I wrote this a little over a year ago, just after my horrendous break up and not long after I joined FetLife.
[Friday Night Fireworks, as seen from Magic Island]
Tonight I am going to watch the Friday Night Fireworks, a weekly show put on by one of the hotels in Waikiki. I am petrified. I will be joining up with a group that meets monthly to watch them together but I have never participated. I have never even really talked with any of these people even though we all belong to FetLife, an online BDSM society. In essence, I am putting myself in the middle of a horde of strangers and saying “Howdy”. For someone with anthropophobia (the fear of meeting new people, or “social phobia”) it is terrifying.
I planned this a few days ago thinking I could always back out. Just like I usually do. But the more I thought about it, the more determined I became to go through with it. Now its three o’clock in the afternoon and my heart has been racing all day. My mouth becomes dry whenever I think about walking up to a complete group of strangers. If I get that far. There is the very real possibility that I’ll just stand on the sidelines, wanting to join but too afraid to say anything.
I can always play with my phone. That’s always a good fall back for us anthropophobes – pretend you’re texting or emailing something very important. Keep your face down and don’t make eye contact with anyone. If you take your eyes off the phone, someone might start a conversation. Then you have to engage in *gasp* small talk.
I’m awful at small talk. After a few sentences I end up nodding, muttering “um”, and staring off into the distance, not sure what else I should say or what comes next. I haven’t yet decided if I don’t have the brain capacity for small talk or if the people I talk to don’t have the capacity to keep me interested. Maybe it’s a little of both. Probably more me.
I am not an interesting person. My job, while interesting to me, is not the stuff romance novels are made of. I am an ordinary office assistant for an ordinary company in an ordinary building. I have no hobbies. I have no great interest that I stay updated on nor do I keep abreast on the latest in politics, sports, entertainment, or anything else. This leaves very little for me to contribute to a conversation.
I do have two things going for me right now. One, I am a great listener. If you want to tell me every aspect about scientology, I can listen. Perhaps you’re having relationship trouble. My ear is always sympathetic, although I can also play Devil’s Advocate if needed. Want to tell me how a car’s engine works? Go ahead. I’m listening.
The second thing I have right now is that I want to learn. This is why I’m going to the fireworks meet-up tonight. I want to talk to people about BDSM. I want to hear what other people find exciting. I want to know what sort of things to expect in this lifestyle. I want to meet BDSM people in a vanilla setting (not at a play party) and talk to them one on one about likes and dislikes. And I just want to meet other people who don’t think I’m “odd” or “psychotic” because I like to be tied up and paddled.
I go to the park straight from work so I am there early with time enough to relax before I have to face anyone. I find a bench by the water and relax, breathe in, breathe out. It was very calming, breathing in ocean air, feeling the breeze against my skin and the sun on my face. My anxiety returned as the time neared for the meeting. I began to walk back down the pathway, not sure exactly where they were meeting, looking for a lantern with the BDSM symbol. I get to the end of the path, back to the parking lot, but no BDSM symbol. I head back down in the opposite direction but someone has taken my bench. I find another one, this time under a tree. It’s peaceful despite the city noise.
Another ten minutes and I am pacing the path again. Still no BDSM symbol. Back to the bench under the tree. I do this two more times. I am a nervous wreck. I want to give up and go home but then what have I accomplished? I am texting a friend who tries to keep me supported – telling me to check again, he’s been to one of these, he knows the light, they’ll have a blanket on the grass.
It’s seven o’clock before I find them. I almost walk by but I notice black – black leather boots, collars, t-shirts, jeans – all black. Then I see the lantern with the symbol. I stop and I recognize one of them from the party I had gone to. Relief!
I walk up and one of the black-dressed women introduces herself. I recognize her name from FetLife postings. She seems friendly. A few more introductions are made. As I observe the group I realize that there are two factions present – the younger throw-it-in-your-face generation (the ones all in black) and the more mature yes-I’m-me-but-don’t-have-to-prove-it generation (dressed in pastels and brights).
