Is it worth it to learn to socialize this way?
January 17, 2013 2:53 PM   Subscribe

For various reasons, I've never been entirely comfortable with a very common type of social event -- I'd characterize it as meeting in loud spaces in the evening with strangers around alcohol. In college, they were frat parties. In business school, it's been beer blasts. In professional life, it's been bars and happy hours. These social events are so common that I haven't been able to avoid them entirely, and I realize to some extent attending them is important because they're so common -- this is how many people meet mates, job prospects, connections. Is it worth it to force myself to get better at enjoying them, or am I completely justified in avoiding them as much as I can? (personal details follow)

I'm quite a few years out of college, but have returned to business school, where there's a lot of socializing that takes place in this way. That scene has never been my thing, even when I was in college.

I'm not an avid drinker. I'm a bit of a health nut, and would prefer to get up early to exercise. I'm also pretty small, physically, so I find it hard to make an impression in those loud, crowded places. I'm not big enough to claim my space and command crowds, and I tire out trying to shout over the music. Otherwise, I'm pretty sociable. I can make an impression in smaller, quieter environments like dinner parties and meet-and-greets.

I know we often have to do things we're uncomfortable with to grow, but is it worth it to continue to subject myself to these events? I know there are other types of social events, but loud parties seem to cast the widest net, and I might not be able to avoid it one day, so maybe I should get better at it.

On the other hand, is it futile to try? I'm not going to get any bigger or louder to conform to these spaces, nor give up my health obsessions for a questionable return.

Has anyone been in my shoes? Given the demographics of Metafilter, I expect most people will suggest that I spend my time elsewhere, but I'm especially interested in anyone who's tried and succeeded.
posted by Borborygmus to Human Relations (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I hate those things, too! Usually, what I do when I need to go to such an event is give myself a pre-determined time limit. I will stay for 30 minutes, an hour, whatever seems best given what I intend to accomplish at the event. And then, when the time's up, I say goodbye and leave! Knowing ahead of time that it's not going to last forever seems to help.
posted by ocherdraco at 2:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think it is futile to ignore your feelings about something and to force it. I mean, I am in the same boat as you. I hate loud noise and I hate drinking. I do like small gatherings and places conducive to conversation. I don't think it's wrong to avoid such things as much as possible and to maybe find friends who share your interests.

Go to brunch. Go to a diner. Be the person inviting other people. It's not wrong to not like doing this.
posted by inturnaround at 3:00 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sounds like the original ChatFilter question.

But here goes: I'm a social enough person, but I have kind of the opposite problem you have; I'm tall, 6'-2", so I have a commanding presence even if I don't want to. If I'm in a familiar crowd, among friends, it's pretty much like any other gathering and I'm sociable. If it's a crowd I don't know so well, I try very hard to NOT talk. Better to listen and gage the personalities. From that you don't necessarily make an impression, but you can learn about the other people in the group.
posted by Doohickie at 3:02 PM on January 17, 2013

I think it's OK to not like them, but as a 5'1" size 0 non-drinker who loves bars and has no problem claiming my space or commanding crowds when I'm there, your excuses for not wanting to do this ring hollow. Drinking and being large are very far from requirements for having fun at a crowded, alcohol-oriented event.

That said though, if it's not your thing, it's not your thing, and no need to make excuses for why. Is there a reason you think you have to go to these every time or for very long when you do? Make the events you like happen (by hosting or inviting or finding a different friend group). Don't go, or go rarely when you think it's important, to the ones you don't like. And when you do have to go occasionally for whatever reason, then yeah, just suck it up.
posted by brainmouse at 3:03 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have hearing problems that really are exasperated in places with a lot of background noise. On the other hand, I like people and certainly have been known to have an adult beverage or 6 on occasion. What I used to do was make a mental list of all the people I wanted to say hello to or in a business setting to let them know I was there. I would then work my way from small gathering to small gathering checking people off on the way. Usually it would take 45 minutes or so and I would either have found a friend or two to hang out with in a corner where it was not so loud or I would simply slip out the back jack.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:04 PM on January 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm also pretty small, physically, so I find it hard to make an impression in those loud, crowded places. I'm not big enough to claim my space and command crowds, and I tire out trying to shout over the music.

Maybe try going, with a time limit, as ocherdraco suggests, and adjusting your expectations of what you're meant to accomplish at these things. Worry less about commanding crowds and more about just being seen. It's not the place to have meaningful conversations so much as it is being seen to be participating with the group.

