It had started snowing by the time we got to the house. It had rained all day, and there were weather warnings for the night and next day. Since Chris and I are both Midwestern, and most importantly, the car was Midwestern, we weren’t super worried. At least, not about that.
We were trying a new small group for the first time. It was connected to Chris’ church, and there were going to be food and games. I was relieved, because it meant I didn’t have to share anything too personal and deep, which it something I have a tendency to do when someone asks me. The last small group we had gone to, I had essentially relayed my whole story with depression, which fascinated the small group leader, like he had never met someone with depression before. He was perfectly nice and appropriate and everything, but I felt really on the spot.
So, I could easily avoid the life history if I wanted to. I started to get really nervous when we went to the door. I could hear children’s voices. When we rang the doorbell, a gaggle of kids opened it. Neither Chris or I really knew what to say. “Hi, we’re here for the small group” didn’t seem quite right, given our audience. The kids screamed, “People are here!” and then proceeded to close the door.
“Just go in,” I told Chris.
“They’re holding the door shut,” he replied.
After an agonizing minute or so, an adult human woman opened it. She had a baby tied to her chest and was extremely pregnant. She had an odd look (at least, I thought it was odd), like she was expecting us to try and sell her something.
“Is this the church small group?” Chris asked.
“Yeah! Come on in!”
We all introduced ourselves and went to the kitchen, where more introductions occurred. I quickly deduced that they were all dads, and it was their brood who had tried to shut us outside. For her sake, I was glad they weren’t all the kids of the woman who opened the door, but that meant that Chris and I were currently the only adults in the room who were not parents. Well, us, and the young guy whose zipper fly was down. I spent the next ten minutes or so trying to make my body as small as possible so kids would stop crashing into me, and sending a telepathic message to Chris to signal to Zipper Fly to zip up. I was not successful in either.
A few more people came, and with them, children. I became more and more uncomfortable. When it was time to eat, everyone stood staring at the food for what felt like an eternity, not wanting to go first.
“This is very Midwestern,” I murmured to Chris.
When we finally ate, Chris and I went first, because we were “the guests.” It was subtle, but then I realized that we were the only ones considered guests. That felt weird. I asked if we were all going to eat at the table in the room next door.
“Sit wherever! Make yourself at home!” the man of the house said.
Chris and I went to sit at the table and waited for the others to join us. No one came. I could see them, standing in the kitchen and eating. If I was someone else, I would have gotten up and went back into the kitchen, but I was not confident in my ability to hold a plate and eat. The kitchen was small, and with all the adults and assorted children running around, it was pretty much assured that I would drop my food everywhere.
Eventually, someone did come out. We had a painfully awkward conversation about where we were from, stuff to do in Oregon, and believe it or not, pressure cookers. I became absurdly enthusiastic sharing my knowledge, as if I was a salesperson for the Instant Pot. Another person came out and stood by the table. More painful conversation. All the while, two kids played with their fishing game at the table with us, lightly arguing about who had caught what fish. Eventually, both adults left because their kids needed food/help with the bathroom. I did not expect them to return.
At this point, I had checked out. We had not even reached the “game” portion of the evening, and I was dreading it. But I wasn’t going to say anything. Chris already knew how picky I was about people, so I wasn’t going to be the jerk and make him leave. To my surprise, he said he was going to make an excuse about work, so we could leave. We took our plates to the kitchen and Chris made his announcement. It triggered a few questions about what his career, and I realized that in our two conversations, they had always asked Chris what he did, but never me, even when the opportunity was right in front of them. We had only started talking about pressure cookers because Chris had brought up my freelance writing on my own and my newest project. I chose to not see it as sexism in action, but rather an indication of just how bad people are at talking to each other. The man of the house said we should come back another time.
“Definitely!” Chris said.
We got in the car and I declared that I needed hot chocolate. As I sang along to the radio, I noticed Chris had not spoken. He didn’t speak the entire drive, and even forgot where we were going, so we went to a different Dutch Bros than usual. When we got home and changed into our comfy clothes, I asked him if everything was okay.
“I’m just disappointed,” he said.
He didn’t talk much the rest of the night. I realized that the reason I didn’t feel anything about the bust of an evening was that I didn’t really expect anything. I knew what it was like to feel incredibly uncomfortable (and unwelcome) somewhere. I’ve been to my share of youth groups and churches, and had anxiety long enough to know what it feels like when an entire house seems to want to expel you from its walls. Chris isn’t that way. He’s endlessly gracious about people and optimistic about every situation he goes into. I sometimes think I would like for Chris to have a rough time somewhere so he can relate to me more, but seeing him so disappointed and quiet…it kind of broke my heart. I wanted him to be chatty and goofy with the dog. I wanted him to be himself again.
I think we should start our own small group. No kids. Read interesting books. Go do volunteer work. Be intentional about building a spiritual community that questions and builds up. I would sign up.