What would a normal person do?
May 23, 2009 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I am super socially awkward. I don't really want to talk about that, but I do want some advice from you all about how to handle this party invitation like a normal person.

First background information: So, I am a 31 year old lady. I was invited to a BBQ on Monday that one of my male co-workers is having with his wife. He invited me and a few of the men from work. He didn't invite any other ladies from work. The invitation said to bring family and that the party starts at 12:00, dinner at 5:00.

Obviously, I have no one at all to bring with me to this party. I don't know these people very well, though they seem nice enough. I foolishly asked one of the male co-workers if he wanted to ride with me to the party, and I think he thought I was hitting on him or something (I definitely was not; he just has always been nice to me and I don't really want to show up alone), and had all these excuses why that was a bad idea. Whoops.

Anyway, now I feel like I am stuck going to this party to watch all these families hang out, and I am just not very social and am now wishing I hadn't said I'd go because I just knew the idea of it would freak me out all weekend. But, I also feel like I have to go because I somehow felt special being one of only a few who was asked, and I don't want them to think I am rude. I'm really not. Just far too anxious. I have decided that I will attend for two hours or so and then split.

So, to you more socially-adept folks: How lame is it for me to just show up at a party like this alone? And also, given the time frame, if you were planning on staying for two hours, when would you go? Early? Later?

I have read this over and fear many of you will think I am nuts, but please take me seriously. If you have never had this sort of fear of parties and social activities, consider yourself lucky, and also fit to give me advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the party, bring a bottle of wine or a small gift. Mingle, meet and say hi to everyone, and then go home. No one will think any negative.
posted by boyinmiami at 11:26 AM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


stay as long as you would like or feel comfortable.
posted by boyinmiami at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2009

eh, you're not alone in having this anxiety. It's not lame to show up alone; this is not a formal event. If I were you I'd show up around 2 or 3 pm, hang out, have dinner, and then split. Make conversation with the spouses - if you feel self-conscious about what to say, just ask them about their lives. What do they do, how old are the kids, etc.

I used to avoid social invitations like the plague, but after forcing myself to go to many events, I have (mostly) overcome the anxiety. Exposure is really the only way to do it.
posted by desjardins at 11:27 AM on May 23, 2009

It's not at all weird to turn up alone.

Your co-worker asked you because he likes you. And possibly because he KNOWS you're single, and wants you to have some company.

If you only want to stay a few hours, I'd turn up around 3, I guess?

Not very social? Have a beer and then run around roughhousing with the kids. Everyone will like you for it, and you get to avoid talking to grown-ups.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:28 AM on May 23, 2009

To add to desjardins, while it's not lame to show up alone, it is lame to just not show up. I'm not saying that you were planning on doing that, but being all too familiar with what you're dealing with, I know it's a possibility. Not showing up leads to not being invited which leads to further isolation, thus increased social awkwardness.
posted by zerokey at 11:31 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Show up at 2-3 PM, stay for dinner if you're enjoying yourself, otherwise you have other dinner plans.

When someone says to bring family, that is not a message intended to make the single folks feel bad. It's not a message for the single folks at all. It's to tell the families to not be anxious about bringing kids, because that would be their big concern.
posted by smackfu at 11:32 AM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Totally okay to show up on your own. The great thing about showing up on your own is that you can also leave exactly when you want to and if you're gracious about it "Thanks so much for the invite and the food, I have to go. See you at work tomorrow!" no one sees it as you being awkward and ducking out. I'd show up around 2-3 and then see how you feel about staying for dinner. There will probably be other non-family people there. If not, you can do what I always do and go hang out with the kids and/or help people prepare BBQ food.

The thing about social awkwardness, I say as a sort of closet-awkward person, is that no one else really can tell how weird you feel unless you're projecting it by acting strangely. If you show up, talk to a few people, or even just say hi and walk around a little and don't talk much, people don't see it as weird. They figure since you showed up at all you're not hating it [even if they might be wrong, but that's between you and your own personal moral compass] and if you say you have to leave they'll most likely take it at face value "Hey anonymous had to go but said she had a great time..." and be happy you made it.

