I live in Los Angeles County, and for those outside of California, you should know that it’s sprawling, complex, and full of terrible drivers. As someone with a bit of driving anxiety who was involved in a terrible accident with a drunk driver recently, I hate getting around here. The alternative is a metro or bus route that takes easily triple the amount of time it would otherwise, not including the long walk you probably have to make anyway. And you can never avoid the colorful characters who come out at night.
A car is a necessary privilege, and I’ve come to despise it. In many ways, it has shackled me, because if you live in Sherman Oaks or even WeHo, I’m probably not gonna make the drive to you from Pasadena. It’s just part of my survival tactic out in this cracked concrete jungle.
Now I’m a social butterfly, but I’ve recently fallen into a bit of a depressive funk. Something about career path indecision and comparison being the thief of joy, yadda yadda yadda. At some point I realized that most of my closest friends are scattered across the world, leaving me with a core group of maybe three people I speak to regularly. Coupled with my building homebody tendencies, I started wallowing in a weird, antisocial pit of despair. And then that started to be normal for me. And further I sunk.
Until one day I woke up and realized it was my birthday. And I had utterly forgotten about it. I had just slogged on through my life, lifting one forlorn, heavy foot at a time, and hoped if I didn’t look up and kept going, I’d get somewhere worth being. It was a terrible feeling, realizing that I hadn’t even bothered to get out of bed to celebrate the one day a year I get to call my own. My two friends had to come drag me out of my funk, find me delicious mapo tofu, and give me beer to revive me. They were confused at my odd state and said something that started me on this journey: “Do you wanna have a birthday party?”
I don’t like birthday parties. In fact, I’ve waxed poetic about doing solo self-realization trips on my birthday, something I’ve come to cherish. But something in me wanted this desperately, and despite it being last minute, I said yes. I invited anyone I could possibly think of, and even though only a third of them came, it was a rousing success. It forced me to realize how many friends I had who would show up and reinvigorated relationships whose budding beginnings I had utterly ignored. I let loose and for the first time in two years and got ridiculously drunk. And it was incredible, to let go and realize I had created the cage I so vehemently despised.
All of a sudden, invitations started rolling in. Looking back, I realize I received them at the same pace before this point, but I had begun to finally see the potential in them rather than immediately dismiss them. And no matter how far they were, even during peak traffic, I said yes. I went to four clubs I had never been to in one night, met a long lost friend and danced for hours until my dress was soaked with sweat, got propositioned for a foursome and a sugar baby role in the same breath by a D-list celebrity, had my tarot read and approached an emotional breakdown in the middle of a house party of strangers, and ended up in a bikini shoot in a tub on the beach. Wild doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Me a year ago would’ve read this very article I’m writing and scoffed, “That’s not how it would happen for me.” She’s right, saying yes might have you end up in more trouble than you started with. It’s not for everyone, and it was almost not for me. But I hit a low I had never known before, and I really had no better option than to try to search for my elusive joy. I rolled with the punches, spoke to strangers I would never usually approach, and made connections I would have never happened upon if I had just stayed at home, terrified of setting foot in my car and opting to watch Charmed for the millionth time instead.
It was revolutionary for me, to realize that I can go out, find a random person, and immediately connect with them. It was powerful, knowing I could find a way to make it work in even the most bizarre situations. Why had I let myself stay down for so long? If you’re a homebody, I respect your love of comfort, but also don’t forget that there’s a whole world out there waiting to be experienced. It’s easy to get caught up in your routine and turn bitter with the cynical grind of traffic, rude co-workers, difficult family, love troubles, what have you. But one day you might look back and think, “Why didn’t I try that?” And the answer will be because you liked your couch better. For some that’s plenty, but is it enough for you?
Now I’ve come full circle and I create the invitations (character growth!). I bring vegan dark chocolate brownies to co-workers who mentioned they love them, I organize lunch dates with people I haven’t seen in years, I FaceTime distant friends, I buy trinkets that remind me of new friends who might appreciate the thought, and I’m more motivated than ever to pursue my goals in a way I didn’t think was possible. Even though I wouldn’t say my life is drastically different, my approach is. And that’s all it takes to make it feel so much bigger.
So maybe, just maybe, the next time someone wants you to come out for drinks, even if you’re driving or have work early the next day (my two very real excuses), grab a club soda and sit for a chat. You never know just how much nicer your life can get from even just that.