See, these little gatherings provoke the same anxiety in me as sorority rush parties did in college. It feels like the same thing where people host a party where they will judge whether or not you make the cut to be a part of their group--under the guise of being friendly. It feels like I spend a lot of the time admiring the wallpaper, staring into my drink, or trying to make eye contact with someone for long enough to say "hello" and hope that maybe they will chat with me for a few minutes.
When we first moved to this neighborhood, I went a little more often. However, it felt like most people already knew each other and they were there to have fun with their established friends. I felt awkward and left out. And judged. And unliked.
It didn't help that I moved to this neighborhood begrudgingly. We used to live in a neighborhood that was funky and diverse, artsy, hip, and cool. And while I do not claim to be any of those things, I like being around it. It just so happens that we also lived in a 1000-sq. foot house, which was getting kinda tight with two little girls. So, when my J found a great deal on a 1400+ sq. foot house in a "good" neighborhood, he bought it. And since I like him a lot, I moved with him.
But, I've had a hard time adjusting. At my old house, the girls & I spent afternoons on the front porch chatting with quirky neighbors, watching people walk by on the sidewalks. We'd visit our elderly neighbors or play in the driveway waiting for daddy to get home. We'd be entertained by the unique characters that we shared the neighborhood with. It was never boring in the old 'hood.
In the new neighborhood, the lots are wide and the houses are really far apart. In order to speak with my next door neighbor from my front porch, I'd have to yell my head off, and even then, I'm not sure they'd hear me. There are no sidewalks on our beautifully tree-lined boulevard. No one hangs out on their meticulously manicured front lawns. I'm assuming they are too busy on their lovely screened-in back decks. I joke that the diversity in this neighborhood comes down to whether you drive a silver or blue Honda Odyssey. (I drive a blue one, for the record). People often say to me, "oh, you must LOVE living in ____ (the neighborhood I live in)." No, actually, I miss the one off Central Ave.
I've created this story line that I just don't fit in on this side of town. I'm not trendy/classy/stylish/social enough. My house isn't big/finished/put-together enough. My kids don't go to the right preschool, I don't exercise at the right Y, I don't go to the right salon, or shop at the right stores. It all makes me really anxious. Not that I want any of those things...but I realized that I feel less because of it.
And when we feel less, I think our natural reaction is to buffer, right? So, in my mind, I have a list of all the reasons that I am really better than all these women who wear ballet flats as their "comfortable shoes," put on makeup daily, are in the Jr. League, shop at boutiques, dress their kids in clothes with monograms...my list goes on. Because of my insecurity of being judged for who I am...I judge them for who they are. Makes perfect sense, right? Or not so much.
I've felt convicted about the ways that I have judged my neighbors here...thinking that I know what they are about just because I observe something about them or their things. What a hypocrite I am! I've allowed my fear to become my reality.
And so, the other night, the evening was hosted by the mom of one of JL's Kindergarten classmates. I at least knew the hostess, right? So, I took lots of deep breaths and went. There was some staring at the wallpaper and into my drink, but I also got to meet a woman who lives on my street who has a new baby and was absolutely lovely and with whom I can imagine being actual friends. And I only got the opportunity because I was willing to go and set my own judgements aside. Maybe there were women there who judged me for who I appear to be. But, maybe, me tackling my own fears and prejudices is more important than that.
I can't say my fear is conquered and that I'll be a regular attender, nor that it entirely re-framed by feelings about this neighborhood, but the experience did give me some insight into my own heart and revealed more work I need to do in the realm of loving myself and loving others well. And that was worth it.