I know how this is. If you're anything like me (and it seems many of you are), you don't make consistent efforts to get together with people. My default is usually, "Meh, I'll just stay home." And if you're anything like me (Part II) you're also not particularly spontaneous. If you have a plan—even if it's just to hang around the house—you tend to stick with it.
I have long argued that, for introverts, doing nothing is doing something. Of course we need alone time. Of course we relish our quiet evenings at home. I'm not backpedaling on this. However, if you find yourself feeling a little cut off from others, you might be letting your default solitude get the better of you.
One solution for this is learning to loosen up and be more spontaneous.
Sometimes opportunities to connect just kind of fall from the blue, and grabbing them when they materialize can provide just the psychic nourishment you need. But when they do appear, you have to shut off your introvert alarm bells long enough to recognize them and take advantage.
Here's what I mean: The other day, my fairly introverted husband was closing up his business and preparing to head home when he encountered a neighbor hanging out with his brother on his porch. My husband stopped to chat, and then another mutual friend drove by, pulled in, and joined the group.
Tom could have, and perhaps ordinarily would have, given the serendipitous gathering a few minutes, then kept to his plan to come home for dinner (and with my dinner, I might add—he was on his way to picking up a pizza). Instead, he made a conscious decision to step off the track and enjoy the opportunity to hang out with likeable dudes on a mild autumn evening.
There was nothing special about this little encounter; it wouldn't be a blip on an extrovert's social radar. But it was just the easygoing, nothing-specialness about it that made the time so particularly pleasant, and just the right kind of socializing for an introvert.
Sure, I was getting hungry. But when Tom got home with our dinner and explained his delay, I couldn't be annoyed. He was cheerful and relaxed in a way I recognize in myself when I've had just the right kind of connection with the wider world—the kind of easy connection that makes a person feel…a little more human.
I've been trying to develop this ease within myself, trying to let go of strictly orchestrating my time in order to let casual connections just happen as they will. That sometimes means saying "yes" to last-minute invitations, when I might previously have become paralyzed by unnecessary indecision. It sometimes means forcing myself out and about to events large and small without making a big to-do in my head about it, as I sometimes will.
I often don't decide whether I'm really going or not until it's time to leave the house. Then when the time comes, rather than falling into introvert default, I'm training myself to grab the car keys and go. I've recently taken myself to a couple of small literary events nearby, where I've had a glass of wine, chatted with acquaintances, enjoyed the program, and left. Home before 10 p.m.
It's not that hard if you don't overthink it.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided at the last minute to attend a book festival in a city about a three-hour drive from home. To save a few bucks, I arranged to stay the night at a friend's. I had lots of alone-in-a-crowd time at the festival during the day, and when it turned out the friend had a dinner party planned that evening (and was happy to have me crash it), I banished introvert panic and enjoyed the serendipitous social connection. It was pleasant, fun, emotionally nourishing, and mostly effortless—especially because I have learned to allow myself to be my introverted self when I socialize. No big whoop, no dog-and-pony show. Just hanging out. (Admittedly, the next morning I fled fairly early for the delicious anonymity of the festival.)
In her upcoming book, Count Me In (coming in January), author Emily White (who also wrote Lonely: A Memoir) writes: "Lower key relationships can offer something just as important as close ties do. The fact that they're not intense means that they don't have to be there for you every second, so there's less pressure on both you and others, as well as more spontaneity."
Se continues: "Public ties mean we can be with people without having to be on all the time, and that's a great, stress-relieving thing. It's not all that we need from life—we do need intensity and strong, one-on-one relationships—but we've forgotten how good less intensity can feel."
We often put a lot of thought into and pressure on socializing, making it loom large and sound, frankly, exhausting. I will always argue that if a fun event doesn't sound fun to you, there's no shame in skipping it. But if you also find yourself feeling isolated and out of sorts, remember that all social events don't have to be formal and planned out, all interactions don't have to be intimate, and sometimes socializing can come as a pleasant surprise. So think about whether you are letting serendipitous opportunities to connect slip by, and how you can change that.
Check out my books, Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After; The Introverts Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World; and 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go. Support your local independent bookstore; click here to find an indie near you.
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