help, multiple people want to hang out with me
February 3, 2019 12:07 PM   Subscribe

In my head, I'm still the kid who's always left out. In real life, people suddenly want to hang out with me. How do I handle freewheeling social-professional situations with nebulous plans and lots of unconnected social circles who want to hang out?

Sorry, this is going to be extremely wordy. I don't know what's relevant, so I'm just going to spill all of my worries. Apologies in advance.

background: I guess most people learn social-circle-jugging skills subconsciously when they were kids, but I didn't. We moved a lot when I was little, and I was weird, so by the time I got to junior high--although the bullying stopped--I just didn't really interact with other people much. I made one friend in college, and we got married. I didn't make friends in grad school or at jobs, either. I had and still have social anxiety and generalized anxiety, plus trauma, to deal with.

But I had online friends, some of whom eventually became in-person friends. I've become a lot more meatspace-social in the last 2 or 3 years, given the constraints of where I live and that I'm still dealing with anxiety and other complications. My online networks have also grown and strengthened. I'm also in the early stages of developing a second career in writing. (I'm definitely a noob, not someone who can do anything to assist others' careers.)

Now I have several social circles which range from zero overlap to extensive overlap, and from "never met in person" to "see weekly", or from "we like each others' tweets sometimes" to "constantly in Slack with". Some I know through shared geeky interests, others professionally, others from...who knows, it's been so long, but it probably involves Livejournal. (Gasp!)

The situation: At the end of summer/beginning of autumn I'll be traveling overseas to a large international event in a large city. I have no idea what my plans will be like in the city before or during the event. There's also a slim chance I might have some professional business to conduct, as I expect to have a novel out to agents at that time. Plus, of course, there's networking.

The concerns: People are already contacting me--six+ months in advance--to say they'll be there or in town early, and would I like to meet for the first time, do I want to hang out, what are my plans, etc. This is great, even if it's a really weird feeling! I'm flattered and astonished! And I want to see them all!

But I don't know how to respond. Realistically, who knows what will be going on. Pragmatically, career-related meetups may pre-empt personal socializing. Logistically, I've never been to this country or city, so I don't know places to suggest for a coffee and chat or whatever. (Also, it's not in the typical US-style convention hotel, so I don't know if there are any bars or cafes on site, and it's in a kind of empty business district.) Emotionally, I'm worried about committing and then having a conflict with someone else I also really want to see (and hurting someone's feelings). I was at a smaller event last spring and had trouble with things like Person A asking in the morning if I'd be around for dinner, and then, at dinner time, Group B inviting me to go to a specific place or an industry party right away, and my not being able to contact Person A. In at least one instance, someone's feelings did get hurt. And for a final wrinkle, I have health concerns that mean I can't stay out all night going from thing to thing.

The question: How do you handle these things? What are people expecting as a response? Is "yes, email me again this summer/during the event" OK? But then how do you handle things on site? If I have to prioritize, how do I do that without being an asshole? How do you communicate with each other clearly enough in a crowded, fluid situation? What's the protocol on inviting unrelated circles together, or when you're going out with Group C and you want to add person D? Does it matter if Group C organized it or if you organized it yourself? What are the situations that I don't even know to ask for advice on?

Sorry for sockpuppetting this and for being so long. The thing is that just having this question makes me feel conceited and obnoxious. One part imposter syndrome about writing professionally, one part imposter syndrome about being someone anyone would go out of their way to hang out with. Ten parts anxiety about everything, including having been left out a lot in the first 30 years of my life, and not wanting to do that to other people.

I will talk to my therapist about this, but if you have strategies, I would like to hear from you. Particularly if you also had to consciously learn these skills as an adult. But it if all comes naturally to you and yet you can also identify what you're doing, I'd love to hear from you as well. General approaches and specific heuristics are all welcome.
posted by kutsushita nyanko to Grab Bag (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If it makes you feel better, I am very social and always have been and organizing this sort of situation STILL is complex and a bit stressful for me (I do not at all have imposter syndrome but I DO have anxiety about hurting other people's feelings by making them feel left out, which, I'd argue, is something people should try not to do!). So don't feel like you missed out on the class on how to handle this or anything, it's tricky for most people I'd argue.

Anyway, I do this a lot in my job, where I am somewhere for work/a big event, but I also want to sneak in some social stuff. And the number one thing to bear in mind is that all or most of these people who want to see you and hang out are also people who know that a big trip that may involve some work stuff is complicated and there are a finite number of hours in the day. You're not coming specifically to visit them, you're coming to do XYZ -- and they know that! (It sounds from your question that some of them are coming for the same event? So they probably also have some work stuff to do as well. That also means that it's likely that you'll just run into them in the course of events and you can get some on-site socializing done without having to actually plan it.)

