Since moving to Australia I’ve pledged to accept pretty much every invitation offered, even although this has occasionally gone horribly wrong. This ‘say yes to everything’ policy means I frequently head out on my own – not every invitation is extended to the Silver Fox, and even if it is, he doesn’t always want to join in.
While this has been a fantastic way of getting to know new people and learning about my adopted home, it has aggravated a phobia I’ve had all of my life – a fear of going into a pub on my own.
If I arrange to meet someone for a night out and will be arriving alone, I will go to ridiculous lengths to make sure I don’t have to meet them inside the venue. I’ll query their transport arrangements with the hope of finding a sensible meeting point at a station or tram stop, or turn up at their house an hour early so I can travel with them. I don’t know what I’m actually scared of, but I suspect it’s a mixture of a fear of not being able to find the venue, coupled with a sense that nice girls don’t sit on their own in bars. The former is a rational reaction to a lifetime of not being entirely sure of my location or which direction I should be walking/driving/cycling in; the latter a stupid idea formed by years of watching films where the only girls sitting alone at the bar are prostitutes.
Melbourne is particularly ill-suited to the nervous solo pub-goer. So many bars are hidden away, down alleyways and up stairs, and you’re never quite sure where you’re going to end up. One I visited recently could only be accessed by a lift tucked inside a (totally unrelated) Chinese restaurant. To get to another, you have to go through an anonymous doorway, head up two flights of stairs, and pass through a different club before reaching your destination on the rooftop. It is, of course, these quirks that make Melbourne’s bar scene so famous, but if I don’t know the place, my anxiety rises with every flight of stairs conquered or floor passed in the elevator.
Things have certainly been made easier by the mobile phone. I can now harangue my soon-to-be-companions with texts, updating my progress towards the venue and confirming theirs, with the aim of magically arriving at the same time. If I’m running early and need to delay my arrival, I can pause in the street and amuse myself on Facebook for a while pretending to be checking urgent work emails. And if I – horror of horrors – actually get to the venue first, and successfully find my way in, I can perch at the bar/in a corner/outside the toilets and nonchalantly check Twitter, as if it were the most comfortable place in the world for me to be.
People I know well are used to my insecurities and make the required allowances. With new friends, however, I have little option but to take a deep breath and head into the unknown, lest they think I am anything less than the confident, hilarious and kind-spirited person I spend my days pretending to be.
This act was put to the test last night when I was invited to watch a (new) friend’s son’s band play at a jazz venue in the CBD. The Silver Fox had planned to come with me, but pulled out at the last minute, overcome by exhaustion caused by a month of early starts to watch the football and a fortnight of late nights watching the cycling. Not only would I have to turn up on my own, once I got there I would only know one of the group of eight or so attending.
But of course it was fine. I turned up first, found myself a seat at the bar and ordered a drink. My phone couldn’t get a signal inside so I had no option but to just sit there, people-watching and enjoying the music. It no doubt helped that it was a jazz bar and not a club frequented by drunken 25-year-olds, but still… When the group I was meeting turned up 10 minutes later, I told one of the women about my ‘say yes to everything’ policy, leaving out the detail of the anxiety attacks it causes. She was lovely, praising my positive attitude and congratulating me for stepping out of my comfort zone. And that’s the point. Every time I do something like this I do step out of my comfort zone, and it’s almost invariably worth it. Last night certainly was. If only my heart rate would listen to my head.