer in the city, and people want to barbecue. And I got invited to one in Brooklyn.
Usually, I would have stayed safely at home, giving an excuse about needing to take care of our newborn (children are always the perfect leave-me-alone-I’m-an-introvert card). But this day I felt like it would be good to put myself out there and connect.
When I arrived at the beautiful rooftop, a breeze was blowing, and the weather was unseasonably cool for an evening in August; but the crisp air was magical in the midst of the canvas of twinkling city lights surrounding us like the stars in the night.
About fifteen guys broken into smaller groups of two to four were drinking beer, talking, and getting ready to devour meat. They were friendly, but not all were my friends. Not because they weren’t good guys, I just didn’t know them well enough yet.
There were some I knew better than others and would even call them friends. But I didn’t expect them to treat me the way they did. They ignored me.
At one point, one of them reached around me to throw something away but didn’t even bother to say hello. I had to remind myself that I had been invited, even though it felt so uninviting.
The night wasn’t a complete disaster. There were two good conversations with a couple of people I didn’t know well, and hearing their stories was a privilege. It felt as though I might have made two new friends.
As the hours wore on, my bed’s call to me transformed from gentle wooing to shouting; resisting was too hard, so I left.
And as I walked home, I reflected on the time, the interactions, and the lack of them. Gratitude filled me as I thought about the conversations had, but I couldn’t help thinking about the friends who seemingly ignored me. It was hard not to blame them. It was what they did to me.
But then an unsettling thought occurred to me: I didn’t greet them either. I didn’t walk up to them and say hello. I wasn’t inviting; I wasn’t friendly.
Furthermore, I said to myself, “Maybe they are introverts like me, where a party isn’t just a party but an inner battle. Maybe they were working through their own issues, and none of it had anything to do with me; and it was just me being self-absorbed and petty. Maybe. Probably.”
A new voice filled my mind. It was a mentor’s. “Those who extend friendship have friends; those who don’t won’t,” he told me once when I was a college student.
Two decades later, I’m still learning this lesson:
To have friends, you must be one.