Now would be a good time to learn how to go, have a non-alcoholic drink or two, and leave early, gracefully ("I have to run/go to yoga/whatever at 5 a.m." is a perfectly good excuse). As you say, these sorts of events are common, so learning how to negotiate them while at least not obviously gritting your teeth is helpful.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:07 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hm. Is this a "loud space" where the music is so loud you have to scream to be heard, or just a "vibrant space" with lots of people talking? Because if it's the former (like a nightclub), then socializing by talking isn't really the point. If it's the latter, then, yeah, actually this is the way people "get together" in the young-professionals-socializing world.

What helps, in my experience, is to claim your own space. First, come relatively early, so it's not overcrowded. And when you do that, order dinner and sit down at the bar or one of the bar tables. There is no reason to have more than 1 or 2 drinks. That way, you've "claimed" some personal space to allow you to socialize while not getting shunted aside. In fact, I am going to leave to go to a place where I will do just that in about half an hour.
posted by deanc at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2013

I like drinking and crowds, but not interacting with groups of people. I've learned when to shut up (sometimes) and to try and blend into the background, smile, and nod. The biggest skill is knowing when you've reached your limit socialization and it's time for you to leave. Don't be self-conscious about leaving 'early'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:14 PM on January 17, 2013

I disagree with what brainmouse said about what you said ringing hollow, and very strongly so if you are a guy (in which case physical size is definitely a big factor in "presence" in settings where there are a lot of people).

I feel exactly the way you do about such situations (noise, drinking, etc.) and I avoid them. I much prefer meeting with one or two people maximum in quiet settings where you can actually talk and hear.

So, don't worry about not liking those settings and not participating. There are a lot of us like you who feel the same way!
posted by Dansaman at 3:17 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks, good reflections. I took some hope from brainmouse's response, as harsh as it was. It suggested a worthwhile challenge. But Dansaman is right -- are you male or female? In such situations, I think it's easier to be female.

I'm familiar with attending these things with a goal orientation. I like that idea, and that's how I often approach them too. But what happens when you don't know anyone? That's when commanding space and having a loud voice becomes important.

Doohickie, I wish I had your problem!

deanc, this is a loud space where I have to just about scream to be heard. More nightclub than vibrant space indeed... and so if "socializing by talking isn't really the point," what is? I think it is to see friends and have an excuse to have a few drinks.

It's certainly not to hook up. Professionally, these things are more male than female, even though they have the air of a frat party. No place to eat. Just drink and shout and grin stupidly at half-heard jokes and observations.
posted by Borborygmus at 3:31 PM on January 17, 2013

I have hearing problems like JohnnyGunn and social issues like you, and struggle to enter group conversations in pubs, despite fitting the requirements in most other ways. Similarly, my solution is to make sure I have at least one conversation with each person I care about, and then ditch out. (If applicable, it helps to convince people to come along for cigarette breaks.) Friends have come to accept this as the MO, and it gets the job done in broad social settings.

It may not work in your social/cultural/work setting, but it helps for me to initiate or at least organise small house gatherings instead, [or at least other kinds of social gatherings] which are a lot easier to deal with. You're never going to be as au fait as the normal gang, but you can make it work.
posted by forgetful snow at 3:33 PM on January 17, 2013

It's worth it to continue if business school is any practice for being in business.

If any business is conducted or connections and contacts made at such events, you should be there for it. You don't have to get bigger or louder or conform - you just need to be present long enough to get the goods and then get out. The return is that you advance your position. Consider this training wheels for those future client appreciation parties and launches or promotional events and holiday parties. They're terrible, and the only thing worse than being an employee at them is being the employee's wife at one (where a knowledge of swing-era drummers came in handy when seated next to the General Manager's husband.)

JohnnyGunn's advice
is very good, in this instance. You just need learn to make your presence felt, and to use the informal setting as a way to gather information you wouldn't get in a workspace. At the very least, how else will you know to thank a client or contact with a bottle of bourbon rather than a bottle of vodka?

As an example, mrgood does not smoke. mrgood also hates bad weather. mrgood also hates missing out on taking part in decisions that affect his work. So at one agency, where the decision makers all left for frequent smoke breaks except for him, mrgood realized this was affecting his work, and so then he would then go along with them for some "fresh air" and have a clementine or eat an apple while they smoked. That way he didn't miss out on anything, and he still remained a vital part of the office's culture, and didn't compromise his health (much.)
posted by peagood at 3:37 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I dunno it's obviously dependent on culture, but I hate these kind of things and rarely if ever go. It hasn't hurt my career at my main employer at all. You may find as you and/or your team gets older, people have babies and children at home, live in the burbs etc and these events become more rare.
posted by smoke at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2013

More nightclub than vibrant space indeed... and so if "socializing by talking isn't really the point," what is? I think it is to see friends and have an excuse to have a few drinks.

