How can I deal with my anxieties when going out?
February 7, 2020 9:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to make an effort to meet new people. It hasn't gone as well as I'd like. Still, going out by myself is a huge step forward. I have friends but they don't go out much, so I decided to meet new people. Sometimes going to places makes me really anxious.

Basically I tried four new different things this week, I really didn't like any of them and walked out. My therapist has told me to do that if I don't like the event.

For starters I got into a history class, it was awful, it was like going to a college class. Moreover, there weren't any others around my age. I decided I wasn't going to go back. I would have walked out, but it would've been too noticeable.

Then there was this tattoo art exhibition which was less about art and more about the studio owner promoting his business and whining about the dirty looks his tattoos get from people. I have tattoos too, and I'm sure I get dirty looks as well, but I just don't care about them or about the people that don't like my tattoos. I was expecting to see really cool tattoos, and to meet others. The announcements were duplicitous, the presenter got mad when I questioned him on that. In short I left, I wasn't inclined to waste my time there.

Third, I went to an event which I thought was about softskills, turns out it wasn't and it was some weird seminar or something. I left as well, there just wasn't anything for me to do there.

Fourth, I went to what I thought was French movies. Turns out it wasn't, it was some short movies thing that was hosted at a local French alliance center. I was hoping to practice, converse and listen. I also walked out.

I don't know, I just feel like a fool for not having noticed that these things beforehand. Not everything has gone wrong though, there was a language speaking group I went to last week, it was ok I guess, but not many people showed up, I gather it is because it's the first time they meet this year. There's another language group that meets tomorrow, I guess I'll go but I'm somewhat skeptical.

This is all new to me, it's scary and I also feel a little insecure about it. I guess I'm worried about people seeing me in such a vulnerable way. The topic of socializing has been difficult for me and I it takes a lot of strength for me to go by myself to these things. I don't have any real issues socializing, once I get talking to someone it's very easy for me to go on. It is hard for me to take the steps towards starting a conversation. My therapist says I should just say anything like talking about the weather or about the place I'm at.

I guess I don't know, I don't want to sound harsh, bur sometimes I feel like a loser going by myself to these things, especially when they don't work out like these past events. I know it's not true, but the thought lingers.
posted by Tarsonis10 to Human Relations (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have struggled with this as well. The advice I've gotten is to ask people about themselves and get them talking about themselves. Not really sure if that's helpful. As for going out, I usually have lunch or go to the movies by myself. So can't really give advice there. But don't give up. Keep trying to put yourself out there if that's what you really want. Hopefully someone else can give better advice.
posted by VyanSelei at 10:45 PM on February 7, 2020

I'm confused about what your question is. It sounds like you're having trouble finding events in your area that are actually something you will be interested in, or maybe having trouble maintaining interest in the events once you get there? But your title is about anxiety. Are you experiencing anxiety when you find you're no longer enjoying an event?

If you goal is to meet new people when you're out doing things, pick activities that are mingling-friendly. So things like a class or lecture series isn't good, because people are going to focus on the teacher/speaker and not on one another. But a language group is a great idea since that's specifically oriented towards encouraging people to talk to each other.

You have to remember that relationships take time to build, so although you might feel like an interaction you had was really shallow and not "worth" your being there, if you repeatedly show up those shallower interactions pile up into being really meaningful. I think it's great that you're comfortable leaving when you're unhappy about an event, but maybe you can calibrate that happiness or lack thereof by taking future potential into account. It might be that that's what's triggering anxiety in you? In which case keep practicing being okay with leaving somewhere when you're unhappy so you can build up neutral to positive experiences doing so.

Starting conversations can be super hard. Your therapist is right though, you can talk about the weather or the place you're at. Was there an opportunity when you were at the French alliance center for you to ask questions about the center itself and like, the other activities that go on there? Quite often in public meeting spaces there is art being exhibited - you could ask about it, or if you already know about it you can ask a person what they think about it. If you're at somewhere like a coffeeshop for a small group gathering, you can even ask what people are eating and drinking - an enormous amount of conversation can be had about coffee vs tea.

