Recently, I scheduled a movie date with a friend. I hadn’t gotten to hang out with her as much as I would have liked since I got pregnant and most of our other meet-ups lately have revolved around the kids. So when a movie we were both interested in seeing came out, and our husbands had work schedules that allowed us to ditch the tots, we jumped at the opportunity. I was ecstatic about a one-on-one meet up with a good friend.
But when she called me a few moments before I left the house saying she had invited a mutual acquaintance, I felt a little uneasy.
I’m not a people person. This info has shocked a lot of people considering that my job requires a somewhat public presence and the occasional presentation. I’m a good speaker, but overcoming pre-presentation anxiety is almost debilitating for me. On a much smaller scale, that discomfort extends to my get-togethers with friends. It’s a large part of why I prefer one-on-one friend dates.
For those of us who lean toward the introverted side of the social spectrum, anything larger than one-on-one can be downright overwhelming. Thoughts like, “What should I talk about, what if they discuss things I don’t have experience with, and how can I leave without seeming like a jerk,” all come to mind.
The first few meet-ups with anyone is awkward. But being in a friendship triangle with one person I know well and one person I don’t is a weird feeling. I fear that if I am too quiet, I will be perceived as aloof or unfriendly by someone who doesn’t know me well. Truthfully, I’d be fine with both parties relying on each other for entertainment and leaving me out of it completely.
I liked the acquaintance my friend had invited to the movie, and though we have both met her individually, we had never been around each other in a friendship trifecta. Being that it was one of my “introvert days” — when I especially crave quiet, calm and comfortable interactions — I bowed out. I regrettably told my friend that they could see the movie together and I could catch it alone at a later time.
When I told my husband what happened, he said I should suck it up and meet up with my friend because it had been so long since we’d gotten together. This news annoyed — and shocked me — coming from the stereotypical portrait of an introvert. At the same time, he did have a point. Pregnancy, work, and motherhood had created a cage around my social life, and I seldom step out of it.
So I called my friend back, and explained that it wasn’t my preference, but I was still willing to go. And then, I immediately felt like the world’s biggest jerk.
Not only because I was the “difficult” friend who dampened the fun of a really good time, but also because I was worried that the third party — the last minute invitee — would get the wrong message. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her, I just really wanted one-on-one time with my friend and wasn’t in the mood for the discomfort that comes with new friendship dynamics.
This wasn’t the first time I’d felt like this, but it was one of the first times I was bold enough to speak up about what was wrong. In the past, I’d just find some random excuse or blame it on my ever-present pregnancy fatigue. This time, I felt like my friend deserved authenticity and honesty instead of a Band-Aid.
I told her what was wrong, she understood, and surprisingly, she said the new friend was extremely understanding. I still felt bad about saying I would prefer she not come with us, but I was comforted by her flexibility. At the theater, I apologized again for any inconvenience I caused, and my friend and I both agreed that the gracious and understanding way the other acquaintance handled it made us like her even more.
Earlier, I would have felt awful about opting out of multi-friend meetings or “excluding” others from my plans. Interestingly, this experience reminded me that as long as I’m not an asshole, I don’t need to apologize for who I am and what I need from my relationships.
Naturally, there are circumstances when it’s not feasible to ignore everyone else involved and hang with your favorite person. I pride myself on not being selfish and using discernment to decide when I can and cannot put my social needs first.
There’s nothing wrong with speaking up for yourself and expressing the situations you feel comfortable with. My reluctance to hang out this time was in no way reflective of my feelings toward future outings as a trio. This time, I didn’t have the emotional or energy capacity, but next time I could be all for it.
At the same time, it’s nice to say I’ve gotten to the point where I feel more comfortable speaking up and advocating for my own interests. It’s a sign of growth, and I don’t think anyone can fault me for that.