I’m Not Shy, I’m Bored and Tortured

I endured and survived another social event that was supposed to be fun. Key words – supposed to be. It was an outdoor picnic for members of the theatre group. I have never enjoyed parties or picnics and it seems that people plan them endlessly, because I assume, most other people do actually enjoy them. I hate get-togethers where the main purpose is just to get together. That means I am expected to participate in my most hated activity of all time – small talk. Chit-chat. Meaningless words meant to pass the time. Ugh.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy wasting time – I do. And I do that often. Not by talking though.

It’s not that I don’t like and care for the people I must talk to – I do. A lot.

It’s just that I don’t know how to hide the pain, boredom, disappointment on my face when they say the exact thing I expected them to say. Like a script. Or handle all of the input, or feelings I get from them that don’t match what they say. I go into system overload so quickly.

I love working with these people, painting scenery while the talking goes on around me, but not so much to me. But without a brush in my hand, and no project to protect me, I must endure the following conversation over and over and over and over.

“Hellooooo!” the women squeal this an octave too high. or “Heeeyyyy” From the men, acting cool. Then “How’s your summer going?” or “Aren’t you glad it didn’t rain today?” then “Are you working this summer? What do you do again?” then “How old are your kids now?” then “Pretty soon we’ll be getting ready for school again, where does the time go?”

So then I ask the same questions back, because when I bring up topics interesting to me, or ask what they think about something, I see instant discomfort. Like when I throw out ideas for helping our organization continue even though the director is retiring – no one wants to hear it, and has already given up. My ideas are “impossible” and besides, we’re here to have fun today. So then I give up too, and listen to endless stories full of endless details I don’t even try to remember of camping, potty training, vacations, house remodeling, employment or unemployment. Every few words I look away and make sure my kids are still alive – at least I have young kids and have that excuse to look away and roll my eyes. Then get to put on a smile as  I hear another story of where Fluffy likes to nap, and which type of sunscreen they like, or where they purchased shoes on sale. My mind starts whispering, “I don’t care” at first.But as time goes one, my minds is screaming, “I DON’T EFFING CARE, SHUT UP, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SHUT, SHUT UP SHUT UP ALREADY!” And it’s not like I’m in danger of missing something, I already heard them tell this same story 3 times near me to other people.

No one is authentic in these situations. The friend with MS is in obvious pain, and yet plasters on a smile and asks everyone how they are doing. Her fatigue and sadness pierce me like an arrow. One Mom talks about how overprotective she can be while her 2 year old floats unattended in the pool with a life jacket suit. Another mom invites my girl over for a sleepover, never been to her house before ever and she wants to start with a sleepover. She has 6 kids she can barely manage, her tween girl is in tears from her mother’s harsh words – I don’t think she needs another overnight. Another complains of money issues and caring for elderly parents.

In just an hour, I an overwhelmed by everyone’s feelings, bombarded with life details, on edge from watching unsupervised children and generally quite uncomfortable. Make it to the food table and realize everything has been sitting out there too long, and it either cold when it should be hot, warm when it should be cold, and visited by multiple winged and many-legged creatures. All of my practice being mindful, and living in the moment actually makes these moments worse, so I allow my mind to wander away to interesting places instead of wondering why no one else cares the food is lousy and no one thought to cover it or insulate it.

Endure it for a few more hours, and try to round up kids before the mosquitoes make an appearance.  Fail. Kids are sad – they are having the times of their lives. Sigh. I want them to enjoy this. I love seeing them have fun, and that is the only part of the event that I do enjoy. We must stay a while longer yet, they have to have one more smore.

Hubby says “Don’t worry, it won’t be that bad” before we go. It was that bad. It always is that bad. And then  – wait for it – you knew it was coming – I feel guilty for not enjoying it, and so I stuff my feelings later at home by overeating and staying up too late with dumb TV to erase all the useless facts I acquired throughout the party. I managed not to get pulled down too far into guilt this time, and I think avoided a shame attack, but I’m very grumpy.

Feeling like Sheldon again. I don’t understand why they enjoy sitting around and talking about nothing, and then moving to a new group of person and talking about that same nothing all over again. I pick up bits of everyone’s conversation involuntarily and realize they all have approved, non-confrontational, pleasant stories they share with these not so close friends. I like talking when it is new ideas, or leads to new ideas.

I’d so much rather read a book or be teaching/learning/doing something. OK, I’d pretty much prefer to do anything except mingle at parties. Even washing dishes or going to the dentist is more enjoyable to me, at least those have a purpose and an achievable goal in sight.

So, I wonder. Do I have a social disorder or do they? Or am I just a bitch? Why can’t I find enjoyment in these parties and picnics that others plan and look forward to? Is there any way to make them more tolerable and still be polite? I like who I am now, and no longer have a desperate need to “fit in” but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings either. I’d be perfectly content to sit by myself and listen to the wind blow the leaves, and distant happy kid sounds. I don’t get bored or desire to escape or pluck out my eyeballs when alone, only when they start talking to me.

(If you suggest alcohol, yes, well, these family events typically do not have alcohol served, because that just wouldn’t be right.  I had 2 shots of whiskey before I left home to even make it there and survive it at all.  (Hubby drove) Tipsy helps me stay centered and not get overwhelmed – I think it actually dulls my hyperactive senses. )



9 thoughts on “I’m Not Shy, I’m Bored and Tortured

  1. Hallelujah! I’m not the only one! I have been baffled by the small talk frenzy.

    Aside from advising not going, which obviously isn’t an option, I’ve discovered I love chatting with the tweens and teenagers, and they love having an adult talk with them like they’re an adult. They’re no longer one of the little kids, but they aren’t adults either. How often does an adult give them total and complete attention? I also find someone who’s alone. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it backfires. They’re shy or there’s a reason they’re alone. No one wants to associate with them because they’re so unpleasant. I know my sister plays with the little kids.

