It is a surreal feeling when you realise that one of your favourite sensations is when a well-laid plan is cancelled at the last moment. There is a sense of liberation, an “ah, now I can stay indoors”, a cozy, pit-of-your-stomach warmth that comes with the anticipation of an evening spent in your pyjamas, doing nothing but surfing the internet or reading a book, or binge-watching a TV show. It is almost as if this plan cancellation has created time out of thin air, a pocket of free hours to do with as you wish.
Long ago, in a book of fairy tales by Alison Uttley, I read a story about a man who was selling time. He offered a free hour to anyone who wanted it, and the story went on to follow a busy housewife who wanted to dance, a painter who wanted an extra hour to paint, and so on. The children in the story followed behind the vendor jeering, “Who needs time? We have all we need!” and since I was like those children then, I too wondered at a world where adults would need to buy an extra hour. It was never my favourite story in that book, but if a time man came by today, shaking his golden hourglasses, I would buy one. I might even take two, if he’d let me. What would I do with the spare time? I suspect I would do what I usually do – spend it reading, or thinking, or talking to someone one-on-one, close activities that conjure up nothing more exciting than a cup of tea or a purring cat.
And yet, I used to be one of those people in the early 2000s and in the beginning of my twenties. You know those people: they are always on the go, their Sundays require a Monday, because Sundays are full of restless activity, from a boozy brunch to a late dinner, phones constantly buzzing with texts. A weekend is not complete without at least three house parties, preferably all on the same night so you can prove your social credentials by hopping from one to another, never putting your handbag down, because you could never settle.
I took pride in my ability to socialise, relentlessly, without getting bored of having the same three conversations over and over again, pride in my throbbing head the next few days, because I knew what FOMO meant before the acronym was even invented. I went to parties and I blogged about them later, not because someone was paying me for it, but because by then my audience expected to see what I had done that weekend, by Monday night. They waited for it, fingers poised above the comments button. What had I worn? Who had I kissed? What was Delhi like? I delivered – spilling out insecurities and nausea, a little banter which I wished I could have actually said, instead of only writing about it on my blog. Yet I never realised that my favourite bit was actually sitting at home and writing about all of my experiences later.
I only came across the term social menopause very recently, when I was asked if I would like to write about it and I looked it up. But it is so perfect. The feeling of slowing down in your late twenties and early thirties, when you would rather go to a quiet restaurant than a heaving nightclub, when your best social evenings can be summed up with three friends and a bottle of wine on your coffee table, and you try and not schedule more than one engagement per weekend, because it takes you the rest of the week to recover. Everything is slowing down, and unless your friends keep pace with the extent of your ageing, sometimes it is quite lonely – especially if they are all “WHEE CLUBS!” and the most exciting thing on your calendar is to finish watching Stranger Things on Netflix (finally).
Especially now at the end of December, a month that is brimming with more anticipation and dread than any other month, when everything seems to be leading up to that whole New Year’s thing. Oh god, the New Year’s Thing. Anxious emails start going out in August, your social media feed gets filled with people running away, and finally there is only a handful of you left in the same city, and what do you know? Each of those people is having their own individual New Year’s Eve party. This is where you can either ride out your ageing fantasy – “I’d rather stay home and celebrate with one other person and a nice whiskey”– or be rebellious and rage against the dying of the light, and awaken with a terrible hangover on January 1.
I found my friends falling into two camps: the ones that had achieved social menopause, or SoMe, before me and the ones who were still ready to put on their high heels at the slightest bell of a Whatsapp group message.
The older SoMes usually had some sort of extenuating reason: sometimes they were married, and as married people, they were excused from the usual carousel of social engagements. Others had embraced their SoMe way before any of us did, and you knew not to ask those people out on Saturday night. They were your Thursday evening coffee friends, or your Tuesday impromptu early dinner friends. They could usually cook pretty well, and because they spent so much time at home, their homes, unlike yours, would be tidy and perfect, no plastic dishes, no need to BYOB either. You judged them a little bit before you went over, but there would be a moment, when you would be standing by their bookshelves, and it was only about 10.30 pm but the night was clearly over, and you would envy them their surety. How nice to be so certain about your place in the world.
The ones not yet in SoMe desperately clung to the last of the partying like they knew what was coming. Every time you messaged, “Not tonight, I’m tired”, it felt like a betrayal. They were an army poised against ageing, and you were the man down, leaving them with fewer and fewer to fight. They took new friends sometimes, and you would see them smiling out at you from Facebook or Instagram photos, each captioned “best night ever!!!!” with duck faces and glittery shoulders. Some, you would lose track of entirely: there they were at a music festival in Berlin! There they were on a beach! There they were anywhere but home where things grew old, trying to recreate Neverland. They were the Lost Boys and Girls. Sometimes you run into them at parties, take in the feather headpieces, the carefully faded T-shirt with an aspirational slogan, and hide behind the kitchen cabinets so they would not see you, and anyway they are not going to be at the party long enough to notice you were there.
Thank god for the ones that come limping back to you once they are done, and now it is they who message you: “Can’t make tonight, have had a hectic day at work.” You message back a sad face, but secretly, you are sort of glad that the guilt of cancelling is not on you.
I recently hit my mid-thirties, and I can see a glimmer – the faintest little Tinkerbell light – in the distance. Now that it is okay for me to stay home for three weeks in a row, I am suddenly up for being social again. I have accepted my SoMe, made peace with it, and as a result, my calendar is filling up. My blog is filled with a thirty something’s musings now, people don’t engage with me on it. But occasionally, there is the fun of taking the perfect picture, writing the perfect caption, composing the perfect tweet storm. My older friends, who hit SoMe before me, are feeling this too – a few are hunting, once again, for the perfect New Year’s Eve bash. Meanwhile, my friends who had not yet achieved SoMe-ness, are talking of quieter evenings at home. Maybe this is how the world is going to whirl, with all of us and longer life expectancy, maybe it will ebb and flow, like at the end of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”