The label “social butterfly” often gets used as a criticism. But in the essence of transparency, I will admit that I own this label with a little bit of pride. Being out, seeing friends and acquaintances, and meeting new people - that social energy just fills my spirit and I don’t see that as a bad thing.
Now I will admit that I am also fairly shy. I know this sounds like a contradiction with having just admitted to being a social butterfly AND also being someone who regularly takes his clothes off. But it’s true. And trust me, taking my clothes off is more of a struggle than you might think.
This weird shy-butterfly combo presents a bit of a challenge. When invited to a house party, I will gladly accept the invitation. But after I arrive, things can get tricky. If I know lots of people at said party, then I am ready to roll. If I know very few people, it’s like my butterfly kryptonite. I instantly turn into a wallflower.
The really outgoing social butterflies can push past this. They have the gall to just go up to random people and introduce themselves as if it were easy. I do not have such gall. Unless someone gives me that solid, friendly eye contact that says “Hi, I would like to meet you,” my gall just screams “ABORT! ABORT!” and then makes me spill my beverage while everyone watches.
Fortunately, there are some annual events where this is less likely to happen. For instance, a friend, named Jeremy, hosts an annual summer BBQ where I flourish. He and I know many of the same people. And the folks I don’t know often give me those solid, friendly eye contacts.
It helps that everyone he invites are also gay men. Those eye contacts can come from a place of flirtation. They now say “Hi, I would like to meet you. And I might also want to lick you.” That’s the opposite of a butterflies kryptonite (whatever that may be). Social butterflies really love it when people want to lick them. Or at least I do.
So when Jeremy’s BBQ rolled around this last summer, I sent in my RSVP ASAP. At the previous BBQ, I had a blast reconnecting with old friends and flirting with new ones. And over this last year, I had become a bit of a homebody. My inner butterfly was starting to feel deprived. I seriously needed this.
A few weeks later, Luke saw it on the google calendar we share. “Oh no,” he said. “Jeremy’s BBQ is the same day as Zoe’s birthday.”
By “oh no,” he most likely meant “oh good.” Luke is not a social butterfly. He is a proud introvert. A night on the couch with a giant mug of wine sounds way better to him than a house party with tons of chit-chat - even the flirty kind.
Zoe’s birthday would be different. She was one of the kids Luke worked with back when he started a ministry for disabled children. She had a severe case of Cerebral Palsy - a disorder that severely impairs a person’s motor skills. Like many folks with CP, this girl was bound to a wheelchair and could hardly speak.
Luke has stayed in touch with Zoe through Facebook ever since he left the ministry years ago. For HIS birthday last year, he asked people to donate money so that she could attend Project Walk - a program that helps teach people with disabilities how to walk.
“We can’t miss this,” he said. “Zoe is turning thirty and the family is hosting a BBQ. I want you to finally meet her. She wants to meet you too.”
But what about all the men at Jeremy’s BBQ who might want to lick me? I thought. However, you cannot tell your partner (who is clearly a saint to others) that you’d rather go to a BBQ where you can flirt with dudes than go to a BBQ of his dear disabled friend.
So instead, I said, “You are absolutely right. We HAVE to go to Zoe’s birthday. Now… how can we finagle this so that we can go to both BBQs? Both of them start at the same time.”
Luke (who is also a saint to me) figured out a compromise. We would go to Zoe’s birthday first for one hour. Then after that, head to Jeremy’s BBQ. This would make us an hour and half late to his gig, but the gays have a tendency to be fashionably late anyway. So this could work out nicely.
In truth, I did want to meet Zoe. I had spent the previous decade working with people with disabilities in my social work job and I understood the humbling gift it is to spend time with people who don’t have all the same advantages as you do. That being said, I dreaded this BBQ because I wouldn’t know anyone and therefore my shy side would kick me into automatic wallflower mode.
