Good news, everyone! The first issue of Story Club Magazine is out. Go read my story and others from Chicago writers & performers! I especially love this piece, from J.H. Palmer, about the tiny kindnesses from strangers that knit us back together when we’re coming apart.
And if you like stories and Live Lit readings and live in Chicago, I’ll be reading at Loose Chicks on Valentine’s Day.
And now, a letter.
Dear Captain Awkward:
I am an introvert/social-anxiety-haver living in a house full of extroverts and I feel like I’m going crazy.
I moved in with my (very extroverted!) boyfriend of over a year, and his 4 other roommate/friends. I would like to say that I do, for the most part, love all these people dearly and consider them my friends, in addition to the myriad other friends in the group. I love hanging out with them. But they want to hang out every night and dude, I just can’t.
If I try to stay in me and my boyfriend’s room, sometimes they’ll come upstairs and get me. (Honestly I’m really touched that everybody likes me enough to basically kidnap me out of my room; I’ve always had some trouble with the making and keeping of friends.) If my boyfriend happens to come home and it’s just us hanging out in the room, a lot of the times they’ll come upstairs and come in the room and then hang out up here, which is the opposite effect of what I was trying to do by staying in my room in the first place!
I feel bad saying no to hanging out because a lot of the time it’ll be like, “[Person] from our mutual friendgroup is here! We haven’t seen them in a month!” and then the next night it’s ANOTHER person in the friendgroup that we haven’t hung out with in a month. How am I supposed to say no? Or it’s “LW, you haven’t hung out in forever, hang out with us!” And our friendgroup is massive. So there’s almost always SOMEBODY we haven’t see in a while.
My boyfriend sort of understands the introversion/social anxiety thing, but trying to explain social anxiety to an extrovert is a lot like trying to teach a cat how to use chopsticks in Swahili. So he sort of understands when I don’t want to hang out and he supports it, but with everyone else it’s kinda tough.
Moving out is really not an option, unless I move back in with my dad, and short of kicking out one of the aforementioned roommates, I can’t just get a room to myself. I guess what I’m looking for is a script I can use with my roommates/outside members of the friendgroup and possibly also my boyfriend so I can be like “I love you dearly, but y’all need to get the heck out of my personal space and leave me the heck alone before I smack a bitch” and also “Boyfriend can you get your friends to go back downstairs I know this is your room too but I’m kinda freaking out right now”
Thanks for your time!
— Do Not Disturb
Dear Do Not Disturb:
Right now your roommates are hearing that you want to be alone sometimes and then immediately overriding that with “But yeah, if we go get them, they always hang out and have a good time.” It sounds like they Geek Social Fallacy carriers – “Everyone does everything together!” – and that you and they have an understanding of “politeness” that means everyone invites everyone else to everything, everyone must hang out with everyone for everything, everyone talks to everyone else for as long as they want and it’s rude to put a stop to any form of interaction or conversation. I had a similarly boisterous, friendly, wonderful friend group when I lived in D.C. who would get very sad anytime someone wanted to leave a party. I loved hanging out with them, but I also tended to hit the drunk/tired/ALONETIMEZ! wall sooner than they did, so every time I left anything there would be 20 minutes of “Nooooooooooooo whyyyyyyyyyyyyy don’t leaaaaaaaaaaaaave you haaaaaaaaave to staaaaaaaaaaaaay” which is flattering on one level but really, really annoying when you just want to go home and the party has suddenly become about Drunk People Convincing You Of How Much Fun We’re All Having!!!! But the party didn’t end when I left. I didn’t actually have the power to kill all fun everywhere by calling a cab and going to bed, and you don’t have that power, either!
What if, the next time the roommates come to summon you from your room, you said “No thanks, I’m good here!” and closed the door again? You say “How am I supposed to say no?” but the thing is, you can actually just say no. The thing where your roommates take your closed door as a challenge is on them, but the part where you go along with it and don’t say “No, I’d rather not tonight” is on you. If you always go along with it, why would they ever change what they are doing?
Getting a room of your own is a good long-term goal or solution, but this situation can get more manageable in the short-term. There will be most likely be some temporary awkwardness and friction as you enforce your boundaries, but it is all survivable. You need to teach them that coming and getting you, pleading, making a big show of wanting you to come, etc. doesn’t work anymore. Scripts:
- “No thanks, I’m good.”
- “I’m in the middle of some homework/reading/writing and need a bit of quiet.”
- “I’ll catch so-and-so next time.”
- “I was looking forward to a bit of quiet while boyfriend is still at work. Let’s do it another time.”