Seconding zerokey, if you think there's no way you'll be able to make it without feeling truly awful, make sure you drop your host a note and let him know without turning it into a thing. "Hey thanks for the invite, something came up and I won't be able to make it I hope you have fun!" Your friend obviously likes you enough to want to invite you out and introduce you to his friends/workmates/family, so I'd assume that's a thumbs up generally to him thinking you're an okay person and I'd make sure you keep that in mind.
posted by jessamyn at 11:50 AM on May 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Not lame, or nuts, at all. Social anxiety like yours is very real and very common.

I could have written your post! I am a single woman, never have anyone to "go with". I enjoy the people I work with, have no problem talking to and interacting with them every day. But take us out of the office, and put us in a -- eek -- social setting, and I panic.

When they threw me a 40th birthday party last year, I dreaded it (sleepless nights, tears) for weeks beforehand. Come the day, I could barely force myself to get out of the car and take the long walk (alone) into the restaurant.

The last 3 years, I have RSVP'd for the company Christmas party- since there is big pressure to attend, and if you say you're not going, everyone wants to know why-- and then ended up no-showing. Last year, I actually drove half way there and was crying so hard I had to turn the car around and go home.

So. What advice can I offer?

Although the panic I feel is real, invariably once I force myself to go, I usually find that it's REALLY OKAY. You might even enjoy yourself! Although you will feel awkward attending a family gathering alone, no one else is going to fixate on that. It's not going to be about you.

Also, remind yourself that others feel nervous in social settings too. Many people at the party will be anxious about what to say to you and worried about what you think of them.

The fact that you were invited, when others weren't, means that they like you and want you there. That's gotta help.

You say that you don't know these people well. If there is one particular person with whom you do feel comfortable, it might help to sit by him / her when you first arrive. It's okay to be a bit of a wallflower. Later, you might feel ready to circulate a little more. If not, that's fine too! And if you need to leave early, leave early. Whatever works for you.

All that being said-- if you really don't want to go, don't go. It's nice to be invited, but if it's really painful for you, don't feel obligated. A sincere thanks for the invite and an 'I'm sorry but I can't attend' is really all that's required.

Best of luck!
posted by GuffProof at 11:55 AM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

let's talk about "socially awkward" - you know what this means? it means you think about this way too much. stop it. just go. just smile. just bring a bottle of wine. it's just an invitation. people are weird when they fear the consequences of doing X, Y or Z too much. just let it go and loosen up. you obviously don't want to be a raging drunk but have a glass of wine and find someone you know to chat about the weather with. or that new rule in the office. something not too important and controversial. smile at new people you meet and make one or two small compliments. they will love you. you will have a great time.
posted by krautland at 11:55 AM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

In your situation I would make a person-goal rather than a time-goal. For instance, tell yourself you'll start a conversation with five people. Count them off your fingers, one by one. In each case you have to try to stay engaged for at least a minute or so. Start each conversation with something fairly neutral about the other person, like "you've worn a tie" or "I see you're the master of the barbecue" or "you work down the hall from me." Whatever they day, say something small in return and try to let the conversation ease its way into life. Relax during the silences; they don't bother other people the way they bother you. If it's a non-starter don't sweat it. You've done one of your five, move on.

I suspect this would work better than a time limit because A) you'll have something to work on, rather than counting the time; and B) there's a non-trivial chance that a really enjoyable conversation will start and your daily life will improve.
posted by argybarg at 11:56 AM on May 23, 2009 [10 favorites]

I am of the opinion that it's never weird or wrong to do stuff by yourself, and I know there are people who think it means you have no friends and will judge you for being a 'loner' or whatever, but even if that's the case, it also shows others that you have enough confidence to take on the world by yourself (a world that is sometimes full of judgmental people who are very afraid to do anything alone because of how it will "look" to other people, who are probably not people you want to befriend anyway). I grew up an only child and was always used to doing things alone, and then as a teenager and into my 20s when I realized it was very difficult for me to make friends for various reasons, I have tried to never make myself feel bad for being a cool, independent lady who is comfortable going out alone when I want or need to.

