how can an introvert infiltrate a tight-knit group of super-socializers?
August 28, 2013 11:55 AM   Subscribe

my SO of about a year has a very large family that is heavily into socializing, and i'm an introvert. can we peacefully coexist?

my SO's family hosts large dinner parties every weekend that include most of his friends, a similarly all-encompassing annual trip, and plenty of interim events and gatherings. both me and my SO are pretty introverted, but these are people he's known forever, so it's very comfortable and normal for him. but even after a year of dating, it's still not something i particularly enjoy. i'm usually fine for the first few hours, but after that i start to get quite tired, and my head feels foggy and overstimulated. i regularly try to engage people in non-small talk conversation one-on-one, which is more comfortable for me and meaningful, but typically these large events end up becoming one giant group conversation, in which i usually don't say anything.

i enjoy people-watching and don't necessarily always want to say anything either, but i often feel acutely self-conscious of the fact that even after this amount of time, i still don't feel truly comfortable around or integrated into the family/friend group.

a few special snowflake details:
- i've struggled with social anxiety and shyness in large groups or public settings my entire life. small groups are fine, but only if they're still reasonably small... like three or four people. one-on-one is never a problem. but all through college, i was that person who knew i needed to raise my hand and participate in class, but just couldn't do it. i've always preferred writing, and i genuinely enjoy spending time alone on my own creative pursuits.
- on that note, i recently went on a very long (over a week) trip with the family/friends, in which i felt like the only person who required any alone time. i realize that logically, this seems impossible, but this was, at least, how it appeared to me at the time. i recognized after three or four days of pretty solid socializing (granted, for me, this means mostly smiling, laughing, nodding, drinking, and listening), that i literally hadn't had ANY time to myself. i felt tired, grumpy, withdrawn, and unproductive. i tried to go off on my own to read and draw and listen to music, but inevitably a group of people would wander over to start a game (which i politely declined for the first time, after many hours of game-playing over the past few days, but still felt weird about doing) or ask me about what i drawing.
- this feeling of weirdness was the low point of the trip. the high points (for me) involved feeling much closer to my SO, who is very understanding of my personality type and has never made me feel guilty about it or anything. (quite the contrary. he thinks i'm too hard on myself.) but i think i was expecting to somehow feel closer to everyone in the group, and that just didn't happen. instead, i felt like maybe i was being antisocial whenever i wanted to be away from people just for a little while. and unsure if SO's parents and friends and family thought i was odd or right for him or not enough of a social butterfly. they've never been anything but nice to me, but they are sort of a political, baby-kissing family in the sense that they're extremely welcoming and friendly to everyone, such that it's impossible to tell who they genuinely like. i guess that's better than the opposite, but it makes me feel pretty expendable.
- which brings me to the fact that there was another event just a few days after we got back from the trip which i was not invited to. i didn't act miffed, and don't intend to, since it would probably be quite hypocritical, but i think part of me fears that his family doesn't like me and specifically didn't want me there and/or my SO just didn't want me there because maybe it's more awkward or something. best scenario, i feel like it's possible that my SO was sparing me even more socializing, or assumed i wouldn't want to go, since he was aware that the trip was a little much for me. he hasn't acted weird or anything and was very open about going to this other thing (after the fact), as though he didn't think i'd mind. which i guess i really don't, since i actively encourage doing separate things. but i think i'm just reading more into this in light of my renewed self-consciousness about my social ineptness.

thoughts? reassurances? non-reassurances? experiences? anything and everything is appreciated.
posted by humiliated_grape to Human Relations (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Whether or not you are socially inept (doubtful anyway, given that you haven't gone stabby yet), gatherings every weekend for hours on end, plus trips and "interim gatherings" sounds like a circle of hell that would wear on anybody. Give yourself permission not to go. It's okay. Really. Save your sanity. Go when you feel like going.
posted by sageleaf at 12:06 PM on August 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you and your SO (or just you) invite just a few of these friends out to dinner? Or over for dinner? Or out to a museum, or golfing, or whatever? Would getting to know them individually or in smaller groups help you feel more comfortable with them in larger groups?

As for the event to which you weren't invited, just ask your SO what was up.
posted by jaguar at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dated a guy for several years who had a family with about seven hundred fifty thousand people in it. They had get-togethers all the time, and thankfully they lived in another state so it wasn't an all the time thing for me, but I always found them very stressful. It was like the entire state of Ohio descended on his uncle's back lawn.

