As I write this, I sit on my bed in my room. I’m surrounded by multiple beverages (water, tea and a grapefruit Spindrift), my backpack with all my schoolwork in it and a few chocolate chip cookies. The goal: avoid having to go back downstairs to the common area of my house.
My roommate is hosting a board game night for a group of friends, and unfortunately, I was in the kitchen an hour ago when the group trekked into the house. Introductions were made — I’ve already forgotten two of their names — and over the course of an awkward half-hour, my other roommates and I were relegated to the sofa, where we quietly ate dinner, while the group overtook the dining table. As soon as it seemed appropriate to make an exit, I gathered all the supplies I needed for the night and fled upstairs, concentrating on the stairs to avoid making unnecessary eye contact. Tonight’s board game gathering is among one of the tamer events that my house has hosted over the past few months, but my routine of awkward engagement, followed by an even more awkward exit, is unchanging.
I live in a six-person house, and two of my roommates have executive-board positions in their respective clubs. They have undertaken hosting responsibilities on multiple occasions, and the whole house has often participated, regardless of having no affiliation with these clubs. When one of my roommates had to host the first party of the year, we spent an hour trying to hang up a “welcome” banner that stretched from our house to the neighbor’s house. Standing on a precariously balanced chair as my roommates called out commands like, “No! More to the right!” or “No, that looks bad. It was better before!” I questioned why I was so invested in getting the banner perfectly aligned. I spent another evening dragging chairs around to block off the common area of our house so that if people needed to come inside from the backyard to use the bathroom, they wouldn’t trek mud all over the floor and carpet.
I think I’m invested in setting up these events because I don’t want our house to be damaged when we have a less-than-understanding landlord, but also because I love my friends, and I want to be a part of the things that they care about. It’s hard not to get excited about hanging up string lights in our backyard when my friends are breathlessly describing how pretty the dim lighting will look once the sun sets. This excitement draws me in. But I have also found that as soon as the guests start to trickle in and the music gets louder, all I want to do is retreat to the safety of my room.
I care about meeting the people who are good friends of my friends, but once the initial introductions are over, I feel out of place. The conversation turns to specific events or people whom only those in the certain club would know about. I find myself looking at my phone or eating endless handfuls of chips — anything to seem like I’m busy, not just awkwardly standing in a circle with nothing to say. The eagerness I felt while helping to set up starts to fade once I am faced with the reality of the event, the reality that it suddenly feels like I don’t have enough extroverted qualities to mingle with these unfamiliar communities. I count down the minutes until it seems like I have spent an appropriate amount of time trying to introduce myself, and then, with the initial rejoice of freedom, I silently creep upstairs.
Although I am grateful for the silence of my room, as I settle into a chair to read my book or watch a show with my plate of smuggled cookies, a certain isolation creeps in. I can hear laughter and singing drifting up the stairs, and I cannot help but think that if I had tried a little bit harder to insert myself in a conversation, I might not have felt the need to remove myself. I commit to trying harder the next time our house hosts a party, but when the next event rolls around, I always end up retreating back into the safety of my room.
My other roommates seem to act similarly whenever a party is hosted at our house. They go off to their own rooms, and behind their closed doors, I assume they settle down to do homework or relax. But what I don’t know is if they feel the same sense of disappointment in failing to connect with those at the party downstairs. I begin to worry about my lack of engagement, and what it suggests about my desire to socialize.
However, a necessary distinction here is that I don’t fundamentally dislike all parties; I usually go out when I am invited to some sort of function. But this year has been different. My friends and I do not often go out in a big group the same way we did last year. Living in a house rather than a small apartment has meant that we either host events ourselves or engage in separate activities because one roommate is too tired to go out or another one has an exam the next day. My roommates and I have lamented this loss, but no real effort has been made to plan ahead for a night when we are all free.
Although a portion of our group could theoretically still go out while the others don’t, I think there is something more energizing, exhilarating and special about going out in a bigger group. Laughter becomes amplified and excitement feels tangible. I love going out because of the joy and possibility that seems to uniquely and communally exist in the air as you walk the streets of Ann Arbor late at night with all of your closest friends.
Are there unpleasant parts of going out as well? Absolutely. Figuring out a lost friend’s whereabouts in a crowded house or the general planning of when and how to return home can result in stressful conversations. I’ve had arguments with my friends in tense or high-stakes moments like these, and it’s true that such conversations don’t often happen when the party is at your own house. When you are hosting, there is no danger of having to walk home late at night, and even if you don’t see all of your roommates, you can assume they’re all under your own roof. Still, despite these supposed benefits to hosting, on the nights that parties or gatherings occur at my house, I end up reminiscing about the gaiety of those past nights out.
So perhaps there’s another reason as to why I get so involved with the setting up of events at my house: The excitement that exists while unfolding tables and carrying speakers to the garage feels similar to the joy that exists when getting ready with friends while blasting music and trying on each other’s clothes. The fun of setting up comes, once again, from doing something together with my roommates. The sense of communal accomplishment that comes from moving heavy furniture and putting up signs brings us closer together. No one else is in charge of hosting the event at our house — if we didn’t set everything up, the party would fail to happen.
Yet, while I enjoy setting up and am welcome to participate when the guests arrive, ultimately, the party is for another group of people that I am not connected to or affiliated with. Although my friends are downstairs as well, they are often busy handing out snacks, pouring drinks and welcoming everyone. They are busy, understandably so, talking to their guests, and so I feel like I have no one to turn to. This changes when we go out because I feel their full presence and attention. I think this aspect is where the loneliness that I feel when I am in my room, hiding away from the party downstairs, comes from; I don’t feel despair that I am not at the party talking to people I don’t really know, but I am reminded of other parties that my friends and I attended where the experience was for us. I wish there wasn’t the absence of going out this year. I miss getting Insomnia cookies late at night and running down the dimly lit Ann Arbor streets with my friends.
So while I haven’t minded hosting events at our house this year and will always be willing to help hang string lights and banners, I miss the more adventurous side of going out and the freedom of not having to plot an escape for upstairs. In writing this, I have realized just how much nostalgia I have for the earlier years of college, when everyone’s individual lives here were less established, and it was easier to plan a night with all of my friends. I’ll make an effort to have nights out like that again. When I go out, I don’t ever have to make an escape. I am surrounded by people who I could talk to forever. I am included, and the only question that really matters, in my mind, is whether or not we should stop at Joe’s on the way back home.
Statement Columnist Olivia Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.