This kind of introductory smalltalk is not just for strangers. It's taken me a very long time to absorb this but smalltalk is about creating a aura of comfort. When I say "gosh it sure is wet outside" to my best friend, it's not like I'm sharing any brand new information - we live in Seattle and it's February, if it weren't wet outside it would be a problem. What I'm doing is making him feel comfortable with a light interaction, where basically any response with a similar energy is okay. He could say "wow yeah sure is pouring out" or "glad I have my umbrella" or "I'm so sick of it!" or "good for the plants, at least" and it would all be fine. This is a way of easing away from that vulnerability that you mention feeling. When you make smalltalk, you're cushioning that vulnerability for other people, and they can do the same back to you.
posted by Mizu at 11:06 PM on February 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

I hear you about the anxiety. I don't think there's anything wrong with your approach so far, or that there's anything wrong with your decision to walk out of / not to go back to events that you didn't like. And I don't think you're a fool for not knowing beforehand that you would not like these events -- sometimes you really can't tell that just from the writeup, and you have to see for yourself. FWIW, as someone who goes to various tech-related events that newcomers drift in and out of, I wouldn't judge you for coming to one thing and not coming back -- not everyone is interested in everything, and that's fine.

I often get the impression that the way other people (extroverts? people who are more sociable?) talk about various connections to other people (whether it's romantic attachments or platonic social engagements) is completely alien to me. Like... their bar for an interaction that they enjoy and want to repeat is vastly lower than mine, or their criteria are just completely different. There are probably people who would have gone to events like all the events that you describe and not been bothered by the drawbacks at all and had a good time. I don't think that I'm one of those people, and I think it's OK that you're not one of those people. It's OK only to keep doing things if you enjoy doing them.

But it does mean that if you're discussing this kind of issue with people who generally find that they're able to have a good time at random new social engagements, you may feel like you're missing something, or doing it wrong, because surely after trying four things you should have found something you liked! And I don't think that's true -- not liking four things is completely normal, and you may need to try a lot more things.

The only piece of advice I do have is that, bearing in mind that you tried some things that seemed good on paper and didn't like them, you consider that there are things that may not sound great on paper but that you would actually like if you tried them. So throw in a few wildcards into your next selections to broaden your search.

(Anecdata: years ago I joined a university tabletop roleplaying society because the only people I knew on campus wanted to join, and it would have been awkward for me not to do what they were doing. I thought that it would be awful and I would hate it, because it seemed like a hobby that only extroverts would like. It turned out that my assumptions were incorrect, and this is how I met most of my current social group.)
posted by confluency at 1:50 AM on February 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not everything has gone wrong though, there was a language speaking group I went to last week, it was ok I guess, but not many people showed up

First, congrats on going out alone to meet new people. I do that at times and it is a struggle for me. It makes me anxious as well.

Second, congrats on leaving when it is not too awkward to leave. That is first-rate self care.

Third, I am wondering if you consider going to the language speaking group last week a failure because not many people showed up. I would consider that a win, personally, because it is much easier for me to actually meet new people (learn their names and find out just a few things about them) when I meet them in small groups. For me, that is the ideal venue for actually making new friends because it does take time and regular attendance to get to know people. Smaller groups make that easier for me.

I am impressed by all the different events you have been going to. Honestly, I would never be able to go to so many in such a short time. You don't need this Internet stranger's approval, but I do think you are taking a good approach. Be patient and keep trying; I am sure over time you will make the new friends you seek.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oops, forgot to mention that once you find a group you like or think you may like, your anxiety will probably lessen with every meeting you attend. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2020

I think what you're experiencing is not abnormal. If it is, it's only because putting yourself out there is hard and scary and doing it four times in a week is four more than what most people end up doing I think. I think what makes things extra difficult is that people never talk about their failures, only their successes, which makes it easier to feel alone.

