How can I courteously be alone during trips with friends and family?
July 11, 2017 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I wanted to take a car to get a break from a camping trip, my friend wanted to come, I didn't want her to, it turned weird. What happened here and how can I plan better for future trips where I know I'll need some space to myself?

The last two trips I took with friends, a dynamic came up where I wanted alone time, didn't really act proactively to get it, and wound up just wanting to get away.

I'm an outgoing introvert and at these times, I just need to not be around anyone I know. At all. And sometimes people who I'm close with or who haven't been around me for sustained periods of time don't get it. I'm a really friendly and outgoing person, so people are expressing surprise that I have this need. I usually meet the need when I'm not around them.

So, how can I deal with this? I think it's fine to ask for what I want and assert my boundaries -- just want to do it in a way that supports relationships and works as smoothly as it can.

An example from a recent trip. I could use some help sorting this out:

We went camping and had two cars with us. I stayed behind one afternoon while the group went on a hike; I had permission to use a car to go into the town but I hadn't left before they got back.

When I got ready to leave to find a cafe in town, one of my friends said, "I'd like to come with." I said, "I'd prefer to go myself. I need the alone time." She said, "I'll just come with you and we can sit separately." I said, "I need the alone time by myself." I didn't know what to do when she didn't listen, so I said, "I'll drive you, then get out at a cafe, and you can take the car to wherever you're going to hang out." She got in and I said something sort of awful like, "This isn't going to be a friendly ride, if that's what you're expecting. I don't want to talk." After 5 minutes, she said she wanted to get out. It just felt icky. I wish I had held my boundaries better. And/or I wish I had had 2 ounces more energy to put toward finding a solution that worked for both of us. I was just at the end of my rope in interacting with people, for several reasons. It felt painful just to be near another person. I hope some other introverts can understand the place I was in at that moment. I was feeling literally selfish--thinking about myself--and didn't act in a way I'm proud of.

To my thinking, it didn't make a difference whether I left when they were there or not; if I had left before they returned, there wouldn't have been an issue. But the optics were weird--to her, it seemed like common sense that I would take her with me. To me, it seemed like common sense that she would respect the fact that I had the rights to the car that afternoon, as agreed. She doesn't like driving, so although there was another car, she didn't want to take it -- and while usually I'd be kind and accommodate, or encourage her in driving the other car and figuring out where to drive it to, I also didn't think that was my responsibility. I didn't want to help her deal with her limitations, or be affected by them myself. I was feeling crowded by her and honestly just needed to not think about her experience as much as I usually do.

We discussed it later and she said really wanted the time away from the campground, too, and she was also frustrated about several other things that were going on. I hadn't had the empathy to realize she might feel a similar need to mine. I said it felt bad when she didn't respect the clear boundary I was laying down; for me, it broke trust. We agreed neither of us had taken the time to step back from the conversation and consider options. She said later that I have a strong personality and the level of assertiveness I bring can make it hard for her to speak up or figure out what she's about. (I'm not reporting this correctly but it was something close to that.) In an AskMe last summer, one of you pointed out I wasn't thinking very much about the other person; I think I was in a similar state here, though usually I care about this person very much.

So, um, who was wrong here? Was I behaving poorly? Was she? What happened here? Was this just a logistics issue (I could have left earlier)?

I feel my boundaries are a little shaky in this area, so any reality checks will be helpful.

I have another trip coming up with people who have shaky boundaries as well, so I'll be able to use any tips and thoughts in planning for it.
posted by ramenopres to Human Relations (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think her suggestion that you go to the cafe and sit apart was reasonable and I'm not 100% sure why you found it not so, especially considering you'd already asked for and gotten some alone time while they were away on a hike and permission to leave with a car and hadn't actually taken them up on it before they got back.

I think your statement "This isn't going to be a friendly ride, if that's what you're expecting. I don't want to talk." was harsh and presumptive that she didn't hear you that you wanted to be alone.

