Overcoming Wallflowerism

by admin on May 6, 2013

This issue has been plaguing me for a while, especially since I’m a naturally shy person who runs into this problem on occasion. I also recently saw it being briefly talked about on a manner segment of a national morning show. How exactly does one go about socializing at a party? Specifically, how does one go about joining a group of people chatting? It’s one thing if you’re well-acquainted with someone in said little group, then you can just go up and start chatting with them and “join” the group that way. On the manners show, the advice expert said that to handle it, one should go up to the group and ask, “May I join your group?”. Really? That seems odd and awkward. And who in their right, polite mind would say no, you can’t join us, anyway? Recently I was at a large party where I didn’t really know anyone. Guests had broken themselves up into little clusters of groups chatting with each other wedged into various corners of the rooms. I didn’t know what to do, or how to approach that situation to socialize with anyone. Consequently, I spent most of that party being an awkward wallflower. I definitely didn’t have fun at that party! Could I have just gone up and joined a group by sitting, standing by them and start chatting? I didn’t know anybody well enough to do that, though. Or should I have followed that expert’s advice and asked to join them? 0430-13

The request to join an informal group of people has its proper context but not all the time.   You have to gauge the intimacy of the group and what you can overhear being discussed and determine if perhaps this might be a group discussing a very specific topic they all know or are connected with each other which would make it more awkward for others not associated in that way to enter the conversational sphere.   The more animated the conversation, the more likely there are to be satellite listeners who, at the proper time, might enter the conversation themselves.

I think I would be more likely to ask, “Hi, I’m Jeanne.  Is this a private conversation?”   If no, “Do you mind if I listen in on this interesting discussion?”  But at a party, no one should have an expectation of conducting a private or privileged conversation in the midst of the festivities and therefore casually standing at the fringes of a good conversation should be commonplace.    Some groups are easier to enter than others because someone has unconsciously assumed the role of the conversational gatekeeper and specifically draws as many people into the conversation as possible.  If I were a wallflower, I’d pick one of those groups to join because someone is making it easy for everyone to be involved in the conversation.

Overcoming wallflowerism requires that you not sit back and wait for others to pull you into the life of the party.  At a party where you do not know many people, it is incumbent upon you to take the initiative to introduce yourself to people and then ask questions that draw them out.   People love to talk about themselves and they love people who let them talk about themselves or appear to have an interest in hearing them.    Play on that and ask people questions that stimulates the desire to speak.   I like to draw people out by asking if they enjoy a particular thing, how they came to choose their career or hobby, etc.   For example, I recently met a naval officer and proceeded to draw him out this way:

“I lived near the Naval Academy and my cousin went there.  Did you enjoy your time there?  Did plebe year surprise you?   Isn’t there some end of year tradition the plebes have to do, like climb a greased obelisk to remove a plebe cap?  My cousin was on the sailing team, did you ever use those amazing yawls to sail, too?  Ever go to one of the mixer dances?  How well did the Navy football team do the years you were there?   Many parents in our neighborhood sponsored a midshipman during the school year….did you have a local sponsor to hang out with on weekends and holidays?”  Obviously not said one question fired after another but asked in the course of a conversation.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Puzzled May 7, 2013 at 4:55 am

Whatever happened to attempting to draw a person into a conversation at a party when they are obviously alone? I thought this was the host’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is having a good time.

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Lo May 7, 2013 at 7:06 am

Socializing at a party where you are not familiar with the guests is an act of psychological endurance. As a person with social anxiety, I do not envy you.

When I am put in this position, I take some steps to make it easier for myself to loosen up. I have prescription pills that I can take now to relax me but before I had that luxury (pre-diagnosis) I would make sure to start a party with a moderately strong cocktail and a couple of snacks to cushion so that as the socializing went I could shed that first stress layer. Additionally, nursing a drink gives you something to do with your hands. You can do this with a soda or water if you don’t take alcohol, though you won’t get the psychological benefit.