One thing that helps me is to see the act of trying something new as a success, even if it doesn't turn into anything. I don't think most people try new things at really any rate. I've been able to change my attitude so that this mindset isn't something I want to aspire to, which makes me feel good about myself when I try something new and it doesn't work out, so maybe this is something you could try also (maybe with the help of others).

The other thing that helps me is to talk about these attempts with friends. I feel like much less of a weirdo when I do, mostly because my friends never react as harshly as I expect.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 1:59 PM on February 11, 2020

Best answer: I'm an sometimes anxious introvert who masquerades as a peppy extrovert.

My advice: Embrace these "failures" and laugh at them. I wouldn't see these as failures at all, they sound hilarious in retrospect. (More on that later.)

Also fairly normal - unknown events are very hit and miss and part of the enjoyment can be to find out what it's going to be.

I think your main "mistake" is probably going there with a set of expectations in your head and feeling like a failure when reality doesn't match up. But fun, conversations and good times happen when you sort of relax and let reality happen around you. Every unknown is an adventure: be curious what this adventure will be like. Cultivate an appreciation for the many things that can and will be wrong, odd or just slightly out of step. If nothing else, it'll be a story for later.

Aside: The tattoo artist thing made me snigger and doesn't reflect on you at all just for being there. You got to people watch and see a whiny guy hijack his own event. Watch with amused, positive eyes, keep an eye out for opportunities - like other people who seem just as underwhelmed as you and might respond to a brief smile and eye roll.

Events are just an opportunity to meet people in the wild, better odds than public transport but in some ways equally random in quality.

Okay, about the hilarious:
I once wrote for a newspaper and decided to check out a presentation on business underwear. Because come on, who wouldn't. I mean, business knickers? Unfortunately, I got lost in the building and ended up in a seminar on how to find a man. They pressed some paper and a pen in my wedding ringed hand and told me to write down the qualities of my ideal boyfriend. It took me a ridiculously long time to realise I was in the wrong place, and then I was so embarassed that I just sat there and took my notes and I waited until the break to bolt out of the room.
This is now one of my favourite memories.
Every thing you go to that went wrong is something of which you can see the amusing side later.

Events of any kind are a chance for random things to happen to you. Embrace the random.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:37 AM on February 12, 2020

I don't know, I just feel like a fool for not having noticed that these things beforehand.

Don't be, you're looking for something specific and that's going to be a bit more hit and miss, since as you found out from the tattoo thing, descriptions sometimes don't meet reality. Nobody's gonna say that their language group is small and the organizer is ineffective or unconnected, a seminar hawker isn't going to say that's what they're putting on, they're going to say it's "soft skills" or something equally anodyne. Soft skills like handing your money over with a smile!

But that's all water under the bridge, my point in coming to this thread late is that you're allowed to be the one with higher standards. You are the one who can be all "this shit is laaame," and walk out like in an ABC afterschool special. You can be frustrated that everybody who runs a French group around you is a Xanax housespouse or chit-chat lamer. You can be all "are you people just sitting around wasting time until you DIE? Don't you want to practice your Frenchian talkery" as you check out your fourth discussion group. And last but not least: you can be the person who creates the good thing. Reserve a room at the library or Local Social Lodge (whatever they have where you are) and put flyers all over the place and show up at the appointed time. Yada yada, this isn't news, I'm just cheerleading.

And as far as avoiding frustration from this mismatch of expectations, maybe leave open the option of going to your (e.g.) history class at the actual college. Like, you want to learn history or something? It might be something unlikely to happen in a casual setting, and the community college is just over there and it's probably pretty cheap on an annual basis. I came this >< close to making a friend in a math class a year ago, if they hadn't dropped out at the beginning, so that can work, too.
posted by rhizome at 11:24 AM on March 6, 2020

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