    I have, however, learned a few tricks: In my ASL (American Sign Language) interpreting class, my teacher liked to quote, “A little knowledge is dangerous. Let’s get dangerous.” As an interpreter, you have to have a working knowledge of a wide variety of subjects. You never know what you’re going to have to interpret and if you don’t know the sign or there isn’t one you have to be able to work around it. I pick up weird stories, general sports facts, current events, just enough to not sound stupid. At first, I still found it boring. Then I discovered the excitement of including experiments. I throw out a controversial topic and see what happens. Another time, I was sitting at a singles event. The table was pretty well balanced between men and women. I played dumb along with all the other women. The men ate it up and gathered. I gave it 15 minutes. I even watched the clock. Time’s up. No more playing dumb. I brought up computer stuff and then sports (following the ‘let’s get dangerous’ rule). In less than ten minutes, I cleared the table of all the men. The women weren’t happy. I was highly entertained. 😀 I’ve been very good ever since and never done it again. 😉 Now, I’m just myself. It’s also entertaining and less stressful than trying to be what they need me to be. It also takes a lot of practice. Start small. Most of the time, I go back to chatting with the teens. I always learn something new, and they’re pretty smart.

    • Ah..same experience, different perspective. As a child, when I had to attend one of these ‘get togethers’, things would invariably end with my drunken father threatening to kill someone. Now, no matter how I prepare, I am so wary of social group situations I am scrambling for a reason not to attend until the very moment I step into the gathering.

      They were stressful situations as a kid for me…and you too, I think. Maybe your psyche (for lack of a better word), is sensing a dangerous situation and all your senses go on guard. When I’m stressed, I can smell every damn person in the room and what they’re eating for dinner.

      Great thing about today’s technology. You can visit with just about anyone in the world from the comfort and relative safety of your own couch, then just hit that little (end) button on Skype. Poof. People gone. xx

  2. It’s so easy for us to think we are the oddity for not enjoying social gatherings and mindless, pointless chatter. I would rather poke needles in my eyes!

  3. I’m also quite hypersensitive to everyone around me, so if I get to one of these social events unprepared, I easily get showered and then soaked by their sadness, anger, frustration and any other negative emotions, as normal people do when they stand outside in the rain. And then it takes at least a day to dry.
    I hate the small talk, the lies, that everyone wants to look perfect, successful, beautiful, smart, happy, and I smell their real feelings underneath. When I try to talk about things that interest me, they interest no-one, and they get frustrated and then leave me alone. When I try to blend in and act like I’m expected to, I hate myself and I’m extremely bored.
    If I seem interested in their petty problems, they like my company because they can complain to someone. I’m very good at acting like them sometimes. But it drags me down so much.
    I’d rather read a book or just eat something in silence and let my thoughts wander. Or I’d rather talk to one of my similarly introvert friends, but they usually don’t participate in events like that. No wonder why.

    I’ve found a comic and I think it perfectly depicts this situation:

    You are not alone with this. You are deeper than to enjoy shallow conversations. You are concerned about more serious or meaningful things than Fluffy’s bed. You find more beauty in leaves and sunlight than the new discount shoes someone just bought. And you find reading a book more interesting, than talking to someone about the weather. This is perfectly normal for me. Sometimes I wish that my biggest problems were like the problems of these people: what dress to wear and whether I should buy the pink stilettos or the blue flip-flops, or maybe both. But I like being me.

    And I value you.

  4. Me2! I’ve had to do this ‘small talk’ over and over again when I needed to meet people when I moved. I knew no one and in some way I had to start somewhere – small talk. And like you mention, I wanted to go beyond the usual and faced very much the same distant reaction. In fact, the party you described is how my in-laws talk. When I bring it around to something slightly different and beyond small talk the conversation dies and returns back to the weather.

    I think in situations like these, in get togethers, it can be hit or miss with a lot of misses. And every once in a while you find someone who wants to have a real conversation. I can understand the pull of both sides – it sucks for us but others are having fun like your kids. That is difficult when each person has a different comfortability level at such events. This is true with DH and me. He can usually stay longer and just recently we started to discuss how long will we stay beforehand – including at family events. Not easy to navigate.

    Btw, you are not a bitch. In some weird way, I think people at parties where there is a shortage on authentic conversations are suffering too – they maybe aren’t aware of it.

    xxoo TR

  5. Reading through your comments I can see that you already have a lot of support confirming that these get togethers really can be tedious and soul destroying for many – me included. I find those sorts of occasions so uncomfortable, for the exact same reasons. Small talk is something I find pretty difficult, whereas I am happy to listen to someone talk for hours if they have something genuine they want to tell me. You are not alone!

  6. Wow. I hate “get-togethers” too but for so many different reasons. I am always nervous around people I don’t know. Social anxiety I guess is what it is. I have to say I am amazed that so many feel this way. I think you wouldn’t like me if you met me at a party! I do hate when people act fake. I don’t do that, I am real and often feel that I babble things that I shouldn’t. Things that are more personal than people I just met need to know. It’s not like I’m telling them big secrets, I think I am just more real and not pretending that I have the perfect family etc. I don’t know what my point is…lol
    I am just surprised to hear that many of you feel this way at parties. I actually like the small talk because it breaks the awkward silences that are a given when you meet new people.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, I will certainly be more aware at the next party I attend. I will be trying to figure out who else feels the way you do!

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