- Keep this one up your sleeve: “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just not feeling very social today. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
- See also: “This isn’t actually a haggling session – I’m out! Good night!”
Keep a smile on your face, keep your tone pleasant, but say it ONCE and then physically close the door and walk away from it.
If you’re not used to asserting yourself this way, the moment after you say no and close the door is going to feel very strange. The temptation is going to be to avoid that strangeness and smooth it over, but don’t! Everyone needs to understand what “Nope!” feels like in this situation, and you’ve got to take on the strangeness a bit and communicate “I am okay with feeling weird, and with you feeling weird, but I am not okay with you trying to coerce or convince me when I’ve said no.” The dissipation of the weirdness has to come from them saying “Okay, see you tomorrow!” and going away, and then you being normal and chill the next time you see them so everyone knows that everyone likes everyone. I know, you are worried about causing friction and awkwardness, but the awkwardness is already present, like in how you don’t actually want your room where you live to be full of talking people all the time. You’re just transferring some of the awkwardness over to the source, which is worth doing if it will make you happier and more comfortable in your space. It may take several tries and some practice before you get the point across that you’re really, really not coming downstairs, but hold firm! They will get it.
When the party comes to your room, it will help if you and your boyfriend can be a team about this, so talking to him first will be helpful. “Boyfriend, I love living here with you, but when I need a little more time to myself/need to go to bed/want to just have some private time with you, I need you + roommates to understand and clear out. So can we come up with some kind of signal or way of doing that?” or “In the moment, when everyone’s here, I have a lot of anxiety around asking for that. Can you help me come up with a way that will work for you?”
Your roommates will also benefit from some kind of “I love to be invited, but I don’t like to be convinced (or kidnapped!), so if I say ‘no thanks’ I need you to really hear me and just go about your evening” talk. I suggest trying the cold “No, not tonight!” at least a few times before having said talk, because it gives you information about how reasonable they are likely to be and about who is your most likely ally in this. It gives you an opening to say “Hey, the other night, when I said ‘no thanks?’ I need you to actually hear me when I say that. I love you guys and love hanging out and living here, but I need more alone time than y’all do and if I don’t snatch some for myself sometimes I go a little crazy.” You’re probably going to get a variation of “Why didn’t you just say something?” as a response, so address the social anxiety with them, too – “I have social anxiety, so I worry sometimes that if I say ‘No I don’t want to hang out’ you will think I hate you or you will stop inviting me. That is NOT the case, obviously, but I could really use your help and understanding.”
Other stuff I suggest to generally make your housing situation more pleasant for you:
Make yourself a schedule. It sounds like every night is potentially LET’S HAVE FUN! Night in your house, but that isn’t working for you. It’s easier for you to fully participate in the fun stuff and communicate boundaries around solitude if you’ve already decided that Tuesdays and Thursdays are FUN! and Mondays and Wednesdays are QUIET! On designated Fun! nights, go participate in the fun without being asked, which is how you show your roommates that you like them. By having designated Quiet! nights, you can get into a routine where it’s easy to say “I’ve blocked out Mondays for quiet/work/study/writing letters to the editor/reading. But tomorrow!” Think of Jo March, in Little Women, who has her very special “Don’t talk to me, I’m writing!” cap. It’s hard to enforce boundaries if you don’t know what they actually are. You need some kind of metaphorical cap. It sounds like you and your boyfriend could use date nights for just the two of you. Put it on the schedule.
Become an early riser. Or otherwise carve out a different schedule from the more social folks in the house. My mom, Queen Introvert of Go Away, I’m Reading Mountain, gets up at 5:00 am in order to have 2 hours to herself every day. This has continued even into retirement, as she has been married to my dad, The Mayor of Chattytown, since 1967.
If you are an early riser, then you probably (yawn) have to go to bed early and can’t possibly stay up talking to everyone, which gives you another good out for when you don’t want to go attend living room shenanigans or need people to clear out of your room so you can sleep.
Find a nearby sanctuary. You should be able to kick housemates out of your room and have occasional peace and quiet in the home where you live, so the need for awkward conversations won’t go away. But communal living is communal, and having 6 people in one house means a lot of socializing is just built into the deal. So where can you go to be alone sometimes? The gym? The running/bike path? The pool? The library? The local coffee shop? The more you can control your schedule and make sure that you get the necessary amount of quiet & solitude, the more you can roll with the chaos at home.
It’s normal to have a period of adjustment to any new living situation, and this is what you’ve got going on here. Being super social every single night is not sustainable for you, and that is okay. Take it slow, be really nice to yourself, give yourself and everyone lots of tries to get it right. Love and friendship can survive a little bit of solitude and a little bit of awkwardness.