How can I overcome my introversion, social anxiety and supposed language barrier and bond with my SO's friends and family?
posted by ohmy to Human Relations (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My boyfriend and I have been together for one year. He is a native French speaker, and I am a native English speaker. We always speak to each other in English.
I have a certain amount of social anxiety in which I get very anxious and quiet in with people that I don't know very well. I also am very introverted and I enjoy spending time alone, or short amounts of time with my close friends and family. In social settings, I often feel fairly good for a certain amount of time, but then if it goes on for a long time, I start to feel exhausted and unintentionally start tuning people out out of fatigue and an overwhelming feeling of wanting to get out, or be alone. There are situations where this can be controlled by me leaving when I've had enough, but there are certain situations to which I have a certain social obligation towards (spending time with my partner's friends or family, holidays, special occasions, etc) in which I try my hardest to stick it out to the end, and to talk myself out of the desire to flee. Despite my greatest efforts, sometimes I just shut down and stop talking completely and start feeling really tired and well... trapped. It's a fairly negative feeling and I always try to rationalize that it's not a big deal, and my SO wants me to be there, and that I don't have to do it often at all so I need to just suck it up and tough it out.
My past relationships have all been with other anglophones. This is the first time I've been in a relationship with someone who speaks a language other than English at home.
I can speak French, and for all intents and purposes, we'll say that I'm almost fluent. I live in a French city, and spend the majority of my working day communicating in French. When I'm comfortable, I have no problems having conversations in French or approaching people in French. However, when I attend dinners and special events with my boyfriend's family, or I end up having to socialize with his friends and people who are close to him, I completely blank out. I often spend almost entire events in complete silence, only speaking (nervously) when someone speaks to me first. This is not atypical for me in general, but the added stressor of having to communicate in French amplifies the anxiety ten fold. As such, I haven't been able to bond with any of his friends and family. The fact that they know that I can speak French, but don't (can't?), makes me a million times more anxious, because I feel like they must think that I'm refusing to speak their language for whatever reason, which makes me feel bad because it's not a matter of choice, but a matter of anxiety, and I don't want them to think I'm a snob or something. Sometimes my boyfriend steps in and explains stuff or tells stories on my behalf, but they must wonder why I can't speak for myself!
I've read a few other language barrier related posts around the internet and most people suggest to practice as much as possible in order to become comfortable. But I do practice, I speak French all the time at work and in public when I'm alone with no real issue, yet when I'm faced with his loved ones, my mind goes completely blank! It's not a matter of having a bunch of things to say, but not knowing how to say it. I actually feel like my mind is completely blank and I have absolutely nothing to add to any conversation. It's definitely not a matter of disliking them, because they are all wonderful people who have never done anything to make me feel uncomfortable.
This is obviously very stressful because I really would like to have a good relationship with them, but I'm having serious communication problems. He also has a large boisterous family who tend to laugh a lot and talk over each other, which is great (I am SO happy he comes from such a great family!), but sometimes I have trouble following the conversation because they're all talking at the same time. Then sometimes they ask me a question, after I've not really understood what's been going on (and probably have mentally checked out of the conversation because I'm tired of social overexposure and anxiety), and get caught off guard and again, am unable to answer!
I'm afraid that my body language and lack of communication make it seem like I really don't want to be there. Well, I guess sometimes, I don't want to be there anymore, but it has absolutely nothing to do with my feelings towards them and everything to do with me wanting to recharge and stop feeling anxiety.
My boyfriend has always been very supportive of me, and although he is extremely extroverted, he has never tried to change me and has never even seemed to be bothered by the way I am around his friends and family. I think that part of my anxiety may have stemmed from how he used to laugh at my accent when I spoke in French early on in our relationship and even before we were dating. It was never malicious, and I told him not far into our relationship that it made me uncomfortable and he apologized very sincerely and stopped teasing me completely, even to go as far as to tell me that he loves my accent and that it's charming and he wishes he could hear me speak French more often. Basically, he loves me and accepts me 100% for who I am and never meant harm when he was teasing me back then.
Obviously though, for some reason, even though the teasing has long stopped, I can't shake the anxiety that came from it. Add that to the anxiety that I feel in most other (English) social situations and... yeah... disaster.
How can I stop blanking out when I have to communicate in French so that I can form bonds with the people he's close to? I want to be a part of his life and stop being the weirdo that his friends and family can't seem to bond with!