The other night it was a mixed group, oldsters and mid-oldsters and a few younger people. I was probably the most senior of about thirty people there to exchange silly Christmas gifts and watch the sun go down over the Pacific. I knew only about four of these folks and thus looked forward to another evening of isolation, boredom, and social constipation.
This is what happens to many of us, old or not, as parties find us standing alone, drink in hand, listening to the noisy chitchat, resenting the loud music, deciding whether to approach a group and break into their conversation.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this. I used to be a jovial party-goer and party-thrower in my youth, big drinker, life of the party. (See “Nothing Succeeds like Excess.”) Aging often produces a slow process of withdrawal from all that, which is no bad thing. After all, how much small talk can you generate? Who wants to hear more stale political opinions, gossip about the neighbors, indulgent talk about oneself, with never a question about you?
At the party in question I came in with my partner, felt awkward and out of place, said a few hellos, and sat solo for a while to watch the sunset and plot my next (if any) moves. I made up my mind to tough it out so I went to sit with a younger couple eating dubious hors d’oeuvres and had a nice exchange with them.
The rum punch was good and I found people approachable. The gift exchange turned out to be fun, and the atmosphere changed from small pods of talkers to participants in an engaging group activity. I almost felt glad I’d come.
The small group I hang out with in Oaxaca was nothing like this mixed bag. Beach people are different. One older tanned guy in Hawaiian shorts looked like my old college roommate and never stopped talking. Other oldsters simply sat and said little. Women, as usual, carried the day and brought things to life. One looked like Kyrsten Sinema even to wearing a brassy Sinema-style dress. I kept ascribing personalities to these characters.
The point of all this is that aging produces in some of us the urge to withdraw (see “Retreat of the Elders”), which occasionally can come on strong. I’m not a recluse and I do like people, but in small groups or one-on-one. Most parties I can do without; this one—good for observations—wasn’t too bad.
Forced intimacy in any circumstance may work for the young. For most oldsters it just pushes old buttons.