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How do I avoid appearing anti-social?

 Q: I frequently find myself in sticky social situations when I attend my daughter’s school functions. The mothers of her school friends regularly seek to set up social activities, and because we share the commonality of school, I’m constantly running into these women and am bombarded with invitations. I’m so busy with my career, my kids, my husband, and my household duties that I really don’t have any room for additional social commitments. At this point, I’m running out of ways to gracefully decline without seeming anti-social. Plus, I worry that my child will be penalized because I don’t want to hang out with her friends’ moms. Do you have any suggestions?

A:  Because I know you, I think I can respond to your question with a bit more insight. I suspect that one of your greatest strengths is working against you here. That is, I’ve observed you interacting with others, and you have the ability to focus on them so completely and to generate such interpersonal warmth when first meeting people that they immediately feel safe and special in your company. As a result, they quickly want to jump from an acquaintance level of friendship to a more involved, activity-sharing one. 

What is the solution? One option is for you to “turn down the wattage” by tempering the warmth of your initial contact to match an “acquaintance to acquaintance” level of friendship. I suspect this won’t be easy for you because you’re naturally warm and friendly, but I’m confident that even if you cut the warmth in half, you’ll still be perceived as an outgoing and likeable person.

Also, rather than making excuses to opt out of each invitation, you can tell new acquaintances that your daily schedule of career, child-rearing, and marriage demands is so full that you are simply not adding any activities. Again, this may not be easy for you because I know you are careful not to hurt others’ feelings. But given the schedule you have described, it may be imperative that you do so.

Finally, I think it’s a rare mother who would penalize another’s child because the child’s parent isn’t willing to socialize.  If it did happen, however, you could always speak with the parent. If you were to socialize with someone in order to head off such a threat, you’d be giving in to blackmail before knowing if the blackmail threat really exists.

 I hope this helps.  Thanks for the great question and please let me know if my ideas help. 

Do you have a question or comment for me? Feel free to post it by clicking on the comments link below.

Comments

Comment from Alice
Time: September 19, 2007, 1:23 am

I think the idea of turning down the wattage is a good insight. I think a lot of women learn to do this because their mothers teach them that “you get more with sugar than with vinegar.” It’s a comment on our society that all that smiling and sweetness happens. They don’t do this in Europe. They’re much more honest.

Comment from Norm
Time: September 19, 2007, 1:25 am

I think that there is a fine line between being “nice” and being “insincere.” I’m not sure that most people know where that line is. When people are sickening sweet or smiles all the time it makes me nervous. Rather than wanting to socialize with them I want to avoid them.

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