Going to parties is one of the most overlooked struggles of gay college students. Males and females typically go out separately, and I find myself alienated from both groups. In my experience, guys travel in packs looking for girls. Socially acceptable homophobia has already nudged me outside the pack, and lacking a desire to pursue women leads to further isolation. Then we have the girls. I usually go out with them, but being the only guy causes me to feel out of place. Couple this with the constant fear of intruding on girl time — or even worse, a “girls’ night,” — and I’m unsure how to handle a simple social gathering. I quickly faced these realizations my freshman year. I had never been to a party before college, so initially I believed these issues stemmed from my inexperience with social outings. However, two nights into my freshman year, it became clear that I was stuck in this state of limbo.

Michael Schramm

A group of my girlfriends — and one boyfriend — are going out. As soon as we get to the party, I’m passively ditched. The group of girls goes to “dance with each other” and tell me that I should stay with the couple. I don’t want to be a third wheel, but I nod my head and say, “Sure.” But after 10 minutes alone with the couple I can tell by their body language that they want me to leave. Couples want alone time, so I partially understand. Unfortunately, this forces me into my own alone time. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Everyone around me is socializing, yet I’m encased in a conversation-less bubble. It hurts because no one understands how much I want to belong.

I’m not sure how to occupy my time. I take a lap, giving me some time to think. I run into a few of my guy friends, and we do the “bro hug.” We chat, but after a few exchanged words, we say goodbye. They’d never tell me this, but I know they’re thinking that I don’t belong with them in these social scenes.

I continue circling, and through the flashing strobe lights and loud music I come across the girls who ditched me. They smile and say hello, but I know they’re only making small talk. It’s clear they want me to leave. I have nothing else to do, so the conversation lingers until one of them whispers,

“Are you having fun, Mikey?”
“Yeah,” I half-heartedly lie.
“I just think you would have more fun if you had a guy with you.”
“Yeah, I agree,” I respond.

However, inside, I disagree. I absolutely, irrevocably disagree. Being gay shouldn’t place me in the “needs-a-boyfriend-to-have-fun” subcategory. I’m a human being that wants a place in a group. College parties are such an emphasized portion of college life, so I just want to get the full experience. That’s not too much to ask for. It’s irritating that something so simple feels impossible to attain.

I’m now irritated at them, so I say goodbye and keep circling. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on them. After all, I can’t read their minds, they probably don’t realize how upset I am, and I’m no one’s responsibility, though I wish they wanted to help me. Regardless, I’m feeling horrible as I circle the party. And somewhere, amid the grinding couples and alcoholic stench, I’m faced with the reality that — in an overwhelming sea of people — I am utterly alone. I have two options: solve the problem or stop trying to go out. I choose the latter this time and head home, but I know I can’t forever.

Because if feeling alone at parties stings, never going burns. Assuming that parties are outrageously fun is cliché. The truth is they aren’t, but watching others acting like they are makes partying appear more outrageously fun than it is. Little is more traumatizing than seeing a group of smiling people walk past my door, heading towards an evening I can’t be a part of. After experiencing this enough times, I realized I needed to address the problem.

So I changed my strategy. I found groups who enjoyed going out with me. I finally enjoyed parties, but even during the best evenings I still experienced alienating moments. Unfortunately (for me), parties are a generally heterosexual scene. If guys are looking for a hookup, it’s usually a girl, and vice versa. Even if a mix of guys and girls go out together, I’ve noticed there are increments of time where the group splits. This places me in a situation that not even my closest friends can alleviate.

Fast forward to this year. I’m at a party with a group of my close friends. They wouldn’t think of ditching me, but in our little gang, a few are talking with their significant others, some are talking to potential hookups, and the rest are greeting a friend. I’m all alone, and the feeling of isolation sinks into my stomach. I’m panicking. Everyone but me is occupied.

Then, a thought hits me: Why am I letting this bother me?

Whether I like it or not, this situation is my reality. I can choose to be miserable or make the best of my situation.

“No one’s paying attention to me,” I think to myself. “I should just dance.”

I close my eyes and lose myself in the 2-Chainz-dubstep hybrid playing. Somewhere between the shoulder shrugs and finger pointing, I find a smile on my face. I exist in this happy zone until the song ends. I look around, noting that absolutely nothing has changed. All that’s happened is I’ve allowed myself to have fun on my own.

I’ve finally arrived at a significant conclusion: It’s solely my responsibility to have fun at a party. Having good friendships certainly helps; you can’t dance alone all the time, but when you are alone, you don’t have to feel unpleasant. It’s what you make of the situation, and — though I sometimes fail in making this decision — if I actively choose to have fun, I’ll have fun.

I’m sure everyone experiences isolation at parties. Perhaps being gay intensifies the problem, but loneliness is a universal experience. Maybe you’re the guy who doesn’t like hooking up with girls. Maybe all your friends have found a dancing partner, leaving you solo. Maybe your friends are busy chatting with others. Regardless, it’s during these moments you have to create your own fun. It opposes party clichés, but if you’re faced with isolation, you have to make the best of it.

Michael Schramm can be reached at mschramm@umich.edu.

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