So right now, if you want to see a person who's dropped you a note when you're in town, write back and say something like ,"yes, I'd love to see you while I'm in X! Let's touch base when I have a clearer idea of what my schedule will be like." And then you do that. (If we're talking about a person you'd like to see, but are sincerely not sure you're going to be able to fit in, you can say, "I'd love to see you! My schedule looks like it's going to be crazy, but hopefully we can make it work!" which is truthful and nice.)

Once you've gotten back to all those people, figure out who you REALLY want to see socially, and also what your primary business objectives are. What I tend to do is make a mental list of the #1 person I need to see (my editor, my best friend who moved to this city, my boss who is also there, whatever) and make plans with them FIRST. Then I make plans with the #2 person I really want to see, knowing that Time X is already taken by the person I want to see the most. Schedule people one at a time, starting with your first priority person. (I want to stress, this sounds kind of cold, but it's the only way to do this that I have found that doesn't end up screwing you up logistically later. This is not being an asshole -- you're not telling people this is what you're doing! -- it's just logistics. We all have people we are closer to than other people -- like, if you were going to visit your hometown, you'd make sure to see your grandma but you'd be less stressed about catching up with someone you just saw three weeks ago, for example.) And so on, making sure to leave holes in your schedule for last minute stuff, if you can. I'd also advise committing to an event that you know a lot of other people will commit to as well, so you don't need to make hard plans with them, you can just say, "you're going to X, right? I'll see you there!" I don't know how long you're going to be wherever you're going, but I'd really only make hard plans with the top 3 or 4 people you NEED to see. And don't even start doing this until way way way closer to when you'll be in town because if you don't really know your schedule yet, neither does anyone else.

(Also: Don't worry about logistics like where to meet someone in a city you've never been to -- you can ALWAYS bounce that back to the person who lives there, if some of them do. And if none of you do, you'll figure it out together. That is normal. I'd never expect someone visiting from out of town to figure out where we're getting lunch. [Regardless, you do not need to be figuring out where to meet someone for lunch six months from now at this exact moment, so place that worry on the backburner.])

As far as contacting people, ALWAYS get their cell phone so you can text them in case something weird happens/you want to see if they happen to be going to X, and vice versa. But I would say -- if you commit to dinner with Person A, you cannot ditch them for Offer B, ESPECIALLY without telling them. It's just bad form. (I mean, if you guys are writers, and Offer B is Come Have Dinner With Me and Roxane Gay, then there's some latitude there, but in general, you can't cancel w. a person or ghost them once you've made plans for a meal. If you made plans for dinner with a person and then just didn't show because you got a better offer, they're right to be peeved at you!)

Sorry for the long comment -- this is a complicated thing to juggle. You probably WON'T see everyone, but they won't see everyone on their list either, and it will all be okay. Have fun!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:28 PM on February 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

Oh, right! To clarify, probably 95% of the people I'll be meeting with will also be from out of town/out of country.
posted by kutsushita nyanko at 1:40 PM on February 3, 2019

I have this also, as a formerly painfully shy kid who grew up to have friends and is still learning how to do that. Above suggestions are great, and a few more tips:
1. If you have many people in a city you're visiting and want to take care of a lot of social obligations at once, it's often convenient to have a night where you tell everyone "I'll be at Z bar/coffee shop/picnic area from X to Y pm on A day, I'd love to see you if you're able to stop by!" Don't stress about mixing groups or anything here, just cast a wide net. And don't stress about finding the perfect spot, just choose one and be done with it. Even if a ton of people come, you'll have at least a few minutes with everyone you want to catch up with, and if a smaller group comes, even better, more quality time! Then you can feel free to schedule a couple of other meet ups with the one or two people you really really want to spend more time with and let all the other chips fall where they may.
2. Don't stress too much about scheduling in advance, often these things work out smoother than you think they will.
3. The primary rule of social obligations, which I had to learn later in life because see: painfully shy kid is that once a plan is set, you don't cancel it for another plan. (Again, unless it truly is a once in a lifetime freak occurrence that will change your life) People are far less likely to have their feelings hurt by "oh, I'd love to but I already have plans then, would X work instead?" than by "I have to cancel our dinner, something else came up" You can bend this a little for cancelling plans, "I know we had dinner plans, but I'm falling asleep on my feet, can we do tomorrow instead?" but not replacing plans with other plans.
posted by EmilyFlew at 6:07 PM on February 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

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