On Belonging (Or the Realization at Starbucks)

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” -Sir Cecil Beaton

March 22nd, 2012. Davis, California. 3:15PM.

Maybe I’m fooling myself.

I say to myself, “I’m probably sure that’s another flake” as I sit down on the counter.

I’m seated inside a Starbucks. There’s a line of ten students that crawls through the tables. There’s the counter I’m sitting at. There’s a sofa as well. To my right, around five folks are waiting to receive their drink.

I hear, “Next!”

People are studying for their exams. Some of them are eating food and sipping on their Starbucks drinks. There are around thirty folks in the area. I don’t want to bother any of them.

“Caramel Macchiato!”

I just finished my exams and I was going to meet up with someone. I give her a call. No luck since her phone is dead. “That’s alright.”

Stress is hanging in the air. It feels like thick dread. Everyone wants this week to be over.

“Iced Coffee! Make it two!”

I decide to sit here for half an hour because my bus doesn’t come for another 30 minutes anyways.

“Next!”

Looking straight ahead, a girl is finishing her coffee.

Looking even farther ahead, many of the people in line have their iPhones out. One of the girls has been in line for about 10 minutes now. She’s next.

I wonder what she’ll order.

“Skinny latte!”

I doubt she’ll get that. She doesn’t seem like the type.

Everyone looks dazed or bored. Even the guy at one of the other tables is eating his gyro plate really slowly.

I wonder how everyone’s grades are. Will they get the GPA they want? Will they stress out when they have shortcomings? Will they bask in massive parties either way? What will they do for spring break?

“Next!”

Everyone marches one pace forward. The girl in front walks up.

She ends up getting a Naked juice from the prepared drinks area next to the cashier. I never would have guessed that.

More drinks are called out. I’m still here.

A girl glares at me for a second then attends her textbook again. I wonder if she’s bored out of her mind. That’s too bad. I’m not in the mood to approach. She’s my type but I’m not up for it. Not now.

“Next!”

The line marches another pace forward.

The line never really dies down. Another person or two fill it up once the cashier rings up one or two people. Interesting cycle.

I notice a clique of four people behind the line chatting to one another. I also notice another clique of three next to them.

I think, this is what I’m giving up. I don’t get to have that.

It’s nice for it to be in front of me most of the time I’m on campus. All the cliques and subgroups that people enjoy. The Chinese exchange students, the sorority girls, the hipsters, etc.

All of them can broadly understand one another.

“White Mocha!”

All of the previous times I’ve been here, I’ve heard the same conversation over and over.

“Hey, how is your x class?”
“It’s going okay. You?”
“Yeah it’s cool.”

Sure, the majors are different. The classes are different. The time is different. But is it really that different?

Maybe some majors have to work harder than others but everyone has a general pattern.

The days tend to blend into one another. Wake up, bus or bike to class, go to internship or job (if they have one), study somewhat, hangout with their group of friends, and if the weekend is on the horizon, go to a party or bar. After every few weeks, study more since the exam is coming up.

I do that too. Maybe I’m just bored.

“Next!”

To fight the boredom, I try to chat with strangers now. That’s the thing that keeps it fresh. It keeps college interesting.

I like making people smile. I like giving compliments. I like chatting for a minute about style. I like teasing and flirting just like a friend would.. I like talking about sports just like a bro would.

Yet nobody understands why I chat with them. They’re fleeting interactions and they’ll go on their way. They’ll go on with their lives.

“Caramel Frappuccino!”

Maybe I’m trying to slightly break their routine. Maybe there’s a moment where they can stop looking at their iPhones so much and talk face to face with a real human being.

I suppose it takes too much effort. Humans are well-known to take the easiest path. Why talk to that cute girl when the cute girl in your clique is easiest to flirt with and date?

Maybe it’s because people truly feel comfortable with themselves. They understand and like their identities. They enjoy the comfort that their clique brings.

It’s not comfortable to go up to somebody random and chat with them. It’s actually difficult, especially in the beginning. There has to be context usually. A friend of a friend or a common interest.

It comes down to the greatest disease of people my age: The fear of awkwardness.

People would rather pass that great opportunity to connect with a stranger than to feel awkward. It’s easier to grab their iPhones and read their Facebook news feed.

“Next!”

Maybe I’m the only one who randomly chats with people.

People don’t understand the openness of the world once you can potentially talk to anybody. It’s adding in the element of randomness. It’s free fun and enjoyment.

Why don’t people leave their cliques?

Because it means you won’t be understood. Belonging is an essential need.

The rush of sadness comes through.

The feeling of belonging and being understood is what I’ll have to give up.

Staying in one clique would be the safe play. It would make my life easier. Joining a club or group would make things infinitely easy.

But I chat with strangers. I enjoy meeting folks that look terribly different from me. I enjoy traveling through people.

It’s a challenge because you may not be welcomed. People enjoy their comfortable social bubbles.

Maybe I’m fooling myself with this whole connectivity thing. Still, it’s worth a shot.

I must keep going to see if it’s possible.

To fall in love with this art form is something few will understand, but this imaginative vision must be attempted.

I smile as I walk out of Starbucks and towards my bus.

Even though I got flaked,

“Next!”

——
[Disclaimer: This entry is inspired from Sebastian Marshall’s The Million Dollar Question Post. With e-mail permission, I wrote in ode to that amazing piece.]

6 comments
Jake
Jake

, great blog. I see this everyday, people in a bubble, zombies I call them. No smile, no energy, no nothing. It's why I like to WAKE them up sometimes, I'll make a fool of myself or something. Most people I noticed, that are this way are anxious, they have social anxiety, afraid of rejection but who isn't? It's normal this day in age I guess. :PS Who really cares about bold and all that stuff, really?

Anon
Anon

I really liked the way the story flowed, just like the line at Starbucks. I was waiting the whole time for you to have a conversation with a stranger, but you did say that you weren't in the mood for it. I did enjoy your theory about why the majority of college students don't talk to strangers. Personally, I think a large part of it is fear of strangers, something that we all did grow up with. I think you overused bold and italic and had way too many paragraphs. I do see the strength of that style though, because it was very easy for me to read as well as gripping. Overall, great blog post, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your stories.