Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 8 February 2016

A Night Out with the Girls

OK.. Well, to begin with there were only two of us, but this was a rare event for me.

It’s been a long time, a very long time since I did this, and how times have changed.

It’s not that I’m anti-social, but I don’t really do crowds and I don’t really do strangers, and I have virtually no smalltalk.

I do like people, though… I really like people. People don’t always like me. They often find me a bit odd and confusing. I think that’s to do with my interest, my engagement with almost any subject, and I think it’s to do with my almost total lack of filters. I’ve tried to do something about these things as I’ve got older, and I’ve succeeded to some small degree, but I can still be a little daunting to strangers… I daunt people; I know that I do, and I try very hard not to.

Anyway, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, and I don’t know a lot of people, so the whole big night out thing isn’t something I ever really do, and it’s not something I’ve done since I left university… not really.

I had my kids in my twenties and big chunks of my life have been pretty complicated, and then there’s the husband. It’s worth remembering that we both work alone, from home, so we don’t, as other people do, have colleagues, and we don’t have a work place, and we don’t meet people in the general course of our lives. Add to that the fact that we work a lot, and you’ll begin to get the picture that we’re veritable hermits. Even the people we actively count as friends we don’t actually see on a regular basis. 

Frankly, when it comes to being sociable, we’re pretty pathetic.

I do, however, have one or two women friends. I see them mostly intermittently, but I do enjoy their company when I get to spend time with them, even though it tends to be infrequently.

One of those friends is single, and her social life is massively compromised because her work takes her all over the World. She’s never still, rarely home, and never in one place for long enough to meet anyone. She lives out of a suitcase, except that she lives about a mile from me. Keen to do better socially, to do something regular and normal, she asked if I’d go for a drink with her on Friday night. Of course, I agreed.

My friend chose a pub restaurant in a local village. I’ve eaten lunch there a few times and it’s very civilised. I quite expected that we’d buy drinks, perhaps exchange a few words with other drinkers at the bar. Find somewhere to sit down, have a convivial evening and probably meet some new people.

The '80s when going out meant meeting people
What I didn’t expect was largish groups of very young people, traipsing from the bar to the outside space every half an hour for a smoke. What I didn’t expect was standing room only. What I didn’t expect was backs turned, closed groups and no one to pass the time with. What I didn’t expect was girls in leather skirts and thigh boots hanging on skinny boys’ conversations. What I didn’t expect was to be the oldest person in the place by a couple of decades, particularly as we’d deliberately gone out of town and to a very up-market area.

I’m married, and I’m content. I don't have a lot of friends or acquaintances, because my life isn’t set up for that, but I’m perfectly happy. On the other hand, if I wanted to make friends or meet people, I’d assumed that I’d be able to do it. I assumed that my friend was making a sensible move when she invited me to the pub with her on a Friday night.

We perched at the end of a fully occupied table on a couple of stools that we managed to commandeer, drank a glass of wine each and talked about the situation. This clearly wasn’t a good way to meet people, but we weren’t ready to give up. There was another pub on the other side of the village green, so we wandered across to it, bought another glass of wine each, and managed to get a table by the door.

The situation wasn’t very different at the new location. Most of the patrons were couples and groups. They’d come out together and were sticking together. There was no room in their lives for anyone new. Casual social interaction doesn’t happen in pubs on the weekend anymore, at least not these pubs.

I’m pretty easy going… That’s not actually true. I’m moderately socially anxious. I overcome that, though. I simply remind myself that no one’s very good at meeting new people, but the worst that can happen is a rejection, so I smile and I speak anyway. A simple hello isn’t the end of the World. In a more formal situation, I’m fairly confident about sticking out my hand and giving someone my name.

I’ve been in rooms with John Noble, Sir Terry Pratchett and Joss Whedon and been the first to step up and smile with my hand sticking out while others have shied away from contact, simply because they didn’t have the confidence. I can be bold or at least friendly when I feel there’s no harm in making an approach. I don’t remember an occasion when I wasn’t met with warmth.

Drinkers in a local pub on a Friday night in Kent can pretty well freeze a person out. I don’t think it’s deliberate, exactly, there simply was no opportunity to speak to anyone. Everyone was ensconced in an established social group and there was no room for interlopers. Besides, there were no groups that it would have been appropriate to interact with.

The internet is a wonderful thing. I approve of it. I use it all the time, for everything. I’m exploiting it now to get my thoughts across to you.

I wonder, though, how much it has changed how we interact socially. 

My friend and I discussed how we might strategise her social life, and we had to come to the conclusion that she needed the internet. It seems to be how single people organise their lives now.

Over the years, I made friends and met boyfriends through my social groups, by going out and through work, when I had a place of work. I met my husband through my brother. I met one boyfriend in a laundrette for goodness sake. Does that ever happen any more?

I met one good friend because we were in the same art class and another because she’s the wife of one of the husband’s friends. I met another through my sister-in-law. I still have a couple of friends from university. One of my women friends is the sister of a man I met in a pub, because we both happened to be regulars on the same quiet night, and I’m friends with him too. I particularly like a woman I met at a mutual friend’s birthday party and another who’s the wife of a writer I met at a convention. Some of these connections take a little effort, of course, but they have to be worth it.

Tinder and Grinder take no effort at all, and they’re based on appearance. And then, of course, there’s FaceBook and the other social networks that keep kids attached to the people that they would otherwise naturally shed and move on from as they make their way through their lives. But maybe there are other things, too. Maybe there are better ways to meet people our age, people that share our interests and our ideologies. I hope so, because I have a friend who is in want of a more fulfilling social life.

I expect to take part of this journey with her. It’s going to be interesting, and, who knows, maybe I’ll find some interesting people along the way too, maybe I’ll make a friend or two, because I’d bet my life there are an awful lot of people out there who’d be more than willing to share more of their lives with people like them and like my friend.


  1. "I think that’s to do with my interest, my engagement with almost any subject...,"

    I don't really understand people who aren't interested in everything: I know intellectually they exist, but am always surprised when someone can only sustain three different topics of conversation.

  2. What we perceive humanity to be and what we've actually become are two very different things.
    I try with all my might, not to lose faith, not to lose hope but every time I've peeked under that blanket, there's been a large and ugly monster lookin' back at me.
    I want to change the world but until then, I'll understand if people build a twelve foot brick wall around themselves and pour burnin' oil on all approachers.