I'm an introvert who needs a lot of alone time, but that doesn't mean when I'm completely drained I get to be completely tactless to the people around me or can refuse a basic logistical compromise that still ends with me getting what I want.

What I do before trips is - I establish that, at some point, I'm probably going to need a couple of hours to myself and that it's expected and not the result of anything going wrong. I would also clear the space, as you did when you got the group to agree, but then I also follow through on my end on the terms (i.e., I'm taking the car and will be gone when you get back. Have fun!)
posted by notorious medium at 9:01 AM on July 11, 2017 [67 favorites]

I get that way sometimes myself. I've learned that I need to plan my alone time to be my priority and recognize the ways to take advantage of them before I get to that grumpy stage where I push people away and create more tension. It does tend to be a bit of a logistics issue, in simply recognizing that this is a *need* for you before you're stuck into having to explain *why* it is a need to everyone you just can't stand to be around for another second.

Sometimes that's really hard to recognize early enough, because maybe you were simply enjoying the alone time and the camp site - which is also important - but yes, if you had had plans to get away and be in solitude for a while, it should have been taken before they got back. Hard to do, I know, especially when it can take a few minutes (or hours) to catch your breath and really make a plan to escape.
posted by itsflyable at 9:01 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a fellow introvert who needs alone time too (and honestly wouldn't even attempt camping with a big group for that very reason) - I feel you. But yes, you were a little jerky with your comment about "This isn't going to be a friendly ride..."

If it was absolutely imperative that you had a solo car ride into town - you needed to have taken that opportunity while everyone was away from the campground. Logistics matter. Once the group had returned, your "dibs" on the car to yourself were kind of a moot point. It sounds like she needed time alone just a much as you did - and a ride into town then splitting up for the duration seems like a reasonable accommodation. Maybe you see that now in retrospect?

I would use this experience to plan ahead for the next trip to ensure you have the logistics in place for alone time, and be willing to accept that when traveling with a group, sometimes you have to be a little flexible.
posted by pantarei70 at 9:04 AM on July 11, 2017 [33 favorites]

Personally, you framed this very poorly and it read rude to me and I'm quite happy to be direct and enjoy my own company. You ended up expressing this as a rejection of her, not as a problem of needing space. I get how that could happen but what to do differently is to frame it differently. The other thing to do differently is to make sure you get alone time before you reach the point where you can't cope with spending 5 minutes with another person.

So on future trips. Even during the planning process, set clear expectations. You'll want to spend a bit of time alone. This is what that may look like - no, you will really want to be alone, you won't want people to tag along/break up the group into a smaller section of people, you'll want to be alone.

Then you actively look out for suitable time slots in the itinerary and ring fence that time. Again, communicate this early.

Then it is always easier if you actually can get going and grasp those opportunities. For whatever reasons you could not leave prior to their return. At that point a reasonable person may expect that your need for alone time was met by their absence and may not expect that you leaving to sit in a coffee shop was an essential part of your plan. I'd simply assume your plan had changed and sitting by the pool seemed more appealing. Also, an agreement that you can use a car during everybody's absence does not mean you can keep that priviledge when everybody is back. So you have an allocated timeslot like this use it. If your 'activity' was supposed to happen concurrent with a group activity and you insist on executing it after the other activity is finished that will always make it a lot more awkward because that's you unilaterally changing the plan outside set expectations.

If you find your friends balk at these ideas when you present them consider if you should go on trips with them. You need people who can respect that need for solitude.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:14 AM on July 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

As a super-introvert who often needs to flee the scene, I am sympathetic. But...did you literally have to be alone that second or your head was going to explode? If so, you should have stood by your initial refusal. If not, I have to say that sharing a ride to actual alone time doesn't strike me as the hugest imposition. You didn't even have to go to the same cafe, really. You could have said gently, "I'm not feeling very talkative just at the moment, so I'm just going to put on the radio when we're in the car/if I could have some quiet time in the car, I'd appreciate it," or whatever.