It's totally ok to just hang out for a little while (I would probably shoot for a little while before the food is supposed to enter the picture, and then continue through eating and then stay a little while after that). I like the above idea about bringing a small gift for the family hosting the party, like wine or maybe flowers or a dessert. And yes, these people have invited you because they already like you, so there are already some walls totally broken down for you! This will be a piece of cake, compared to a room full of strangers who you're not sure about!

That said, what about starting with the basics? Think about the initial building blocks of interactions, like introducing yourself, starting a conversation, paying someone a compliment, asking a question, joining in a conversation already in progress, showing your interest in conversational topics. Think of ways that feel comfortable to you to initiate a conversation, like maybe, "hi, you're _______'s wife, aren't you? I'm ______, it's great to finally meet you!" then ask her lots of questions. Or "hey, I really like that bracelet" (women almost always respond overwhelmingly positively to compliments, I find, so I try to start by saying I like something they're wearing, etc. when I introduce myself to another woman because I worry specifically about being judged from the first moment I start speaking). Questions are always a good way to keep a conversation going, because humans are naturally so narcissistic. ;)
posted by so_gracefully at 12:01 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

You ARE a normal person. Most people have some social anxieties at some times. You did nothing wrong in the scenario you've described. And you're right .. you are special to have been invited to a party when not everyone from work was included.

Go ... show up early to mid-afternoon and stay as long as you like. There will be other people there with various anxieties. I'll bet some of the spouses will be thinking that everyone will be talking shop and they won't know anyone and it won't be fun. Last night, in fact, we had one of my work colleagues and his family over, and his wife said that at work parties, no one ever wanted to talk to her because she is a "boring stay at home mom". But she's not boring ... she's smart and funny and does a lot of neat things. I'm just telling you this so you'll see that maybe others will be looking at you as the one who's got it all together and is working at a good job and living an interesting single life.

Take a bottle of wine or a box of candy and set a couple of small goals for yourself - maybe something like, "I'll talk to one new person and find out what their summer vacation plans are" or "I'll stay for 2 hours and offer to help with the salad or the grill".

Please go. It makes me sad to think of you missing out on what might be a fun time, and sitting at home alone on a holiday weekend. As others have said, every time you push yourself a little, you grow and good things can happen. You might just have a fun time. I sincerely hope you do. Honey you are not alone. We're all just muddling through. Good for you for asking and trying.
posted by Kangaroo at 12:06 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm exactly the opposite of you- I love going to parties, either with people or on my own. I feel comfortable showing up whenever I can, staying as long as I can (often much longer than my partner feels comfortable staying), and talking with as many people as possible. That being said, I don't know how un-awkward I actually am, so you can take or leave this advice.

Mrs. Benson & I threw a huge party last weekend. We invited tons of people, many showed up on their own. It was my favorite part of the party- watching someone come through my front gate with a bounce in their step, with a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers, wearing an outfit they wouldn't wear to work. Some people gravitated to co-workers they knew, some played with the kids who were running around, some talked with and met Mrs. Benson for the first time.

Some folks were noticeably uncomfortable. Our other nice, social friends gravitated toward them and engaged them in conversation. Others came up and asked if they could help with the grill or putting out food. One friend walked in, hugged me and thanked me for inviting her, and turned around and left- she said she had somewhere else to be that afternoon.

All in all it was fun. People experience parties differently, and that's what makes them enjoyable. Go at 2 or 3, stay as long as you're comfortable, and know that people will be interested and excited to meet you.
posted by elmer benson at 12:06 PM on May 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Please be aware that you don't have to go. There's nothing awkward about not showing up at the party (though, if you RSVP'd, you would at least have to call and apologize). It's very common to invite people to a party and for them to simply not be able to come.

