429. The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Other People

A coworker recently told me that his fiancée sleeps at parties. Instead of socializing, she finds a sofa and takes a nap.

“That’s a good strategy,” I declared, nodding my approval. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

My own strategy for social events is to search for coffee. (Yes, I’m serious. No, I don’t have a problem.) Having a plan for unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations gives me a sense of structure and predictability. I hate standing around awkwardly with nothing to do. When I have a purpose, such as finding the nearest coffeepot, I feel less self-conscious and more in control of my circumstances.

Besides, I really like coffee. Its warm strength is the best kind of moral support, as it is written in Scripture: Coffee is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (I may have taken slight liberties with the original verse.)

I don’t care much for social situations. I am an introvert, which is a fancy way of saying I like being alone. This doesn’t mean I dislike my fellow human beings. Like Linus from the Peanuts comic, I love humankind.

It’s people I can’t stand.

People I can't standNah, I’m only joking. I like people just fine. (Well, I like some people just fine.) Introverts aren’t necessarily shy or antisocial. We’re simply exhausted by spending time with other people. We recharge by being alone.

Of course, being alone isn’t always an option. It is for times such as these that introverts develop strategies for survival, or else suffer self-consciously through awkward social events.

Almost had to socialize...

After years of weddings, parties, dinners, church gatherings, small groups, and miscellaneous events, I’ve picked up a few tricks. Here are a few strategies to help introverts survive painful social obligations.

  • Find that one person with whom you feel comfortable, and try to start a long discussion. With a bit of luck, you’ll be able to while away the time in comfortable conversation. This one is great for family gatherings, but useless at events where you don’t know anyone.
  • Find the hosts and offer to help with the event. If you set up chairs, serve food, wash dishes, or seem busy in some other way, other people are less likely to pester you. By helping you give yourself a defined purpose, make a good impression, and benefit others. You also give yourself an excuse not to linger in idle chatter or awkward silences!
  • Meet the local wildlife. This crafty blogger spends parties with the resident pets, leaving the cool people to do… whatever cool people do at parties. Heck if I know.

Drunken Snow White

  • Find something to do with your hands. For an introvert, the worst part of social events can be having nothing to do. Grab a plate of food. Bring a pen and doodle on the napkins. Learn a few papercraft tricks before the event, and wow everyone by turning those napkins into little birds or tuxedos. At social events, I try to keep at least one hand occupied with a drink, preferably coffee.
  • Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself early by saying, “I’m afraid I have plans after this.” It’s an important-sounding excuse, and you don’t have to tell anyone that your plans are to go home and read a book.
  • Plan to treat yourself to something nice after the event, and keep reminding yourself of that plan. Maybe you’ll grab a milkshake on the way home, or take a bath, or watch some Netflix. Look forward to something.

Whatever else you do, always be friendly and polite! You may feel exhausted, anxious, or simply irritated, but a grouchy attitude won’t fix anything.

Well, I’m going to look for some coffee.

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