You can’t thrive as a contrarian while being surrounded by traditionalists.
I just got back from a diwali party at a friend’s place. A couple in their forties who I met through my trekking club. While they do follow a mainstream life, they don’t have kids and so unlike the rest of my other friends, have time to spend with me and call me over every now and then. Big festivals like Diwali, Christmas, and New Year are seldom spent without them. But this time, something really seemed amiss.
We were after all, meeting after more than two years, and had never gotten a chance to see each other during the pandemic or even in between the two waves. They had to go back to their home state and I had to get back to my usual trekking routine. Even though we’re friends through thick and thin, we do have our own lives to carry forward and prioritize what needs to be done.
It was just a week ago that I was fervently scratching my head on how to spend my Diwali holidays. My friend with whom I work with at my part time gig didn’t care where I worked from as long as I submitted the content on time. My futile attempts at putting together a trek left me with no other choice than to stay back in the city and be in the midst of the festivities. My regular trek buddies all had to be with their families and mandatorily had to spend the festival with them. As a family person, that’s expected of you.
And so through the years, I’ve learnt not to depend on them for long weekend treks during festivals. My other trek buddies who were single were also busy as they had just booked their flight tickets for a week long trek in the Himalayas. I am categorically against flying to treks for one. And secondly, I’ve never seen the point of spending 2 entire days using multiple modes of transport to get all the way across to the other end of the country when I’m blessed with rich, tropical lush green forest right in my backyard here in South India.
And so between the family guys, the Himalayan trekkers, and everyone else was me left smack in the middle with nothing to do, except procrastinate and while my time away at home.
Diwali finally arrived and everyone had already got on with their celebrations at home. And those who had planned treks, were well, already on those treks. Half the day was over, and I was already getting the feeling that I would be spending it all alone at home listening to the sounds of fireworks exploding outside, which I totally detested. I always aimed to be part of either camp during such festivals and long holidays, and hated being all alone in the middle. So I chatted up this couple and they invited me over for the festival.
Why I stay away from socializing in big groups
Remember in the beginning I said I felt totally weird about this particular meeting? Let’s speak about that for a bit. When we first spoke about our respective plans for the night, the host told me there’s no one else coming over. But guess what happens when I get there? Lo and behold, the guests keep tumbling in one after another. I for one, hate socializing and mingling with a crowd. I hate parties too, because there’s always someone left hurting and wounded either physically or mentally after it. There’s always someone who’s made a scapegoat off, and put on the spot for the pleasure of the entire group.
As many of you might be well aware by now, that doesn’t end well most of the time.
People take things personally, someone has too much to drink, somebody crosses a line, someone else doles out sarcastic comments, and so it’s pretty much downhill from there once one or more of those things starts happening.
Don’t tell me you’ve been to a party where no one got offended, beaten up or hated on by a specific group of people. Such things don’t exist. When you confine a group of stressed out millennials carrying the weight of millennial existence on their shoulders, all from varying backgrounds and different work environments, sparks are bound to fly. In between all the booze, the amazing music, the fireworks and the festive greetings, these parties are gossip fests, if not anything more.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that people with different levels of stress just cannot hang out in the same room together, regardless of how much booze is there.
People working in high tension environments with psycho bosses where sparks fly every single day are bound to perpetually be on edge. They take everything you say at face value and always feel like they always have a target on their back. I’ve always noticed how they get offended at the tiniest remark or casual comment made in their direction. This misconstrue everything and are not capable of reading the room.
Luckily nothing of the sort happened at this gig, and everything went smoothly. Maybe it’s mostly because I kept my mouth shut 90% of the time. But I still wasn’t okay with the fact that I was forced to socialize with mainstreamers with absolutely nothing in common to talk about.
Let’s look at some things I do not have in common with the rest of these folks:
- I don’t do a mainstream “job” job. Most of the jobs I’ve taken up were either low paying with high amounts of freedom, or just part time gigs. So what exactly am I gonna chat with them about? Corporate life was a significant topic of discussion at this gig.
- I do not live independently like the rest of the crowd. I live with my parents, and so there wouldn’t be much of a common ground to discuss the various aspects of independent living with them. Someone was procrastinating about how much spring cleaning they have to do the next day, and about how their husband needs to help them.
- I don’t fly internationally for “annual vacations”. I don’t need that vacation because I go trekking to near by locations almost every single week.
