It’s the email list from hell. Day after day, it torments me.
It started years ago when I signed up for Shady Glen’s Daddy & Me group by giving one of the dads my email address. We’d just moved in, I thought it was a nice way to meet other dads, maybe for my kids to meet other kids, and my wife thought it was a nice way to get us out of the house.
The dads would meet at a different house on Sunday mornings, once or twice a month, and the emails would tell us when and where to go.
It was a nice way to meet other dads, but I can’t say any became friends. Some people are friendly, attracted to other people. Others are charismatic, attracting other people. I am neither. Wood in a world of magnets.
And it didn’t help that the Daddy & Me was dominated by a core coterie of close friends. Their tight little clique was highly selective, culling only the coolest candidates from each month’s newcomers, leaving the rest of us to wander about aimlessly, shadowing our kids, pretending to be fascinated by the sand toys while we tried to ignore the huddled mass chatting away and ignoring us.
Over time, the clique grew stronger, strengthened by infusions of cool, while the rejects dropped out and off the list, discouraged by the clique’s constant inattention.
Except me. I wanted to drop out, but my wife wouldn’t let me. When we moved into Shady Glen, I had promised her that I’d do my part to help our family insinuate its way into Shady Glen’s tight little community, forging those communal bonds so crucial to social acceptance. I had thought “my part” would entail my avoiding people, something I’m very good at, clearing the way for my charismatic wife and adorable kids to exert their magnetic charms on the locals. My wife thought differently. If anything, the more I complained about the dominance of the clique, the more she pushed me out the door those Sunday mornings, our social acceptance now hinging on a Quixotic quest to crack my way into the clique.
So I stayed on the list, and the emails kept coming, dreaded harbingers casting a dark shadow over my weekends. I tried to adjust; I’d play with my kids until they found other kids and ditched me, then I’d wander about the yard, surveying its landscape, looking for nooks and crannies in which I could hide. Tucked safely away from the clique, it would’ve been nice to read a book or meander through the Sunday newspaper, but I couldn’t bring a book – it just wasn’t done, and would’ve tipped off my wife to my covertly antisocial behavior – and none of the dads seemed to get the paper.
After a while I figured out that I could download public domain books from the internet into my Blackberry, so I’d sit there, hidden away and hunched over my Blackberry, scrolling through the classics. And if anyone found me, I’d hold the Blackberry, which doubled as a cell phone, up to my ear and pretend I’d wandered away from the group not to avoid it, but merely to take a call. I was a busy man attending to pressing business, not a pathetic loner.
(You may wonder why I cared what they thought, and so did I. It’s a particularly painful conundrum, my need to avoid people while craving their acceptance. But that’s a story for another day.)
Thus I haunted the Daddy & Me, my wraithlike presence rumored but never proven, until about a year later when the emails stopped. At first I assumed the clique had belatedly realized its error and deleted me from the list (“Who the hell is that guy?”), but it turned out instead that many of the kids had grown too old for Daddy & Me and refused to go, leaving the dads without a sanctioned excuse to shoot the breeze on Sunday mornings. So they put an end to it.
And there my tale would have ended too, but for the list.
Soon after, I was working away in my office when an email popped up on my screen: “Vegas! This weekend! Hard Rock! Stag! BYOBabe!” It was from a guy in the clique, and scanning the addresses, it looked like he’d sent the email to everyone on the Daddy & Me list, a list that by then had been winnowed down to the clique and me.
I could’ve replied to all, asking them to remove me from the list, but somehow that seemed unduly churlish, an open declaration of my anti-sociability, so I just deleted it and went back to work.
Emails started pouring in. Let’s play basketball this Saturday! Let’s meet after the game for a party at Rob’s! Who’s up for Friday morning mountain biking? Where is tomorrow’s wine tasting? And each email spawned numerous follow-up emails as plans were changed and details were set and trash was talked. I never responded, still, in a sense, hiding in the foliage.
Thus began a new level of torment, the list sprinkling my days with visions of the good life I wasn’t living. Chained to my desk, I’d picture them riding their bikes on a mountain trail, shooting baskets at the park, watching the game on Scott's new plasma, getting 18 holes in before noon, doing Tequila shots at that dive bar, reserving a restaurant's back room, and I’d wonder where I went wrong. I’d marvel at their freedom, the sort enjoyed only by those lucky few with money and time.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. No, what makes the list almost unbearable is that it reveals, and won’t let me forget, the stark contrast between these healthy social lives, filled with friends, fellowship and camaraderie, and my own life.
I tell myself I don’t need these guys. I tell myself their life is not for me. I tell myself I’d rather be reading, or thinking, than wasting my life with them. I tell myself I have chosen my solitude. I tell myself a lot of things, but as the list sends another friend-filled email into my inbox, I can’t stop this gnawing sense that I’m missing out on something really fundamental.
Man is, after all, a social animal. And the list won’t let me forget it.