Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Recluse's Guide to Going Out, Socializing and Survival Thereof

Just when you thought she'd abandoned the blog, she returns with yet another treatise on something trivial and narcissistic. You should've known better.

Since my domestic pursuits have been ongoing yet unremarkable since my last post and I felt like writing anyway, I figured I'd share a sort of psychoanalysis in the guise of an informative article on one of my favorite topics: staying the fuck at home. However, this one will be a little different in that I've actually learned some tricks for getting over the all-consuming desire to secede from society and will impart them to you, my faithful reader, who clearly also needs a life since you are, after all, reading this.

As background, in case you haven't heard my primary descriptor/excuse for antisocial behavior, I'm a recovering homeschooler who lives alone and works from home. On a neurological level, I'm predominantly introverted (ISTJ if you're into that) and, while having successfully evaded formal diagnosis, likely embody some cocktail of schizoid PD, social anxiety, low self-esteem, anhedonia, over a decade of untreated major depression and/or devout pessimism that manifest collectively as misanthropy (can you tell I have too much time to think?). As a rule, I leave the house twice a week on average, but lately it's been more than that, and I've somehow managed not to snap into a full-blown hermit or lash out at my fellow man for having the gall to be in my company. I've noticed some trends and patterns in how I approach social situations, positively or negatively, and thus believe myself at least marginally qualified to offer some personal insight if not applicable advice. I've ranked them in order from least desire/necessity to interact to most:

Say "Leave Me Alone" Without Even Opening Your Mouth
     This is a tactic I generally employ for trips to the grocery store, large parties, crowds or other places where the goal is to extract myself as efficiently and invisibly as possible. I've found that dressing plainly and unremarkably, yet also tidily, gives others little cause to notice you (I'm also a firm believer in buns as the universal hairstyle indicator of "I'm a bitch, back the hell off"). Walk briskly, avoid eye contact, yet don't appear sullen or suspicious. The goal is to appear busy, not in need of a hug or handcuffs.

Employ Conversational Escape Routes
     For me at least, the aspect of socialization I most dread is being approached and asked to talk about myself, followed closely by being talked about and being introduced. After years of ungraciously shutting conversations down with closed-ended, curt responses, I've found the easiest way to not appear bitchy is to answer questions with other questions and try as efficiently as possible to get conversational assailants to talk about themselves instead of you. Granted, if you find yourself with a Chatty Kathy, this may backfire, but this is where other escape routes come into play. If you're pretty sure you're going to be miserable at some social function, set an alarm on your phone to go off during the party, even multiple if you like. This gives you an out to answer your phone or take that crazy pill, whatever excuse you prefer, when in reality it's buying you time to hide in the powder room with a beer.

On that topic . . .

Give Yourself Some Liquid Courage
     Before you get on my case about enabling, this is only advisable if you know your sweet spot and don't exceed it, and if drinking makes you more socially acceptable and not less so. Assuming your hosts drink, it never hurts to bring a six-pack of your favorite beer or a bottle of wine to a party. Not only does it make you appear to have contributed, but you're guaranteed at least a small stash to imbibe. Grab a beer early so you can drive home later, and cut yourself off before you're obviously drunk, but that little lapse in inhibition can go a long way toward getting you out of your own head for a bit.

As for when you want to/feel like you should go out and are not under duress:

Take Classes on Topics of Interest
     The beauty of classes is that it gets you out, but the attention's not on you. Find a Meetup group for a field/subject/activity you enjoy, and take advantage of free classes. You don't have to talk to anybody if you don't want to, or you can strike up conversations on the subject with your teacher or classmates.

Give Yourself a Groundhog Day
     In my experience, the hardest part of going out is talking yourself down from the ledge of cancelling. When you only have one place to go, it's easy to feel like rescheduling or cancelling is easier than getting dressed, getting your head in the right place and venturing out. If this is your problem, try to plan all your errands and meetings on one day. Set up your day so that each social interaction feels like ticking off a box on your to-do list, and you'll find it more rewarding. You'll also be less inclined to shut down since it's easier to stay "on" than to turn yourself on to begin with. That came out wrong.

Schedule Downtime Commensurate with "On" Time
     If you tend to feel depleted by going out, try to schedule some "you" time either soon before or soon after the taxing social event so you can charge or recharge your batteries. You may find you resent the imposition on your solitude less if you make it a point to commit to it on your own.

Get Involved in a Small Group That Meets Regularly
     If you have a hard time with new people unstructured socialization, consider joining some kind of hobby group with a predictable crowd and schedule. It will be awkward at first, but if you stick with it, you will find that cancelling means violating your routine, which will feel worse than going. Plus, you will learn your place/role within the group, which lends a sense of security and belonging.

Host Your Own Stuff
     This one stone kills so many birds it's not even funny. You have fine control over the crowd, the time frame, the environment and the activities, and you need not worry if people don't like you -- they wouldn't have come if they didn't. Plus, you'll be too busy preparing to overthink.

And most importantly. . .

Sleep on It Before Committing
     It's amazing how much less fun something sounds the closer the date gets. If you find yourself regretting making social commitments, don't make them in the first place. Say you will get back to people on invitations, take a macro view of your calendar to make sure you're not overbooking yourself not just that day but that week, and give yourself outs so you don't beat yourself up later for committing and flaking.

Hopefully this is helpful to someone.