- I don’t have a relationship. At the party, there was so much talk about relationship and family and all the drama that accompanies those things that I just zoned out and started checking my phone. Gossip and family drama don’t interest me one bit. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
- Leading from the previous point, I don’t have kids, and neither wish to ever have them. They just suck the life blood out of you and leave you feeling tired and disgusted. There was a lot of talk about kids and their schooling, how some of the couples had to wake up early the next day to take their kids to the school and all that jazz. What am I gonna pitch in there? That I’m gonna wake up and do the dishes?
- And the last one. I’m not into fitness as a thing. That’s for people who are short on time, and have lots of other responsibilities. By the very virtue of being a trekker, “fitness” happens to be my life’s purpose. I don’t have to seek out “fitness activities” separately when it’s embedded into my very mission. No wonder I couldn’t find anything to relate when one of the ladies spoke about how she had to leave the party early for her couple Zumba class the next morning and everyone else was giving her their views on it. The fact that one needs to drive from one air-conditioned enclosed space after spending close to 9 hours in it all the way to another to work out and stay fit has always sounded extraordinarily weird and perplexing to me.
A sense of Detachment
Call it the pandemic effect or whatever you like, but this time that usual spark of bonhomie and camaraderie just wasn’t there. Every move felt like it was being done just for formality’s sake!
Usually, after the guests leave, we would sit down to discuss all about the happenings in our lives that had taken place since the last get-together; the treks we’ve completed and the new locations discovered by the members in our informal Whatsapp group of trekkers. This time however, no such thing happened. The usual excitement of meeting them had faded away and was replaced by manufactured smiles and cursory gestures.
Between the first wave of the pandemic and now, everyone in our group had either gotten married or migrated abroad. Our initial founding group itself had collapsed. The core members had new families, businesses and commitments to take care of and no longer had time for our usual weekend treks or get-togethers in the city. It was down to the last few members who had yet to choose a solid life path by now. Whatever that means! I mean, we all have jobs and take care of our own expenses. But somehow that just isn’t enough for traditional Indian society, and everyone and their aunt is eager to see you married and “settled down” in life.
A Strange Emptiness
A void has been created where my previous energy heavy lifestyle once used to reside, and I now find myself in very unfamiliar waters. The traffic has increased so much in my city that I no longer get pleasure out of the activities that once defined me. I used to go to the gym. I’ve stopped since quite long ago. I used to also go swimming over the weekends whenever there were no treks. That too is now permanently out of the question. The mindnumbing traffic, the constantly broken roads, the increased rainfall and flooding, and the creation of new infrastructure in the city all act as hindrances for the activities I could previously get to in a jiffy.
Notice how discriminatory this is ?
A family person is bound to be caught up in a drama of its own creation, whereas a childfree contrarian is dependent on the workings of the world. Sure, family folks are dependent on the workings of the world too, but they can choose to just sit home and engage their kids in whatever when the outdoor environment isn’t favourable, isn’t it?
Yeah, sure I too could choose to sit at home and pick up some books to read. I’ve got enough to stop me from buying new ones for a year! But sitting and reading are two activities I’d definitely like to stay away from on weekends. That is literally my day job, apart from what I do here at Medium. So I strictly aim to keep my weekends restricted to the outdoors, and give my eyes a much needed break from the screen. Whether that be cycling, running, trekking, exploring a new locality in the city, a new cafe, or just going for a long drive.
The empty space in the lives of my fitness enthusiast friends, which once used to resemble mine; all those weekend marathons, cycle rides, treks, events, and fitness workshops, are now filled up by their kids and extended family. Their kid’s schooling, their sports days, their annual days, their tutions, PTA’s, and all other kinds of days, their shopping, their trips to the mall, picnics, travel, and family outings.
So what are we contrarians supposed to do? After all, we antinatalists don’t aspire to destroy the world with overpopulation just to add meaning to our lives, do we?
The outdoors have become dangerous. An indoor lifestyle seems to be the way forward. A lot of my friends who own adventure companies can attest to this. Many of their scheduled departures got cancelled this year due to landslides and heavy rain. And that’s been the trend for years now. We all have to think twice before venturing out in the rain these days.
I’m in no way implying that family people aren’t affected by traffic jams, congested living areas, road works and climate change. I know kids crave the outdoors too.
I’m just saying the living environment seems to be tilted in their favour in most cosmopolitan cities.
Correct me if I’m wrong.