party girl

I didn't get out much in college. I had my group of friends, who cheerfully accommodated my princessy preference to have people visit me in my room rather than go a-wandering. I had friendly acquaintances; my senior year, when they finally opened a coffee shop in the College Center, a group of us started loosely congregating there most days, in an almost sit-commy way. I would sometimes go to the big parties held in the various dorms, but I never knew many people there and was pretty shy, which made them fairly dull affairs. I didn't like the taste of beer at all until I was a bit older (come to think of it, maybe it's just that I never could stomach crappy beer--still can't--and wasn't exposed to the good stuff until later), so even the lure of access to alcohol while underage didn't hold. I wasn't exactly the sort of girl strangers would seek out for conversation, and my own friends, being far more outgoing than I, would inevitably run into other people they knew and disappear into the crowd. So parties typically entailed a lot of standing around awkwardly by myself. I'd usually dance for a little while (alone, once my friends had gone off, because I love dancing and am loathe to pass up any opportunity), then head back to my dorm room early.

I don't want to sound entirely pathetic. There were plenty of drunken occasions (apparently my tolerance for crappy wine and cheap Spanish "champagne" was a lot higher than for bad beer, not to mention a notable encounter with, uh, eleven shots of tequila my senior year). I had a couple of (mostly regrettable, and short-lived) boyfriends, once I managed to dig myself out from under a soul-crushing crush that kind of ruined me in the early years. By my last year, when I had rebuilt some confidence, I found it easier to chat with strangers, and since we were all of legal drinking age we could finally venture off campus. So I wasn't exactly a prim and proper recluse, I just didn't have that wild partying college lifestyle of beer and boys and meeting tons of people.

(I actually loved college, because I am a giant nerd and I adored the chance to throw myself body and soul into learning and thinking and writing. But in retrospect, I do wish I'd managed to have a little more non-intellectual fun along the way.)

In my twenties and thirties, I was (for the most part), married, and working. We had our core group of friends in Italy, and our social lives generally revolved around going to each other's apartments and hanging out. Possibly meeting for dinner beforehand. We had The Game every year for a while, we sometimes did group excursions to other towns (San Marino, Ravenna, Rimini...), and we went through phases of social evenings spent watching videos or playing board games or going to the theatre. There might be a glass or two of wine involved, or a beer with your pizza or crostini, but excess of any kind at all was frowned upon. I once got a little drunk at a New Year's Eve party at a friend's mountain home, and even though I didn't do or say anything particularly out of the ordinary, the fact that I'd overindulged was an embarrassment. We never, ever went dancing.

(Mostly, I worked. Nights and weekends included, almost always. For little reward, but as the primary breadwinner, the burden was on me to get us out of his parents' place, first, then into a better apartment, better future. In retrospect, most of that was not a great investment of my time and energy, but back then I didn't feel as though I had any choice.)

Then I was in grad school. I can probably count on my fingers the number of times I went out... well, okay, maybe fingers and toes. Still, we're talking about four years. My grad school friends were all paired up and spread throughout the greater Philadelphia metro area, and we were all broke, so it was hard to organize social events. Not to mention the overwhelming workload that kept me busy even beyond my previous life of two full-time jobs plus working on the master's degree. I went on a few dates, mostly bad (some hilariously so), none great. For a few short weeks I also took classes in Latin dancing, which was awesome, but my paltry grad school income made it impossible for me to continue, and I wasn't there long enough to make any connections. It was a pretty solitary existence, and would've been even more so had I not had the world's best next-door neighbors, who would invite me over for cocktails and break out a bottle of wine for even the slightest occasion.

(On the plus side, the articles and the dissertation and the book that I wrote in all that time helped me tremendously when the time came for me to go on the job market, so it paid off. And at least I got to discover some of Philly's awesome establishments, like Monk's and Tria. I just wish I'd had the time, money, and social wherewithal to explore some more.)

My first year here, I knew virtually no one, and never went out at all.

Cut to the present. Most weeks, I'm out at least a couple of nights; schedule permitting, some of those nights stretch into the very wee hours. I have a couple of different circles of friends and acquaintances (outside of work!), and it's not unusual for me to run into someone I know while out and about. At our regular post-Thursday-night-show hangout, which we frequent for karaoke despite their truly terrible songbook (there's about a 20% chance of availability of any song you know and love, no matter how classic), I'll dance to any danceable song. It's... kind of a thing that I've known for. And lately I've even been singing, since I'm finally starting to absorb the notion that it's okay to just do something and enjoy the hell out of it even if you're not particularly good at it. (This lesson has been a long time coming.)

This is the liveliest social life I've had since high school, and while sometimes I feel a little sad for all the years of semi-cloistered existence, mostly I'm grateful that I'm having so much fun now. Because I really, really am.