I just drove past a UVA frat house on my way to return library books at 6pm on a Friday evening, and the revelers were littering the lawn, boozing, mingling and throwing an inflated football while some were hanging out in an inflated kiddie pool and spraying each other with a hose. This scene didn't stir any feelings of nostalgia for my college days, nor did it make me wish to be young, free and unattached again. Quite the opposite, actually. It brought up my feelings of social dread, cringing and party phobia. I was SO relieved that I wasn't spending my evening there with them! I felt all the things I used to feel when I was that age but no more inclined to party then than I am now: What will we DO for all these hours? What if I stand around awkwardly and alone, or can't fake it and pretend I'm comfortable and having fun? I can't handle these open-ended social situations where I'm supposed to be either hot or funny and able to banter or flirt. Where can I find a conversation? Where are the grownups?! I need to find comfortable, nice people! And isn't anyone else pained by how stupid all of this looks (particularly the blowup kiddie pool bit)? Maybe people drink to overcome how appallingly uncomfortable they feel, or am I the only social weirdo? Why would I so much rather be home right now, or at a coffee shop with just one or two or three close friends when everyone else seems happy to be in this big, noisy group? Why do people spend the whole night doing this? When can I go home?!
Parties have long inspired fear and dread for me. Even now as a full-fledged adult, social engagements that involve more than a few intimate friends or acquaintances make me very nervous. I find it hard to pry myself away from my day-to-day thoughts, responsibilities and to-dos and just have a good time hanging out and making conversation. I'm especially nervous if I anticipate that it might be hard to find common ground with the crowd I'll be socializing with. I cringe at my lack of cultural currency to bandy about in witty repartee. I also get nervous about how much money will be spent having a good time, as I am a little tightwad and can't ever let loose when it comes to spending on drink and merrymaking.
Usually, things go better than I expect, and I find I am now far better equipped to be comfortable standing or sitting alone for a few minutes between one social pairing or grouping and the next, and I even seek the refuge of being alone and browsing bookshelves or sitting on a sofa by myself for a few minutes of solace--an oasis from the pitch of laughter and amusement. Sometimes I even enjoy a gathering immensely. When I am nervous in anticipation of a social event, I try to recall my most recent social experience that went well and I call on those feelings of confidence and courage to help me. I remember that it can be fun and that the uncomfortable feelings beforehand are often the worst part of it. But I'm still always relieved when it's over and I can go home. :)
(I wish I had had my camera with me when I drove past the frat party. I would've loved to post a snapshot of those silly college kids in their blowup pool.)