Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I’ve been part of a small online community for 20 years or more. It’s invite only, it predates things like Twitter and Facebook, and these are people who have communicated every day or nearly every day in a group chat since the George W Bush administration. So as you can imagine, the vibes are good at the group is very tight-knit. Inside jokes, in-person meetups, you get the idea.

I haven’t been involved with the group for about a year. Before that, I hadn’t been involved for much longer, maybe about 7 years. I’ve met up with many of these people in real life, so even when I was on hiatus I was talking to some of them in person and online, just not as part of the broader group. And I never left for any huge reason. There was no big blow up. So I recently dropped back into the chat and after two weeks realised why I had left in the first place.

Everyone is lovely! When I returned, people welcomed me warmly. The conversations were still very active, many posts a day across many categories. There were interesting links and engaging banter, and it was all helped along by a culture that can only exist when a bunch of very close people talk every day. So it was great. It was fine. But I seem to be having an allergic reaction to it, besides. There’s a great song about it that sums things up, I think:

You are a China shop and I am a bull
You are really good food and I am full
I guess everything is timing, I guess everything's been said
So I am coming home with an empty head

There’s a certain vibe, and a certain alignment, that I don’t really share anymore. If I ever did. One topic came up, I was the only one representing my point of view. It’s not like people attacked or harassed me, and it wasn’t uncomfortable or awkward. Then it happened again, and again. And it felt like I could speak the language, but I wasn’t fluent in it. It felt like if I had been around for the last 7 years, I’d probably agree with everything everyone was saying. It was like I had let my membership lapse and my card didn’t work anymore. I don’t think I need to return my card or say goodbye. I don’t need it to be a gesture, and I don’t need to leave forever. But like an allergic reaction, my body is clearly telling me something. They’re really good food, but it doesn’t agree with me anymore.

As you get older, it can be harder to backfill friends you’ve drifted away from. New friends don’t have that same foundational root structure that keeps long term conversations going. One friend you’ve known since college will always have some advantages over 20 friends you’ve only known for 1 year. So I’m reluctant to lose touch with older friends, but I’m more reluctant to force something that doesn’t feel right.

Goodbye, quietly.