My means for making do at those gatherings was to befriend the little cousins, of which there will certainly be several in a family that large. Take Apples to Apples and play with them. Bring a case of facepainting crayons and paint sharks and butterflies on their little cousin faces. Set up a cornhole game or something and organize a tournament.

It makes you look awesome, because the kids are sure to think you're awesome, and it'll show the family that you're not afraid of them. BUT! Kids are also way easier because no one cares about what your job is or what you're studying in school or what your parents do. The kids will just see you as a Tall Fun Person and then run away to go do something else after 5 minutes because that's how they work.

I don't know, maybe you're a person who gets really stressed around kids, but I find large numbers of small humans vastly preferable to large numbers of adult family people. They're easier to impress.
posted by phunniemee at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

Also, it's ok to go to things for an hour or two, then leave early but leave your SO there.
posted by jaguar at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the only person who can explain why you weren't invited to the most recent event is your SO. Did you ask them? What did they say? (If you haven't asked them, I think you need to.)

Speaking as another introvert, this would drive me completely crazy. I think you can discuss reasonable limits with your SO, and stick to them. Can you bring separate transportation to some of these events, so you can head out when you get foggy and leave them to socialize? Are there any separate rooms where you could head for a little alone time? Maybe a cafe down the road?

If your job is demanding (or people think it's demanding), and it's a group where this kind of thing is accepted, that can be an excuse for alone time -- "Hey, I hate to do this, but I have to take a call/check for an important email/whatever." Check email, read a book for 20 minutes. Rejoin group.

If all else fails, bring some food item that requires preparation, or help clean the kitchen. If you're done with the dinner dishes, it's usually possible to get away with wiping down the countertops, sink, stovetop, and microwave. I have found cleaning fridges and ovens to be a bridge too far.
posted by pie ninja at 12:12 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

best scenario, i feel like it's possible that my SO was sparing me even more socializing, or assumed i wouldn't want to go, since he was aware that the trip was a little much for me.

If I were your SO, and my family had a weekly stream of social events that I knew you had a limited amount of energy for, I would simply not bring you along to many of them since you wouldn't enjoy them and it's not as though you wouldn't have a chance to see the family. I would look at this not as though you were snubbed but as though your SO finally "caught on" that you can't handle this relentless parade of large family events when you'd rather have some alone time.
posted by deanc at 12:15 PM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

How wonderful is this guy? Where do you see the relationship going? I ask you these things because I used to be married into a family that was high-energy in a social sense. We lived far enough away that we didn't see them all the time, but when we did it was very draining. After being divorced out of that family, I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to deal with that shit anymore. It wasn't awful by any means.

I don't think it gets any better. I see the merits of the suggestion to play with the kids, but honestly I think that's a fairly dismal recourse. To rush over to "play with the kids" because adults are too taxing is never going to feel like a good or satisfying solution, because bottom line is, you doing really want to be there and playing with the kids is a form of running away.

The family you're dealing with (big, boisterous, baby-kissing, "political") just sounds like TOO MUCH. Just too much. And for me, nothing could make it better. So unless the guy is irreplaceably wonderful, I think I'd find another relationship with someone whose family has a pace that's more to your liking.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:21 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It helps me to find a job to do. At first it's kind of awkward but since you've known them for a year, I'd start to dive in to load the dishwasher or clear the table, etc. It gives you something to do and it's much easier to talk to people while you are doing something with your hands.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:23 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm extroverted, but even I would need some alone time after four days of socializing without any breaks. Needing some time to yourself is completely normal, and it's not unreasonable to excuse yourself for an hour or so to read, or go for a run, or take a nap, or do whatever you need to do.

I wouldn't worry too much about not being invited to an event, especially one that you don't even necessarily want to go to. It's pretty unlikely that these people actually think you're socially inept. More likely explanations are that the organizer didn't have your contact information, or they assumed that you would feel tacitly invited because your SO was invited. N=1, but when I plan events, I hardly ever formally invite other people's SO's if I don't know them well, but I assume they know they're invited. It's also possible that they just wanted to spend quality time with the people they feel closest too (which isn't a slight on you, by any means).

