11 Ways to Survive a Social Event as an Introvert

An introvert at a social event

From focusing on the family dog to offering to do the dishes, there are plenty of ways for introverts to get through a social event.

Shyness is the cape of my introvert dress. Some introverts aren’t shy at all. Me, I see a group of people laughing at the hors d’oeuvres table and I have to quickly decide if the salmon tartare is worth it. The misdemeanor of social crimes, breaking and entering into a conversation, is a ring of fire. It is really hard to understand a story midstream. Wait, who’s Mike? I wonder. And how’d he lose his foot? If I manage to get in sync, I can still crash the boat with a regrettable remark. “OH, I know that place, my kids got head lice from their seats.”

Luckily, I have a life preserver in my husband. However, he’s an extrovert, which means if I want to share a life with him, I have to learn to tread water in social situations. Chances are, fellow introvert, that some of the following tactics on how to survive a social event, like a dinner party, will sound familiar to you. 

11 Ways to Survive a Social Event as an Introvert

1. Deflect and delight with flattery; there must be something you can compliment the host on. 

When arriving at a get-together, the first thing I do is compliment something, anything, in the host’s house. “Love your gold-plated deer head. Where’d you get it?” While the host fills us in on deer dealers, I make a mental list of escape routes, cozy corners, and anyone studying the bookshelves. 

2. Find a furry friend, whether it’s a pet dog or hamster.

As an introvert, animals always calm me down, and animal lovers have lots of stories. Petting the dog is a secret signal that attracts people to you, usually another introvert. No breaking in required. Bonus? The conversation becomes about the dog’s fur, paws, or preference of chew toys. (The same goes for any other pet you happen to find.) Ten minutes will go by in a flash and no awkward small talk ensues.

3. Zero in on collections (if you seek, you shall find).

If your host covets clutter and comic books, you’ve hit the jackpot. Trust me, you can turn reading anime titles or examining miniature tea pots into a 30-minute affair. A perk? If someone joins you, you’ve instantly got a conversation-starter. “Have you ever seen a teapot made out of buttons? Me neither.”

4. Befriend a child… quickly. 

If there are children at the get-together, find them. It’s a good way to dip your toe in the water and shave more time off your sentences. Ask little Charlotte her favorite color. Make silly faces. Get her going with giggles. Read a book. Watch a show. Color. Ask her to fetch you some salmon tartare for a quick breather. Score a seat at the kids’ table. (This is also a fantastic way to avoid sitting between two extroverts who are professionals in the ping-pong game of gab.)   

5. Be a Royal (and put the focus on the other person).

If you end up sitting with grownups, don’t sweat it. Eat… slow. Take small bites. Talking with your mouth full is rude anyway and no one will fault you for being polite. If you’re forced to speak, praise the host. (Everyone loves hearing that their meatloaf casserole was a hit.) Ask a question or two about the ingredients and watch the conversation sail on autopilot. Queen Elizabeth II is a master at making conversation because she makes the focus on the other person. Bonus? You can practice your British accent.

6. Leave the chatty-ness to “Cathy.”

Everybody loves a “Cathy” and her tales of travel. While she’s busy talking about Vietnamese cuisine, make sure your seat is next to hers. Sycophants may get a bad rap, but it doesn’t mean you can’t steal their strategies. Stare at Cathy like she’s your favorite CNN anchor. Nod agreeably. Laugh often. Being in her vicinity makes you part of the group without the work of actually being part of the group. A big plus? Listening is an option.

7. Perform a civic duty, like clearing plates.

If you’ve baked in enough time, the meal is almost over. People’s plates will be empty. Seize this moment. Get up and start politely clearing away the discards. Go slow. You’ll score generosity points with your host. And… you’ll get the ability to retreat into the calmness of the kitchen, your very own “introvert zen zone.” 

If you get to do the dishes, consider the evening a success. Nothing calms me more than running my hands under hot water and experimenting with someone else’s garbage disposal. Rinse the dishes, but never load someone else’s dishwasher. You’ll never do it right and you could break something. (This includes your pride.)

8. Decode dessert and discussions — smiling and nodding can work wonders.

It’s most likely people will continue talking and move into another room. Find a corner seat and snuggle in. Smile and nod when appropriate. If you can pull it off, fall asleep. I find that the older I get, the more acceptable this becomes. Bonus? You’ll wake up to the smell of pie.

9. Offer to walk the dog (someone has to do it!).

Let your new furry friend come to the rescue again. Offer to take Pepper on a walk. It’s a perfect way to collect yourself. Take it slow. Fresh air, silence, and nature can give you that extra boost of energy you need to make it to the finish line. Plus, you can work off that meatloaf casserole.

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10. Remember, you can always pull a “Houdini.”

If introvert exhaustion gets the best of you and you absolutely must leave, fake phone calls, needy kids, and work crises are perfectly acceptable excuses to escape a party for some much-needed alone time and self-care. And since it’s an “emergency,” you’ll only have time to say goodbye to the host.

11. Know yourself and your introvert energy limits. 

Humor gets me through many situations because I’ll never not be an introvert. And I hope my husband will never not want me by his side. As someone who gets energized by his friends, he’s baffled by my need for so much personal space. On his less generous days, he accuses me of being avoidant. If I’m truthful, he’s not entirely wrong. I need to face my introverted self with an honest eye. Every ask requires me to weigh my decision thoughtfully because there’s a consequence either way. 

Sometimes the answer is I’m not moving till I beat level 5412 in Gardenscapes. Over the years, the two of us have learned to accept this. I don’t know if my husband will ever love it, but he loves me enough to respect my request. Other times, I push myself to honor his needs. Despite the energy cost, I choose to give time to the person who loves me. Bonus? Being closer to my extroverted husband… and some good after-party gossip. 

After a big day of lots of people around me, I have to recharge. My energy comes from painting furniture, reading a book, gardening, or the aforementioned app. If I get that time, I can then go on to enjoy game night with the fam. They’re hilarious. Quips get thrown around the table like a hot potato. You’ve gotta pay attention to catch ‘em or you’ll miss out. And understanding my introversion means I get to be in the moment (as much or as little as I want) instead of avoiding it. 

I believe every invitation to connect with others is a choice. And, with intention, the choice is mine — and yours — to make.

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I am a freelance writer living in Chicago with my husband, four children, two dogs, one cat, and a lizard called Gordon. I am currently writing my first memoir and secretly love being in quarantine with my tribe.