I don’t think I’m very good at partying. Through all of high school, I had never been to a house party. For all of freshman year, too, I had skirted anything that resembled socializing in a group setting. By the time sophomore year started, I needed to change; a very important part of college was making friends.
I decided to go to my first college party in October. It was a Halloween party, and I’d hand-sewn myself a costume after being inspired by photos of sushi. There would also be people I definitely knew, so I wouldn’t be alone. But I couldn’t will or force away my deep-seated fear. At the time, I didn’t know why I was afraid — of course, for someone with social anxiety, the concept of immersing myself in a space with a group of acquaintances sounded terrifying. On the other hand, I knew this was how you made friends. This sounds very silly to senior-year-Sakura, but to sophomore-year-Sakura, it was an endeavor.
Therefore, sophomore-year-Sakura cut a deal with herself. I set a timer for one hour on my phone. I had to stay at the party for one hour, after which, if I wanted, I could leave. I definitely couldn’t leave before that alarm went off. And if I wanted to stay for longer, then I could. At the time, though, I couldn’t foresee myself enjoying the party to want to stay for any more than the allocated hour.
On the day of the party, I climbed out of my Lyft and loitered around for the first 10 minutes. I slowly poured myself a cup of juice — I’d never drunk alcohol before, and the concept of drinking only served to heighten my anxiety — and stood in the corner. It was a backyard party, so I stood near the edge of the lawn, watching some people play beer pong from afar. After watching the first round end, I checked my phone.
By the 35-minute mark, I was so hyperaware of myself that I was simply staring at the game of beer pong that was occurring before me. Someone offered me a blunt. I declined; I’d never done weed and wasn’t sure if that was something I could do. Someone suggested I refill my cup, but I just waved them off, promising that I’d drunk enough. I just shuffled my feet a tad closer to the beer pong table to have a better vantage point.
“Wait.” I spun around when someone addressed me. “Wait, are you a sushi?”
For some reason, it was surprising that someone was addressing me. I was just standing there, had said hi to the few people whose names I knew, and was waiting for this self-imposed timer to tick down. The unnerving question might seem like a small leap, but to me, it made the night. Slowly, through that question, I merged into the conversation’s group. This might be obvious to everyone, but it wasn’t very hard. Someone was wearing a galaxy skirt and a nurse’s outfit, touting themselves as “universal health care.” There were also two people who were dressed as each other and hadn’t planned together — something that everyone found hilarious.
Lost in the throes of conversation and humor, I was completely taken aback when my alarm rang. I hadn’t expected to get so involved in the conversation, so when I looked back down at my phone, I was shocked to see that the clock had ticked down to zero without me realizing it. Immediately, I was hit with elation. I didn’t even think I’d last an hour of socializing, but here I was, engaging in it all like a professional partygoer.
It was immediately followed by a sense of dread. The thought of staying longer flashed through my mind, and I rejected that with very little consideration. Of course, I wouldn’t want to stay longer; of course, I couldn’t stay longer. I turned off the alarm but still stared at my phone screen. And then I called a Lyft home.
When I was a freshman, the biggest worry was that everything about partying was so new. I’d never been invited to a high school house party, though I knew many had happened. I wasn’t upset about that, but it did leave a gap in my social education. Is there a wrong way to drink or dance? Is there a wrong way to hold a stereotypical red solo cup? Is there a wrong way to make jokes, to converse with people in this kind of setting? Was there a wrong way to be yourself? Probably not. But there I was, staring at my now-off alarm, listening to this nagging fear in the back of my head that was warning me that I was doing things “wrong” at this party. So I left.
Of course, there isn’t really a wrong way to socialize. As long as you’re yourself and you treat others with respect, there aren’t any actual ways to be “wrong.” Sophomore-year-Sakura thought that she had to perform a “right” way while at parties, but senior-year-Sakura now knows that she just has to be herself.