Worlds colliding!
September 13, 2009 8:56 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with anxiety about my discrete social groups interacting with one another?

I tend to avoid hosting parties at my place, but it's important to my boyfriend to have people over now and then, so we can maintain our friendships. I sympathize with this - so we're having a party at our place. (We live together.) This always provokes the same dilemma: Who do I invite? My friends bunch up into clusters, depending on where I met them: I have a couple of friends from high school, some I met in university, and some from work. Having people from these separate groups interact with each other makes me very nervous, for two reasons:

A) Will they get along? (I'm aware that, to some extent, this is out of my control, and not a concern I should be burdening myself with, but it still bothers me. Some of my friends have unique or strong personalities that not everyone would appreciate.)

B) Will people from separate groups share information about me I don't want disseminated? This one is kind of irrational, but it bothers me the most - I am very sensitive to embarassment (this question was also posted by me), and there are a lot of things I have done that I (justifiably or not) feel ashamed of, and would not want widely known. Rationally, I don't think any of my friends are gauche enough to do this, but it scares me.

Both of these things basically break down to anxiety over being unable to exert control over how social events unfold, which is a theme that plays into my larger sense of social anxiety, so suggestions on how to deal with that would also be appreciated.

I don't feel comfortable just inviting people from one group. There are several plausible avenues that people from the remaining groups could discover the party, and I would hate to alienate any friends or leave anyone feeling excluded. For several of these groups, there's just one or two people with whom I remain close, so it's not like I can do distinct parties for each group. Also, I have already invited people from these separate groups to the party.

Is there anything I can do about this?

For the record: I have GAD and social anxiety and I am in CBT.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Reading this may help: Five Geek Social Fallacies.
posted by kindall at 9:13 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Both of these things basically break down to anxiety over being unable to exert control over how social events unfold, which is a theme that plays into my larger sense of social anxiety, so suggestions on how to deal with that would also be appreciated.

You cannot control any of this. This is your guests' job.

I'm going to suggest something radical here: become friends with your anxiety. Accept that your life will always contain anxiety and that there is no reason to run away from it and seek a more comfortable state.

I've found that my problems with my anxiety arose because I deemed it a less than desirable state and I took measures to avoid it. Those measures led to the prolongation of anxiety, which made it worse.

In the end, we cannot control our emotions with our conscious mind. That means fighting them does no good and is painful and counter-productive.

Practically applying these rules is easy. I focus on the experience of anxiety and its physical symptoms and try to turn into the wave of anxiety. So if I feel a tightness in my chest, I focus on that sensation and explore it, getting to know the physical feeling as best I can. I deliberately avoid engaging the content of the emotion--I don't seek a solution to the problem at all.

Work on this over time. Make it a game--try and get better at focusing on the physical sensations of anxiety without engaging their content.

This has been revelatory to me.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:26 AM on September 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

When worlds collide - very familiar with this although it's not like there are things I'm ashamed of so much as things that would be a pain to explain. I take what may be the cowards way out: have separate events for my conservative work friends who are kind of conservative (not necessarily politically but in the sense that AFAIK they are not acquainted with anyone who has been in a sexual profession) away from my art friends who probably won't get along with my science geek friends who I don't mix with my dog/horse friends and plus I have a huge family with cousins who are not all so close to me that they "get it" that parts of my adult life are off limits to my sainted mother. Then there's the problem off cross-over because some of my work friends are mutual friends of dog people and some of the dog people are also arty and it's just a mess and I have never, ever stopped having massive anxiety about all this. (And by massive anxiety I mean going over and over what could go wrong while driving to the grocery store buy cheese, not anything clinical requiring Zanex or horse tranquilizers.)

You can see how mentally organized I am about the whole thing. My advice is - have lots of dinners and things and try not to mix groups. This is advice from a person who has totally failed to be a grown-up about this.

The advice you should take is that everyone who knows you accepts you as you are. You should be proud of who you are and who your friends are. There's no reason to think everyone will get along with everyone else in the world.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:39 AM on September 13, 2009

Talk to your therapist about some ways to think around this- maybe make the parties one of your exercises.

Try thinking in the present; ignore everything but what is currently going on at the party; forget about the next day, next week, and so on. Pretend there are no consequences.

Find some way for people attending to find some common ground so they aren't only connecting through "So you know Party Host? How?". There are some good questions on here about icebreakers, games, etc. that would be helpful- sounds lame, but games like Cranium can be great that way.

Also, Ironmouth has it dead on. Think of it as a game.
posted by variella at 9:45 AM on September 13, 2009

Let's start with: Will people from separate groups share information about me I don't want disseminated

I know this won't necessarily make you feel better, but if information would be shared, it might just as likely happen in a context other than this party. It's entirely possible, for example, that it could happen at another party, or in a random meeting on the street.

Basically in your earlier AskMe you admitted that you have a problem. You know your fear isn't entirely justified -- or at least, even if it is, then your reaction to it is based on a bigger issue going on within yourself.

I don't know if this will help at all or not, but it might be useful to think along these lines:

To begin with, these people are hopefully all at this party because they are your friends. Which means that they like you and at some level care about your happiness and your feelings. If you don't feel this way about the people you are inviting, you might want to think about having smaller gatherings. Unless you've already firmly established that this is going to be a large party, maybe you can convince your boyfriend to have many smaller parties instead of one large one.

This actually allows for richer maintenance of friendships, in my opinion -- in large gatherings you may not even have time to connect with everyone who has arrived. Also, in smaller gatherings like dinner parties you aren't moving from one cluster to another -- everyone is together at the same time. This will discourage people from talking about you, because you will probably be a participant in the conversation, or at the very least will be within earshot of it.

