Recently* my husband and I were invited to dinner by someone from Church. Also invited was the pastor and another pastor, who are my husband’s hunting buddies, and their wives.
I don’t usually* go to dinners because of my noise sensitivity and to be honest, even without that problem I doubt I would attend many dinners because I’m not really into the social side either, such as mingling with other wives and chatting about random topics. Dinners are ‘just not my cup of tea’ as I explain to some people.
In this case, however, the dinner was held very nearby where we live … just a few houses down on our street, and that made it harder to make a socially acceptable excuse.
The pastor tried to persuade me to come to the dinner, even if just briefly, so I could entertain the other pastor’s wife or something like that. Now, that isn’t a good role to put me in in any case. Out of all forced conversations I can think of, expected wife-chatting is one of the most awkward, and with the noise level there was likely to be in there (I have been there before) that wouldn’t work at all, not even for 10 minutes as he suggested. So I politely maintained my “No Thanks”.
The day of the dinner came, and it happened that I wasn’t working at that time. I work variable hours, and I didn’t have to go that evening.
The pastor dropped by our house and asked again if I was working and asked me to come. I politely declined, but started to feel quite guilty about it. While my husband dressed up and walked the few steps down to the dinner, I just relaxed at home, increasingly conscious about the fact that it does not look right in the eyes of the community. However, I trust my husband to explain so nobody would take it personal.
When my husband came back from the dinner later in the evening, he said that it had been very noisy, a bit too much even for him. The host has a high pitched voice which she uses eagerly for melodramatic effects, and I would have hated it, he said.
So I ended up being perfectly happy with my decision to stay home, where I had enjoyed myself with undisrupted computer time.
‘So Sorry for You’…
Come Sunday, I met the dinner host in Church, and she said that she felt so sorry for me. My husband had explained to her that I couldn’t come to the dinner because of my over-sensitivity to noise, and she assumed that I must have felt terribly lonely and left out.
She made a comforting face expression and spiced her words with high pitched (ouch!) empathetic vocal sounds, and wanted to give me a hug. I froze in my position where I stood, awkward and hard faced of discomfort, just wanting to shield myself against the intrusive emotional drama that was coming at me. And unwarranted hugs! No thanks!
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that people are inclusive and care about others’ feelings. It feels much better to not be at a party when invited than when not invited (as in “we don’t think you are worthy of our company”). It is just the parties and dinners themselves I’d rather be without, and I am fine without being there.
Why pity is misplaced
While the main reason that I don’t go to dinners is that I can’t make it work out, not wanting to go plays a bigger and bigger role for me as I get older.
When I think about all the dinners and parties I have been at in my life, then I estimate that less than 1% have been overall good experiences, although there were good moments here and there.
Many triggered instant depressions, sensory overload and damaged self-esteem that was hard to repair afterwards because I felt I’d lost social social status, reflected in peoples’ attitude towards me afterwards**. I typically didn’t have much of it to start with and then my socially largely helpless behaviour and visible discomfort at a party – where people are supposed to have fun, to enjoy each others company- seemed to confirm the suspicion that something was terrible wrong with me, that I was messed up somehow in a way people couldn’t put their finger on but which was nevertheless real. A party generally made me feel like a failure.
There have been exceptions – Parties that went well some of the time, even if going through it was hard. Where I was happy I went, feeling I’d proved myself socially capable. Generally, positive impressions overrule negative ones, so if it goes well a bit of the time then the times it didn’t go well don’t seem to count.
However, on the bottom line of my personal unwritten “party record” I feel the net result is negative, and that I’m unlikely to succeed in those situations and extremely unlikely to enjoy them. I want to be with people only in situations I have a chance of enjoying and where I am not so prone to showing myself from my weakest, weirdest, least comfortable, most helpless side. Parties and dinners set me up to fail.
It is a relief to draw that conclusion and give up on impossible challenges rather than keep trying and beating myself up for failing the same situations over and over and over again. So that is why I’m fine staying home when there’s a party or dinner around – there is no reason to pity me.
* A while ago. This is an old draft I’m pulling out and completing by cutting off the last half and making that a separate post, which will come later.
** E.g. following school parties and Christmas parties
A warm thanks to Openclipart.org for the illustrations.