don't call me (for a while), I'll call you (eventually)
February 6, 2012 7:58 AM   Subscribe

What are some socially acceptable ways to "drop out" socially for 6 months or so?

Right now my family is going through a very difficult time. It's nothing secretive, close friends and family are aware and supportive, and we're getting the help we need personally and professionally, individually and collectively. However, we have only lived in our city a few years and so our social lives here are rather superficial. I don't feel like going to parties, shows, happy hours, etc. and I would like to bow out of social events while we get through this. I'm not a reach-out-to-others kind of person, I'm more of a cocoon-type of person, and I want to come home from work and nurture myself as much as possible through solitude (not loneliness, solitude), cooking, exercising, reading, and being quiet. I am introverted as it is, and the situation is using up all of my emotional resources.

If I were traveling around the world for 6 months people would say "cool, see you when you get back!" If I were studying for the bar people would say "cool, call us when you need a break!" But if I say "we're going through a difficult time and don't want to socialize for 6 months" then the responses will range from pity to avoidance.

If I don't say anything but just turn down invites (this is what I've been doing for a while) then the invites will drop off and my new social scene will evaporate. I like the people I've started to befriend but they're not "friends" yet and my intimate personal details don't have a place in those relationships. These are just nice, friendly acquaintances I've shared some good times with and networked a bit with work-wise.

So what can I say that will stop the invites for a while without introducing drama and that will give me an opportunity to pick up where we left off in 6 months or so?

Hopefully I have given enough info that you guys can run with this question a bit. Anon because my partner is on mefi (we are struggling too, which makes socializing stressful ... do you pretend it's all ok? do you go out separately and then explain absences all the time?..etc.) and my kids read it. A few details: we are middle-aged, kids in high school, not churchy, and in this town for just a few years. It's not a small-town, but it's a small enough place that once your drama is known, it's known.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I've had to drop out of live the past couple of years due to dealing with my husband's illness and an overwhelming work/school workload. My experience? Most people won't really notice you are gone and when your life is back on track they will be happy to hear from you when you reach out to them and extend an invitation. Most adults understand that busy periods happen and won't hold it against you.
posted by saucysault at 8:07 AM on February 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

But if I say "we're going through a difficult time and don't want to socialize for 6 months" then the responses will range from pity to avoidance.

Well, you don't know that. It depends on the friend.

But if you need time (and really there's no way that you know if you'll need all 6 months or more than 6 months at this point), then you just tell people vaguely that you need some time. I'd be as open as possible without being specific.

"Hey, anon, I'm having a party next week. Do you want to come?"

"Oh, thank you for the invitation. I wish I could come. But I have so much on my plate right now. I'll check back in with you when I can. I'll call you, we'll have dinner"

And when you want to rejoin the world, poke your head back up and let them know you're okay.
posted by inturnaround at 8:10 AM on February 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can politely decline specific invitations in the short term. I would not mention the time duration. The important thing is to make a sustained effort to get back into the fold after the 6 months are up. Warming up the cold engine, so to speak.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:15 AM on February 6, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree that most people understand the need to manage the nest (or cave), so to speak. And probably tell people in a funny/humorous way. "Yeah, sorry, I need to go home and count the sheep" or simply, "I've got a lot on right now -- let's get together later".

It's a balance respecting that indeed you have a significant social presence in people's lives, and need to reassure them of such. Often friendship is easily validated by time spent together. To the people that you really want to continue great relationships with in six months, just keep in mind it's a two way street. You have the right to drop out, but a well-placed email, SMS, or phone call can go a long way toward being a good friend.

Also, think it's good to go to social events for brief amounts of time. A friend of mine used to arrive to parties/pub nights/dinners/etc and stay for 20-30 minutes, before "Oh, I have to go. A cab is booked for 830, you understand how it is." That went on for a while, and then things returned to normal; she never went into any detail on it. As her friend, it did mean a lot that she would show up briefly. Also made it super easy for her to hop back in circulation when she was done in the nest.
posted by nickrussell at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Thanks, but I'm really going to be busy with a big family project for the next few months. Think [bar exam, PhD project, or whatever they can relate to) level busy."

"Wow, sounds intense, what kind of project?"

"Sorry, it is a very personal family project but it is important to us!"

Pretty much true since you are working on yourself, etc.
posted by mikepop at 8:44 AM on February 6, 2012

If it were the right time of year (it almost is) and you were adequately prepared physically and gear-wise, you could do the Appalachin Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail - that'd get you good and gone for a fair length of time with no real social stigma.
posted by LionIndex at 8:57 AM on February 6, 2012

Don't try to stop the invites. Just have a stock response that will let people know that you're busy now but aren't brushing them off. "Unfortunately, I won't be able to make it. I have to focus on family stuff for the next [x] months, but I look forward to seeing you sometime after that."
posted by John Cohen at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

The examples you gave, of travelling, or the bar exam, or a work project, all these things END. There's some date after which everything's "back to normal" - even if a traveller didn't know today whether the flight home from Africa will be in July or August or September, there would be some date after which they're back. But this is different - you say it'll probably take 6 months or so before you're ready to see people, but that doesn't mean that 180 days from now you're going to feel like going to events that you weren't ready for 170 days from now. It's not a hard end. That means you can't say "well, I'm going to be incommunicado for personal crap until the end of July, but put me on the invite list for anything going on in August". You just don't know. And you can't even look forward to coming back with stories to tell; you're still not going to want to talk about it, so it's not reasonable to set an expectation of "back to normal" no matter what the time frame is.

