My atheist meetup group - not going so well. So it goes.

For the past 2 or 3 years - forget how long - I've been going to a monthly atheist meetup group in my town.  Mostly it's been great.  I would spend the entire month looking forward to it, and when I could not go, it felt like withdrawal.  Some of the locations were a 45 min drive, and even that didn't stop me.

Mostly we have been in a few local restaurants.  It changed recently because the meeting place went under.  Now at a pizza place, which is fine.  I don't know how many people go - 10, 15 , 20 maybe.

Here's what happened.  What I like the most, other than the pure letting down barriers because of being around other atheists, is the chaos.  Multiple conversations going on at the same time.  I could drift from one to another.  I felt like I was making friends and getting to know people.  Even though it's been around a big table, or tables arranged as a big table, it breaks into various conversations, with different people talking about their experiences, or their ideas, or whatever.  

During the past 3 meetings, one member has wanted to reign in the chaos.  He wants one person speaking at a time, with the rest of us listening.  I spoke up against that, because (a) I don't like speaking to a large group and (b) the richness of multiple conversations would be replaced by serial pronouncements, and (c) it's too formalized for me, after working all week in a structured formal setting.    At the last meeting, it was decided to split the meeting,  half in 2 groups of discussions, and half in one big group.  At the time, that seemed like a compromise.  Then they said we would divide into two big tables, then they would merge into one big table.  So the 2 tables, I suppose, would still have limitations on discussion.

I understand change, and I'm fine with it.  There is nothing in the universe that doesn't change.   If that's what they want, go for it.  But it's not for me.  I've been thinking about this for almost a month.  It's starting to feel like a "meeting" instead of a social gathering.  A "support group" or even a "committee meeting".  With more rules, and the "one person speaks at a time" makes it sound like a productivity meeting at work.  Arrggh.  Vomit time.   Just what I don't need on the weekend.

So I've quietly quit the group.  It was my only reason to be on Meetup.com - the various notices from meetup were starting to annoy me too.  I'm in the process of changing that email address for unrelated reasons (Yahoo is really irritating these days), and I thought, why bother changing my meetup account?  I'll just delete it.  So I did.  Reading this makes me sound like a curmudgeon.   Maybe I am.

It's too bad.  I wish them all well.  I'm not angry or upset at anyone.  Maybe frustrated at the guy, who kept stopping the meeting and insisting that we have one conversation at a time, but not really much.  He seemed nice too.  Change happens.  I sincerely like most of the people there.  In fact, I offered to host the meeting at my house, but it was felt that would change the meeting dynamic.  I can't handle the idea of an organized "meeting".   In fact, I've been dreading the next one.  So it's time to step aside.

So it goes.  Peace and good will to everyone, it's been a nice time.

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Comment by Sentient Biped on September 4, 2013 at 8:15pm

Joan,

Thanks for your insights.  The conversations here are much deeper and more thought out than the ones in the group.  It's also a more free form conversation.  So it does mean a lot to me.

From time to time I sill think about the local group, but not enough to re-sign-up on meetup and go.  The last meetings were just too frustrating.  The unfortunate feeling I still have is that a couple of people wanted to dominate and would not tolerate "side conversations", while the "side conversations"  were the main reason I was there.

Comment by Joan Denoo on September 3, 2013 at 11:20pm

Daniel, I just read this piece and I experience the same kind of frustration with my Wise Women group. I received great support from them over the years, except I am the only atheist and had to limit my comments or endure a lecture. When I started chemo, I just stopped attending and get all the conversation I need and want from the different atheist groups here. I hope you have a strong sense of support from this form of conversation. Your comments always cause me to think and you give well thought out ideas. I like you being willing to state your position, even if it is not in agreement with others. 

Comment by Carolyn on February 22, 2013 at 7:52pm

very interesting story. i contemplate hiking into the city for the monthly meeting of the only atheist meetup group near me but haven't been able to spare the time. Nexus has been a real blessing, really saves my sanity. At least it was nice for you for a while. And as Russell said, maybe you'll go back someday. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Comment by The Flying Atheist on January 27, 2013 at 9:35pm

Yup, one speaker at a time is too formal for a social gathering such as that.  It would be more appropriate if, for example, your group decided to discuss a certain topic or cause when you met up, but that doesn't appear to be the purpose of the group.  If you're all there just to unwind and socialize with like-minded people, the one-speaker format is a bit stifling and rigid.  At the very least, perhaps you may have found and befriended one, two or three other people to socialize with on your own terms?   

Comment by Sentient Biped on January 27, 2013 at 5:09pm

Spud,

I also have a hearing loss, near complete for high ranges on the left, but not on the right.  So background noise is an issue for me too.  

I think in a few years I might be like the man in the pic.   He doesn't look so friendly, but who knows, underneath maybe he's a huggie bear.

Comment by Idaho Spud on January 27, 2013 at 3:57pm

I think I'd feel the same as you Sentient.  With my poor hearing, I sometimes have trouble sorting-out several conversations going on at once, but allowing only one speaker at a time seems much worse.

Comment by Steph S. on January 27, 2013 at 12:29am
Yeah I see what you mean Sentient - it felt like a business meeting and not a fun event.
Well I wish you the best. Sorry it didn't work out.
I enjoyed reading about your meetup group.
Comment by Lillie on January 26, 2013 at 10:25am

Russell stole my comment.  As a rebellious atheist, I rebel against over-organization.

Comment by Sentient Biped on January 26, 2013 at 9:57am

Thanks for the comments.  One thing I like about Nexus is the diversity of its members.  I might have been wanting a microcosm of that with the local meetup.  Not intending to burn bridges with people.  Just lost interest in the changing group culture.

Getting together with fellow freethinkers and atheists can be great.  I'll miss that.

Comment by Russell Pangborn on January 26, 2013 at 9:16am

I went to one meetup and enjoyed it. My problem was it was too far away an 1 1/2 hour drive. I only did it because it was close to my mother's location so I made it into two visits.  Sounds like you got a lot of value from your meetups.  Nothing is forever - even opting out - you may opt back in at some later date.

My best meetup was the Reason Rally.  I went alone to Washington and that may be only once in a lifetime.

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