A small shift in my thinking meant I could actually attend a party and have a decent enough time.
Fifty. That’s the number of people invited to a family friend’s birthday party, and I’m being forced to go.
Normally I’d use excuses to get out of it, but this time those were useless.
“If you don’t show up, I’ll come to your house and drag you here,” the woman said.
I know her well enough to know this was no idle threat. Not only will she leave her party to come get me, she’ll also tell everyone about it. The thought of living through something like that seemed unimaginable to me, so I agreed to go.
It’s a numbing feeling, knowing I’m being forced to do something I don’t want to do. I also won’t know most of the people there, and the thought of my family and some family friends being there somehow makes it worse.
As an introvert, I feel out of place among my family. They’re all extroverts, loud and confident. Not to mention Bernice, a family friend I’ve always felt slightly intimidated by, will also be there. She’s a few years younger than me, married, and thrives in social situations.
Socializing comes naturally to all of them. They’ll talk to anyone nearby, make jokes and handle any topics being discussed with ease. Not only that, but they’ll go out of their way to be social. Not like me, who usually hides away and struggles to find something interesting to say.
I Don’t Hate Talking to People
As an introvert, it’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to others. I do, but only when both people have something meaningful to say. I don’t feel the need to fill every minute with talking, and more than anything, I dread feeling obligated to talk to someone. It’s awkward and usually cringeworthy.
I’ve tried different ways to deal with this over the years. Most of them never worked well, except for one. If there are any kids at social events, I’ll play with them. As awkward as it might seem, kids usually enjoy it, and it spares me the uncomfortableness of sitting alone or being forced to talk to someone.
Yet this tactic isn’t a good one either, not if you ask my mother who, after seeing me play with my young niece and nephew at a social gathering, told me how ashamed she felt when she saw me running around with them. She then compared me to Bernice, saying she behaved like a lady.
If ever anything left me feeling inadequate, that was it. It hurt because she didn’t understand that I’m only trying to cope with these situations as best as I can.
Do What Makes You Comfortable
The day of the party arrived, and I felt nervous. I think if someone gave me the choice of either breaking my leg or going, I’d choose breaking my leg.
When it was almost time to leave, I scrolled through Pinterest to distract myself. A picture of the Fifth Doctor, a Doctor Who character who wears a celery stick pinned to his suit, appeared on the screen. I stared at it, and a wonderful thought popped into my head.
It might be a nerdy realization, but at that moment I realized that Doctor Who is a popular character on TV, and he’s been around for a long time. He’s often portrayed as an awkward and eccentric person with strange fashion choices and silly behavior.
He’s not the only popular eccentric character either. Willy Wonka, Luna Lovegood, The Addams Family, Edward Scissorhands, Jack Sparrow… the list is endless.
It’s not just fictional characters. People like Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton, and Howie Mandel immediately come to mind.
There’s a great lesson to be learned from these people and characters. They all do what they feel comfortable with, regardless of whether others agree with it. Most importantly, they never apologize for who they are.
Realizing this caused a shift in my thinking. It might have been a small one, but it was enough to make me feel better about the party. I didn’t need to enjoy small talk or force myself to be part of conversations or be loud. I didn’t need to do anything either. Keeping to myself is perfectly fine, no matter what anyone else says. If someone thought of me as a snob or rude because of it, it’s not my problem.
If someone really wanted to talk to me, they would make the effort. I don’t have to go up to people or force myself to think of something to say.
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I Left Feeling Good About Myself
By the time I got to the party, the idea had sunk in nicely. I greeted everyone who came to me and sat down in an isolated spot. I joined in when everyone sang happy birthday, but kept quiet when someone tried to get everyone to continue singing to anyone else who celebrated their birthday that month.
No one spoke to me, and I was ignored for most of the night. Instead of feeling like a failure and unwanted, I decided to embrace it. I didn’t want to make small talk, so why should it bother me?
When we were all called to the dessert table, Bernice stood next to me. For the first time that night, she spoke to me, talking about how much she enjoyed the cake. I told her she looked beautiful tonight. To my surprise, she became a self-conscious mess, giggling and mumbling about how she “had a lot of free time today.”
I left the party feeling good about myself, silence and all. I didn’t compare myself to others, and I didn’t attempt to live up to non-existing standards that others have set for me. Because of this, I had a decent time.
I’m still uncomfortable with social events, but I work hard to not beat myself up over being quiet. Instead, I try to remind myself that it’s unnecessary to be like everyone else. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding social interactions or wanting to be alone more than others. I only need to be true to myself.