Of course, I encourage you to go. I agree with the advice that the only way to get over social awkwardness is through exposure (I'm still awkward, but not nearly as much as I used to be). But you are in no way required to go, just because you were invited. While getting an invitation to a party from an acquaintance means they'll be happy to see you there, it doesn't mean they will be let down or discouraged if you aren't.
posted by Ms. Saint at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2009

The people you need to be asking are not the socially adept folks, who would say, "Yay, party! What's the problem?" but those of us who are not-so-adept but who force ourselves to do this kind of thing anyway. A few pro tips:

-- ask the host/ess what you can do to help. Keeps your hands busy, and they are usually the gregarious ones, since they are throwing the party.

-- ask about people's children (how old, what grade in school if applicable, do they go to preschool if not, do they sleep well if they're infants, etc.). They'll never shut up, taking the pressure off of you.

-- dress in white or black cotton on top if you tend to perspire a bit when socially anxious, especially given that this is a warm-weather, outside event. If I'm wearing teal silk or something, it starts to be this terrible cycle, with "am I sweating? shit, I am -- it's showing, too -- I look like a freak -- now I'm sweating more!" White or black cotton shows nothing.

-- don't pressure yourself to have fun, exactly; just think of it as a 2-hour performance of fun-having. Maybe you'll have fun, maybe not; but you'll make connections at work, and spending more time with everyone should help you be more comfortable with them in the long run.
posted by palliser at 12:18 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keeping busy will help. When you get there ask if there is anything you can do. If they try to be 'nice' and say nothing is needed, find something anyway. It will help a lot.
posted by Vaike at 12:21 PM on May 23, 2009

P.S. lots of people said "bring wine". Some people might find choosing a bottle stressful -- red or white? how expensive? etc. If you do, just bring beer. It's a daytime BBQ -- beer is totally acceptable.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:28 PM on May 23, 2009

BRING something to do. A recipe that you have to prep or ingredients for sangria or something. Someone will volunteer to assist you. Say yes!
posted by quarterframer at 1:32 PM on May 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

in addition to the keeping busy and helping out advice above, someone once told me to find someone else who looks as uncomfortable as I feel and talk to them--which actually really works. that and doing the dishes!
posted by beckish at 3:11 PM on May 23, 2009

These people are inviting you because they like you already. Maybe they are also inviting you because you ARE single. Maybe there is some guy they are trying to set you up with who will be there for whatever reason. IF it starts at noon do not show up until 2. Bring a gift as already stated. Maybe even something for the kids like bubbles or Frisbee or sidewalk chalk. Set up to have someone call your cell phone every hour so you have a built in excuse to leave whenever it is feeling dicey.

Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:13 PM on May 23, 2009

Also, the wives or husbands of co-workers will likely not know too many there either. Talk with them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:14 PM on May 23, 2009

Just doing it is the best thing you can do. Just go. Putting your inhibitions to one side and doing something positive will more often than not lead to good things. If it doesn't and you are left standing in the corner, get over it. Chalk it up to experience and realise that despite what your mind is no doubt telling you, you were not the talk of the party afterwards.

Avoid all gimmicks and just attend normally. If you are especially nervous then it is not unreasonable to approach the host and tell them casually that you don't know anyone at the party.
posted by fire&wings at 6:44 PM on May 23, 2009

People will take whatever clues you give them and then fill in the blanks. So if you seem happy but stay a long time and then say you must be going, they may imagine "oh, she's so footloose and fun-loving, but we were lucky she was here for a bit." (If you seem miserable, they'll imagine other things.)

The fact that you're alone will not seem weird. If you seem to be having fun, the family people will remember the fun things about being solo. smackfu was right that the comment about "bring your family" was meant to tell the people with kids "hey, don't feel like you need to get a babysitter."
posted by salvia at 6:53 PM on May 23, 2009

I would show up around 3-4, so I could mingle a little before dinner, then leave soon afterwards. The problem with showing up earlyish is that not many people might be there - you'll probably be more comfortable if you arrive once there are a fair number of people there.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:01 PM on May 23, 2009

You ARE a normal person. Most people have some social anxieties at some times. You did nothing wrong in the scenario you've described. And you're right .. you are special to have been invited to a party when not everyone from work was included.