The next thing to do is to map out the room a little to find out where the people you kind-of-sort-of-know are. Surely you must have known someone at this party, even if only vaguely well? You have to use these people as an “in” to get introduced to other people. If you find a place where two people you know a little bit are talking that’s your first in. Because you don’t need an introduction so if they don’t seem to be having a private serious conversation you could just say, “Oh, hi, you two! Nice to see someone I know, what have you all been up to?” or if they are in the middle of a discussion wandering by and listening politely until you can jump in. Then you use these people to get introduced to other people as the night goes on.

If you really don’t know anyone then I am sorry you have to be there because that’s just the worst. But what I do because I’m squirrelly that way, is go up and aggressively introduce myself to ANYONE else who is by themselves, even just to grab another drink or get snacks. You find that one other person and you introduce yourself and admit that you don’t really know anyone at this party but was hoping that this person did and could introduce you to his/her friends because it’s kind of awkward not knowing anyone. This is HARD, i know! But people are usually charmed by that kind of confidence so you really have to fake it a little.

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Serena May 7, 2013 at 8:49 am

Someone once suggested that I look for other wallflowers to approach, since it’s easier to introduce yourself to one other person and you both automatically have something in common that you don’t really know anyone else there. I haven’t had the chance to try it, since I’m really a homebody, but the premise makes sense.

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Miss-E May 7, 2013 at 8:49 am

I wouldn’t make the point of asking if you could join a conversation. I agree with the OP, that is super awkward, it’s drawing attention to the fact that you don’t know anyone. Just find a conversation hole where you can insert yourself. Obviously, make sure it isn’t a personal or sensitive topic but if you hear a bunch of people discussing Mad Men, I think it would be perfectly fine to jump in saying ‘oh yeah, I hate Don Draper! He’s such a cheater!’ Once you’re in the conversation introduce yourself: ‘oh I’m Gertrude, by the way, nice to meet you all.’

It isn’t easy but I doubt anyone will ever give you a nasty look and ask that you leave them alone. And screw ‘em if they do. Why are you at a party talking about private stuff?!

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AS May 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

In large private parties where different groups of people who don’t know each other, the onus is on the host to introduce people. At least if there are people who don’t know anyone. Otherwise, as a guest, you can look around and see someone else who also feels out of place.
If it is a community event or something, my strategy is to smile at someone, and start a conversation. And not be discouraged if you don’t hit off.

Finally, it can be awkward if you don’t hit off with anyone. In that case, make a good excuse and leave. It can be intimidating to go to a party where you don’t know many people. But you never know when you’ll meet a nice person to hang out with.

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Anonymous May 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

That’s all good advice, but what I’m wondering is, OP, how did you end up at a party where you literally didn’t know anyone? Most parties I’ve been to, I’ve either gone with a friend, or if I’ve gone by myself, it would be to a party with friends from an established group–so, music friends, university friends, old high school friends, or whatever. I’ve been to a few parties that were “open” in university (for example, on Halloween), but that was a different beast–the whole town was sort of one big party that migrated from one house to another, and there were usually things that anyone could join–dancing, karaoke, flip-cup, even a group of people around the TV sometimes. I’ve also been to dinner parties with people I don’t know, but that’s easier, because everyone’s involved in the same conversation around the table. But, these examples are different from a quiet but informal “standing around and talking” party like you described in the OP. So, what I’m wondering is, how do people even end up in that situation? If you were invited by someone, then presumably, wouldn’t you know that person? Or, if you felt like you didn’t know that person well enough, or their circle of friends either, then wouldn’t you just decline? Or, if it started to get “cliquey,” then couldn’t you just leave early? I’m not blaming you, OP, but one thing I don’t understand in general is, if you think something is going to be uncomfortable, and it isn’t mandatory, why go? And, if you get there and find that it is uncomfortable, why stay? One of the great perks of adulthood is, you get to direct your own social life, and there’s absolutely no shame in being an introvert.

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Lisa May 7, 2013 at 9:07 am

I disagree somewhat that it is “incumbent upon you to take the initiative.” I think part of being a good host is greeting people as they come in and, if a guest doesn’t know others, making some introductions. And then throughout the party keeping an eye out for wallflowers so the host can intervene by pulling/steering the person into conversation.

