An Introvert’s Struggle with Holiday Parties

‘Tis the season for holiday parties. A couple weeks before October 31, I start getting Facebook invites to Halloween, Friendsgiving, and Ugly Sweater/Secret Santa/White Elephant parties. I see these invitations pop up on my events page and I get pre-party anxiety. I start thinking of potential excuses I could give the night before or even the day of the party. “I’m not feeling well — I think I caught something. Can’t make it tonight, sorry!” “I forgot I promised my mom I’d Skype with her tonight — I haven’t talked to her in weeks!” “I twisted my ankle saving infant twins from a burning building — gonna have to take a rain check!”

Okay, I’ve never gone so far as to make up a rescue story, but I’ve been tempted. It’s not that I don’t want to see friends, it’s that holiday parties are the culmination of everything I don’t care for when it comes to social engagement. Sure, I can make small talk, but I’d rather hit myself on the forehead with a hammer. Yes, I can meet new people and have pleasant conversation, but this girl can only handle so much “people” time. Of course, I can eat plates on plates of finger food and gradually get tipsy on punch as the night goes on. Oh, wait, that’s not something I have a problem with.

Let me give you an example of a time I did not excuse myself from a gathering. This year on Halloween, I went to a friend’s house. My boyfriend and I were the only ones not dressed up, which has nothing to do with me being an introvert and everything to do with the fact that we just didn’t put in the effort. At my friend’s party, there were horror movies, food, and personal discomfort. I had already met most of the people there, but I didn’t know them well, so I was feeling observant rather than interactive.

My only saving grace was the pair of dogs that my coworker and her boyfriend adopted this year. All I did was focus my attention completely on the dogs. This is my favorite method of avoiding the pressure of holiday chit chat and feeling out of place: play with the pets. Another strategy includes finding books and “pretending” to be so absorbed that I forget where I am.

It’s not the party’s fault. It’s not the fault of the host(ess) or food or company. It’s a classic case of square peg meets round hole.

If I make a conscious decision to go to a party, be engaged, and stay for longer than an hour, this is what happens:

I start by talking about the food. Someone usually engages because who doesn’t like food? I’m a huge foodie, so I might then recommend a recipe for some delicious southwest eggrolls I recently made.

This person seems to enjoy this conversation, so I ask them questions about their favorite foods and go from there. I ask as many questions as I can so I don’t have to be the one talking. The conversation evolves from food to experiences with food to experiences with people and maybe it starts to get personal, which I welcome wholeheartedly. I ask about this person’s aforementioned personal experiences, and pretty soon, we’re laughing, we’re crying, we’re exchanging phone numbers and planning coffee next week.

Then I immediately become too exhausted to even hold myself up. I go home. I feel upset that I now have one more person in my life that I’ll have to come up with excuses for when I just can’t bring myself to be around anyone in public.

Or, I am the life of the party, chatting up everyone in the room and shouting “Shots!” But five minutes later I’m slouched over on the couch because I used every ounce of my social energy on ramping up the party.

And then there’s the family Christmas party. For those of you with small families, I have many questions. Do you actually know all your cousins’ names? Do they know yours? Are there leftovers? I can only imagine. The annual family Christmas party on my dad’s side got so big a few years ago that we couldn’t have it at my grandpa’s house anymore. We had to start renting an event center.

I usually walk into the room and face a sea of cousins and uncles that I only get to see once a year, which means there is a lot of catching up to do, so I have a choice: put on my family party face and recite my personal update, or find the table in the back where my favorite uncle is hiding and cracking jokes. Sometimes I frantically try to find a baby to hold so I have an excuse to sit quietly.

Look, I can’t speak for all introverts, but this has been my experience. Holiday Parties and I have worked out an arrangement, and we’ve finally come to a mutual respect. I bring dip, and sometimes there’s a cat to pet. That’s really all I ask.

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Read this: The Holidays Are Absolutely Exhausting for Introverts. Let’s Change That.