I think I knew I was an introvert well before I knew the term — or that it was a trait shared by plenty of other people. Thinking myself alone in finding prolonged human interaction utterly exhausting, I always felt guilty for feeling that way. Everyone else seemed totally fine — perhaps even overjoyed — at the prospect of ongoing interaction with new and old friends alike. Years of teaching myself to feel guilty for not wanting to participate to the same extent meant that I was left with an inability to differentiate between the types of social interactions on offer in my busy modern life: those that feed my values and align with my interests, or those that needlessly tire me. I felt guilty regardless of what the social event was — shouldn’t I want to participate? Shouldn’t I just make myself go along?
When I reflected on the events I forced myself along to, I noticed a few things. Much of the time, I came back home really drained and disappointed, wishing I’d spent my time some other way. Some of the time, though, I was happy I forced myself there. But only under certain conditions. After enough observations, I decided I needed to set myself some clearer rules to better determine the difference — when do I need a push? When can I cut myself some slack?
At the end of 2017, I wrote out my rules for the first time. I set these rules deliberately, precisely because I live in a busy city and have a lot of projects and side interests, outside my day job. I wanted to give myself the permission to skip the guilt phase, should I decide an event wasn’t worth forcing myself along to. I should mention now that this becomes more of an internal debate when I feel my desire to back away from social events intersecting with what could be low mood. Depression fuels a desire to hide, for me, so using these boundaries helps me figure out my real rationale behind attending versus not attending an event.
Here’s what I came up with:
Go along, but only if two out of the following three conditions are met:
- Two people you enjoy spending time with are going along.
- It’s an activity or theme you find inherently interesting.
- It has a good chance of broadening your circle.
These are my rules; they might not work for everyone. But for me, a lot of the things I was guilting myself along to happened to either involve none of the people I would want to cultivate a stronger friendship with, or any activity or theme of interest. This resulted in being involved in a lot of low value social interaction. Thus feeling drained. If it’s depth and interest that I wanted to cultivate, I had to make better choices and kill the guilt.
Breaking It Down…
“Two people you enjoy spending time with are going along”
I think the most reassuring way to meet new people is alongside people whose friendship you want to cultivate. Not because I’m not able to or I’m afraid to go it alone — I have done plenty of that, given I moved halfway across the world on my own at age 20, and have moved cities several times since. However, I’m aware that I have a hard limit with my own ‘socialness’ — I aim not to burn out on this front. So it might be worth really pushing for a cool new event with total unknowns, if the event sounds really incredible and is likely to expose me to unique new people. But for the majority of events out there, that’s a bit too high of a bar and costs me a lot. So knowing that some people I find interesting and cool are there is a great intermediary. I have the chance to meet interesting new people, or if I don’t, I can deepen some friendships I already have. That’s perfect for a low-social bandwidth individual, like myself.
“It’s an activity or theme you find inherently interesting”
For example, I am much happier going along to an event that’s about, say, Independent Publishing (a topic I find interesting and don’t know a lot about) than I am a generic ‘Women in London’ meet (because that’s really general, as much as I love talking to other women and living in London!). Chances are I’ll find more specific people who are interested in the things I’m interested in at the first event. At the second, the only thing that connects us is that we are women living in a city of 9 million people. Pretty small odds there that we will hit it off.
Also, I tend not to be supremely interested in events where the only object is drinking alcohol. I don’t hate it — in fact, I love a nice traditional pub — but I prefer to go and participate in an interesting discussion, or hear someone talk, or have an activity that I think is a bit more dynamic. Living in the UK, alcohol tends to be at the centre of a lot of socialising, which is sometimes a bit repetitive. So a very big driver towards attending something is if it does sound inherently interesting or unique, involving something that I find interesting anyway, even if I don’t meet anyone interesting or don’t have any real conversations. If it’s still interesting anyway, it’s a good reason to push.
“It has a good chance of broadening your circle”
The third rule is a more nuanced one. I want to go to things I genuinely think could mean I meet interesting new people — but therein lies another little calculation. If my options are the ones I mentioned above, I have to make the choice between a group who might have more interests in common with me (i.e. Independent Publishing event), versus a group who are likely to be more diverse in their interests (i.e. Women in London).
The second sounds appealing for that reason, but it’s also likely that the interests will be so wide ranging as to be entirely pointless/lost on me. I don’t know a lot of people in my current circle who are interested in independent publishing, so that seems like a more obvious decision, where an interest I’d like to know more about coalesces with an event where I might meet others with a similar bent. So broadening my circle comes down to making a careful decision about what that practically means, and how likely the event is to offer that. Am I looking for a real shake up, where I might find nobody remotely interesting to talk to, but also a real surprise, or semi-aligned interests that are more likely to find people I will probably like? I can then figure out what I have the spoons for.
A few conclusions…
Many people will look at this kind of pros and cons balancing act and think, “Good grief. Just pick a thing!” But, if you’re like me, and you find social interactions quite taxing, but have a plethora of things you know you probably ‘should’ go and do, it pays to come up with your own boundaries — your own necessary and sufficient conditions for saying ‘yes’ to an event.
It isn’t about the rules themselves. But it is about being able to recognise when you are simply allowing introversion to prevent you experiencing much of the world or interacting with people. For me, it’s curbing the tendency to hermit away (which can also be a symptom of low mood for me). It’s also about curbing the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). A phenomenon that’s hard to avoid in this age of social media, it’s not something I want to be particularly susceptible if I can do something about it. And I feel with these rules, I strike a better balance between simply forcing myself along to things for the sake of it, versus ensuring I make an extra effort for things that are definitely worthwhile.
What are your ‘rules’? Do you have any? What makes you say yes to an invitation, versus no? Are you able to say no?
Learning to say no is extremely powerful and important. In all, I am a person who needs recovery time away from social occasions. But I am still keen on pushing myself when I do think it will genuinely benefit me to do so. I don’t want a blanket response to all scenarios. So far, my rules have served me well. They help me when I am feeling clouded. As an introvert in a big city, it helps make one tough decision making process all the easier in a life filled with decision making.