January 2, 2014
Tomorrow is my 31st birthday.
Three-hundred and sixty-four days ago in this space I lamented turning 30 years old, wondering where my twenties went and whether my thirties had anything better in store after a decade of writing about baseball players being past their prime when they reached "the wrong side of 30."
Here's an excerpt from last year's birthday post that delved pretty deep:
I'm as happy and comfortable and content as I've ever been since starting this blog in 2002, but within the context of turning 30 that mostly just has me pondering what happiness and comfort and contentedness really mean. I'm very certain that 20-year-old me would look at 30-year-old me and say don't change a thing you lucky bastard, but suddenly that doesn't seem as important as what 40-year-old me would say.
And so I think about what is fixable and what isn't, which life changes should and shouldn't be made, and perhaps most significantly whether I even want to fix those things and make those changes. I'm very much a creature of routine in every aspect of my life and I'm lucky enough to have carved out a pretty nice routine for someone who prefers to be by himself, in his house, the vast majority of the time. But is that "happiness" or is that just "comfortable"?
Well, my age-30 season was the best of my career. By far.
I kept the weight off for another year--or, more accurately, gained a little back and quickly lost it again--and stayed employed by NBCSports.com writing about baseball, which were my primary 2013 goals. "Gleeman and The Geek" grew in popularity, as an in-season KFAN radio show and then as an offseason podcast with 13,000 listeners per episode. And after years of wimping out I finally convinced myself to write (and tweet) about non-sports topics no matter the response.
Beyond all that I also made the first real effort of my adult life to become more social. I stopped saying no to the vast majority of invitations and even started sending out some invitations of my own. And as podcast listeners and Twitter followers know all too well because being on the wrong side of 30 didn't stop my lengthy over-sharing on the internet career, I've spent much of the past six months drinking and brunching and generally just having fun with other people.
I'm still not exactly in Paris Hilton territory as far as socialites go, but for someone who spent the first 29 years of his life as a hermit and was more or less resigned to living that lifestyle in a way that fit somewhere between "comfortable" and "happy" it represented a massive shift. And you know what? I'm not so sure I can go back to the old way. I mean, there's nothing like making a pretty girl smile.
It's entirely possible that I won't have a choice, of course. Maybe most of my new friends will get sick of me soon and maybe my handful of old friends will too--I honestly don't know--but going out and meeting people and talking and drinking and dating and brunching is incredibly addicting. All of the songs I've always enjoyed from a lyrical and musical perspective? I now get them on an emotional level too.
I used to pride myself on the ability to avoid boredom and find entertainment in doing absolutely nothing. I loved planting myself on the couch to watch television all day or spending hours writing from bed or just endlessly putzing around on the internet. I never got bored. Never. And now? I attempt to pack my schedule and get antsy if two days go by without me being out past midnight. Physically and emotionally it's incredible how quickly the body can adapt to change.
Losing more than 150 pounds was without question the driving force behind my wanting to be more social and my ability to actually accomplish that goal, but another factor was me realizing that I have something to offer. I'm a nice guy who can tell a joke and pay for a drink, and if you put yourself out there in the world other people can see that. If you stay at home, it's impossible. And, like most things in life, the more you practice something the better you get at it.
Previously, in the rare instances of going out, I'd obsess beforehand about how things might go and then obsess afterward about how things did go. I'd replay conversations in my mind, kick myself for doing or not doing something inconsequential, and just generally drive myself insane. After six months of going out multiple times per week and interacting with more people in 2013 than I probably did in the previous 29 years combined, I've gotten over that completely.
Third-string quarterbacks can analyze every throw they've ever made because they so rarely get off the bench, but starting quarterbacks are far too busy actually playing in games to obsess about a specific throw here or there. Ask out enough cute women and the feeling that comes with being rejected ceases to be soul-crushing. Go on enough first dates and the notion of first-date jitters mostly disappears. Pay for enough mimosas and the monthly Visa bills no longer induce fainting.
To be clear, it's not a chicken-or-egg situation. I couldn't have simply decided to become more social without first losing 150 pounds. Or at least I couldn't have decided to become more social and actually have this many people want to be social with me. "Don't judge a book by its cover" is wonderful in theory and certainly something to strive for, but the truth is that sometimes people browsing at the bookstore only see your cover.
Much is made about fat people being mocked in public and that certainly happens, but in my experience as a fat person being ignored was always far more likely. As an obese person you're not even really in the socializing game. You're essentially on the bench, injured. Very few people are ever going to view you as attractive at first glance and many people are going to view you as odd-looking at first glance, and that's tough to recover from.
Being fat kept me from going out and kept me from being comfortable when I was out. For years, each time I took a flight anywhere, I'd approach my seat on the plane with the embarrassment of knowing that the person sitting next to me would be disappointed to see their seat-mate arrive and always introduced myself with some variation of "sorry, you got stuck next to the fat guy." That usually broke the ice and got a polite chuckle, but it was also steeped in truth.
This is why fat people often develop equally over-sized personalities or, at the very least, deeply self-deprecating senses of humor. They're trying to not only form bonds with other people that might come much easier if they presented themselves differently physically, but also to shield themselves from what they're assuming to be the negative thoughts running through other people's minds as they interact.
Personal responsibility is important. You can't weigh 350 pounds with an attitude to match and expect people to view you with a completely open mind. No one has time for that and, at least in my case, the vibe I was putting out to the world often stemmed from my unhappiness with the way I looked and felt. Ultimately everyone wants people to get to know the real them, but the fewer barriers in place the more likely that is to happen.
Let someone sitting next to you on an airplane decide whether to start up a conversation instead of immediately establishing that they're unlucky to be sitting next to you. Let a waitress at a bar decide to engage in a little banter instead of noticing before anything else that you can barely fit in the chair. Let a woman strolling the opposite way down a grocery store aisle make eye contact with a relatively normal-looking person instead of someone struggling to walk around.
And you have to be proactive, too. If you meet someone new and you like them, make that clear to them and then do something about it. If you're attracted to them, ask them out on a date. If you think they'd be an interesting friend, invite them to wherever it is your friends congregate. And gender doesn't necessarily play a role in which category a person fits into. I've had more fun hanging out with groups of women this year than I've ever had hanging out with groups of men.
Female or male, it's about wanting someone in your life and about presenting yourself in such a way that they might want you in their life too. As simple as that sounds now, it wasn't always so apparent to me. Get your shit together, put yourself out there, and let people know that you think they're cute or funny or interesting or smart or whatever it is that makes you want to spend more time with them. That's the lesson I learned between 29 and 31, through trial and error.
I'm still new to this whole being social thing and make plenty of rookie mistakes, but I've come to appreciate those experiences as well and they've helped me understand more clearly what I want for my life. I like people and shockingly some people even like me, which is the sort of epiphany that made me regret wasting so many years being a hermit just because it was more comfortable or easier or less likely to evoke emotions. I'm playing catch-up now, but at least I'm playing.