I am an anti-social person. An introvert. Not the life of the party.
This would surprise some people who know that I can be quite gregarious.
But people shouldn’t take these character typologies seriously, especially when they have been simplified for amusement in pop psychology articles. Not all men are from Mars and not all women are from Venus. People can tick all the boxes about being an introvert or an extrovert. But many times we are mixtures of both or several types because we behave appropriately as the circumstances require. Therefore, it is better to take these character typologies with a huge grain of salt. Stereotyping is one of the worst tendencies of human beings. Stereotyping can lead to discrimination, persecution and harm to those we stereotype.
I am one of those people who can be out and sociable. I enjoy the company of good friends. Occasionally, I even enjoy big parties and crowds.
But after these periods of extroversion, I need to withdraw and have a good talk with myself in order to process what being out in the world has taught me. It is also an important aspect of mental health that we know how to listen to our inner voice and enjoy solitude. Woe to the person who cannot take pleasure in individual enjoyments and pursuits. Pity those who cannot sit and be happy with themselves.
Which leads me to one of the biggest frustrations of my (not) social life. When I say "no" to an invitation I really don't have to give a truthful excuse. I don't even have to fabricate a seemingly truthful excuse. All I need to do is give a polite one.
Some people do not seem to understand that those they invite may not want to be with them for that particular occasion. The reasons should not be of concern unless the person is self-absorbed or needy. In my case, as is the case of many people, I send my regrets because it is time for me to be alone.
But I am touched and honored whenever I am invited. Whether the occasion is simple or momentous, an invitation means that you are asking me to spend precious time with you. You want my company, and for that I will always be grateful. If you are the gracious person who you really are (not the egotistical jerks who are the bane of my existence) you will doubtless go through a lot of trouble to ensure that, if I join you, I will enjoy myself. Because of this, you can rest assured that I will accept only if I can live up to the occasion. I will come on time, put my best foot forward so that you and your other guests will enjoy my company, and generally add to the good will and cheer. I think people should have social events for the joy of simple human interaction. For me, this is the only reason to socialize.
If I cannot put my best foot forward because I am ill or harried or out-of-sorts with the world, then I should quite promptly say “no” and save you the expense and trouble of planning things with me in mind. It is also my sense of kindness to your other guests, who certainly should not have to put up with a grouch. I would not insult your invitation that way.
Dear reader, you can stereotype me on this matter: I don’t socialize in order to “be seen”. I don’t socialize to boost my career or exchange favors. In fact, when I find myself in social situations where I might possibly gain from the exchange, I become tongue-tied, off-tangent or offensive. When I hear people during Christmas tell me of the nth party they have been to and how weary they have become, I feel as if someone just threatened to terrorize me. Some sensitivity please! The thought of it makes me reach for my smelling salts.
Guests are not an audience
If this were clear to everyone who sent me an invitation, my social life (or the lack of it) would not be a source of stress. Unfortunately, there are egotistical people in the world. These are the ones who extend invitations not because they want us to have a good time together but because they want to have a good time at my expense.
My most common complaint is against parties where I notice I am merely there as the audience. For example, I have sat in enough weddings where everyone is told to come thirty minutes or even an hour earlier than the bride so that she can make a grand entrance to a full chapel. Then we have to get to the reception where we are asked to wait again for at least thirty minutes for the bride and groom to make a grand entry for the cameras.
Call me a fussy old lady but waiting for you for an hour in a hot and noisy Church isn’t exactly my notion of you wanting to spend quality time with me. Call me lacking in social graces, or perhaps even arrogant, but I did not volunteer to be a member of your cast of hundreds. And those who work as cast members are paid far more than just being fed dinner at your reception, no matter how fancy that dinner may be.
I have been to weddings where the guests were almost as happy as the couple. (Sometimes I have no idea whether the person my friend or relative is marrying is any good, but if my loved one is happy this is all I need to know.) I love those types of weddings. They start on time, I gawk at the beautiful bride, I get carried away by the lovely music. I am ready to swoon when they finally exchange vows which mercifully comes within an hour. At the reception, I can join in the genuine merriment because it is a great pleasure to see happy people. I enjoy these events because the wedding is indeed a celebration of which I am part.
While I have chosen the topic of weddings, this holds for other occasions like proms or birthday celebrations or graduation parties or even small dinner parties. As an agnostic I have had my share of being invited to dinners where all they really wanted to do was convert me to their particular religion. (Gee, if I had known it would be that kind of dinner party, I would have brought my broom and black cat.)
Sometimes it even holds true for the “spontaneous” night out. Imagine this dear reader: I am snug as a bug in a rug. I am in my jammies, in my lazy boy with a novel and a cup of tea. Suddenly someone calls and they want me to get dressed, get into my car, struggle with the traffic and have a few drinks? Ah..err..no thanks. I truly appreciate the invitation but I will not go. Not because I don’t love you but because I need to love myself more at this time.
Ordinarily, between convivial people, all that is needed is a simple excuse. A white lie. And the most common one is, “I regret that I cannot go because I have a previous engagement.” See how kind that is? It says, “You would be my absolute priority to be with now, but I already said yes to someone else. And please believe me that if your invitation had come earlier I would have accepted yours over the invitation sent by the Queen. You are more royal to me.” This is kinder than, “I am in my jammies and prefer the company of Jane Austen tonight.”
So here’s the trick: when given an excuse which may be true or not, a good person would simply say, “That’s a pity. Perhaps next time.”
Yet how often have I heard people agonize as to what excuse to give.
Person agonizing: I really don’t want to go to that one. But what excuse should I give?
Me: Say you have a previous engagement.
Agonizer: But they know I don’t. I told them earlier I was free.
Me: Say you just said yes to someone five minutes ago.
Agonizer: But what if they ask who that is?
Me: Tell them the Queen invited you.
I am sure that last bit wasn’t helpful. Some people probably deserve it because they do have the temerity to ask who it is they were prioritized over. Pfft. Wrong. Do not take my polite excuses seriously and try to get around them. You make me suspect that you want to drag me out to your affair because you’re lacking a cast member for your big egotistical production.
You really want me to spend quality time with you? Then allow me to say “no” when I would rather not be with you. So that when I do say yes, I will be a wonderful addition to your party of two or two hundred. Otherwise I will be that tongue-tied, off-tangent and somewhat offensive jerk that everyone avoids.
This article was first published by Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fueled actions for social change.