Party Animal with Social Anxiety

Italo-disco party in The Hague!

Italo-disco party in The Hague! (Photo credit: David Domingo)

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “After spending time with a group of people, do you feel energized and ready for anything or do you want to hide in the corner with a good book?”

Can I answer “Both!” in a firm, clear voice.

You see I suffer from social anxiety. I used to be one the people hiding in the kitchen at parties. I had a huge problem talking to people I didn’t know well, it’s still hard for me.

At the same time I am such a real nerd that I’ve developed a system for doing it. I started on my own and then a few years ago I did a course in group leadership and psychodrama directing that taught me how to ask open questions and become an active listener. I also discovered how interesting people can be and how willing they are to spend quite a lot of time talking about themselves if you listen properly.

So my system is to ask someone a good open question about something in front of us such as “Do you think those two people over there have known each other long?” or “So what’s your opinion of the music playing?” and once they start talking about that gently lead them to talking about themselves. After a few minutes of talking about themselves most people will ask about you and then you have a real conversation starting.

One of the nice things I discovered was that if you are talking to someone for ten or fifteen minutes at a party almost inevitably one of their friends will come over and you will get introduced to another person.

Do that a few times in a gathering and all of a sudden you know a number of people and a couple of hours have passed, a couple of drinks have been consumed and nobody has laughed at you, hit you or called you names (hey, I said I had social anxiety).

The other joyous discovery was how attractive women found this conversational interplay, particularly if I remembered to look at their face rather than elsewhere. For someone with low self-esteem, social anxiety and a terrible batting average with the opposite sex I’ll take any advantage I can get. (It’s OK, I’m a romantic and an old-fashioned gentleman rather than some sort of pick up artist. I’m really only doing it to flirt.)

The downside of all this is the amount of energy it takes. It’s tiring to do it in the face of my anxiety, though over the years it has become more habitual and easier.

So at the end of a few hours of this on one level I’ve warmed myself up to the situation and the people, I’m feeling comfortable and “ready for anything” while on another I’d be perfectly happy to take a break from it and relax with a good book.

In the thirty years since I started going to parties I’ve come out of the kitchen. I’ve been told that I’m now a good dinner party guest and not out of place at small social gatherings. Over the past few years I’ve regularly gone to a dance party thrown on a semi-regular basis by a friend and I’ve amazed myself by developing a group of other regulars who come up to say hello and swap a few moments personal gossip despite my almost total inability to remember anyone’s name.

Not yet a “party animal” and certainly not “the life of the party” but glad to be there, able to have a good time and happy to relax and regather my strength with a good book.

9 thoughts on “Party Animal with Social Anxiety

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  6. I have social anxiety as well, and you’re totally right about asking questions. I just spent an entire week out of town with a bunch of people I’ve never met, and I actually got to know them pretty well by asking a lot of questions and, in turn, explaining some things about myself. It’s a pretty cool feeling. Nice to know there are other people out there working toward the same goal.

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