“I love people. I just don’t want to be around them all the time.”
You feel me?
I’ve found that this introverted sentiment often hurt people’s feelings or confused them as I navigated through adulthood. And really, I'd take it personally too, if I were them.
It took a while for me to find a group of friends that understood. It’s a blessing when you have people in your life who don’t take it personal when you leave the party early or pass up an invitation, who will let you do what you need to do to stay well without judging you or questioning your friendship. They get that you’re just you, doing you.
But I know that this level of understanding can be a luxury, and it would also be unfair to require our friends to be okay with us not showing up to all their get-togethers all the time. Relationships are a two-way street, after all, and a little give-and-take is healthiest.
I’ve devised 9 strategies for how to deal with social situations in a way that allows me to protect my energy and my relationships at the same time.
If there are any extroverts reading this, you might be baffled at the fact that, OMG, someone actually has to STRATEGIZE before going to hang out with friends? Yes. That is correct. I've found this necessary, after a lifetime of being super exhausted and hurting lots of feelings because I DIDN'T have these strategies.
Often, I have to physically leave the social environment to protect my energy, and I know this isn’t always preferable for the folks who I’m leaving. But I would much rather leave with grace than become tired and irritable in their presence, because the last thing I want is to give the impression that I don’t like being in their presence. Because I do!
These 9 rules have helped me to ensure that everyone involved gets to enjoy themselves - especially as holiday parties and potlucks ramp up through the holiday season. Maybe they’ll work for you too.
1. Do not suck it up if you’re already feeling irritable.
If you’re at a social event and start feeling worn down or cranky, do you think you’ll feel LESS tired and cranky by staying longer? Uh, no. Not only would trying to suck it up make you feel crappy, but you'll also risk taking it out on those around you. Make a graceful exit before you turn into a pumpkin--or the Hulk. (Beware the 5 signs of an Unhealthy Introvert.)
2. When making your exit, do not give excuses.
Excuses often start off with “I need to” or “I have to”. People will likely try to convince you to stay by helping you to “problem solve” through your excuse. Have to leave to do your laundry and feed the dog? Oh, just do your laundry tomorrow and Fido will be fine for another hour. Besides, giving excuses like this gives the impression that laundry is more important than bonding with your pals. Instead, just say "I gotta go", and leave it at that.
3. Don’t try to explain why you want to leave or how you’re feeling.
Now is not the time to get on your soapbox and educate people about how it’s like to be highly sensitive or an introvert. It’s kind of a buzzkill and it comes off as defensive; it's not like you're being held at the party against your will. Your only job right now is to take responsibility for your own well-being; you don’t need other people’s permission or explicit sympathy to do that. If they do ask why you're leaving, then yes, it's fine to be honest and say that you're tired or that you want to rest up for tomorrow.
4. Do keep your exit remarks short and sweet.
If you don’t sound like you’re thinking too much into leaving, they won’t either.
5. Take time to think about it before you accept social invitations.
I know you’re not one to back out of things you’ve said “yes” to, so make sure it’s a genuine “yes”! If I know I’m going to have a super intense week or if I’ve been getting poor sleep all week, I’ll probably take a rain check on Saturday night invitations. On the flip side, if it’s really important to a loved one that I join them at a social event, I’ll make a conscious decision to accept the invite--but only after scheduling sufficient downtime before or after the event. (You might be interested in 8 Habits of a Healthy Introvert.)
6. Use body language to convey love and care.
This is especially important when you’re making your exit remarks. Look them in the eye, give them a big hug, offer a genuine smile. This is extra insurance to make sure that your message is coming across clearly: the fact that you want to leave the party early does NOT mean that you don't like them or that you're not having a good time. This is an opportunity to make sure they know just how much you've enjoyed their company, even if you have to head out a tad early.
7. Be generous with your attention.
During every interaction at the gathering, give your full attention to whoever you’re talking to. People can feel when you are enjoying their company (and thus, enjoying yourself), so make it apparent. The more they feel they got to connect with you during the gathering, the less of a deal it is when you decide to duck out early, because you still got to spend quality time with each other.
8. Know your limits.
How many hours of socializing and how many new people would tire you out? Be clear about this so you can accept invitations with intention and set boundaries for yourself in social situations so that, again, you don't become the Hulk.
9. Make a plan.
Basically, plan your exit strategy after you figure out your limit for social interaction. If your significant other wants you to hang out with his extended family for 6 whole hours, it’s probably best to prepare your own ride home, so you can leave early if needed. Or, like I mentioned in Rule #5, plan for downtime either before, during, or after the event. You wouldn't run a marathon without preparing, would you? Same thing here. Do your due diligence before these social marathons.
Now, I have a confession to make: the title of this blog post is misleading. When you’re in the midst of an overstimulating social situation, it might feel like you’re in survival mode. But most of the time, social situations are not merely things to be “survived”--they’re wonderful opportunities for deep connection.
If you’re reading this, you are probably a super empathetic and compassionate person who cares about your loved ones and about contributing positively to the world. You probably really LOVE people.
And those deep conversations, where you’re able to connect with a fellow human’s soul, are so awesome because they allow you to see the person as they really are--their goodness, insecurities, dreams, and secrets.
That kind of connection is our shit. Socializing for hours on end may not be our jam, but genuine connection is.
Take these 9 strategies for a whirl, so you can continue connecting with other good souls who--unbeknownst to both you and them--are waiting to meet you.
Get out there, tiger.