Apparently, just like the gays, people with disabilities can also have a tendency to be late. We arrived before any of Zoe’s other friends. Luke let me know ahead of time that people often talk to Zoe as if she is a child. But she has a fully functional brain. Because of the CP, she just can’t fully verbalize herself like an abled adult.
Upon meeting Zoe, I tried my best not to talk slowly and loudly at her face. She grunted the phrase “Nice to meet you” and we tried shaking hands. The family had a beautiful home and we sat in the backyard, catching up, while waiting for others to arrive.
Zoe would ask me a question in an effort to get to know me, a gesture that can be kind of rare at some parties (especially with the gays). Unfortunately, I struggled to understand what she was saying. With Luke having worked with her for many years, he could translate. This human interaction began putting a genuine smile on my face - filling my spirit in a new kind of happiness that was different from those other parties.
The next guest to arrive was a young woman (along with her mother) who had a severe case of Autism and was non-verbal. I found myself floundering in yet another introduction. But some time later, this girl walked on over to me.
She stuck one hand in her mouth while using the other to grab my hand. She pried my fingers open and steadied my palm upward. Then, she took her other hand out of her mouth and slapped mine as if we were doing a drooly high five. I immediately busted out laughing. Her mother said she didn’t typically warm up to people so fast.
I excused myself saying that I needed to go get a beer. Really, I went to the kitchen to go thoroughly wash my hand. No one else would actually notice that I returned with a bottle of water and wasn’t drinking. Except for Zoe’s mother. She really REALLY wanted to make me a margarita.
More guests arrived, one of which was a young man who also had Cerebral Palsy. You could instantly tell that he and Zoe had crushes on each other. Seeing the two of them flirt was far sweeter than any flirting I would be doing later that evening.
Suddenly, Luke leaned in and whispered, “The hour is up. We should go.”
“What?” I said. “Already. We JUST got here. Let’s stay a little bit longer. We will make it to Jeremy’s in a bit.”
This completely caught Luke off guard. Hell, it even surprised me. In all of my years of working with people with disabilities, I kept my relationship with my clients strictly professional. I didn’t socialize with them. But I guess ministry is different from social work in that sense. And now I saw what Luke saw.
Butterflies (the actual insect), go through an bizarrely weird evolution - unlike any other animal out there. They start out in an egg and go on to become a caterpillar. When the caterpillar is fully grown, they wrap themselves up in a cocoon to hibernate for five to twenty-one days. Then they turn into a freakin butterfly. THAT’S INSANE!
While writing this, I realized that I need to get my ass to that butterfly pavilion that I have never been to. I have also realized something else; I had quite possibly undergone my own evolution.
If I was to be totally honest, my need to be a more flirty butterfly most likely came from a need for validation. You might be rolling your eyes and saying “duh” right about now. But oftentimes, these things are less obvious to those who are doing it.
Having become a home body might have been like my own little cocoon hibernation. Perhaps spending more time in the simple presence of my partner taught me how to chill out and enjoy other, more soft-hearted things in life than just that of rubbing shoulders (or other things) with my fellow gays. This isn’t to say that I went on to abandon all of my flirty butterfly ways. But now at Zoe’s party, it just didn’t feel like such a priority anymore.
Though, as more of her friends arrived, Zoe got more involved with them and it made sense that we go ahead and move on. We arrived to Jeremy’s two hours late and, in typical fashion, we ended up being right on time. While the cheese dip was gone, the grill was just getting fired up.
At the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel so fucking fortunate for my life. Though, this time, it wasn’t just because I can be a flirty butterfly and Luke doesn’t get jealous; it was because I can move my own limbs at my own will - and what a blessing it is to spend time with those who can’t.
After my good hibernation, I learned something about my fear of becoming a wallflower. Sure, it can happen and it sucks, but if we don’t venture into new territory, we risk just fluttering around the same kinds of plants. And as being a social butterfly goes, I prefer having a more balanced sense of flight
Edited by Glen Trupp
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