Why do I feel wired?
June 28, 2016 11:20 AM   Subscribe

So I’m dating a great guy for about 6 weeks now and it’s going well in many ways. A few days ago he invited me to watch a movie at his sister’s. We picked up some food and went over. I met his sister and her husband, we watched a movie, then went to the kitchen area and were talking for a bit about movies. They are perfectly nice people, but I felt awkward the entire time.

Like I couldn’t wait to get out of there. OK, I felt under the weather physically, and so I did want to just get out so that I could take off my social/charming/smiley face and go back to wallowing in my misery, but regardless, I just felt so out of place and not knowing what’s next? What if they are tired too and are waiting for us to leave? What do people normally do in such situations? That sort of questions running through my head did not help me relax at all. I’ve never met anyone before through movie watching, and just don’t know what do people normally do afterwards? How soon to get going?

I’m more used to meeting new people say at my friends’ house during a cookout or a party. Then I don’t feel like I’m on the spot all the time and can choose to interact with someone for a bit, and then not when I feel like it. I’m quite social for an introvert, I like meeting new people and I usually have fun at parties, as long as I can retreat into my corner for a few minutes to recoup. But in that situation it felt to me like I need to pull it off somehow, or that an uncomfortable silence is looming over and I need to come up with things to say. Not that the people expected it from me, but it felt to me this way in my own head and that made me have a miserable time. There was no one else they could talk to, and so it felt like I/we had to be “on” the entire time.

Now my guy wants to repeat such gatherings now and then in the future, and I want to scream. What’s wrong with me? How to cope?
posted by LakeDream to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should go to a therapist and discuss the possibility of social anxiety disorder.
posted by saeculorum at 11:26 AM on June 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I don't know about a disorder, but it definitely sounds like anxiety. Anxiety isn't a bad thing necessarily, it is programmed into us for a reason. A lot of people get anxious when at a job interview, and maybe this was kind of like a similar thing. The pressure was on!

I would say that nothing is wrong with you as long as you have good coping mechanisms to calm down and regain control and it isn't particularly debilitating.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:33 AM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Being sick and being forced to go to someone's relative's house, when you barely know the person you've just started to date, seems like a bad situation. I wouldn't worry that much.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2016 [35 favorites]

It's harder when you meet a partner's family. Try to relax next time. It's up to your partner to know when to leave — it's his family. Also, next time you'll already know them — it'll be easier. And make sure you do activities with your friends, too, so that you can feel more at ease.
posted by clone boulevard at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nothing's wrong with you, it's okay to feel awkward around your boyfriend's family. Yes, you were anxious, but don't leap to saying it's an anxiety disorder, it's a legitimately stressful situation.

In terms of how to cope, your best bet is to talk it out with your boyfriend. Tell him his sister is lovely but it was a stressful evening for you. Explain to him the difference between how they could all be relaxed and have a good time while you were in a unrelaxed mental state, so you were exhausted afterwards. Talk about compromises - you'd be happy to spend more time with them but you'd like it to be with more people so you're not on the spot, or for a shorter block of time, or only for specific activity with less milling around time, or whatever kind of caveats would help you feel better about the situation.
Also, as you get to know his family, you probably won't feel quite so stressed by it, so you ought to be able to propose things as a temporary solution not an ultimatum.
posted by aimedwander at 11:35 AM on June 28, 2016 [14 favorites]

You show up, you make smalltalk same as you would at any other social gathering, the hosts put on the movie when the hosts are ready to put on the movie, you sit and shut up during the movie because there is a special circle of hell reserved for people who talk during movies, and if these people are people who want to socialize WHILE A MOVIE IS PLAYING maybe you should suggest that next time let's do a potluck and not watch a movie, since last time we just talked and didn't watch the movie anyway, but regardless, when the movie is over you talk about the movie or things related to the movie, maybe other movies that are like the movie, or a movie to watch next time, and then when conversation seems to be petering out you excuse yourself to go pee, come back, and say "wow! didn't realize how late it was, I should probably be getting home soon, thank you so much for hosting, this has been fun," and start making your exits.
posted by phunniemee at 11:36 AM on June 28, 2016 [18 favorites]

It sounds like in addition to not having as many built-in opportunities for mini-breaks from people as you might in a larger party situation, there's probably a large component of "I really like this guy and I want his family to like me" here as well. If that's the case, then hopefully once you get to know your guy's sister and her husband a little better, the awkwardness will subside.

In the meantime, is there a way to get together with these people and get to know them in a less anxiety-provoking way? Maybe going to a museum or outdoor market or fair or something where you can kind of drift apart and then back together again as it suits? Or maybe having a board game night rather than a movie night so you have something concrete to do and talk about while you get to know each other?

Also, though it may be a tougher conversation to have with a guy you've been seeing for such a comparatively short amount of time, it might not be a bad idea to talk with him about this, but in a way that doesn't make it sound like you don't want to hang out with his sister. Maybe tell him kind of what you said here--that you really want to make a good impression on her and her husband, and it's precisely because of this that you find two-on-two's stressful this early in the relationship. See if he has any ideas or suggestions to help you all get to know each other a little better before trying out a movie night again.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:37 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're mentally ill and need medical help. I think your gut is telling you you're not happy, and I think you need to tease out the reasons why and ponder them.
posted by zadcat at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Nothing's wrong with you. You're fine and normal. It was an awkward situation.