Regardless, the one thing you can't do is agree and then be pissy about it. But I think you recognize that now. All you can do on that point is apologize, which it sounds like you did. So...lesson learned, no need to beat yourself up over it.
posted by praemunire at 9:17 AM on July 11, 2017 [16 favorites]

I'm also an "outgoing introvert" and need my alone time. I was all ready to tell you that you were totally right. But then I read the question...

...and I really think you messed up, not your friend. Some thoughts, in no particular order:

* It's mature and kind to tell people in advance, "Hey, I think I'm going to need some alone time this afternoon to recharge. I'm going to go into town for about an hour at 1pm." From your friends' perspective, your decision to need alone time probably looked very sudden and fairly rude.

* Friendships are built on compromise. Why was your friend's suggestion of riding together but sitting separately so egregious? If you aren't willing to compromise on things like this, don't travel with your friends.

* I was just at the end of my rope in interacting with people, for several reasons. It felt painful just to be near another person. I hope some other introverts can understand the place I was in at that moment. Well, sure. That happens. But as a grown-up, it's up to you to ask for alone time before you get to "the end of your rope." Otherwise, yeah, you are not going to be seen as a pleasant person to be around.

* I stayed behind one afternoon while the group went on a hike. Surely this WAS alone time? To the others in your group, it probably felt like you didn't want to spend any time with them, because you didn't communicate your needs clearly and ahead of time.

* She said later that I have a strong personality and the level of assertiveness I bring can make it hard for her to speak up or figure out what she's about. This is a friendly way of telling you that you are too pushy. You seem really bent on how you need to be stricter about your boundaries, but I disagree. You need to find kind ways to communicate your boundaries, not ways to make them starker.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:23 AM on July 11, 2017 [34 favorites]

Oof, I felt so bad for your friend reading this. Coming from someone who is a sociable introvert, like you. I'm glad you guys talked about it after. Good on you for that.

Boundaries are important, and it sounds like you're pretty good at setting yours. Staying behind while the others did a group activity is an excellent strategy to get some alone time, I've done the same thing. It's a nice, set period of time when you know you can be by yourself.

But even when setting boundaries, there are going to be times where you have to decide which is more important - your alone time, or someone's feelings. I get you - sometimes it SUCKS when someone is all "I'll come with you!" when you try to go and do something to get away from a group. But I do sometimes give in to that if I think it will be hurtful to say no to them, on the occasions when I consider the sacrifice of my alone-time to be worth it in order to spare their feelings.

Be honest with yourself - which was more important to you in that moment? If it was your alone time then I guess all you need to think about is how you frame it. "This isn't going to be a friendly ride" is pretty cold. What about "sorry if I seem off, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the socialising at the moment, I hope you don't mind me being quiet while we drive".

If you look back on it and feel like her feelings should have been more important, then I think another time it'd be worth squeezing out a drop more energy for her. If you honestly didn't have that, then in future, plan better. Be gone when they get back, and return when you really are ready for more interaction.

Also, consider doing this sort of thing more rarely, so that you have more energy to give when you do. I have certain friends who I see quite rarely (partly because that is all I can afford), and when we do something like this, I use up every last drop of socialising energy I have, in order to make the most of that time. I'd feel really sad if I made that much effort and I felt like they just wanted to get away.
posted by greenish at 9:30 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think that also, from your friends' point of view, you asked for use of the car while they were off hiking. If you wanted to have it as a totally solo venture, you should have left before they came back. Once they are back, given that you just had a block of alone-time, it does seem really confusing that you (a) are still going ahead with your trip to town as an alone-time venture and (b) object to sharing the car resource, or even the cafe, with anyone else.

