Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

On not celebrating a holiday – Valentines Day edition

Posted by shannonclark on February 14, 2007

Every year, for most of my life, mid-February has been one of my very low points in each year. In Chicago, the entire month was typically a grey one with little sunlight, cloudy skys, and often streets full of that distinctly Chicago grey mush that old snow becomes rather quickly. I recall entire months of February without seeing the sun, and I would spend most of the month indoors.

In college for one brief year I had a serious girlfriend, Valentines Day was a new experience that year, but also in my memory now, a bit of a signal of what was yet to come in that relationship (which would end just a few months later). Instead of going someplace great, having left the reservations to the last minute (you have to realize it was my first time making a Valentine’s Day dinner reservation – I didn’t realize that even then in the early 90’s it was one of the biggest nights to eat out) we ended up at one of the then two Fondue restaurants in Chicago – and not at the better of the two.

It was not a memorable meal – well memorable only in that it was not particularly good. We then wandered the city a bit, most memorably running into a high school friend of mine when we briefly stopped into an adult store (also a fairly unique experience for me one which however gives rise to greater assumptions about physical intimacy that were, in fact, present in that relationship).

After that year, in the mid-90’s, I did not have a Valentine’s Day date for nearly 10 years. Pathetic, I know, but that’s my dating past. In 2003 I was single, but in 2004, 2005 and 2006 I was dating the same wonderful woman and though we didn’t make a huge deal out of Valentine’s Day, neither did we ignore it. Having someone to share the day with, for whom to buy flowers, to take out, to spend the night with, it was and would be a wonderful thing.

This year unless something shocking and surprising happens, I will spend the evening alone, perhaps dining out, though unlikely anyplace very good (which mostly have special menues and reservations required). If I am smart, perhaps I should spend the evening hanging out in good cafes – anyone else who is there alone on Valentine’s Day night is most likely also single – it could be a good and simple filter. I’m sure there are events tonight for singles – though I don’t know of any at the moment.

I am in a wierd position in my life – though one that is all too familiar. I prefer myself when I am in a relationship, but as a percentage of my life that is only barely more than 10% of my life (yup, I’m math geek among other things). Later this month, perhaps even as soon as next week, the first of my new companies will be ready to open for business – when that happens I will working very hard – spreading the word, demoing the system, selling sponsorships, advertising and lining up partners. Very rapidly I will also be seeking funding for another company, organizing the first of a series of events I will be running this year, and I hope finding time to work on my much delayed book proposal.

On some level that does not leave a lot of time for the details of life (laundry, cleaning, eating and sleeping) let alone meeting a great woman and dating. But it is also quite true that you make time for what is important – even in the midst of all the business aspects of my life, there is still time and room for someone – and my life would be richer for it.

But where and how will I meet her? (who ever she is) That is the mystery for me.

Until I solve that mystery, chalk Valentine’s Day up as yet another holiday I’m not celebrating. I may send a few friends an electronic card later today – to say hi and thank them for their friendships but for this year that’s the extent of it.

Many many years ago I took one of those personality tests – one part of which was supposed to tell you if you were an introver or an extrovert. Every time I have taken that test over the years I have fallen almost precisely as “neither” – making my personality rather rare.

In theory introverts get their energy internally and find large, social gatherings stressful and draining. Extroverts get their energy from others and typically find social gatherings invigorating. That’s a bit of a simplication but I think fairly accurate.

My complication is that I have two very distinct modes. In the one, I am highly withdrawn, even a bit “hermitlike” and I prefer in those times to be alone. When in these moods the idea of a crowd is draining and I avoid large social gatherings, especially in environments such as bars, nightclubs or parties. However as many people who attend events which I organize can attest to, I have a very different mode as well – where being in a crowd does not drain me but instead invigorates me, a mode when I am engaged with the people around me – introducing them to each other and nearly fearless in my ability to engage and talk with others.

It is a puzzle for me – I am a networker, as a friend said of me years and years before I started MeshForum, I am a “nexus” – someone who brings people together. But in many conditions I withdraw from the crowd – alone even when in the crowd I find myself observing others but not engaging. This more typically happens to me in more purely “social” situations than in business ones.

So I do not know if I am an extrovert or an introvert or something else. At times engaging with a crowd feels like diving into the deep end, or taking that first walk off the beach into the ocean – once you have submerged yourself all is well – but until you do you shiver and quiver. For years I would not dance at all, then I finally dived in an enjoyed it – though it has now been many years so I need to resubmerge myself.

But while I would, I think, like to go dancing with the right woman, I don’t think I’m likely to meet a woman (let alone the “right” woman) in a nightclub – and definitely not in a bar (since I only ever have a single drink in an evening, bars aren’t much my scene). A cafe is much more likely – but somehow I’ve always found them mostly hard places to meet people – perhaps it is the laptops or piles of books, or the oft present ipod earbuds, but I rarely these days find myself drawn into conversations with others in cafes.

In Chicago some of my fondest memories, however, are of friendships formed in cafes. The best cafes – my personal rule of thumb states – are those with large tables. The larger the better – these, if they are sufficiently busy, lend themselves to sharing tables with strangers and the conversations that thus arise. The very best cafes also have a cadre of regulars who are there frequently – who know each other and all the employees and whom, over time, you get to know as well.

Here in San Francisco I am sure there such cafes and such friendships – and though I am regular at a number of cafes around town, my interactions with others in those cafes are mostly with people I already know from other venues – not whom I have met in those cafes. In part this is because I am getting older – in my 30’s and cafes are more typically the domains of students. Though given my variety of interests and the somewhat academic flavor of many of them, I likely “pass” as a student often (a reporter in Chicago wrote a story mentioning talking with me in a Starbucks there where he found me reading a PhD thesis I was reading as part of my research into software I was building at the time – he commented that there weren’t many other people he knew who would be found reading PhD theses. For that piece of technology I eventually read over 100 research papers, at least the one PhD thesis and a few master’s theses, as well as a number of books. )

So if you see me later tonight, sitting alone (most likely) at a local cafe, don’t hesitate to say hi. And if, as is most likely if you are reading this, you know me – yes, I’m currently single, hetrosexual, and welcome being set up.

For most of you for whom today is a chance to celebrate with your love (or as in many friend’s cases – loves) enjoy the day & night and be safe.

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