A couple of months ago, I tried to join a new book club using MeetUp.com, and it was kind of an awkward disaster. There were only two other women who showed up for the meeting that night, both of whom were much older than me, and both of whom were awkward in their own special ways. One of them kept checking her watch the entire time, obviously feeling as uncomfortable as I was, and continuously made comments like, “It’s only 7:25? We’ve only been here for twenty-five minutes? I thought it had been longer than that!” The other kept making comments about living alone, feeling lonely, and having a fascination bordering on obsession with horror films. Her comments were inevitably followed by long, drawn-out silences. We would glance at each other with shifty eyes, pretend to be very interested in the bottoms of our coffee mugs, and desperately try to think of something to say to start the conversation in a new direction. This happened over and over again throughout the evening. However, I vowed that I would not judge the book club based solely on that meeting–after all, they may have just been having an off-week. I promised myself that I would give them one more try before giving up. Perhaps the absent members of the group would show up to the next meeting and be much more….tolerable?
But when I checked the listings for the following month, again, only two ladies had RSVPed for the meeting. Judging from their tiny thumbnail profile pictures, they looked to be the same two ladies I had had the…ahem…pleasure of meeting. And the month after that, they had maybe one addition to their ranks, but that wasn’t quite comforting enough for me. I just didn’t want to put myself through that again.
However, the Chic Lit Book Club has different sects of groups that meet all over Pittsburgh, so there was no one forcing me to go to that particular group again. I decided to try a group on the south side of town that had decidedly more members. No more awkward threesome book club for me!
The book that we would be discussing at the South Hills meeting was From Notting Hill…With Love Actually by Ali McNamara. This is a stereotypical, shallow piece of chic lit, with some very obvious, “I-saw-that-coming” turns in the plot, but overall it was a quick, enjoyable read. The entire text is littered with movie references too, which was fun. If you are a connoisseur of rom-coms, reading this book will almost be like playing a game of Trivial Pursuit (or Scene It!)– with “Which movie is she referencing there?” on every page.
I arrived at Al’s Cafe on Wednesday night feeling a little bit nervous, hoping that this book club meeting wouldn’t be quite as awkward as the last one. When I walked into the building, I realized that it was less a “cafe” and more a full-sized restaurant, with a host waiting to seat me and everything. I told him that I was looking for a book club, and he pointed me in the right direction. I was a little intimidated to see three long tables joined end-to-end, filled with women laughing and joking loudly. There must be at least twenty women in this book club! I realized. Will they even have room to seat me at the table? I wondered. I shyly wandered over there and said hello. Most of the women continued talking amongst themselves and didn’t really notice me standing there. One girl who looked to be about my age greeted me (I recognized her from her profile pic as the leader of the group), and pointed to an open seat at the far corner of the table. “You’re just in time!” she said. “We haven’t ordered yet!” Oh no! I took a look at the ten page menu and realized that we were supposed to be eating dinner together. I didn’t realize that! I’d just cooked and eaten dinner at home before coming here! Feeling the pressure to get something, I placed an order from the dessert page.
And then I sat there…sipping my water.
These ladies seemed to be having a lot of fun, and they certainly had a lot to say to each other. I just had no idea how to jump in. I’m terribly shy when I meet people for the first time, and it’s especially difficult when everyone already knows each other and I am “the new girl.” Judging from their topics of conversation, these ladies had known each other for years, and had mutual friends (and family members even!) who they discussed at length. I heard about how they were planning a trip to Paris together. I heard about how some of them were interested in starting a scrap-booking club on the side. I listened to them reminisce on fond memories they had together. The problem was, I just didn’t have anything I could contribute to the conversation. So I sat there sipping my water for a long time.
Finally, when it the meals arrived and the leader deemed it time to discuss the book, they quieted down a bit. The conversation became more united rather than just every lady talking all at once. I definitely had opinions on the book that I wanted to share, but it was still really difficult to jump into the conversation. With twenty-something ladies all dying to give their two cents about the book, anyone wanting to share practically had to interrupt the speaker to get a word in edgewise.
I think I said about five words all night.
Maybe I just have the Goldilocks syndrome going on. “This book club is too small! But this book club is too big!” Should I try yet another club, or should I give up on finding a book club that is “just right”?
Whether I attend that particular club or not, I’m definitely interested in reading their choice for next month, Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther. Even if I wasn’t invited to go on their Parisian expedition. *sniff*
Have you ever experienced these types of social dynamics, or am I just a magnet for uncomfortable situations?