I also understand needing time to recharge and be away from people. I assume this might have been a short-ish trip, like a weekend or three days? A group camping trip by nature isn't a time where I would expect to be able to get a lot of solo alone time. Presumably there is a reason you went on the trip so that you were genuinely getting some enjoyment and value out of the experience with your friends. But I can see why the scenario would be confusing to the other people on the trip.
posted by handful of rain at 9:32 AM on July 11, 2017 [12 favorites]

What you could have done here that would have spared the unpleasantness:

- told them in advance that you'd be gone when they got back, and left before they got back to avoid anyone requesting anything of you. If your need was as enormous as you're portraying (and I believe you, I've been there) this would have prevented any confrontation.

- put yourself in her shoes when she asked to come - maybe just asked her kindly "what's up?" If you'd known she was just as alone-needful as you, you would have known not to snap at her and assuming she was looking for social time.

I've had the dynamic of being the one with a much stronger personality than a friend, and winding up being mean to her inadvertently. The solution is to ask more questions and not just keep being overbearing because they're not forthcoming with their opinions.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:34 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

"We went camping and had two cars with us. I stayed behind one afternoon while the group went on a hike; I had permission to use a car to go into the town but I hadn't left before they got back."

Why did you dilly dally for so long? I take a big group trip with friends every year and understand the craving for alone time. If people are getting ready to go to the beach or something, that's my chance to peace out without anyone asking if they can tag along. When you're dealing with large group trips, you have to take these moments when you find them
posted by cakelite at 9:35 AM on July 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Everyone who said you were being weird is right. To cut you some slack... your friend did push past a clear refusal; and she did have another option for getting away from the campsite by herself.

For future communication purposes? If your needs for alone-time are this intense, you probably need to either work harder on getting them met in a way that isn't vulnerable to being casually intruded on, because other people aren't going to spontaneously understand that you're meeting a real need rather than a mild preference, or communicating clearly that you have an unusually strong need that you're going to actively defend: you don't need to be hostile about it, but I think you have to make it clear that it's a big serious thing for you.

With this friend, though -- she is both telling you that you didn't communicate clearly enough, and that your personality is too strong and too assertive? The interaction would have been a little unusual, but not nearly as bad as it was, if she hadn't overridden your repeated refusal to give her a ride. I think maybe it makes sense to have a talk with her about how the two of you need to find a way to communicate where you can get across your needs in a way she respects but that she doesn't perceive as overly assertive, which I think is going to have to mean her taking 'no' for an answer a little more easily.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:37 AM on July 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

It sounds like you need to learn to think ahead to the point where you can make choices before your nerves are as frayed as they sound here--your boundaries were shaky because you had no cope left, and you should have re-upped your Cope Supply before you had nothing left. This is something it took me a couple of disastrous trips to figure out. Unexpected things come up, but you knew in advance that you are a person who requires a certain amount of alone time. Plan for it as much as you plan out meals and dry socks.

In this particular case, for example, it might have made sense to say at breakfast "I'm feeling pretty peopled out right now, so I'm going to do my own solo stuff between lunch and dinner." You changed the plans that didn't suit you in the moment (taking the car at the designated time), and then got really grumpy when someone else tried to introduce some flexibility (by joining you on the ride). You kind of missed your chance for a solo drive by your own choice. It also sounds like, right up until the moment she asked to join you in the car, that it wasn't clear you were going into town specifically to be alone; it looked like you had just had your alone time while they were hiking. (In fact, on a camping trip, I generally think of going into town as People Time: the extroverts find an excuse to go get more hotdogs and chat with the shop clerk, while I read on a hammock or get the grill going.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:37 AM on July 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

She sounds like good people and may enjoy hearing you say that to her.

You got cranky and fucked up a bit. As a fellow sociable introvert I can be evil when the wheels come off so planning ahead for this saves me feeling like a monster and is worth the energy.
posted by fullerine at 9:39 AM on July 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

I stayed behind one afternoon while the group went on a hike; I had permission to use a car to go into the town but I hadn't left before they got back.

Yeah I think you were at fault here but I also note that you had just been alone?

