Belonging in a Bar

You know where I’ve seen the most belonging since moving Nashville? In a bar. Sober.

Yes, in a bar downtown, on Broadway where there is a trillion bachelorette parties happening all at once, every Saturday night and most likely I know a solid three people out of three thousand. A place and scenario that usually screams out lack of belonging and ABORT MISSION, PUT DOWN THE BEER AND GO BACK TO YOUR SAFE PLACE. However, for me I found to be the total opposite.
I look around in the sea of people and I see sideways dancing,more drinks spilling on the floor than in mouths, making out against walls and yelling the lyrics to Wagon Wheel. From a birds eye view, it truly just looks like your average bar scene. But if I hone in a little closer I see people pounding down the drinks faster than they can say “I’ll have another”. I see tears. Streams and streams of tears. I hear “fighting words”. I see fighting period. I see people trying to put on their “I’m having the best night of my whole life omg wow” face when in reality they look miserable and that they might find themselves on the bathroom floor at any moment. I see people being ditched by their friends, I see people find their friends after three hours. I see misplaced punches being thrown, and women looking in the mirror longer than they’re actually in the bar. I look and I look and look some more it becomes so apparent to me that being in a bar is the most vulnerable environment I’ve been in since moving here.

Who would have thought that Honky Tonk Central and Tootsies is where I see that I’m not the only one who is broken. I’m not the only one who wants to be heard, I’m not the only one who wishes someone would just lie down in the darkness for a while and hold my hand. I’m not the only one. There are three thousand “me toos” in the room who are all just crying out for belonging using different filters. Being in this bar scene is a lot like my reality. Just a bunch of people putting on fronts to act like we all have our lives together or to make x,y, and z happy. The difference at the bar is people struggle a lot more to keep their fronts together.  If the glue that holds us all together comes crashing down, people are more likely to sit with the pain for a bit instead of scrambling to put the pieces back together before anyone sees.  People are more willing to be seen for the place and state they’re in.

A new favorite thing of mine when going out downtown is not to get drunk. I know, the exact opposite response most Uber drivers and bar tenders usually get. It’s having real conversations with people who are just trying to find belonging like me. Someone is crying? All I have to do is walk up to them and ask them if they’re okay and ask what they need. You know what happens? They cut the bullshit and they tell the truth. They say “no I’m not okay, my friends left me and I’m upset.” They say “no I’m not okay, I had a really shitty week at work and l’m dreading the week so I’m going to forget about it for the night.” They say “no. I just moved here, I know no one and I’m lonely.” They say “My girlfriend of 3 years just broke up with me and I don’t know what to do.” Honesty happens in a bar. The yearning for belonging is just disguised by Blue Moons, shots of Fireball, and long Women’s bathroom lines. Ask a person if they’re okay and they’re in shock. They’re in shock that someone wants them to be heard as much as they want to be heard. From my own observation people want to be truth tellers. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a truth teller all the time, everyday. But out in the real world sometimes, when people don’t always care to ask the hard questions, being a truth teller is really, really scary. Especially when no one else is doing it. As Glennon Doyle Melton said it best, those moments when you put yourself out on the ledge of vulnerability and admit “actually I’m not fine” only to be shut down and realize “oh we’re not doing that here”. But in a bar when people have a hard time keeping their glue together, and just let it be when it falls apart, it’s easier to be a truth teller when you SEE you’re not alone. I guess we are doing that here in a bar. When we do that honest thing, stories and longing for belonging pour out faster than the alcohol.

In my experience, I have found the three most powerful sentences in a bar are not “can I buy you a drink?”, “Let’s get out of here” or “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel” (only in Nashville). They are “That’s so hard, I know what it’s like”, “Me too” and “What do you need right now?”

I found for me, it’s not the most powerful words just in a bar, it’s the most powerful words in this particular season in my life. Those three and a genuine “I love you”. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I’m not the only one.

To the many new warriors I’ve met in the bar, had a life talk with, shared a beer with and a genuine hug….

Me too. This one’s for you. For me. For finding a moment of belonging in the midst of utter chaos.

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