Last summer, I stumbled upon a Meetup link on the internet. I discovered that people weren’t waiting anymore for their spouses and friends to commit to a “dreaded” art gallery visit or fondue tasting adventure. Shockingly, your partner or BFF doesn’t share your interest in a creamy vegan cheese fondue party. Seems opposites do attract.
You can go online for anything. Casual, momentary connections? Twitter. Peeping updates from old high school friends? Facebook. Potential dates? Take your pick of sites (and don’t take any advice from me). Turns out you can create any club you want online and you don’t even need to get the Chemistry teacher to be your sponsor.
I joined a Vancouver screenwriters Meetup group and I have attended a couple of worthwhile events. Have I truly connected with anyone? No. Perhaps because this cluster of people was birthed from technology, everyone turns to texting or playing Angry Birds or checking Pinterest during breaks. Still, I sit in a room, take in information from a speaker and marvel at the fact I’m not the only one hanging on to a Hollywood dream without moving to L.A. (Heck, if my writing’s that good, they’ll move Jay, Gloria and the rest of the Modern Family cast and crew to Vancouver, right? Or maybe CSI: Miami. The viewers will never know the difference.)
I also found a Meetup group of adults that met on Saturday afternoons to play tag in various parks. That made me laugh. And make no mistake, if I didn’t have to come over on a ferry, I’d be right in on it, quick to yell “Not it” at the outset and shouting “Time out, time out” every time someone got close to tagging me. (I have NO idea why the kids back in Hamilton forbade me from neighborhood tag all those years ago. Lifetime bans mean nothing when you cross provincial lines.)
About two months ago, I joined a gay Meetup group, started by someone who may be creatively challenged. The founder called the group “Nice Intelligent, Successful Vancouver Gay Men”. Sure, that’s the kind of people you want to attract, but I think he should have consulted a drag queen for something cheeky or at least a tad sparkly. No need to worry about scaring off a few guys. The self-consciously butch gays wouldn’t give up a night of “Ice Road Truckers” or inventorying Phillips screwdrivers anyway.
This group plans quite a few events, one or two each week, things like attending an Oscars house party, going to see a gay-themed play or snowshoeing on the North Shore mountains. The problem (for me, at least) is that all activities are scheduled for weekends. It takes an awful lot to get me back on a ferry on a Saturday after my grueling weekday commute. Perpetual isolation is not enough.
Finally, someone posted an announcement for a weekday event, a 6 p.m. social at a club called The Junction in Vancouver’s West End. I did not RSVP until the morning of since attending would mean I’d have to take a later ferry home and, after hobbling around work in my boot cast all day, I usually want to get the commute over with as soon as possible. I was the fourteenth person to commit to the event so I figured I could have a few quick conversations before dashing—er, limping—out at 6:30 to catch the 7:25 sailing. Being a shy guy, thirty minutes of socializing with strangers would be a fine first effort. Best to leave before people spot the pit stains.
This Meetup group is not meant to be a dating pool. It merely offers an opportunity for gay men to socialize, to create a few connections in a city that is gaining a reputation for being disconnected. I looked forward to an opportunity to mingle and to be reminded that I am not the only gay man on the planet. (And if some guy happened to be single, attractive and “nice, intelligent [and] successful” as advertised, well,...bonus!)
By the time I found parking a few blocks away and limped to the meeting site, it was 6:10. At the door, I talked myself out of entering. Why feel so rushed in making it to the ferry terminal? For once, I ignored that nagging inner voice, pulled the handle and walked in.
The place was empty. Well, almost. Two women sat at a nearby table and, in the darkened cave at the back of the place, a few men gathered around a two-top. I headed toward the bar and figured there was no harm in ordering a club soda before hitting the road. They always load the glass with ice anyway. Besides, my cuticles were overdue for an inspection.
I asked the bartender if a Meetup group was gathering here and he pointed to the cave dwellers. I took my drink and approached. The five guys introduced themselves and, as I pulled over another chair to squeeze in, I realized none of the names registered. Oh, yes, this is what social awkwardness is all about. Funny how long bouts of isolation don’t miraculously improve my social skills.
After introductions, Guy Number One resumed telling a long story about a charity fundraiser he’d just done. Or maybe he was talking about a trip to the dentist. Or giving his opinion about what it will take for Lindsay Lohan to reconnect with that persona we all loved in “Freaky Friday”. I can never follow conversations that begin in the middle. Taking the cue of others, I simply smiled and nodded along. My understanding was wholly unnecessary. Guy Number One had come with a monologue and, dammit, he had to tell it.
Ten minutes later, there was a pause and I realized he’d finished. The fundraiser had been a success or he had no cavities. Or something like that. He smiled and sipped his beer.
The Meetup host had done his homework and knew that I traveled by ferry so the focus shifted to me for ninety seconds before Guy Number Seven arrived and I got another shot of ascribing names to people. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. Or something like that. I did learn that Seven was actually named Lucien (George Costanza would be relieved), a transplant from Quebec, also attending his first Nice, Intelligent, Successful Vancouver Gay Men Meetup. He openly shared that he’d lost most of his Vancouver connections in the past year—a breakup, a dog dying, friends retreating to Montreal, a couple moving to the (relatively) affordable suburbs. All unfortunate, but I was thrilled that I retained something—ears and mind still worked after all.
Another person arrived and I hoped that the group could finally break off into smaller conversations. Larger group talks always lead to a few big talkers and a passive audience. There were others who’d been limited to silent gesturing and stating their name. As wallpaper, I had company. Alas, I glanced at the time, announced that I had a ferry to catch and departed. I hobbled back to the car, fretting that some may have thought my hasty exit arose from boredom, a perfectly plausible deduction. I’d made no impression and neither had most of the other guys. I’ve had Twitter exchanges—a couple of 140-character back-and-forths—that revealed more.
Still, it’s a small step. The next event is on a Friday night, a movie at someone’s home. I cannot attend as I would have to miss the last ferry home. (Yes, all ties with civilization are controlled by BC Ferries. Last time I Googled helicopters, they were out of my price range.)
I’ll keep my eye out for another opportunity. Fondue at five? Heck, yeah! As long as I live where I live, it cannot be about the event. If it fits with my commute, I’ll be there.