In my experience with my own introverted friends, I sometimes stop inviting them to big parties when I realize that they don't really want to go. This doesn't mean that I don't want them there, but that I don't want them to feel obligated to attend an event that's going to wipe them out.
posted by therumsgone at 12:25 PM on August 28, 2013

I think it is perfectly reasonable for you not to go to every one. That would wear on anyone, not just an introvert. I would go to every second or third one. I also think it is fair game to expect some balance in this, getting time for yourself to decompress afterwards. If you see a long term future with this guy these are things you should be establishing and sorting out NOW, right from the beginning.

I come from a family of uber socializers, not in terms of frequency, but INTENSITY when we do all get together. There are a lot of us and we are all mega intrusive and loud and social. Everytime we have a new person enter the family (usually through marriage) there is a "break in period". We KNOW that our family events are intense, and we KNOW that our level of extroversion isn't the norm. We expect that for the first while the new person isn't going to necessarily be up for the full McSockerson Clan Christmas. One of my cousin's married a guy who came from a very small family and he found us all very intimidating and OH MY GOD PEOPLE. For the first while he would stay for maybe half the family events, ducking out half way through and leaving my cousin to be able to socialize and visit with the family. Now, six years later, he is comfortable with us all and can last through a whole event happily. It takes a while, but it can be done.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I realized that this passage in my answer seemed like a non-sequitur:

After being divorced out of that family, I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to deal with that shit anymore. It wasn't awful by any means.

What I meant was, it is very nice not to have to deal with all that socializing, even though it wasn't that bad. By contrast, the socializing you are being subjected to sounds positively awful.
posted by Unified Theory at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2013

Do you walk/jog/hike? I went to a weekend of gaming with (mostly) guys, but there was another girl there, and she left her boyfriend to game while she went out on a hike/jog one morning. No one seemed to think anything of it, so it seems like it would be a good excuse to get some alone time without feeling weird about it.

I do not consider myself to be an introvert, but during long weekends spent with groups of people I try to make sure I plan some scheduled things on my one - whether that is pet care, or just wandering off on my own for a bit to recharge.
posted by needlegrrl at 12:31 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

i tried to go off on my own to read and draw and listen to music, but inevitably a group of people would wander over to start a game (which i politely declined for the first time, after many hours of game-playing over the past few days, but still felt weird about doing) or ask me about what i drawing

Just wanted to offer you some reassurance--this is people actively liking you, taking an interest in you, and wanting to get to know you better....and probably also wanting to make sure you don't feel left out! People that socialize like this often really don't get that it could be taxing for other people, and want to make you feel as welcome as possible, even if that is the opposite of what you need. If you need a break, it's hard to do these types of activities like reading or drawing in the vicinity of a group, because they have been trained to draw you out. Try going for a walk (maybe one other person wants to join you?), running to the store for some milk, or otherwise leaving the space.
posted by stellaluna at 12:33 PM on August 28, 2013

Hi. Introvert here with one of those seven hundred fifty thousand member families phunniemee described. I love my tribe with all my heart but for reals, I cannot be in the middle of a group that large for that long without starting to feel completely overwhelmed. Dinner at the table is about as much big group all at once as I can handle, and these are *my* people, not my SOs.

My solution has been to try and get one on one time with each member of the family (or as many of them as I can) during our big gatherings, with lots of breaks for alone time in between. Talk to Aunt Kate, get some wine, talk with cousin Beth, go into an empty room and read a little MeFi, and so forth. I value the time spent with each of them catching up, really sharing back and forth what is going on, and the breaks help me keep from feeling too freaked out.

Also, co-signing hanging with the kids, especially if it's your SOs family. Everyone loves that guest who willingly/happily takes on keeping the kids entertained for a little bit, even if just so their parents can grab a glass of wine and catch up with people. No one needs to know why you are doing it. :)
posted by deliciae at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2013

As a fellow introvert, this sounds incredibly draining. Although it does seem that they like you, expecting you to go to very intense family gatherings this frequently is kind of unreasonable. I wouldn't read too much into not being invited to the one event. They seem to be generally inclusive.

If you must go, get out and take a walk -- just grab some quiet time for yourself.

That said, it's OK not to go to every single one of these events. Could you talk your SO into pursuing some hobbies and experiences as a couple on some weekends, gracefully bowing out of a few of these intense gatherings? Maybe hit up some wineries, go geocaching, camping, take a couples massage class, etc. As a couple, it's really important for both of you to have time where it's just the two of you. You don't sound resentful, yet, but if this keeps going on and on those feelings may bubble up.

