I am a twenty-something girl who has absolutely no clue how to act in social situations. My partner of 5 years refuses to take me to restaurants or pubs, because I always ruin the mood by saying something stupid or embarrassing. I’m big on social media and connecting the conversation to recent events, which is what I presume most people do. I know myself to be very childish and young-minded, I do prefer the company of children, who don’t judge, than to adults.
Whenever my partner and myself are invited to attend one of his work functions, I usually sit quietly at the table and enjoy my food and wine, not talking unless someone directs a question at me, which is rarely. We also attend a ‘work holiday’ once a year, which is paid for by my partner’s boss, and which all members of his work attend. Again, I mainly stay clear of everyone, as my partner does not want me to embarrass him in front of his work colleagues. This usually leads me to sitting alone in the hotel room with a book, while everyone is out at a bar or exploring the sights. This is not a choice, it is what I do to keep my partner happy. I always try to make people laugh, but my jokes come off too offensive sometimes, and I have no filter between my brain and my mouth. I am horrible in interviews and even chatting to people in the checkout queue. I have never been good at social interactions, and I am desperate to know what to do, other than keep my mouth shut.
It’s official: Your letter breaks my heart.
You may in fact be really socially awkward. You may have a diagnosable condition that makes it hard for you to read social cues or causes you social anxiety. You may be too hip for the room sometimes. You may be a practitioner of the ancient Japanese art of Fart-jitsu. Whatever’s going on? You just found your people. Come inside where you don’t have to ever make small talk and we already like you and think you’re great. Because you? YOU ARE GREAT. And the way you deal with social situations, by being quiet when you don’t know what to say but responding when people engage you shows some basic good manners and a decent level of self-awareness. “I don’t have anything to say right now so I will be quiet and listen” is like the pearls-and-conservative-tasteful-dress of behaviors: Sometimes a little stiff and boring? Rarely inappropriate.
Now, if your partner does not have fun going to parties with you and has learned that “fun at parties” is a thing he needs from a partner? Or if you were really introverted and just preferred not to go to parties with people you don’t have a real connection to? Like, maybe these coworkers of his suck and are boring and hard to talk to and it is a huge chore to interact with them? Maybe there would be a solution you could work out together, where sometimes you go with him and sometimes you stay home and let him go have fun. Or maybe you would not find a solution – which is okay. This is a “you get to break up with people for any reason” zone. Nobody wants to have the “even though I adore you we’re not well-matched in this one respect and it’s a dealbreaker for me” conversation, but it sure beats the way he is gaslighting you into feeling like there is something wrong with you and everything’s your fault!
There is no amount of socially awkward you could be that would justify him treating you like he is ashamed of you and that you need to hide in a hotel room because you’re not fit company for others. It’s insidious and self-fulfilling, right? The more he tells you that you are socially awkward and embarrassing, the more socially awkward you will feel and behave, because he is setting you up to fail. He has made the story of your relationship about how he is ashamed of you, and he gets to be the gatekeeper of your social interactions and dispense or withhold approval based on how well you “perform.” This is abusive, narcissistic bullshit.
I have some good news for you. Your partner’s coworkers and the people in checkout lines and most other adults you meet? They think you are mostly fine. Even if they didn’t? Social skills are something you can learn and improve.
Now, the bad news. People who behave like your partner are notoriously bad about admitting it. Confronting them directly almost never helps. Your partner is an expert at making you second-guess yourself and trust his assessment of events. You could use a script like this to tell him how you feel:
“Honey, you make me feel crappy when you tell me I’m socially awkward and forbid me to go to events because you’re worried I’ll embarrass you. I am going to take some steps to improve my confidence in my social skills. In the meantime, as your partner, I get to choose when and how I interact socially with our friends and coworkers, and I need you to chill out and not be my critic.“
Unfortunately, I think he would give you back a lot of razzmatazz about how he’s sorry he has to treat you like shit and he doesn’t mean to treat you like shit, but it would be easier if you would stop being so shitty at everything and what do you expect him to do? He will try to spin it so that he sounds competent and logical and you sound crazy and fragile, when really his is the ego that can’t take any criticism at all.
This house is full of evil bees. In my heart of hearts I think it’s time to 1) Take steps to get yourself to a safe place away from him, 2) line up all the love and support you can on Team You – friends, family, lawyers, therapists, 3) Once you’re out and safe, tell him to fuck off and never contact you ever, ever again, 4) rebuild your life among the terrifyingly amazing.
Edited to Add: The reason I feel so strongly that this is an Evil Bees, Get Out Now situation is that the Letter Writer is asking us “How can I be better at stuff so my partner won’t be so mean to me?” There are many possible ways to improve social confidence, and ONE GLARING OBVIOUS GUARANTEED WAY to avoid situations where that dude gets to make you feel crappy about yourself. High-five to the Twitter follower who suggested an Awkward SEAL Extraction team to facilitate removal from shitty Darth Vader boyfriends and blow up their shitty Death Stars.