By Mugdha Singh Oct. 25, 2019
Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a goofball when it comes to social gatherings. Why can’t we, for instance, have a virtual Diwali party for introverts instead? So easy to mark attendance, send a colourful heart, and then log out.
It’s that time of the year when I dust open my trunks and take out my carefully packed-away festive clothing for the thousand and one Diwali parties I’ll no doubt have to attend. It’s around the same time I dig deep in my mental trunk and unpack the social anxiety and awkwardness that is reserved especially for this time of the year.
Behold! The stumble and stutter season is back and I couldn’t be any less excited. Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a goofball when it comes to social gatherings. My idea of a great party is sticking to a corner where I feel most comfortable, avoiding eye-contact with as many people as possible, and then slinking away unnoticed.
It’s no wonder then that I revel in every non-invite. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying people are dying to have me over, or that I can’t be bothered to attend these parties. On the contrary, it is my crippling inability to make small talk with the same set of people every day over a prolonged period that makes me want to stay at home and stalk people on social media. I am not against partying per se, but what’s wrong with a new-age virtual party instead? So easy to mark attendance, send a colourful heart, and then log out, no? Perfect.
The dressing up, the process of going out, and the actual meeting, on the other hand, is too stressful. There are only so many ways in which I can air-kiss without coming across as a creep, or shake (my sweaty) hands without eventually having to wipe them on my clothes. I honestly spend sleepless nights trying to think of new ways to say hellos and howaarreeyous (how AAre you? HOW rrrr eeww?)
The dressing up, the process of going out, and the actual meeting, on the other hand, is too stressful.
I am sure if I met the same set of people for a cup of coffee, we would have searing conversations about life, the universe and everything in between. But at a party it’s almost as though there is an unspoken rule that you must ask only three questions per person and no more (How are you? What are you doing these days? How’s everyone at home?) I am not kidding when I say I have actually contemplated recording the answers to these questions — in the same sequence — and playing them on loop off my phone. Honestly, I think no one would notice the words aren’t coming out of my mouth. Everyone seems to be on auto-pilot anyway.
“Hellllooo darling, how are you?” someone asks the wall behind you, and you respond with, “Think I’m going to die of anxiety,” and pat comes the reply, “How lovely! That really is wonderful.” No one’s actually listening, I’m telling you. Try a few variations of this the next time you go out — it’s a good way to amuse yourself.
Declining invitations is one way to deal with the anxiety, but when you are fond of the hosts, you find yourself occasionally having to say yes. On those occasions, the dread is real. Every year I find myself googling an “introvert’s guide to socialising” and that “Yes We Can!” illustration with the woman and her inspiring bicep.
Just the anticipation of having to socialise is exhausting! The actual socialising is exhausting too. And guess what, the recuperation period post socialising is just as exhausting! With every string of light that goes up during the festive season, my comfort zone shrinks further and I want to run away faster than you can mumble the words, “Man is a social animal.”
Declining invitations is one way to deal with the anxiety, but when you are fond of the hosts, you find yourself occasionally having to say yes.
Off late, I have realised that if you do ever get past the mandatory three questions and own up to the discomfort and your fear of small talk, you’ll realise that you are not alone. If you look closely, you’ll find people like me scattered around these parties. We are the ones running behind the host, asking if they need help with something (correction: *begging to be given any task that would save us from small talk). We are the ones having heart-to-hearts with the pets. We are the ones smiling absent-mindedly in group of people — which we’re usually standing a step behind, making the circle a little wonky. But we have social anxiety remember, not OCD! What you can’t see is that we are plotting our escape in great HD detail. From this group and the party in general.
And yet I know so many wonderful people who do it year after year, with a smile plastered on their faces. Attend parties, interact with people, plan more parties, make everyone feel like the centre of the universe. This lot seems to thrive in such settings. I want to officially bow down to them. You guys are my heroes. But for us recluses, the anxiety of the festive socialising kills the warmth of the season. So the next time you find me smiling absent-mindedly at a party, maybe, text first
A misanthrope by any standard and a servant to two rescue dogs (Sufi and Daaku), Mugdha spends her time reading and writing just so she can fund her future travels.