Bwana Spoons
I am now officially an expert.

After trying online personals, going on singles cruises, and attending NINE weeks (okay, it was only four) of a class at PCC entitled "Meet Fun People," I am now an expert in the "alternative" ways of making new acquaintances--and I'm done with all of them. I will now happily return to my usual tactics of making new friends: drunken bar interactions, half-drunken bar interactions, and meeting people at work--which, more often than not, is still a drunken interaction.

While "Meet Fun People" was a community college course which promised to instruct me in the arts of reading body language, effective communication skills, and flirting, I mistakenly assumed most of those enrolled were taking the class because they were "just curious." Turns out no. Many of the people--most in their mid- to late-thirties--were referred by therapists or their work. (Not surprisingly, many of the students are employed at Intel.) The class, while also being a form of therapy for the reclusive or shy, seemed primarily intended to assist those shut off from the speaking world by the demands of their jobs and/or computers.

At the beginning, the group was endearing. During our very first exercise, we each stood up in front of the class while the other students were instructed to write down their first impressions of us. I found this extremely nerve-wracking, and was hoping none of the students staring at me were writing in big block letters: "F A T."

When the instructor handed us our list of first impressions, however, mine said things like, "Hippie" or "Young" or "Just getting started" or "Computer programmer" or "Unconventional" or "Should dress more expensive" or "Yoga person" and "Hiding self with book." In other words, things which I am obviously not. Besides, I'm too fat to hide behind a book.

At the end of this first class, the instructor said if the men wanted to, they could get up in front of the class and ask the women to critique their outfits. This was just adorable. One guy asked if his cell phone holder looked good, and the women responded, "Actually, it's kind of dorky"--but without malice; they were sincerely trying to help the guy look better and get more chicks.

LET ME HEAR YOUR BODY TALK

Later on, we talked about body language. Don't hold your drink in front of you or cross your arms, you look uninviting; when someone points their toes at you, that means they like you; if women touch their hair, it usually means, "I find you attractive."

We talked about introducing yourself to people; how no one will crucify you for saying, "Hi, my name is so and so," and how women thwart their chances of meeting men by closing off into an exclusive circle of girlfriends.

We talked about the importance of asking questions and being a good communicator; people who are constantly saying "I think" are unskilled communicators; people who talk all the time (often men), or don't talk at all (often women) are also unskilled; and how if you want to be a good communicator, repeating some of what your partner said makes them feel understood.

It was odd, because for a group of people supposedly unable to meet anyone, many of my classmates were completely unabashed about speaking in front of a gathering of 30 or more. While there were a few wallflowers like myself, most of the group happily chatted away, sharing stories of making out with a woman in their car this weekend, or bringing someone home after a night at the dance club--things I would tell my friends, but never a group of strangers.

The instructor often introduced exercises intended to hone our newfound skills. When we learned about flirting, the women were asked to try out our flirting prowess on the men; pointing our toes, crossing our legs, flipping our hair, making eye contact--but this grossed me out. I didn't want to flirt with people I didn't want to flirt with, so I'd end up talking to the one guy my age about his college courses.

Then, if I did end up talking to anyone else, we'd sort of pathetically chat about the class and more often than not, how they had taken it before. If I revealed anything in particular about my social life--that I was busy, that I had friends, that I went out to see music--my partner would inevitably say, "Well, why are you here?" which would piss me off. (Isn't the best way to learn about meeting people by hanging around people who meet people?)

"Why are you here?" I'd say back. When I asked one smug class member this, he said someone at work had told him about the class, and this was his second time taking it.

I asked, "Do you work at Intel?"

"Yes," he replied.

"What? Do they bus you guys out here?" I laughed.

He quickly ended our conversation and found someone else to talk with who was more fun and less rude.

CHOCOLATE AND BUSINESS CARDS

After a few weeks of constant scrutiny, I was getting really sick of the class. The teacher would single me out: "Katie, you're being awfully quiet," or "There's Katie, trying to be invisible again," or to everyone, "You're not going to learn anything from this class by writing in your little book." I started to feel like I was under attack. Even worse, I began to feel like the class was only there to provide a forum where students could meet other socially inept people to screw.

Every Friday evening after class, many of the students would go out for beers to "practice their skills." The teacher also hosted a big Saturday night party at his house where old and new "Meet Fun People" students gathered to enjoy libations and mingle. Old students were encouraged to come into new classes to scope out prospects or brush up on skills.

Besides the fact I was ostracized, the class was also starting to annoy me because the teacher was making ridiculous generalizations. Ex.: "If a man wants to get a woman's attention, just talk about chocolate," and that if you want to meet someone, you simply must have a business card. And if you don't have a business card, then get an information card (name, phone number, email) to hand out to possible mates.

Now, c'mon. Other than the Holocaust, could there possibly be anything worse than some cheesy guy in a cheap suit handing you his business card? Or even more horrifying, an "information card"? I'm sorry, but that plumbs the depths of desperate and creepy.

BRING THE FUN

The way I figure it, the only problem with the people in "Meet Fun People" is they're looking for the quick fix. They're reclusive, and they're lonely (just like everyone from time to time), but basically they're normal, nice people who need to find some hobbies--besides going to a class that tells them how to meet people. And it doesn't help when the instructor sets up a constant safe zone for his students. Besides the comfy confines of the class, there are the chaperoned bar outings, and the house parties padded with recycled students. Instead of encouraging the baby birds to leave the comfy nest of the classroom in search of their own kind, the course seems stuck in an endless loop; helping self-help junkies who feel comfortable in their self-help group to interact with self-help junkies who feel comfortable in their self-help group.

But I can't say I walked away from "Meet Fun People" empty-handed. I've learned to reduce defensive maneuvers; crossing my arms, holding my drink in front of me, and dominating conversations with my incessant selfish ranting. The class even made me assess my own "fun-ness" level--which perhaps could be brought up a notch or two.

And perhaps most importantly, during the exercises I realized that talking to a perfect stranger is one of the most frightening things you can do--even in the safety of the classroom. And how, without a social network, meeting people (much less "fun" people) could feel totally hopeless. I mean, what did people do before the internet?

But my most important lesson was learned the day I decided to leave the class: You can't force the fun. Example: Though it may sound fun, don't take a straight-laced frat guy to Three Sisters and buy him a lap dance. Don't try and make a boring configuration of friends "fun" with pot; you'll just end up in the midst of a decidedly unfun marijuana freakout.

And if you think it would be fun or funny to take a class on meeting fun people, you oughta know better; no one can teach the fun.