There are a lot of guys who live in the same town as their siblings who are overly reliant on family for their socializing. Socializing is different between family and friends/acquaintances. Generally, it's harder with friends/acquaintances. So this has put you in the position of being the odd one out (non-family) while your boyfriend and his sister are in the comfortable position of having known each other their whole lives.

There are a lot of guys who offload friendship/relationship maintenance to girlfriends. There are a lot of guys with unrealistic, and frankly, kind of stupid expectations for their girlfriends and their sisters to be "lol besties like women are" or whatever. There are a lot of possessive sisters who give new girlfriends a hard time, or at least, don't go out of their way to give them an easy time.

Given all of that, there is a really high chance you're actually the normal one in this situation.
posted by quincunx at 11:39 AM on June 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think it is your guy's responsibility to read the room at his sister's house and determine when is the right time to leave. I think they are reasonable concerns you have. I think it sounds to me as if you did not agree with your guy's assessment of the room. Talk to him. Btw, he obviously thought it went well enough to want to do again or something similar.
posted by AugustWest at 11:49 AM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

That was a high-pressure situation, when "movie night at home" should be a relaxing situation. You don't know the guy that well yet, so being in his sister's house is going to be even more tense.

It would have been kinder of him to have you meet his sister, first, for a brief period, maybe at lunch or something.

Also, you can't really be comfortable around someone in their house if you haven't even had a chance to talk to her. Movie night == not talking. Dinner there would have been better, even.
posted by amtho at 11:56 AM on June 28, 2016 [15 favorites]

I don't think you have social anxiety disorder. You have only been dating this guy for 6 weeks and going to a sibling's house to meet them and their spouse is VERY intimate. I would also feel awkward! You were in a stranger's home, doing an activity that is usually reserved for close friends/family, and you have never met these people before. They were probably feeling a little anxious too, though they had the benefit of being in their own home.

In other words, this is completely normal and when you find yourself in this situation it may be helpful to remind yourself of the complete normalcy of your reaction. Also it's fine to say you're tired and can only stay for an hour or two until you know these people better! Eventually you won't feel so anxious around them.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:06 PM on June 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think you already figured it out. Classic introvert style. You need some time to hide out during social things, and this didn't allow for that, plus it was a meeting-the-fam-for-the-first-time thing, which is just added pressure because you are being judged. Totally normal to have felt this way. I would have felt exactly the same.
posted by greta simone at 12:17 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just felt so out of place and not knowing what’s next? What if they are tired too and are waiting for us to leave? What do people normally do in such situations? That sort of questions running through my head did not help me relax at all. I’ve never met anyone before through movie watching, and just don’t know what do people normally do afterwards? How soon to get going?

I live in a small town and this is a not-unusual event where I'm from. I know you're not looking for specific answers, but mine would be

- they would make "I'm tired" indicators such as talking about work tomorrow, starting to clean up around you or otherwise making it known that it's time to leave. It's like a joke with my friends now "Well it sure is late!" is basically politely saying "OK, let's pack this up and meet up again some other time" Between people who are comfortable with each other (as I'd hope your date would be with his sibling) it should be a thing they read and manage.
- normally you just sit and talk and hang out for a bit after the movie (more if people are hanging out eating and drinking, less if they are not, maybe you'll play a game or something) and catch up and then head home
- My usual rule of thumb is that unless there's a "next event" (or we are hanging out drinking or they are making "please stay" motions) I leave between and hour or two after the movie is up

And it may be that knowing this about yourself--that this sort of thing makes you uncomfortable--can help you gauge how to manage next time. Like maybe it would have been okay if you didn't feel well but was bad when you were rundown? Or maybe you never like it in which case you and this guy may be a bad fit? Or maybe he's also awkward which is great for the two of you but bad in social situations? (I dated a guy like this who would sort of bring me to events to be outgoing because he wasn't so I felt I had to be doubly-on which was super annoying!). So you've learned a thing about yourself and you can use it to move forward. I don't think there's anything wrong with you. At the same time, this is a thing that can be managed if you choose to (anxieties generally) and you can decide if you feel like it's worth it for this guy and this type of situation. I sort of love the movie-and-chat hang out time because then it's not drinking-and-chat which I am less good at and there's always some downtime and something to talk about so it's definitely a ymmv situation.
posted by jessamyn at 12:21 PM on June 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Like I couldn’t wait to get out of there ... I want to scream.

Yeah, I agree with zadcat, I think there's something about the dynamic you're feeling at a real gut level (not a fantastical medical anxiety level) that you need to look at.

I just felt so out of place and not knowing what’s next?