Given that your need seems to be really high for a group trip -- you were out of coping power even after introvert time -- I'd honestly recommend that you not travel in groups in this kind of situation. I know that sounds harsh but it really seems like you are actually in danger of ruining your relationships through these trips. Other solutions might include having your own separate campsite or your own vehicle.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:46 AM on July 11, 2017 [24 favorites]

I stayed behind one afternoon while the group went on a hike; I had permission to use a car to go into the town but I hadn't left before they got back.

I am a hardcore introvert and I have found that planning and time management are the keys to whether or not my alone-time is successful. I want to know how many hours my house is going to be empty so that I can savor the solitude - my partner saying "I'm running a few errands" is not good enough - I want to know what time he will be home so I can use that time well. Maybe I will get two hours of solitude when I really want a whole day, but knowing ahead of time what to expect allows me to take a deep breath and really savor those two hours.

In this case it sounds like you squandered some quality alone-time that was available to you for the duration of your friends' hike, so you still felt the pressing need for solitude even after they returned. As far as they knew, you already had the alone-time you said you needed - and they would be right - but you dilly-dallied as someone else called it, instead of savoring it.

So I would suggest, in addition to the communication suggestions others have made, that you plan ahead more and become more mindful about the time that you do have alone, so that you use it well and are more rejuvenated when you encounter humans again.
posted by headnsouth at 9:52 AM on July 11, 2017 [12 favorites]

I think the mistake was setting up a "friendly/unfriendly" binary. By saying that it wasn't going to be a "friendly" car ride, you implied it would be an unfriendly one.

I think feigning (or just openly expressing) exhaustion can go a long way here because it doesn't have anything to do with the other person. So if you're in a car with someone chatty, just be like, "omg I'm SO tired. My eyes are barely open" or something that sets the other person's socialization expectations more on the low side. That way it doesn't seem like you're rejecting them, it just seems like you're so worn out you can't really engage and it's nothing personal. Or if someone else is driving, take a "nap." Naps in general are a good way to get people to leave you alone for awhile, even if you're actually toodling around on your phone in your tent. Long bathroom breaks can work too.

But yeah, I say to proactively strike while the iron's hot when you have a chance to sneak away without any companions. Get up before other people do and leave a note saying that you're taking a walk. Grab the car while they're all hiking. Take a separate car to dinner and then split off on a solo "errand" afterwards.
posted by delight at 9:55 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a bit more sympathy for you than other commenters. I've been that wrung out by people that I've lost any capacity to be nice or polite or civil. Like, so wrung out that it is taking all my energy not to have a complete meltdown.

It sounds like this particular camping trip had crappy group dynamics for introverts? Anyway, I do think other commenters are right about the car and logistics--timing does matter and the fact that you thought you had "dibs" on the car is not how others would see it. I also would like fave a thousand times the comment from headnsouth about needing to know HOW LONG you get alone. Perhaps you didn't know when they'd be back from the hike, or it took them less time than you thought it would and that was why you were still at the campsite?

I think your boundaries skills are fine; your friend just totally ignored them. There was some miscommunication, shit happens. I'm sure she would like to hear from you that you're sorry and that you care about her feelings.

Planning ahead more and learning some cushier ways of saying you need alone time sound like good ideas. I also want to ask if you suffer from any anxiety or depression or chronic pain, stuff like that... I found my need for alone time goes way up and my ability to cope goes way down when I'm particularly anxious etc. Food for thought.
posted by purple_bird at 10:26 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks, all! Responding to the question of why I didn't suck it up or whether my head was about to explode: yes, it was. It could have gotten to a place of saying things that would have impacted the relationship negatively and maybe irreversibly. I've never felt quite that way before. I was dealing with unique stress personally, as well as secondary trauma. I almost didn't go on the trip but I wanted to honor the effort my friends had made to plan it. (I think now I might have honored it better by not going.) That's why I'm exploring the question of just what I could have done in that specific situation. My friend is really a beautiful person and I feel bad for hurting and confusing her.

