How Many Times Can You Tell A Friend You Don’t Want To Hang Out Before They’re Not Your Friend Anymore?
People never believe me when I say I’m an introvert. That’s most likely because people think being an introvert means you’re some sort of shy recluse who stands against the wall at social events and makes awkward conversation with everyone you come into contact with because you rarely crawl out from your anti-social cave underground. Not the case.
When it comes to socializing, the best description I’ve found demonstrating the difference between introverts and extroverts is “An extrovert is drained from time alone and recharges by going around people…the introvert will feel drained after a time period and need to go off alone to refuel.” That’s why after sitting in an open floor plan office (which everyone knows is a disaster) with close to 100 individuals for several hours every day, there is no greater joy I can find on most weekends than sitting in my apartment and having some alone time. No I don’t want to go to brunch. No I’m not RSVPing for so-and-so’s day party. No I’m not planning to do anything else except exercise, meal prep, and sit for as long as I can before my Sunday night blues kicks in and I’m back to being overstimulated Monday morning.
The problem is most friends don’t get that. Because I travel relatively frequently and attend a lot of social events for work, people don’t tend to buy my “I don’t want to hang out” excuse. My argument, however, is because I travel relatively frequently and attend a lot of social events for work, I cherish the little bit of time I get to myself, which is why most invitations to hang out end up declined.
The first few times you “can’t” make something or “need” to reschedule a pre-planned meet up usually goes over pretty well, but after one too many passes, your friends start to look at you a bit funny and wonder whether you’re actually friends. One woman sent a letter to The Cut’s Ask Polly column that was spot on when it comes to the struggle of maintaining friendships when you don’t really want to fraternize.
When I get a text or an email from a friend asking me to get together my stomach drops. Not because I hate them, but because I don’t want to make a plan. Once someone suggests a Plan, you’re hooked: I can’t say “No” without suggesting another date, I can’t suggest another date without triggering a scheduling vortex, then I look ahead at my calendar and it’s all booked up with Plans with people I don’t even really want to see, and I can’t do my favorite thing, which is to be alone.
I know the problem is me. I am an introvert who has deceived the world by pretending to be an extrovert, which means I have a lot of friends and yet I am exhausted at the prospect of maintaining so many relationships at once. I am very friendly, which makes people think I want to be friends and make Plans with them. I do that thing at parties where someone says “We should get dinner!” and I say “Yes!” when what I actually mean is “I like you, but no.”
I do that all.the.time. And I’ll be honest, in the moment dinner does sound like a great idea. But like the memes I’m sure you’ve seen on social media by now, when that day actually comes so does the dread and either one of two things happen.
I don’t behave this way all the time, of course, but I do it enough to the point that friends have called me out about it. You know those “Remember me?” texts. Or they’ve stopped trying to hang out at all which sometimes leaves me feeling like this.
Ridiculous right? But like the Ask Polly reader wrote:
I don’t want to lose friendships. I just don’t want to have to be watering them, constantly making plans, in a state of constant social activity. I just want to exist without disappointing anybody. I want to love people but not contort myself to satisfy their arbitrary and inflated expectations of what a “social life” is.
In an attempt to balance my homebody ways with my friends’ hang out expectations I try to supplement my lack of physical presence with enough phone interaction to prove I’m not blowing anybody off or distancing myself because I don’t like them. And whenever a friend is in need I always make myself available, checking on them, visiting, offering anything they need. But like my kindred Ask Polly soul, “When things are fine I feel like [my friends] expect that continued level of devotion from me and I can’t keep it up.”
Neither can I. While I try to remind myself relationships of all kind require give and take, I also believe in the principle my co-worker learned on a retreat a couple of years ago which is when it comes to anything in life, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no.” So I don’t accept invitations when I know I’m going to be in a “mood” the whole time because I’d rather be at home, and according to “Polly,” aka columnist Heather Havrilesky, that’s exactly what I should be doing.
“When you go through the motions instead of following your heart, the time you spend with your friends feels dissatisfying and half-assed,” she said in her response to the reader. “It’s okay not to serve everyone else first. It’s okay to ask for what you want from other people, and it’s okay to tell them when you just can’t give them what they want.”
Let’s hope my friends feel the same.