This. Show up alone without worry that anyone will care, because they will not care (if they even notice.) Make nice with the people you know, try to learn the names of the ones you get introduced to, and if you get stuck without something to do/someone to talk to, offer to help the host/hostess with serving or cleanup or whatever. Worst case, look around the yard or what-have-you, find a nice feature and ask 'em something about it -- then let 'em babble about their house for a bit. Then, when you feel like the party's wrapping up or you're just bored, go to the bathroom and come out with a simple story along the lines of "have to get some shopping done before the day's over" (something uncomplicated, preferably true) and say your goodbyes and go. That's pretty much the formula for any person going to any party ever.
posted by davejay at 8:40 PM on May 23, 2009

Oh, and:

I foolishly asked one of the male co-workers if he wanted to ride with me to the party, and I think he thought I was hitting on him or something (I definitely was not; he just has always been nice to me and I don't really want to show up alone), and had all these excuses why that was a bad idea. Whoops.

Yeah, I'm gonna say that your co-worker was the one who made the "oops" there. There's nothing wrong with one co-worker giving another a lift, even if they're both single and members of the opposite sex. By finding reasons to call it a "bad idea", he just made it way more complicated than it needed to be -- his foot, his mouth. A tactful person who actually thought it was a bad idea would have just said something like "not a bad idea, but I don't know when I'll be going as I'll be out with friends before -- better if I just meet you there."
posted by davejay at 8:44 PM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

So many good thoughts here (interacting with the kids is a good one)... and I could have written your post several years ago and I still feel less than ideally comfortable, "good" at all this. Progress has been incremental, though it feeds on itself.

"Erm, felt awkward, but the conversation about __ was cool and the kids and dogs were lotsa fun," does become less of the awkward, more of the positive aspects.

A thought someone shared with me: questions to start conversations: as someone said, complimenting someone for jewelry--where did you find that?--or something that catches your eye. Maybe the person mentions a store, another city, that they made it in a class, all of which provide opportunities for your thoughts, your questions. Perhaps you end up taking a jewelry-making class.

Maybe you hear someone mention a place you've visited, lived or would like to--a good way to ask about it.

Getting more comfortable with this was in part a realization that my interests and knowledge of them were often enough shared interests, that either a person would share the interest or often enough say, "Oh, ___ really likes that, too. Let me introduce you."

An example: I like auto racing and Sunday is the best day of the year for that because there's a huge race in Monaco followed by the Indy 500 followed by a big Nascar race. At a party on Monday, the typical "How's your weekend?," and I'd mention the joys of three huge races on one day.

Maybe someone simply says, "Oh," but they often enough have something to relate about things like having lived in or traveled to one of the states/countries, a family member or friend who has an interest, etc., etc., etc., or they're curious/make conversation by asking what I like about it, if I've been to Indy, etc.

With more common interests, dunno that I'd go so far as to call it studying, but I made a little effort to be a little more aware of current-events things/realms of some interest to me: How things just played out on American Idol, the Glam guy vs. the Christian; new movies at or near the top of the box-office charts; summer movies debuting soon; speculation about a new iPhone, maybe a tablet-type device; if Nadal can win another French Open. The list goes on and on.

That aside, if conversation lags, never hurts to move right along by relating a need to refresh a drink, get a bite to eat or use the restroom.
posted by ambient2 at 3:52 AM on May 24, 2009

that's a really long party! i think it would be perfectly acceptable to show up around 1 with a side dish or something in a container you don't need back. Hang out for an hour, then explain that your next door neighbors/family/college roomates are also having a barbecue you have to make an appearance at, thank your hosts, and excuse yourself.

The good thing about getting out of parties on holidays is that it's completely believable that your guests may have one or two other parties to go to on the same day.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:05 AM on May 24, 2009

Dont forget that you might meet someone else single there, fall in love, settle down and get married.

If you don't go, you'll never know.
posted by mr_silver at 8:43 AM on May 25, 2009

Try meditating before you go.
posted by weh546 at 2:11 AM on May 27, 2009

« Older I'm in the dark, Charlie. Again.   |   [APPLAUSE] Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.