Appreciating all the answers; I've used some of these strategies on subsequent trips and will plan to adopt the ones I haven't tried yet.

I did apologize to my friend when we had that conversation, as well as that night itself, and will apologize again based on what I'm hearing from you.
posted by ramenopres at 10:38 AM on July 11, 2017

For future trips, I think the biggest thing you could probably do is to drive your own car and not carpool to the campsite with anyone. This guarantees a few different things:

--You know that, at a minimum, you have the drive to/from the location 100% to yourself and you're not starting the trip off feeling like you've already spent some social energy.
--There's no "dibs" or unclear expectations over who has the rights to the car, since it's definitely yours and presumably there are other extra cars around for other people to drive in (since they got themselves to the location somehow). You could still get someone asking for a ride somewhere, but I think having it be your own car that you haven't carpooled in to get to the location gives a bit more social leeway to say no and have that no respected.
--If things really get to a breaking point, you have the option to apologize gracefully and leave the whole trip early without overly inconveniencing anyone or blowing up major plans. (In this case, you'd still want to pay the full cost of your share of group expenses for things like renting the site/group grocery trips that have already taken place, etc.)

Also, in general, I would think about what type of group trips really work best for you. For example, perhaps you'd have a better time at a location where you have a private room and can physically close the door even when other people are around. I feel like this is harder with camping because zipping yourself alone into a tent isn't very fun unless you are literally taking a nap -- it's the sort of trip that is super focused on togetherness and it's difficult to have privacy. Versus the sort of trip that's more "rent a ski cabin/beach house/hotel rooms" and you can perhaps pay a bit extra to get a private room, so you can really go in your room and have some privacy when you need it. Or trips at locations where it's really easy to walk to places where you can do the cafe thing? Or maybe group trips are just not really fun for you and you enjoy spending time with friends in other ways where there's a clearer end point vs. 24-7 togetherness? You don't have to be super into organized group vacations in order to have close friendships, if it's just not your cup of tea. I hate camping and would never go either solo or in a group, but life is still good. :-D
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I mean, you could have handled it better (leaving earlier, not saying the "not a friendly ride" thing) but I think it is pretty wrong of your friend to push past your pretty darn clear boundary setting of "I'd prefer to go myself. I need the alone time."

Sure, apologize to your friend, but I would also suggest that the next time you express a boundary like that, they respect it.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I really sympathize here, as someone who can definitely get so in need of alone time that my functioning just sort of breaks down and I have trouble advocating for myself. I do think your best course of action would have been to head out before your friends got home, and/or to go with "I'd really like to find my own spot to be alone once we get to town, and maybe listen to music quietly en route rather than talking, but if that's cool with you, then hop in." (Which I get is not what would really have hit the spot just then, but might have been a workable compromise.)

Long-term, the very best thing is probably to actively plan your alone time on future trips to be sure you get it before you hit that frame of mind, though. Maybe before you even start on the trip you make sure that you have X, Y, Z solo times planned out, and that your friends are aware you need that time in order to be a better and more present friend to them the rest of the time.

Short-term, apologize to your friend for your share of the poor behavior. Hopefully she will also apologize for her contribution to it via boundary-pushing, but even if she doesn't, you did contribute to the bad dynamic there and an apology for your part of it will probably help smooth the ruffled feathers here.
posted by Stacey at 11:28 AM on July 11, 2017

I think others have given you really good advice on how to manage your introverted needs in a group setting, but what stood out to me was the dynamic with the particular friend who needed a ride.

It seems like she was feeling needy and you recoiled from that. She couldnt or wouldnt drive herself (not independent, unlike you) and she didn't stand up for herself explicitly (not assertive, unlike you) but got what she thought she wanted by false compromise. Who offers to sit separately by themselves in a cafe? You would be a shit person if you went along with that, and would get corrupted alone time to boot.