What everyone's saying is right: no-one is going to decide that you're a terrible person just because you turn down invitations. Unless you make a big deal of it, it's quite possible they won't notice that you're "gone", they'll just notice you're not there right now. As people notice, invitations might stop flowing, but that doesn't mean they don't like you - in a group of "activity friends" I tend to assume that if Jane hasn't been at dance class for 5 months, she must have crap going on, and I won't burden her with a series of emails from eVite just because I'm having a BBQ. It's not like she's "off the list", it's just an inclination not to harrass people who are clearly preoccupied. But if Jane shows up at class some night, everyone will be all over her saying how great it is to see her again.

Advice in a few parts:
1. Don't take it too seriously. You don't feel like going to trivia night this Friday, and you're pretty sure you won't feel like it for a long time. That's not a big deal, the friend who invited you will continue to do fun things whether you're there or not, so when you express interest, they will still have fun things to invite you to. The less of a big deal you make of this, the less of a big deal it will be. If you announce to all and sundry that you will be on hiatus for 6 months, and please to stop inviting you to things, or expecting you to respond to emails, and you have MAJOR THINGS going on, but NO they are super-personal and not to be discussed, that closes off those ties pretty firmly. Just say "no thanks, it's a rough time right now, maybe later" - elaborating won't help. This means you can't go angling for sympathy either, but that rarely works anyway (oh, I'm so stressed and so anxious and so unhappy and no I can't possibly tell you anything, why don't you just fuss around and ask me what's wrong so I can sigh and tell you it's too personal, and then maybe you'll call me up in 6 months to buy me a beer.)

2. Keep your finger on the pulse of your own desire. Don't assume you're overwhelmed 100% of the time. If you find yourself restless and pacing as well as stressed and emotional, maybe that's the perfect time to get out of the house. One sociable beer doesn't mean you're up for everything, any more than turning down a few invitations meant there's a real exile in the first place.

3. If you turn down an invitation, don't discourage people from trying again. There's no need to feel bad about not responding, or feel guilty every time an event happens and you're not at it. Just think of how nice it will be to still be receiving those emails when you're ready to accept. In fact, you might even ask people to keep inviting you - instead of saying "not right now, in fact not for a long time (go away)", try "not this month, but I really appreciate the offer, please keep thinking of me."
On the other hand, if you really find it stressful to even hear remotely of a social thing going on, and you do want to shut off contact, be aware of what you're saying. "I need to be out of touch for a few months, please don't take it personally, I'll look forward to seeing you again when I can," also means "I'll call you when I'm ready." That's not unforvigable treatment of a social group - that's a promise. So when you're ready, call them.

4. Keep the network in place. You don't have to post to Facebook (or whatever social medium you favor), you don't have to read Facebook, you don't even have to log in at all. But remember that it's there in a few months, and when you want to see your friends again, take a minute to click through and see if there's any recent events you should know about. Nothing like inviting a friend with a broken ankle to go out hiking, or inviting a couple that recently broke up, to make them realize how long you've been gone, or how little you've thought about them while you were on hiatus. If you don't do digital networks, keep the real network in place. If any of your acquaintance network is mutual friends with your "real friends", use those connections to stay in the loop. Plant messages with your friends "Oh, you're going bowling? I got that email. Tell Joe thanks for the thought... just tell him I'm having a rough winter, and you hope I'll be back up for doing stuff by summer. Give me a call next week and tell me if there's any good gossip."
posted by aimedwander at 9:28 AM on February 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

I like the suggestion of saying, in reply to invitations, that you've got a lot on your plate right now. If you're pressed you can just say, "Oh just some personal family stuff." There's no need to go into detail. Nobody polite will press beyond that.

Just remember when people invite you out, make sure you always remember to respond with enthusiasm even if you have to decline. Express how fun it sounds, thank them and let them know how much it means to you to be invited even though you can't make it. Let them know how much you are looking forward to catching up once you're able to. Because I think the big reason invites evaporate when there has been no falling out, is people appear to have no interest in what you invite them to, or no interest in hanging out with you. Then you feel dumb to keep inviting them, or maybe thats just me. When you are ready to socialize again make sure to start by reciprocating with invites of your own, and make sure to acknowledge all the times they invited you before.
posted by cairdeas at 10:25 AM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that responding to invites on a case-by-case basis might be best. Instead of sending out a "blanket" notice that you'll be ASAP for a while, just politely decline invitations as you receive them.

Unless you're "expected" to be out with people multiple times a week, it's likely that no one will really notice that you've been absent a lot lately. If they do notice, and ask what's up, you can be honest: "As you know, my family is going through a tough time and so I'm focusing on that right now. Things should be better in a few months and I really hope that we can catch up soon."

That said, I will echo the point upthread about making time for coffee with those people who you do consider to be close friends.
posted by asnider at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2012

So I've done this a lot lately, between my dad's last illness and my own health issues. I agree with John Cohen--the best way to stay connected with people is to keep responding to their invitations with "Thanks so much, wish I could join you, can't wait until I can get back into the social whirl because I've missed you."

Saying "Please don't send me invitations because I'll be offline for six months" pre-emptively is far more distancing than responding to invitations individually. I empathize with the feeling that even sending a response to an RSVP can feel like a chore, but you might look at it as an investment of your time and energy in maintaining connections with your friends.

One way to make things simpler is to respond to everything, even voice calls, by email or text, which you can do at your own convenience.

Best of luck with the family issues.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:46 PM on February 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

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