I am the person at the party or the bar who can win hearts and minds, leave with everybody's contact info without asking for it, introduce like-minded people who are unable to hook up on their own, draw shy people out, etc. I'd like to learn how to do this in other areas of my life, without alcohol. I'd also like to learn how to better deal with some of the negative aspects of this kind of sociability.
posted by par court to Human Relations (11 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I had a weird upbringing that made a chatty, gregarious social nature something of an imperative. It has always been something of a good/bad thing for me, though, and I've swung back and forth between the opposite ends of the sociability spectrum over the years. I'll go through phases where I am 'on', so to speak; meeting a lot of cool new people, having a packed social calendar, reveling in the general fun of getting to know a lot of new people and all their quirks and proclivities. But when I get stressed out (usually due to work, though historically there have been some shit relationship issues that contributed to this), I tend to withdraw completely. When I do that, my social intelligence and confidence plummets, and I tend to want to be a wallflower rather than have any kind of focus on me. When I do this, every aspect of my life suffers.
I also have a tendency to get 'spooked' by certain social behaviors in others, which leads me to withdraw. Example: I am terrible at rebuffing romantic advances, and I have a terrible tendency to disappear rather than be gentle and direct. The best I've been able to do has been to say I'm already in a relationship, but that recently ended, and I don't want to get into another one for awhile for a lot of reasons. Another example of behavior that spooks me is when a friend becomes too needy or demanding; I tend to put up with a lot because it's easy for me to empathize with crappy situations, and being that I usually like these people, I want to help. The problem is that I work, a lot, and my work requires that I travel extensively, and aside from that I have a large number of other obligations that lead me to have a finite amount of time to devote to other people's issues. What has happened in the past is that I'll be there for a particularly needy or distraught friend way beyond my actual capabilities, and when I try to reclaim my time, the friend gets hurt - which I understand - but I'm unable to make them understand my boundaries, which leads to a fight, and I cut them out of my life. Which makes me feel like shit for so many reasons.
Over time, the negative effects have made me very hesitant to 'turn on' my social nature. For the last few years especially, I've avoided it, preferring to focus on a few close friendships and my now-defunct relationship. Yesterday, after an incredibly frustrating and shitty week, I ended up going out to a bar and reflexively made several new friends. Now I'm getting hit with invites, which I honestly do want to accept, but I'm still bothered by my tendencies to withdraw. My few very close friends have all separately brought up the withdrawing tendencies with me - they feel it is bad for me, that it holds me back, and it limits my life. I agree with this, but I am having trouble figuring out strategies to deal with the sort of behavior in others that leads me to withdraw.
Another complicating factor is that my boss recently pulled me aside to talk to me about various work issues, most of which boiled down to: my social skills (he called it 'rapport-building') are a huge factor in my work success, but I've been slipping for awhile, which makes my coworkers less likely to want to work on projects with me. At a bar or a party it is easy to flip this behavior on; I'll have a couple of drinks and it's not an issue, and then I can leave and turn it back off. But my coworkers are a known factor, they're not my friends, and obviously I can't drink at work. Plus I have to come back every day.
I've considered something like improv classes to develop a better 'mask' for when I am feeling the urge to disappear and generally dealing with people I find annoying but have to work with. My schedule is so erratic though that a regular class would be difficult for me to keep at (though I'd make it happen if I thought it was the answer to this). I'm currently in therapy, which was great for identifying why I was withdrawing and dealing with general anxiety issues, but it hasn't been that helpful for developing strategies to deal with this. Mindfulness and meditation, while good for other stuff, haven't been much of a help either. I have grappled with depression throughout my life, but my therapist does not feel that medication is necessary at this time, and I agree with her. I don't consider myself to have a drinking problem, but I probably drink more than the average American lady (though probably in line with the average European or Australian lady). I'd consider myself neither introverted nor extroverted, but because of my upbringing and work I am more prone to being alone than not.
This was a really difficult question to ask, because I feel like an arrogant jerk describing how naturally adept I am at this sort of thing, and I think this is also the reason why I've struggled with dealing with the negative aspects of it as well. I know that part of the answer is to learn better discernment in terms of who I actually connect with, but this is also difficult considering how easy it is for me to build rapport with people. I don't want the answer to be 'be more Russian about this' (ie, be distant until I know I can trust someone to be a worthwhile friend), but sometimes I suspect that is what I need to be doing.
tl;dr I am looking for strategies to avoid withdrawing from social contact when I get stressed out or have demoralizing interpersonal conflicts. I am also looking for strategies to develop my social nature more without the crutch of drinking.