When you’re on a hunt for a new best friend, one of the key moves is to sign up for various activities. I wouldn’t say every activity—some perfectly glorious events just don’t lend themselves to socializing—but you’d be surprised how many different organizations base their entire evenings around ending up at a bar for a bonding session. Since January, I’ve signed up for mixer events ranging from straight mingling to volunteering to theater to running. This fall I’ll do my first religion-and-socializing group.
One of the most fascinating aspects of infiltrating all these worlds has been to see how passionate a subsociety exists within each one. They’re like fraternities with a twist. Special languages, internal politics, even their own forms of hazing. I kid you not.
Take last night. A new friend invited me to join her for a Hash House Harriers run in Chicago. I had no idea what I was getting into. Because I didn’t have time to do my own research, I said yes before I really knew what I was saying yes to. All I knew was that hashers (as they’re called) are self-proclaimed “drinkers with a running problem.” I took this to mean that there would be some running, and then later there’d be some drinking. Turns out the drinking—and socializing—happened before, during and after the run. Other things I didn’t know till I showed up: Everyone goes by a code name—my run included Bubbles, Corn Star, Horny, and Rumpspringa; there is a song—usually a dirty one—for every occasion, and there’s an entire hashing vocabulary, one that would take me six months, at the very least, to master.
Similar insider knowledge—vocab, politics, inter-org relationships—has emerged in other activities. At lunch after my One Brick outing, I listened in on a conversation about who got to be EM and EC, and who wanted the positions but were rejected (EC is event coordinator and EM is event manager, though none of the insiders used the full titles). Improv, which is definitely growing on me, comes with its own set of VIPs. And when I went to showtunes night at a gay bar last Sunday (totally my mother ship calling me home), I felt like an outsider since I wasn’t in on the call and response for each song.
There’s something fascinating—and reassuring—to the concept that no matter what you like to do, there is almost certainly a community out there dedicated to it. And that in each community there are die-hards, occasional members, and the people who fall everywhere in between.
In one sense these cultish subcultures are reminiscent of the college greek system. They include secret society hooplah that you must know in order to feel a part of the group. The non-sorority aspect of it though is that anyone can join. You don’t have to rush or be chosen. If you want to run around town with the Hash House Harriers (any town! It’s worldwide), you’ll be welcomed with open arms. They love Hash virgins. Believe me, I now know this to be true.
Inside jokes and knowledge, when you know them, are the fastest track to feeling included. Over these months I’ve learned that the organizations with all these “secrets” are almost always the same ones that people are most passionate about. Participants who are fluent in hashing, say, are super comfortable at the event. Then there’s me, the random girl in the corner who only understands every third word. But the more you feel a part of a society, the more loyalty you feel toward it. And suddenly you’re going back every week, and you have to fend of the potential BFFs with a stick.
Have you witnessed other subcultures—speechmaking, yoga, rollerblading—that have a subsociety of dedicated members? Were you put off by them, or were you eager to join in? I feel like these communities, once you find one you like and immerse yourself, make the BFF search easier by giving a sense of belonging. Do you agree or am I crazy?