What you desire is just as important and just as valid what this big family/group of friends desires. Don't just go along with things because you feel that's what they want and you're trying to please them -- what do you want?

You sounds like you're a very caring, empathetic person who just wants to make everyone happy, but you need to look out for your own happiness as well. It's OK not to go to every family gathering.
posted by Ostara at 1:10 PM on August 28, 2013

I'm convinced that about a third of the people who run do it just to get some peace and quiet.

I'm EXTRA-extroverted but sometimes I just want my own good company. That's when I go for a run - duration set by how much time I need alone. (And there's no shame in running for a bit then getting a cramp that required you to stop in a coffee shop and rest that muscle. Happens to me, could happen to you.)

Two more things:

- I'm nearly positive you've got some confirmation bias going on here. People do drift off, take a nap, read a just don't notice since there are so many people. If you did a little drift and nap for an afternoon no one would notice.
- They are trying to include you and it's overwhelming. In their own ham-handed way they're saying: "We include you! We welcome you! You're one of us!" It's the welcome they would want and not the one you want.
posted by 26.2 at 1:15 PM on August 28, 2013

I impersonate an extrovert very well, and when with my husband's family, I always find tasks to do while chatting or hanging out with them. They have a lifetime of shared experiences and memories that don't include me, and I'm not always privy to the secret code about Aunt Florence's cats or whatever, so being busy helps me to enjoy the conversation without having to be very invested in it.
But this "but it makes me feel pretty expendable" is your own stuff. Take them at their word--they like you, they approve, they're glad your SO is happy. Don't try to find trouble--the more you look for it, the more likely you are to find it.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you hang out with a few of these people one-on-one or in smaller groups, away from the big dinner parties?

I am also a little bit introverted -- and mostly get overstimulated by big gatherings -- and I've found that people vaguely on the periphery of my awareness from big parties have a better chance of becoming good friends that I feel comfortable around if I hang out with them one on one.
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on August 28, 2013

My partner and I have had some enormous blow-ups about this kind of thing. When we moved back into the state after a few years away we had two months of gathering at least twice a week until I broke down sobbing and crying in my kitchen, and swearing at him, because he still didn't get it.

These gatherings, even with my family, are a trial for me. I do it because I love him and they are nice people and this is necessary for the relationship. But I LOVED living two states away. I loved it sincerely and completely and part of that was never having all those people in my house, and rarely being stuck in a house with all those people.

After that, the Christmas gathering went badly. Then Australia Day went worse. It was absolutely untenable until we argued about it again and he finally finally worked out that I don't actually love his family like they're my own, and I don't even like spending time with my own damn family. This little family, the one I created with him and our daughter? I like that. I don't like gatherings of more than 6 people usually.

So, in the interest of staying married, I don't go now. Or I go for a bit, then go home. His family are not allowed to give me stick, not allowed to bitch about it. I do what I can, then I go away. I have no doubt that if we continued on that path, we would have separated. I would have been a complete wreck.

Part of it was a plain old moratorium on any socialising. I just didn't go to anything for a few months. Then I went for small periods of time. Part of it is that they LOVE to just sit around and after two hours of it I want to die. I can't sustain that level of socialising with my partner! So I don't - it was never going to change, so why keep hurting me in order to make me fit?

We do socialise a lot with his brother and his family - they live very close by which helps, but I have a relationship with his brother and he understands me very well. So I can sit at their house and read, or write, or whatever. I can even flail out and leave and it's okay, they still love me. No bitching, no carrying on. Just understanding. But this is ten years in - it took A LOT of work to get to this point.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:08 PM on August 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh my God. I cannot begin to tell you how much I sympathize with you. I am in the exact same situation.

You have to set some rules with your SO. Mine are:
-I only go to four giant family parties per year, this includes weddings, christenings, birthday parties, whatever.
-We leave when I give him the signal.
-I need at least two weeks notice for overnight visitors.
-If we are visiting far away family we will stay at a hotel and have our own means of transportation.

As for whether or not they like you, don't bother worrying about it beyond his immediate family, who you will hopefully see and get to know in more intimate settings.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:33 AM on August 29, 2013

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