These past few days, I’ve been feeling very stressed. When I look at my calendar, I realize that my schedule is jam-packed with social activities. This weekend, I’ll be going hiking in New Hampshire with my boyfriend and his friends. Next week, I have a dinner at a friend’s apartment, karaoke with my boyfriend and his cousins, and a reading potluck to attend. Yesterday, I almost had to go see a movie with my coworkers, but thankfully they cancelled. And even then, I still have many more social events I have to plan.
On the surface, I think all these plans actually sound nice, and it’s weird that I’m complaining about them. But I dread going to any of these events because I assume I won’t have fun. I’m worried that I’ll be the most out of shape when hiking with my boyfriend’s friends, that I’ll feel out of place with his cousins and their inside jokes, that I’ll be quiet among the chatty writers at the potluck, that, if I had gone to the movies last night, I would have been boring to talk to.
Basically, I’m afraid that people are going to find me awkward. And a part of me knows that’s kind of a silly concern. I shouldn’t care about what other people think of me. Besides, why would my friends bother to make plans with me if they thought I was too awkward to be with? I get along with my boyfriend’s friends and cousins fine, and I think my coworkers are really nice. Still, just the idea of being in a social setting makes me nervous that there are so many opportunities to appear lost or be left out. I even get anxious when I’m about to hangout with my close friends. Getting bubble tea on a lazy Sunday just to catch up with an old friend is enough to make me think anxiously, “What if we run out of things to talk about? What if they think I’m boring now?”
I think my main problem is that I’m afraid of feeling lonely in a social setting. As an introvert, I noticed that one of my extroverted friends hates being alone with herself. Whenever I have to go and end things for a night, she tries to coax me to stay a bit longer, and if she can’t, she jumps onto her phone or her computer to try to find someone else to talk to. She tells me that she hates being by herself because then she’s alone with her thoughts: her self-critique, her existential crisis. She needs someone else to reassure her she’s okay, she’s alive, and that she’s loved. She feels the most relaxed and grounded when she’s with other people.
I, on the other hand, feel the most relaxed when I’m by myself. I am the most self-loving and self-forgiving when I’m by myself. When I’m alone, anything goes. I can be as carefree as I want. I can be as messy as I want. I can pick at my pimples, at my boogers. I can choose to not shower for days, I can walk around pants-less. Even when I’m writing, I enjoy myself. I tell myself that I’m a genius while writing weird poems about diarrhea, or rambling in my journal about the color green. I find myself very interesting, and I am my own best friend.
I feel the loneliest when I am with other people, because I want to connect with them and be open with them, but I don’t think I can. I don’t believe people would like me if I was messy or that they would find me interesting or smart if I told them what I was thinking. I imagine that they either judge me harshly or find me extremely boring. I assume they secretly don’t like me, and as a result, I don’t like myself either. And it’s not like my friends are assholes. My friends haven’t done or said anything that has led me to believe they won’t accept me. I just have, and have had for a long time, this fear of being with people.
The other day, I was trying to think of why I was so stressed about my upcoming social events. I thought of what my ideal weekend would be like. I imagined being at home in New Jersey with my dog. My imagination didn’t even include my family. I just wanted to be with my dog. Probably because I’m not worried that my dog won’t love me as I am. He just does! My dad and mom always have something to say to criticize how I behave (that’s their job as parents I guess), and my sister usually just doesn’t care that I’m home. This was my ideal weekend. I wanted to be alone with me and my dog.
In the future, I’m sure I will have opportunities to have that kind of weekend. But in the meantime, I realize that there’s a reason I push myself to be social, even when I don’t want to be. Just as I think it would be healthy for my anxious, extroverted friend to learn how to be by herself and like herself, I think I need to learn how to be with other people and be comfortable with myself. My paranoia that even my closest friends would judge me harshly is mostly in my head. And I know that at the end of the day, I do like my friends, I do like their company, and I am thankful for the memories I’ve created with them. I just need to get over the initial fear of feeling lonely. And even if I do end up feeling lonely–even if the people I’m with find me awkward, or laugh at an inside joke that I don’t get, or talk amongst each other while I stand in the background–even if that happens, I have to learn how to be okay with these kinds of situations too. I should still be my own best friend, and I should still like myself, even if others might not.