Introvert or extrovert, a weekend surrounded by strangers -- whether that's for a company getaway, a wedding or a family trip -- is always a little challenging. For introverts, it's about finding a balance so you can survive the weekend. Here's how I learned to deal with it without losing my mind.
I recently found myself at a destination wedding where I was in constant company with people -- the bulk of whom were strangers -- for four days straight. Someone planned out every second of this trip for the guests with brunches, car rides, barbecues and of course the wedding itself. This is not my usual mode of operation. At several points I found myself feeling extremely frustrated, snappy and on the verge of an anxiety-driven panic attack.
Like most people, I fall somewhere in between the two extremes on the Ambivert Personality Continuum Scale, but I definitely veer more toward introverted tendencies. I do best in small groups of people I know, but even if I'm with lifelong friends, I don't want to spend spend four days straight with them. Over the course of the weekend, I learned (usually the hard way) a few tricks to deal with this.
Take Breaks from People at Every Opportunity
The main difference between an introverted person and an extroverted one is how we "recharge" our brains. Typically speaking, introverts prefer to recharge by spending time alone, whereas extroverts do so by hanging out with other people. In an interview with NPR, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking author Susan Cain describes a key difference between introversion and extroversion:
Introversion is really about having a preference for lower stimulation environments. So it's just a preference for quiet, for less noise, for less action. Whereas extroverts really crave more stimulation in order to feel at their best.
So, the common sense solution to a weekend with strangers? Get away from them as often as you can. Unfortunately, this is usually easier said than done. In my case, on the first day I was stuck on a tour bus with these people for 14 hours with no escape save for the occasional bathroom break at a bleach-soaked Arizona rest stop.
My solution was to take any chance to recharge that I could. Those bathroom breaks became my moments for meditation. The lulls in conversation became my chance to nap in the corner. Any time the bus stopped moving was an opportunity to walk around and get away from people for just a second. I brought headphones, video games and books so that I could at least escape on a mental level.
By the time it was all over, I was still exhausted, out of conversation topics and ready for a long nap in a hotel room away from everyone. But I'd made it. Unfortunately, that bus ride was just the first day.
Learn Every Small Talk Trick You Can
I don't think that a general distaste of small talk has anything to do with introversion or extroversion. Either way, when you're stuck at a wedding party with a bunch of people you're going to do a lot of it, so it's good to prepare.
We've covered this topic to death, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it here, but for me it was about building a cache of topics to talk about. I knew almost nothing about the group of people I'd be spending time with, but I knew they were either parents or a good 10 years younger than me. So, I built a mental list of everything I knew about them ("oh I hear you're learning graphic design" or "I'm told you're big into camping"), and ran through those topics at every opportunity I could. Sure, it's a goofy solution, but it does the trick and gets the conversation at least started so there's not too much quiet, awkward staring at the wall.
Plan a Larger Block of Time for Yourself
As mentioned in the first section, introverts tend to do best when they have time to recharge away from people. The hosts planned the bulk of the weekend, but they gave us an afternoon off after that long bus ride. I made sure to fill that time with a few activities that I was pretty sure nobody would want to tag along for.
So, I made plans to check out an abandoned race track and a mysterious castle. Both were a ways out of town, and both provided the exact kind of break I needed to recharge and prepare for the next set of events. The small breaks on the bus were helpful, but this larger break in the middle of the trip was an absolute necessity. I didn't realise that until it was already happening.
After just an hour away from the group I felt better and more optimistic about the weekend as a whole. In the future, I will plan a block of time in the middle of a weekend like this where I can escape for a while.
Take on a Job or Task
You know who nobody wants to talk to at a wedding? Someone who looks busy. When you look busy, people tend to let you do whatever you want for a while.
In my case, this was simple. At one point during the wedding reception, someone handed me a Polaroid camera and a stack of film, and told me to go nuts. So, after a day of standing around and talking with people -- making small talk about joint pain with parents, talking about comic books with friends, complaining about the weather to whoever was standing next to me -- I finally had something useful to do.
In retrospect, this approach is something I tend to do pretty often. When I find myself exhausted in a big social setting, I take on any task I can. At dinner parties this might be as simple as clearing the table and doing the dishes. If guests are over I'll volunteer to make the beer run. If I'm at a big holiday party I'll volunteer in the kitchen. The point is to find a job and run with it for a little while to give yourself a bit of purpose for a while. It's as rejuvenated as an afternoon at a mysterious castle.
Expect Last-Minute Surprises
As we've pointed out before, we introverts tend to like plans and don't like when plans change. The thing is, when you're in a large group, those plans are going to change a lot and there's nothing you can do about it.
One of the (many) events I had to attend included a family barbecue and party. My plan? Pop in, say hi, get out of there as soon as possible. What actually happened: popped in, got roped into hanging out for many hours, had a moment where I snapped at some people, and was told to walk it off.
In a huff, I made my way to the exit and out into the Arizona air. I made my way through the suburban neighbourhood. I took my time to look around and enjoy the moment to myself. After 15 minutes or so, I made my way back to the party and resumed enjoying myself. The second the plan changed from "let's pop in for a second" to "let's hang out for a while" my brain snapped because the plan had changed. I wasn't prepared for this much time with other people, and I desperately needed some time to myself. With no other real option, I had to forcefully take that time -- which meant leaving the whole affair for a bit and taking a walk.
In retrospect, I should have expected as much. Of course everyone else would want to continue hanging out. That's a reasonable thing to want. At home, I could easily exit this situation and go to my house, but here I was stuck with a group, and I should have known to prepare for plans to change. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that there's a magic trick here that makes this easier to deal with, but I do know that if you plan for the worst, it's a nice surprise when it doesn't happen.
For me, the key here was preperation. Mentally preparing myself for a long weekend of social interaction helped, but I need to put in a few more fail-safes to keep myself sane.