Science Explains Why I Have a Love-Hate Relationship With Parties

How can I love my friends, and at the same time, dread being around them?

I love going out to dinner with my friends and laughing so hard my face hurts. The talking, the loud laughing, and being with close friends make for a fun night. We take pictures, share silly jokes, and talk about embarrassing moments that are too funny to forget. 

Being around good, honest people fills my soul. As we commiserate, we deepen our bonds of friendship, and I know I have women I can confide in. I love knowing I’m not going through life alone — I have friends who let me vent, teach me to laugh, and help me move on from the past. We talk about our children, our marriages, our mothers-in-law, and everything in between. We talk about our struggles and victories, our hopes and failures, our fears and dreams, and who we want to become. Having friends and staying close to them is so fulfilling and enriches my life. 

Having friends is important to me. I might be introverted, but there are some people I genuinely enjoy being around. You might never see me talking loudly and demanding attention in a large group, but I do love to get together with close friends and have real conversations.

So why do I always come home at the end of a fun, exciting night feeling drained? 

Why do I lie in bed and dread the next time I might run into one of my friends at the grocery store and be forced into small talk? 

Why do I feel squeamish thinking about the thousands of words thrown about carelessly that night in the million tiny conversations going on? 

How can I love my friends, and at the same time, dread being around them?

A Recent Study Has the Answer

Well, research can finally explain why I both love and hate being social! In a University of Helsinki study, Sointu Leikas and Ville-Juhani Ilmarinen found that “extroverted” behavior such as going out with friends and being social initially creates feelings of happiness and positivity, but quickly leads to mental depletion and higher fatigue just a few hours later. 

They performed a 12-day study that tracked how people felt in terms of personality, mood, stress, and fatigue and found a connection between extroversion and happiness. People who engaged in extroverted behavior (regardless of whether they were introverted or extroverted) were immediately rewarded with a dose of happiness and positive feelings. But as time passed, that happiness transitioned to a state of being tired and fatigued only three hours later. 

As an introvert, I feel this fatigue intensely. I can now finally understand why I enjoy going out with friends, but also feel mentally, physically, and emotionally depleted that same night. My body needs a few hours to process my surroundings and then seems to realize that the socializing and extroverted behavior is tiring.

I enjoy being with my friends, but I also need a break from them after spending some time together — even if we were having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

I Changed How I Socialize

After discovering this study and reflecting on its findings, I’ve made a few changes to how I socialize:

1. Limit socializing to two hours or less at a time.

After some experimenting, I’ve noticed that I can handle about two hours of chatting and being friendly. That gives me enough time to be with my friends and fulfill my need for close human interaction, but it also helps me set a limit so I can take care of my mental health

My closest friends know that I limit my socializing time, and they help me by making it easy to quietly escape the situation. For example, at a recent baby shower, my friend let me park in the driveway behind her house so I could make a quick getaway and go unnoticed. Thank goodness she did that because 30 women in a house can get loud real quick!

I can leave feeling guilt-free because I did my part by showing up, being friendly, and making conversation with people I’m not familiar with. 

2. Leave when I’m 70% done.

I used to try to stay and socialize for as long as possible so I could squeeze in as much “fun” as possible in one night. Then I’d go home ready to crash on my bed, and my mental depletion would spill over into the next day. I used to wonder why I left the party feeling great, but would slowly feel worse as time went on. The University of Helsinki study helped me see that extroverted behavior can create happiness initially, but can transition to fatigue and a sense of depletion just a few hours later. 

Nowadays, I prepare for my upcoming energy depletion by leaving social settings when I feel 70% done. Sometimes this is just after an hour, sometimes around two hours. I do this by monitoring how I’m feeling as the socializing goes on. When I’m with a close friend and can talk for a few hours, it takes me longer to reach 70% done. 

But there are other times when I’m surrounded by 40 loud strangers and I can feel my brain melting into a puddle. So I gauge how I’m feeling as if I were a fuel tank — am I 70% full yet? Then it’s time to leave, even if I’ve only been there for 30 minutes. The louder and more energy it takes for me to be in a situation, the faster my inner tank reaches 70%. I’ve learned to listen to what my body is telling me, even when sometimes it seems silly to leave after 30 minutes.

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3. See people as energy givers or takers.

There are some people I love to be around. They exude happiness and charm, and are engaging to talk to. They have deep, meaningful conversations at the right times and are socially adept to know when to stop digging deeper. 

Then there are people who seem to bring a dark, rainy cloud wherever they go. Talking to them takes effort and every sentence you say to them seems to hammer away at your mental health. Being around these people makes me lose energy. I can feel my back slumping and head lowering when they come around and want to talk. Engaging with these people is depleting and difficult, and burnout quickly creeps up. 

When I come across someone who falls in this category, I try to minimize my interaction with them as little as possible. They are draining my mental, emotional, and physical stamina by simply being near me, so I need to find a way to cut it short and take care of myself. I’ve learned that my “being friendly” to them by allowing them to talk endlessly does neither one of us a service — I’m not genuinely interested in what they say, and I’m not prioritizing my own mental health. So I make sure to smile and say something simple like, “Hey, I have to run, but I really hope you have a great day!” 

The University of Helsinki study helped me see that we all have mental and physical limits and need to set boundaries. Some of us may be more extroverted and enjoy socializing all night, whereas some of us might need a break after 30 minutes.

Regardless of where we are on this spectrum, we need to keep tabs on our inner tank and remember that fun nights out with friends can lead to fatigue and depletion later. By understanding our limits, we can balance our need to socialize with our even greater need to take care of ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.

How do you balance your need for interaction with your need for alone time? Let me know in the comments below.

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I’m an awkwardly shy and anxious person who often gets mistaken for an extrovert. I try to balance my need for socializing and friends with my even deeper need to reflect on life, have deep conversations, and be in silence. I like people, but I like my naps even more.