This was never more obvious than when one of the girls said, “Oh look at all the black! Everyone in black over here! We’re the cool people!” I felt like I was back in high school and was being left out by the popular kids. I took out my phone…
A quick message to my friend lamenting the fact that I had to stay or be rude (which I just cannot be) left me staring at the phone, waiting for a reply. He was working so the reply didn’t come until much, much later. Too late for me. I stood in the middle of these strangers, gripping my hands together, tension running through me, until I thought I would scream.
Wait… someone’s talking to me. Oh great. He’s asking if I’m going to the party tomorrow. The big play party I’d wanted to go to but I was 1) too afraid to go alone and 2) too afraid I’d see my ex with his new sub. “No,” I respond. “I wish I could but I can’t make it.” Easy. End of conversation. He says, “That’s too bad” then turns to talk to someone else.
A few minutes later I find myself in conversation with another woman about something mundane and then she asks the same question – am I going to the party? I tell her the truth, that my ex will probably be there with his new sub and I just can’t face it. Then I get peppered with questions from all around me about him, the party we went to last month, how new I am, how fast he left me… on and on. It’s a relief to have it out though.
I’ve only talked to a couple of people about this and only to one person in detail. Granted, I didn’t go into specifics here and I didn’t want to sound whiny but I did want the truth out there. There’s a part of me that is mad that he can get away with this. I’m beginning to suspect he’s done it before no matter that he says otherwise. While I never said his name, some of the people were at the party last month and may or may not remember me and may or may not remember who I was with.
One woman tells me that it’s good I’m there, that I’m trying to get out and make new friends. “The best thing about FetLife,” she tells me, “is that you can join and within a week you’ll have 40 new friends.” I’ve been on a month now and I have four. Not very encouraging for me, is it?
Then the fireworks begin. Literally. The fireworks we came to see start up and last a whole 5 minutes or so. When they end I think, “That’s it? All this buildup for that?” The group begins planning on where they will continue the meeting, deciding on a restaurant in Kaka’ako. I, unfortunately, am dirt poor and do not have money to spend on so much as a cup of coffee so I beg off. I explain my dog has been locked up all day and needs to be fed and go out. I am given a hug by the first girl that introduced herself and everyone says the usual “Nice to meet you” before I give a final wave and walk off down the path.
I am relieved to be free of them and, yet, a part of me wishes I could have joined them for coffee. I think it’s that part of me that wants to belong. Despite the feeling of being back in high school and being shunned by the popular kids, I have a feeling each of these people independently would be nice people to know. Friendly, personable, interesting – possibly even loyal after a time – but I was so put off by the elitism that I will probably never know.
When I left the park that night I was shaking. All the tension and anxiety that had been overwhelming me for so many hours was attempting to leave my body, but there was an overload that left me quivering and near tears in seek of release. It took forever to drive home thanks to traffic first leaving the park, then through Waikiki and finally up Kapahulu – almost 40 minutes to make a drive that would normally take half that time.
By time I did make it home, I was a mess. I tried to do a crossword puzzle but couldn’t concentrate. I tried to watch TV but it held no interest. I laid down with a book but I had to keep re-reading paragraphs, not able to focus on the words. I finally took a sleeping pill and eventually my mind rested enough to fall asleep. Bliss.
What have I learned from that night? One. Push yourself. No matter how uncomfortable you feel, no matter how miserable you are, if you don’t push yourself you will never come out on the other side. Two. The friend I was texting? A very good friend. Three. Don’t discount someone who’s part of what appears to be a clique. Have I made friends with any of these people? No, not yet – and I emphasize yet because I am not discounting the possibility. Four. If you want to get over a breakup, meet new people – people who share interests, whether it’s a fetish or a dog breed, sports or entertainment, cooking or travel. Find a group. Put yourself out there, not in hopes of finding someone new but in hopes of finding friends.