So yeah, she's got to work on expressing her own needs honestly and risk rejection, instead of lying about them to herself and others. And you can proactively manage your stress like others have suggested, so you have room for empathy and compromise when a friend needs you.
posted by charlielxxv at 12:33 PM on July 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Almost everything has already been said well, I just wanted to add one aspect to think about. When I get into these situations, I often find that I am mostly mad at myself (for agreeing to do sth I didn't really feel like doing, or not setting boundaries early enough, or letting a misunderstanding stand instead of clarifying that no, I wanted to do X alone etc). This probably ramps up my irritability more than if I could fully blame the other person, and now I've gone and ruined my chance of peace and quiet AND AAARGH! But it is super-unfair to let that out on them - they cannot mind read. [therefore see above for good advice on planning and communicating]
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:40 PM on July 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Re: the friend "pushing past" your boundary-

I don't think that's what she was doing. She asked to go with you, and you said you wanted to be alone. So, she was trying to compromise by using a shared resource (you gave up your claim to the care by not sticking to the script and not leaving while they were gone), and asked to go, but not with you.

And, honestly, if I had tried to compromise with someone like that, willing to give them space but still use a resource that also belonged to me, and they had told me what you had said to her, I probably wouldn't be friends with that person anymore.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:43 PM on July 11, 2017 [11 favorites]

Last month I visited my brother's house along with the rest of my family and there were fifteen people and three dogs all in one place. It was crowded, I was sleeping on an air mattress in a busy hallway, and there wasn't much personal space or "alone" time.

On the first day someone said "Where's your sister?"

"Pooping," I answered. "If anyone asks me where someone is, I'm going to say pooping, whether they are or not. They are alone somewhere, and I don't care where."

For the next five days any time someone asked where someone else was, I said "Pooping!" and everyone laughed and changed the subject. I assume they did the same when I went for a walk by myself or whatever. It totally defused the situation.

This wouldn't have worked for every social group, but I found it perfect for my family.
posted by tacodave at 3:37 PM on July 11, 2017 [10 favorites]

Holland was terrible this way with group activities. I often found it very hard on group trips with friends to maintain my alone time and sometimes I'm sure I probably reacted as badly as you did. (This point has been made, and I won't remake it, but she didn't push past your boundaries as much as she asked to share a shared resource.) Here are the tips I used for survival:

Control your own resources-- have your own car/bike/transport option, book a separate hotel room, bring your own tent. When asked why: "I need a lot of alone time and I don't want to bother others with that need." I was to the point where I would turn down group trips where I couldn't get a place of my own to escape.

Make schedules, and stick to them. "Sounds fun that you plan to ski on Route A today! I planned on taking a lesson and then skiing route C. See you back in time for dinner!"

It's easier to plan to attend group lunch/dinner. If you can. I found people would find it more rude/antisocial if I skipped the communal eating than they would if I did my own thing in the other times.

Don't get to the point where you'll explode. On ski trips, I would make a point of 30 minutes of reading in bed in the morning to get my down time fix. I used to think of it as introvert vaccination.
posted by frumiousb at 4:43 PM on July 11, 2017

Things you could have said to your friend, when she asked to travel with you in the car:

a) I'm sorry, it's nothing personal, but I am REALLY
tired/exhausted/stressed/peopled out and I honestly can't cope with sharing the car journey with anyone.

b) Okay, you can ride with me, but I am REALLY
tired/exhausted/stressed/peopled out and I need to just listen to music in the car with no talking, and not to chat or sit together at the cafe. I promise it's nothing personal! I enjoy your company, I just desperately need some alone time right now.
posted by Murderbot at 7:40 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Bicycles: they aren't a shared resource (unless you bring a tandem, but why would you?) and the extra effort to come with you might repel more people. Especially if no one else brings a bike. Then you have an "out" when you need it!
posted by sacchan at 8:44 PM on July 11, 2017

This reads to me like day 3 of every family vacation I've ever taken. I'm from a family of introverts, I suppose. But we've learned that if we visit my dad's relatives, my mom needs a car she can drive. My aunt and uncle stay in a hotel when they visit, because if they stay with my parents everyone's on eggshells and/or their last nerve by day 4. Everyone handles their own lunch groceries and then we all eat together, because my relaxing treat is my uncle's unfamiliar foreign food and we get annoyed at each other if we have to compromise on *every* meal.