I think this also solves question one: Will they get along?

In my experience, people's deepest desire is to connect meaningfully with other humans. Our defenses get in the way a lot, but fundamentally we want to see how another person relates to us. At the same time, we fear the unknown a bit and are wary about opening ourselves up too much to others. So it's pretty natural in large gatherings with predefined groups that we would fall back into our existing clans or tribes, since we have already connected with those people and don't need to put in additional work. Small parties, where individual groupings don't exist, nudge people into interaction. So having a smaller party will create connections between new people.

So let's say you have 25 friends in 4-5 distinct groupings. Instead of having one large 25 person party, have smaller 4-5 person gatherings where you invited 1-2 people from each group (don't split up couples) and just have them hang out. Don't make a big deal out of it, just think of people you would like to see again and invite them.

A side effect is that if and when you finally have a larger party, there might be some connections already built between the different groups, since they will have met before.

On reading the whole actual question: For several of these groups, there's just one or two people with whom I remain close, so it's not like I can do distinct parties for each group. Also, I have already invited people from these separate groups to the party.

Oooh. Sorry. I still think my advice above holds, so maybe hold this party and then go with smaller parties later on? If there really are only 1-2 people that you are still close with, go ahead and invite just them in the future. You have no obligation to invite everyone in the group just because they used to hang out together. Remember, you used to be in one group, now you are in many. Would you expect someone to invite you and all of your groups to their party?

I'm not aware of the particulars of CBT, but I do know that it involves identifying negative thoughts and dealing with them directly, right? You might want to hold a quick emergency session with your therapist and directly address the upcoming party. If I was having these fears (I actually probably have the reverse problem...I tend to be less aware/mindful about what other people might think about me), one mantra I would hold in my mind was that it just didn't matter. No thoughts the people at the party have -- and nothing they say about you -- is actually going to hurt you. These things you have done -- that you are ashamed of -- do not define who you are or control you. The ones who are you friends will still care about you and like you even if they discover secrets about you from others. We are all human, we all have done things we are ashamed of. Letting go of control is hard, but it is probably the only way to feel okay.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2009

You're a cool dude, right? And they're each, individually, cool dudes, right?

Cool dudes like other cool dudes. Don't sweat it. Seriously.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2009

One of the greatest joys of my adult life has been bringing together discrete groups of friends and watching new friendships between them blossom. Give yourself some credit--if they're all friends of yours, they'll probably be able to find some common ground. It doesn't always work out (I've got a couple of friends I do have to keep separated from each other), but the social payback when it does is worth the risk.
posted by Go Banana at 10:03 AM on September 13, 2009

Seconding banana, I've had parties where I just invited everyone I could think of and told them to bring anyone they want and they've turned out to be great parties. I've been wonderfully surprised by how well people have gotten along.
posted by mareli at 10:34 AM on September 13, 2009

I can't comment on the second fear, but I completely share the first.

I find the mixing of friends quite excruciating. I always have. I know that it's because lots of my friends can be quite judgmental, but so can I, and that's why I like them... I like people who are very opinionated. I think it's okay to be particular about who you like... but it does make "mixing" an awkward occasion.

I know it's about control, and petty fears that if certain friends meet other friends and don't think they are "cool enough" or whatever, that this will reflect badly on me. I know this is a stupid fear but I finally came to the conclusion that I don't care and I would just rather not mix friends. I think it's okay to keep friends separate. It took me years to accept this but it was a relief when I finally did.

Not everyone has to like everyone and it doesn't matter if your friends don't know each other.
posted by beccyjoe at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2009

I have often suffered from similar anxieties, and have always found that when my friend-groups interact, everything goes fine. Even if they share embarrassing stories- it has been freeing for me to not have the burden of maintaining multiple histories and personalities depending on the group. Everyone is human and does embarrassing things, and you do yourself a disservice holding yourself to a greater standard than you need to.

In other words, our friends are our friends because they like us, and they probably aren't keeping score. If they *are* and would somehow judge you if they heard stories, they are jerks and probably really aren't your friend in the first place. This may be disturbing to learn should someone turn out to be that kind of person, but you are better off knowing sooner than later.
posted by gjc at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2009

God, I know *exactly* what you are talking about, and this is one reason that I dread the thought of ever having a wedding! However, my live-in partner has decided that we'll have a housewarming at our new abode, so I'm having to face the impending doom of friend group mixing.

What I've decided will ease the pain is ensuring that there are a number of people from each of the respective friend groups, so they can always talk to one another if all else fails. As well, I'm trying to plan some activities that will keep people busy so there won't be a houseful of awkward silences. I figure if there are things like karaoke, board games, and lots of alcohol, people won't have time to get uncomfortable (or, in the case of your second fear, to gossip about you.)

Good luck and let us know how things go!
posted by Pomo at 6:34 PM on September 14, 2009

What Go Banana said, about the joy of seeing new things blossom because two random people met at your party. You can, though; take some control over social engineering the situation:
1) prevent cliquing - you noticed your groups self-segregating, and it is the first step. If you know who segregates, only invite one person from that group, or two people from that same group who are not particularly close
2) invite the people who have something in common, or who you really want meeting for other reasons (just moved into the same neighborhood, looking for resources on a hobby another guest is in; etc.)
3) do not feel bad about not inviting Everyone at the same time! No work people at this party is okay - next time! Find an activity (pizza making, fajitas, whatever) to keep people interacting, justify the size, and maintain your management of the situation.
posted by whatzit at 8:55 PM on September 14, 2009

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