Ugh, my sympathies. If you really feel it's necessary to make the connections you need in b-school, my suggestion is to make a "guest appearance", have a drink (or just a club soda), say hi, and take your leave. Just enough to make sure you don't become known as "Borborygmus, that person who's kind of a hermit."
posted by deanc at 3:44 PM on January 17, 2013

This reminds me of Chamber of Commerce socials. Blech!

I'll bet that if you really study the crowd, you will spot a few other people who aren't really into being there. Go shout at them. They'd probably like to leave too. Then you go together to the next one and try to spot other uncomfortable people. There's your networking.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:26 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes! It is absolutely worth making an effort to enjoy socializing. I have been in your shoes, so let me explain why:
-Building relationships is about 50% of the value in going to business school, I am speaking from experience
-Connecting with people, and making new friends and finding a girlfriend or boyfriend is the stuff of life. Enjoy it!
-These parties and networking opportunities don't last forever. When you're settled down and in a steady job, these opportunities to meet smart people from diverse backgrounds won't happen too often.
-There is nothing more satisfying then learning how to do something (e.g. socializing) that you couldn't do well before. Consider it a challenge and a way to grow. It's a skill that will be useful for the rest of your life.

How are you going to do it?
-Feel free to drink water all night. Nobody will notice or care.
-If you don't know anybody, my favorite introduction is "Hi! I don't think we've met."
-Sometimes these events aren't that fun. If people aren't acting welcoming, which happens sometimes, just go home and don't worry about it. Try again next week.

Have fun!
posted by 0110 at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

To be honest, if business school is anything like law school, the answer is yes. I socialized a lot in law school and as a result have a very large group of friends who are now lawyers and it has helped me hugely. And I didn't go to some Ivy league and it hasn't helped me because my friends are from rich well connected families, but I know people. I know a lot of people and they've gotten me jobs and I've gotten them jobs and I've passed many a resume from a friend of a friend. The biggest thing though is that these people have been through similar, but different career paths than me and the advice they gave me was invaluable. And very specific to my exact situation because they were in my exact situation. Lawyers graduating 10-20 years ago were in a TOTALLY different world than the one I had to start my career in.

There were definitely people I knew who didn't go out drinking, who didn't go to the parties and weekly bar review. They were sociable during school and everyone liked them. They were far from social outcast. That being said I haven't spoken to a single one of them since law school and no one else has either. They certainly had good friends in law school, but not the huge social network you accumulate when you're out together at 2 am every Thursday night. We're all still relatively young, but it's still hilarious to think who some of these people were when I met them and who they are now. You might think you know who the "success" stories will be, but I promise you'll be wrong more often than right. People trust people who knew them in their (relatively) wild youth. It's like mutually assured destruction.

However, I would never show up at these things without knowing anyone. I go out to bars all the time and I NEVER go alone. I think that would be miserable. It's very hard to even show up at an event where you *might* kind of know people and then strike up a conversation. You need a partner in crime. Also, you in no way need to dominate or be the life of the party. Just go along for the ride. Head out early if you want (but not too early) and you don't have to get trashed. Don't treat it like a networking even where you're working the room. Just try to make some friends and have some fun. The rest will follow naturally.
posted by whoaali at 4:50 PM on January 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Not all of these events are the same. A lot of your experience may depend on the venue. For example, I'm basically a total extrovert : I love to "schmooze". However, I cannot stand trying to have conversations in loud environments. So it really depends on the event. Not all happy hours take place at bars that blast shitty techno at 1000 decibels. Some of them can be quite nice.

Choose your venue wisely, and don't be afraid to leave if an event early if it doesn't suit you.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:17 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not worth it. If the objective is to do social events, find another venue that's your style. You're a health nut. I see plenty of other health nuts out exercising in the morning darkness, in large groups. They talk about politics, business, whatever. It's the same scene but without drunkenness. Old school people do this sort of socializing on golf courses or in social clubs. If you want mates, job connections, etc., there are plenty of ways to find them without this scene.
posted by massysett at 7:43 PM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am an extrovert and very comfortable in groups but basically only went to a handful of these events before I was into my 30s and married. I didn't miss anything by not going and never regret skipping them now.
posted by anildash at 9:12 PM on January 17, 2013

I'm not an avid drinker. I'm a bit of a health nut, and would prefer to get up early to exercise. I'm also pretty small, physically, so I find it hard to make an impression in those loud, crowded places. I'm not big enough to claim my space and command crowds, and I tire out trying to shout over the music. Otherwise, I'm pretty sociable. I can make an impression in smaller, quieter environments like dinner parties and meet-and-greets.