And it took time for us to learn all these things and to learn that they are BETTER than the mental image we all had of Family! Togetherness!

Also this reminds me of how I learned on our first vacation together not to mess with my husband's caffeine addiction.

So to me this reads as the sort of learning experience that people who travel together have to get through. Yep, you sure were grouchy after losing your expected escape time! Yep, she definitely didn't realize that was so important to you! Now you'll be better prepared to take care of yourselves and travel better together later.
posted by Lady Li at 11:00 PM on July 11, 2017

My usual comment is something along the lines of, "I've hit my limit on socializing time for now." Also, "Give me 45 minutes to recharge alone and I'll be happy to do x".

Often just taking a chunk of guaranteed time alone makes me ok with socializing again.
posted by bendy at 1:27 AM on July 12, 2017

People who expect to cross paths with each other and share shared resources on a group camping trip are not people with shaky boundaries, they're perfectly normal people who don't happen to be looking at a situation through precisely the same lens as you are. Applying the word boundaries to a thing or situation you happen to want doesn't mean the rest of the world is magically obligated to give it to you with no pushback, compromise or questions allowed.

If you have these kinds of personal needs, you need to make arrangements for them upfront, before the trip, with a reasonably full explanation of why. Bring your own car, or pre-arrange that you can use one of the cars by yourself, or pre-arrange the afternoon activity you're going to skip, or whatever. Find a way that you can do this that doesn't inconvenience other people as much as possible. Be upfront about the fact that you need that time to recharge your introvert batteries so people know and understand what's going on, so that if you do still get some questions/requests for compromise, you can approach things from the perspective that they already know what's going on. A conversation that was more informed and respectful on both sides might have looked like this:

"Hey, can I tag along on the trip to town? I'd like to get away from the camp for a bit."
"I'm going into town for some alone time, to recharge as an introvert, as you know. So, honestly, I'd rather you didn't."
"I know, we talked about that before the trip. But I'm also an introvert and after today's big group hike, I'd like to get away from the group for a bit, too. Once we get into town, we can just both go our own way and arrange to meet back at the cafe after a couple of hours."
"That could work -- would you mind if we just listened to music in the car on the way there? I'm just not feeling super social right now."

In the end, everyone gets recharged, nobody gets snotted at.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:41 AM on July 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thanks again for the responses. In follow-up:

The most helpful point was to think about boundaries beyond just "you should have them." A softer approach, and mainly preventive measures, is what I'm working toward now. All the reading of AskMefi, plus the political climate, kind of had me on a boundaries kick where I thought it was righteous and always laudable to just say THIS IS MY BOUNDARY, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT.

The idea that I was also mad at myself has also been helpful and I've realized that's a big part of what's going on when I feel stressed.

I appreciated the answers explaining what I contributed to the situation with my friend. I don't need to go as far as not to travel with people, but the fact someone suggested it was a wake-up call. I do need to respect my needs and be sure to proactively take care of them, communicate and be kind. My friend and talked, I apologized specifically for the things I realized I had brought to that conflict, we're good. Next time I would probably find the most value in the advice to just not go, to drive my own car, to leave in the car before they got back, or to try to understand the request my friend was making.

The strategies I used on the trip I mentioned at the end of the question: brought my own bike, wore headphones, took advantage of spaces for solo time, and adjusted my waking/sleeping schedule. Doing activities where we could be "together" but that required us to actually go solo worked really well -- things like biking, kayaking, going shopping at the same store but browsing separately.
posted by ramenopres at 3:39 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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