Is there some cultural difference between you and the bf's family? Wealth, class, ethnicity?
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:31 PM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you didn't feel well, could you have told him so, and suggested another time?
I'd say your BF knows his sister well enough to know when she's ready for the evening to be over. In general, ai think watching movies seems like a very low-key way to spend an evening, especially if you don't know each other.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:03 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I skipped to the bottom to tell you I think this is TOTALLY AWKWARD and I would not want to repeat it. What makes this fun and easy going for him is exactly what is missing for you -- you don't know these people, and have no idea how to do this get together which is so easy for them.

Ask him to slow down, remember how little you know them and they know you, and keep the get togethers geared toward that for now. For example, it would likely be a lot less stressful to meet them for occasional meals. People know how to behave in that setting toward folks they are not knowing well or in the process of getting to know.

I'd politely decline any movie invites at their house for now, until you actually feel comfortable with them. Which will likely take at least a few months.
posted by bearwife at 1:16 PM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I hate watching movies in groups. By myself is fine, me and my wife is fine. I wouldn't know how to behave at movie night at someone's house. Add the pressure of a date and it's completely understandable. You don't need therapy. Just do other stuff.
posted by fixedgear at 4:53 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Generic physical health level is a big variable in how sociable I feel at generic social events. If I'm tired and under the weather, I get self-conscious, impatient and grumpy. If I'm well rested and in a reasonable mood, then everything mostly kinda flows, including those normal occasional conversational lulls.

Also, the first time meeting your partner's friends and family always has some underlying stress and self-consciousness, for introverts and everyone else, it's natural. When you see them again for the second or third time, this natural stress gradually relaxes on it's own.

Personally I think that you should make a reasonable effort to try to adapt. Getting together with family and friends to casually socialize once in a while is a thing that everyone does, and your partner wants to include you in his life, and this is a perfectly reasonable request for him to make. You should let him know that if you're not feeling chipper that nite, then he'll have to go out on his own. But you should also try to have a positive or at least not-negative attitude about going out to socialize, and not just surrender to feeling like screaming when you think about it. I say this as someone who doesn't really like socializing very much myself, but it's not as terrible as you might think it is when you get more used to it.
posted by ovvl at 5:28 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ugh, I was in the shoes of your date once. I unwittingly put a date of mine into a socially challenging situation by bringing him to dinner at a close friend's house. We hadn't been together that long, and in retrospect, it was obviously a very intimate thing to do with a person I barely knew, but I wasn't thinking about how uncomfortable he would have felt thrust into this very intimate situation, I was only thinking, "hey, I love these people, wouldn't he too? Here are some great people with whom I share a long history who are important to me." But with that comes a lifetime of intimacies that are hard to penetrate and maybe even anxiety-provoking for a newcomer. Reading your question put me in his head and I realized it was just too soon for something that intense.

It was inconsiderate of me not to weigh out the intensity of bringing a virtual stranger into the fold of a close personal relationship, a married one no less. The thing is, it was not neutral turf, it was not even fully mine, it was wholly another entity's, so there were layers of behavioral filters for him to navigate. How can you get to know someone when you're not sure of the lay of the social land? I can't blame him for feeling anxiety, if that's why he didn't call back.

So, maybe give yourself and your date a pass, that this might have been a blunder of misreading readiness for connection, and maybe even address it honestly: sweetie, you're great, your sister & husband are great, but I need to spend more time getting to know you, and I may have a touch of social anxiety, as many people do, so when I'm ready to dip my toe into meeting your friends and family, maybe we can do it in a situation where there's a little more of a script, so I can find my way in."

If he's a keeper, he'll understand, hopefully even appreciate your directness and ability to understand yourself and respect yourself. You will be able to tell what kind of person he is by how he reacts to you setting reasonable boundaries.
posted by Queen of Spreadable Fats at 7:26 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I didn't see it mentioned above, but is it possible that you just don't have much chemistry with those particular people (bf's sister & her husband)?
Or that they themselves were feeling awkward/tense about something? You seem to be feeling this type of situation is inherently difficult for you - and I can see why it's challenging - but to a degree, it might depend on the actual people involved.
Just because you like the bf, doesn't mean his sister is your kind of person..
posted by 8k at 7:39 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been with my husband for almost 7 years and JUST NOW am really comfortable with his sister after she visited about a month ago. (ETA: I get along very well with my SIL and we are very much similar people.) She and I are both introverts and didn't have a lot of "sister time" since she doesn't live in our state. The first few times we were both awkward around each other. You're trying to feel each other out and there's the added thing of being a romantic partner to their sibling, not just a friend.

I think it's totally normal to feel awkward. I agree that this was kinda a more intimate thing for such a fresh relationship - perhaps a movie at a theater with a defined end time or a quick coffee trip would have been better.

That said, I think you need to learn to advocate for yourself a bit. It's totally fine, no matter what, to excuse yourself to go home. Just politely use the scripts above or something like, "Wow, it's been really great to get to know you a bit. I'm realizing how long it's been and I really should be getting home."

It seems like you were thinking you were at the mercy of their schedule and waiting for them to be "done" since it was their home, but it's your time too. And that always matters.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:49 PM on June 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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