Making the Most of Summer’s Awkward Social Opportunities
School’s out. Weather is warm. Government holidays are smattered across the schedule. So what are we gonna do? Gather with people we barely know! How are we gonna do it? Briefly and without adequate follow up that could lead to less awkward meetings in the future!
What is it that keeps us calendaring the extended family gatherings, class reunions, and neighborly interactions often rife with opportunity for discomfort? Do we expect more extraversion from ourselves and our loosely-connected acquaintances in the summertime? Are these social encounters worth the inconvenience?
Honestly, yes. Gathering with real humans in real time is purposeful.
Hang up that “impress the people” outfit and relax in this truth: we were built for connection. We show up at events with a fundamental need for connection. We remember the way we have been affected in the past because of our drive to connect. And even if it’s horrible, these things are time-bound: even awkward parties come to an end.
I know this about myself: I easily agree to a plan, minimize (ignore) the potential obstacles, and then panic at the last minute when it’s no longer as easy breezy as I anticipated. I said “of course we’re going!” to three “official” reunions this summer (high school, family, family), and didn’t consider alternatives until the parties started. I felt the twist of anxiety, and thought, “I get why people don’t come.” So what good can come from awkward social engagements?
Gatherings like this may feel like a short and shallow game of “show up, meet up, chat people up,” but they can remind us of the people we have known, and the person we have been in different periods of life. Also remember: everybody is awkward somewhere, with some people. You are not alone.
Seeing your story
Psychologist Erik Erickson suggested that we work to accomplish developmental tasks in different stages of life. For example, he posited that between the ages of 18-40, we naturally look to answer questions about intimacy vs. isolation. Social gatherings may spotlight our current task of identity development and move us to think about our big life story and the chapter we are living.
Let’s be honest. This is a factor. We don’t benefit from reducing others to a “people parade” to scrutinize, but observing humanity does no harm. While people-watching, listen to your internal dialogue – are you encountering others with a spirit of openness or mercy? Are you judging others? Are you judging yourself?
Thinking about our thoughts before, during, or after any social event can help us to recognize our core beliefs. Listen to the way you’re talking to yourself and then ask “Is it true?” Pose questions like these: “What was important to me the last time I saw these people? What did I believe about myself then? What has changed? What hasn’t? What am I capable of now that I wasn’t before?” (*This exercise is fun in blissful situations, but very worthy when things are hard. Be gentle with yourself and consider the answers data for the memoir you are writing by living your life.) Also remember: if anyone is actually judging or belittling you, they are working hard to conceal their own vulnerabilities.
We often carry labels that someone else gave us. Consider this a time to practice asking yourself, “What labels have I been given? Which have I accepted? What is true and helpful about me? What is not?”
Awkward crowds don’t always uncover friends we will call regularly, but they can. Be open*! (*Note: And be safe!)
Reconnecting with people can inspire us to make positive changes for ourselves. The change could be as light or as heavy as we can handle. At the risk of sounding too preachy (cue the poignant music at the end of a Full House episode), social encounters can offer perspective and valuable personal lessons.
Revisiting a place or person may offer a chance to finalize a chapter of your life left previously unfinished. Go gently here, but know of the power of leave-taking.
Maybe you had a horrible experience with that place or those people. Allowing yourself to be exposed to manageable pieces of the negative narrative can help you to move past the anxiety toward healthier functioning.
So…how will you RSVP?
Instead of coming up with another excuse to skip the party, think on these things. What resonates with you? What experiences have you had with uncomfortable social engagements? How will you connect this summer?
Image from Condé Nast Traveler
Tala Ciatti, M.Ed, LPC, NCC is a mental health counselor with a natural fascination in people. She’s not naturally mindful, collected, or ordered, so she works at it. Literally. Her professional experience has included the treatment of children and families, healing from trauma and loss, maternal wellness, mindfulness, and healthy human development.