I am an insecure introvert with a big ol mouth and the occasional attitude problem. I’ve worked a lot on being more careful with what I say and keeping work relationships more professional than personal. Then I switched to teaching.
Teaching, as I have found, builds a kind of in-the-trenches bond with your fellow teachers. My school is a ton of twenty-somethings, so there’s lots of engagements and weddings and baby showers. In fact, I was on bedrest with my first pregnancy and they got together an insanely generous amount of money to help me out without even having a shower. I really feel close to a lot of these people. But I still don’t get invited to any of the outside-of-work social events. There was a teacher who got married today and I saw a post on Instagram of a group photo of a bunch of my coworkers together all dressed up and having a blast. I really felt hurt.
On the one hand, I take a lot of during-the-day work time to be by myself and recharge from the stress of the job, plus I never go out after work (even before the pregnancy) because I’m just a homebody and I like to be at home with my husband. So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding! I absolutely don’t want to cost someone money, or be a pity invite, because of my insecure feelings about being left out. Same for the several other events this has happened with.
Mostly, I just hate this feeling of “Oh so they don’t like me and I’m awful” combined with a new fear that staying home/my family being a large part of my social life is going to leave me without meaningful relationships outside my family. Now that’s kind of stupid because my best friends have been with me since elementary school, but three out of four have moved away and the one left in town… we are both total homebodies and are really horrible about getting off our butts and planning to do things together!
So my big question is, how do I manage these left-out feelings without letting them negatively affect my work relationships? My corollary question is, is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships and worrying that I’m a selfish person because I’m not very social?
Thanks for giving me some of your time,
Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me
Dear Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me,
When was the last time you organized or invited any of your work friends to do anything social outside of work?
We’ll come back to that question.
Teaching requires a LOT of mental energy and social units, so it’s understandable that you’d want to use your breaks during the day and your time after work to recharge. Also, you had a pregnancy that required bed rest and now, presumably, you have a small child/children? And maybe they are a little older now and you are coming out of the No-Sleep-All-Diaper-Toddler-Fog and feeling more energetic and more social, yes? And some of your closest friends moved away not long ago? This desire to readjust your social life all seems pretty normal and not-selfish to me.
As for your work friends, patterns and habits get established in social groups. If you have a habit of declining outside-of-work hangouts, it’s not silly or beyond comprehension if the people who usually do the event organizing eventually decided not to pressure you to come to stuff. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you or that you’re being purposely excluded, but it does mean that they successfully picked up the “Thanks but I’d rather be at home!” messages that you were putting down. It also means that if you want to be included now you’re going to have to make some effort.
The good news is, habits have been formed, and habits can be broken. Here are three steps to start resetting those habits:
Step 1: Invite your favorite work people to do social stuff sometimes. This is the right place to start because if you’re doing the inviting, you can control when and how you take action instead of waiting for the next work party or wedding to happen. For best results:
- Start small, with your favorite person or couple of people. Don’t think of it as “I must now infiltrate this defined group who all hang out together except for me,” think of it as “I want to reconnect with Karen, who tells great jokes.”
- Issue a specific invite for a specific time and place- “I want to go to the botanic garden on Friday after work for a free concert/Take the kidlet to story time with drag queens at the indie bookstore Saturday morning/See Wonder Woman and eat tacos on Sunday – NO BOYS/Drag the laptop to the coffee shop and catch up on grading Wednesday night after work…would you like to join me?“
- Give it time and a few tries before you give up. It’s a cliche that people are busy, but, people are busy. We’re all fighting our own instincts to curl up at home with the Golden Age of Television, and if you haven’t been part of the social whirl in a while it may take a little while for them to make space for you again. Give it some time between invites, choose low-pressure things that you would want to do anyway.
- Be honest…with a positive spin. Not “I feel really left out and sad when I see everyone hanging out without me” (TOO HONEST/TOO SOON), more, “Hey, I am trying to stop being such a homebody and spend time with the people I like more often, can we do this again soon?”
FEELINGSTALK: You’re not a bad person for feeling left out and sad when you look at photos of work friends all together right now, like you had a chance to get closer to these people and it somehow passed you by. Those sad feelings don’t make you broken, or unlikeable, or impossible to be friends with. However, if you want to rebuild these connections, making people take care of you around those negative feelings is not the right place to start. Your feelings may scream “Why don’t you invite me to anything anymore?” but it’s going to help a lot (alotalotalotalotalot) if your actual words come out as “Hey, do y’all still do Friday drinks at [bar] sometimes? Can I join you next time?”
Step 2: Next time you *are* invited to something with work people, GO. Have one drink, catch up on people’s lives, talk about the hilarious things your students did that day. Your husband and your favorite chair will still be at home in two hours when you want them to be. If you want to be included, include yourself. GO. NO EXCUSES. GO.
Step 3: Follow up. If you get invited to something and you can’t go for whatever reason, follow up effusively with the host. “Thank you for inviting me! I sadly can’t go this week because I’ve got to pick the kid up from day care, but if you let me know when the next one is I will be there with bells on. I miss hanging out with y’all!” Then, make steps to be at the next thing. Send the message “You are important to me and I like you.”
Also follow-up by inviting the person who invited you to something that you can make it to. Message: “So sorry I couldn’t go to your birthday dinner the other day, but can I buy you lunch tomorrow? (P.S. You are important to me and I like you.)”
Speaking of following up: If you haven’t already, get your coworker who just got married a card. If you want to, put something like 2 movie passes or a small gift card to the fancy wine-and-cheese shop in your town in it and write a note saying “Congratulations on your wedding! I’m so happy for you, please have an awesome date night on me.” Translation: “You are important to me and I like you.”
There are bonus steps you could take down the road to help you break out of this rut:
- Institute a sacred, immutable monthly hangout with your best friend who still lives in town. (A two-person theater or concert subscription, or 2nd Sunday of the Month pancakes & a bike ride…)
- Sign up for a class or a book club or some other event that meets regularly. Get some social interaction, meet some new people, take the pressure off of the work friends or the best friend to be your only friends.
- Put that “homebody” thing to work and make the party come to you.
- Become the organizer of a monthly activity for your work friends.
Making friends, keeping friends, starting over socially, breaking and remaking social habits are a lifelong project. You have a ton of evidence that these folks are a caring and close-knit bunch who come through for each other and who have come through for you in the past. Hopefully you can rejoin their hijinks very soon.