The rule I've started setting myself in this situation is "End the conversation first." As a conversation is winding down and you can tell it's gonna be over soon enough, take it upon yourself to be the guy who says "Right, nice talking to you, I'm gonna head over there and see what those kids are up to."

Basically, I can make myself interesting enough to compete with cheap beer and a wall full of televisions for about two minutes at a time; maybe five minutes if I'm really on top of my game. As soon as the other guy's attention starts wandering, that's my cue that my two or five minutes are ending. So say "Yeah, I'm gonna go say hi to those folks over there. See you around." and this ends the show on a high note, and you're now free to do something to recharge (drink a beer, smoke a cig, go outside and enjoy the cold quiet air that isn't full of synthesized beats) and then go looking for someone else to entertain for five minutes.

With this approach you can step into a Big Loud Obnoxious Mixer, exchange warm fuzzy I Acknowledge Your Reality tokens with maybe a dozen people whose reality you've been meaning to acknowledge anyway, have a few beers, laugh at a few jokes, and emerge basically unscathed from the other end an hour later. You might not have had an awesome time, but it will have been somewhere beteween "harmless," "amusing" and "pleasant" — and anyway you'll have gotten a whole bunch of coral card bingo data which comes in spots.
posted by and so but then, we at 9:16 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

you are completely justified in avoiding them as much as you can.
that being said, if you really feel like you NEED to engage in this sorts of things for work/networking etc...take afroblanco's advice and SUGGEST the quiet, more 'loungey' place when you feel like your coworkers/whoever are itching for a night out, and do your best to really 'sell' it...BEFORE they can suggest the obnoxious party hellhole.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:21 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks guys. Much to think about.

I'm glad to see I'm not alone in disliking them for needing to shout, and for struggling with the space issue. That's reassuring. I agree that there are better options.

But I also agree these things can be important and are worth mastering. I'm going to mark whoaali's answer as the best.

I do often go in with the intention of hitting several checkpoints and making my presence known. I do avoid the alcohol, target the singletons and idle, and keep things moving. The greatest struggles I have are when I go into these things solo -- and no one, it seems, suggests that.

I guess that lays out a plan of action for me. I will have to find a crew first, but by other means, because I'm not going to assemble one at these mixers!
posted by Borborygmus at 12:11 AM on January 18, 2013

There are many reasons people avoid the bar scene; I avoid it completely these days, and hated, HATED the raucous type of bar when I was younger. When you get out of school AND as you and your peers get older (and paired off), I think you'll find that hanging out in bars fades out as an activity for most people (not all) in favor of golf, softball, and such. There'll be the occasional company party but you can generally put a time limit on that - I do all the time.

I don't know what career you're pursuing but unless it is something that requires a lot of gladhanding, I think you can feel comfortable in avoiding these gigs, or do what others have suggested and try an alternate venue. How about morning coffee or breakfasts? There's an old chestnut that needs to be revived. Somebody in your crowd is probably going to be glad you offered an alternative - I know I would have been when I was in school.

Editing just to say that I really like Mr. Yuck's suggestion.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:38 AM on January 18, 2013

You could try to set up alternative social events for people to attend, for example outdoor team building activities, sports events, hikes, picnics, etc. Not only would that give you a more comfortable venue for socializing but also you'd be seen as a leader for setting it up.
posted by Dansaman at 6:58 AM on January 18, 2013

"...this is how many people meet mates, job prospects, connections..."

On the other hand, many other people (like myself) do perfectly okay on finding mates, jobs and connections without subjecting ourselves to that sort of environment. Just saying ...
posted by tdismukes at 7:15 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, many other people (like myself) do perfectly okay on finding mates, jobs and connections without subjecting ourselves to that sort of environment. Just saying ...

Yes. While I tend to frequent "vibrant bar environments" and house parties, I really never, ever go to a place like a nightclub where the music is so loud I have to scream to be heard and the main focus seems to be on drinking and dancing rather than socializing. And I think I have done fine without that. It may well come down to establishing "classmate happy hour" at a bar, rather than a nightclub once a month. Because the thing is probably that one of your classmates prefers the "loud nightclub" environment, and he's the one organizing these social outings. I'm sure if you suggested a more socializing-friendly alternative, that would be welcome.
posted by deanc at 2:03 PM on January 18, 2013

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