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.
8 thoughts on “Parties & Irrelevant Pity”
Anyone who would tell someone to her face that she feels “sorry for you” is probably not very good company anyway. Seriously?
Mados, you think you have problems socially? Someone needed to dig her hole so she could bury herself in it. She’s an embarrassment to herself.
She isn’t from an English speaking culture, and the culture she is from (same culture my husband is from) is very social, community-oriented, emotional and dramatic in expression. They generally like to give hugs and kisses and things like that. I don’t understand her at all. But then again, I don’t understand lots of people. I think her “feel so sorry for your” expression was well intended, and what she thought was the right thing to say in the situation. But yes, while she has always been very supportive and positive towards me, I feel as if she is a monster. Due to her sounds, tendency to want to kiss or hug, tendency to dramatise feelings et.c. I guess that is not very nice of me.
It isn’t only about cultural differences though… I have experienced somewhat similar attitudes many times before in different contexts including my own culture (Danish). People seem to think it must be painful to miss out on a party/dinner/social outing:-) Whereas I actually typically feel it as a relief to escape it and enjoy my solitude.
I enjoyed this post and did chuckle my way through it, especially as you approached the para when you met the host – I just knew where it was going.
I have come up against this many times in my life and have actually found it difficult to understand why someone thinks it is lonely or sad to want to be alone. I cannot imagine what it’s like being a person who does not enjoy – and actively seek out – their own company. I usually end up feeling sorry for them.
In my experience, it is so easy for other people’s chatter to supress every ounce of energy, happiness and even intellect. It’s perfectly acceptable – and natural – to conclude parties are not for you. I’m sure for every person who enjoys dinner parties, there is another one who doesn’t. There is no oddity and you shouldn’t allow their narrow-minded and ignorant opinions to get to you.
I look forward to reading the second half.
I’d like to add that I didn’t write this to hang the people out for inviting me, keep asking and then feel sorry for me. I presume they invited me to be friendly and because they like my company. It is more to show how strange it looks from my side, and how hard it is to see others’ perspective when not being very alike. I don’t understand why they like social occasions so much, and they don’t understand why I’d rather be without them.
Oh, I so completely relate to all of this, especially the part about saying no more often as we get older and recognize how unbalanced the cost-benefit equation is for these sorts of noncompulsory social situations. Why do people feel the need to be so persistently “helpful”? Gah. Is it okay if I link to this in a post I’m writing about saying no and feeling odd/guilty/etc about it? It’s a great example of the sort of social situation in which I (and I guess many of us) need to say no and yet that no is seen as so socially odd and results in all sorts of unwelcome assumptions.
Precisely. I knew you could relate to that because I remember you wrote something similar in one of your posts… about the relief of stop trying so hard:-) That resonated very much with me.
Ps. Of course you can link to this! When is a link from a great blog ever unwelcome? 🙂