My husband and threw a small party, a brunch, the other day. An introvert throwing a party? Yep. I'm not antisocial. I like seeing friends and offering hospitality. And in some ways, throwing a party is easier than attending someone else's. For one thing, when I need to check out of the chitchat, I can busy myself with hostess duties--refilling food or drinks, mopping up spills, general tidying. Plus, I usually know everyone at my own parties, which makes mingling less awkward for me.
Still, a party is a party and I anticipated this party with the usual combination of pleasure, high anxiety, and pre-emptive exhaustion. But this time, while I prepared the food, I also prepared myself, thinking about how I could manage my psychic energy.
Because I went into the party conscious of my energy, an interesting thing happened: I was talking to a guest, someone I didn't know well, and suddenly realized that my energy was shooting every which way. Some was going into my conversation, yes. But I also was conscious of other conversations around me. I was aware of my husband manning the barbecue. I was wondering about guests who hadn't arrived yet. Keeping an eye on the dog. Thinking about running back into the house for ... what? I didn't even know.
No wonder social events exhaust me! My poor brain, accustomed to the quiet focus of solitude, wasn't processing my environment efficiently. It was trying to absorb and interpret too much, giving me that familiar my-head-might-explode feeling.
But this time, as soon as I became aware of my scattered energy, I tried to gather it in and focus entirely on the conversation at hand.
Immediately, calm settled over me. I looked at the woman talking to me, who a moment earlier was irritating as a buzzing fly, and became interested in what she was saying. The rest of the party receded to the background and managed to function without me for the ten minutes I permitted myself to focus. And with my psychic energy ratcheted down, I was infinitely more relaxed than I had been a minute earlier.
Hm. That's a good trick: When suffering from sensory overload, focus on something manageable. One conversation. Another weapon in my arsenal of party-survival tactics.
Yeah, I have a few party tricks up my sleeve, don't you? For example, admit it: At some point at a party, you've gone into the bathroom not because nature called, but for a moment of quiet solitude. Closing that bathroom door in that small, silent room ... ahhhhh. It's a whole different kind of relief. I know one woman who admits to shutting herself in the bathroom--at her own parties and others'--and reading.
Actually, I'm currently reading The Introvert Advantage and was tickled to find that author Marti Olsen Laney starts her chapter about socializing with an anecdote about a mid-party retreat to the bathroom.
Speaking of books, snooping in other people's bookcases is a good way to check out of the chitchat. (Snooping in other people's medicine cabinets, however, is not good form, no matter how much time you spend in the bathroom.) Sometimes I even just pretend to look at the books so I can turn my back on the party for a minute and give my brain a break.
If all else fails, I'll step outside for a moment of peace. Actually, in some ways it is my need for party escape that has prevented me from completely and entirely giving up the nasty cigarette habit. I'm still a smoking hobbyist because I like stepping out for a smoke during parties. It's dark and quiet outside there and at most, you might become part of a small (and ever-shrinking) party subset: the smokers/pariahs. I know, I know. Not a good reason to keep smoking but would someone please come up with an alternative?
I also have strategies for extended get-togethers, especially if I'm a house guest or have house guests. For example, one of my Thanksgiving traditions is a long morning walk. I do it not just for the exercise, but for some calm before the social storm. I always pack walking shoes for extended family visits because when I need alone time, I can cite my need for exercise and step out without risk of causing offense. I can buy a full hour of solitude that way and get a little exercise as well.
I've also found, oddly enough, that knitting helps keep some personal space in my brain during those family-just-sittin'-around times. I can remain cognizant of everything happening around me and participate, but the little task engages the wandering part of my mind and somehow approximates solitude in a crowd. I'm not exactly sure why this bit of voodoo works for me, but it does.
What are your party survival tactics? Now's the time to share them, as we careen into the festive season.
What is energy directed outward? Or inward? We know what we think we mean when we talk about such things, but how do you measure them in a way that scientists can get a grip on? Nobody has figured that out yet.
Copyright 2009 Sophia Dembling