Of course, some people will still choose to be unsociable and miserable—and then it is on them.

As for how to break into conversation, I would probably eavesdrop a bit on a group and then break in with, “I’m sorry to interrupt but I overheard you saying . . . ”

It’s slightly lame, but you could also try the old “Do I know you from somewhere?” Or compliment someone (“I’m sorry to interrupt but I really wanted to ask where you got that great dress.”).

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admin May 7, 2013 at 9:51 am

In the event the host/ess does not do their hospitable duty (which very few do, imo), it is the responsibility of the guest to take the initiative to be pleasant and introduce themselves. Waiting against the wall hoping someone decides to talk to you is counterproductive.

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NostalgicGal May 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

Only time I had this happen was at my own reception near the end of it. I was trying to be polite, mingle, and talk to people, and I had four in a row of step up to speak nicely to groups of guests (some relatives too) and the group seemed to break up at my appearance and… disappear. I had been rebuffed to help out with cleanup, everyone was disappearing (even saying goodbyes, it seemed people were vaporizing if I approached, and I had not done anything that deserved such-there was no bridezilla-ism going on) and male friends and relatives had ‘kidnapped the groom’…. so I took that as an excuse to depart. I hadn’t eaten sauerkraut and onions or something like that and even if it was a breaking up time, it was all rather ‘evaporate if the bride approached’.

It got sorted out after the fact about a few cousins had thought it funny to pull that one, pretend I had cooties and do the avoidNleave; and that I wasn’t upset over the kidnapping of my hubby to be ransomed for a sixpack (best man had his car conk out on way to deliver the ransom so by the time he got there the group had let one very polluted hubby go…). I’d left because of the stunt the cousins pulled. (who got family heck for it). [reception was some sandwiches, cookies, coffee, etc, made by mom and her sisters and served in the church basement afterwards, we are not talking anything fancy]

Glad I wasn’t a wallflower type or this would’ve probably made me avoid parties forever after…

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Shalamar May 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

I remember having a performance review with my old boss, and he said “I’ve noticed that you always eat lunch/have coffee breaks with the same people. From now on, I want you to go to different tables in the break room and socialize with different people so that you can expand your network.” I gaped at him and managed to mumble “Sure, good idea,” all while thinking “Like HECK I will. You’ve got no right to tell me what to do during my breaks.”

(For the record, I was a lowly computer programmer – not a manager or even a potential manager. I have no idea why he was so keen to have me “network”.)

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Stacey Frith-Smith May 7, 2013 at 10:28 am

The key to enjoying yourself is to forget about yourself. The heavy lifting of social intercourse is our own self-consciousness. You are going to make a mistake or two, be less than brilliant on occasion, and offer less than ideal companionship once in awhile- all of which if forgivable and only serves to make for a little private amusement. Focusing on yourself can make a literal mountain out of a molehill. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be mindful of your feelings or those of other people, just that the “volume” on your anxiety needs to be mindfully “turned down” so that you can join that group, pitch that idea at the meeting, ask that friend for their email or phone number…. we all struggle with this a bit. Being yourself without trying too hard is the sweet spot you are looking for.

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The Elf May 7, 2013 at 10:55 am

Oh, man can I relate! As a fellow wall-flower, I completely understand and sympathize. I struggle with this too. I’m getting much better about it, though. OP doesn’t say how old he is, but I know this has become easier as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with myself.

It’s easiest when someone draws you in, which is one reason why I hate going to events alone. If no one at the party is doing it, I prefer to go up to somebody I know – even just a little – and squirm my way in that way. Or I’ll run into someone at the food/drink area and comment about the spread. Conversations about food are good openers into something else. If the event is about something (a wedding, a funeral, a birthday, a lecture on a subject, a class, a sports game, a band, whatever) then the subject of the event is a natural opener. “How do you know X?” or “What did you think of this?” is something that everyone will have something to talk about.

I don’t think the life-of-the-party types will ever get this sort of angst. It is really difficult to make small talk with strangers and read social cues when you aren’t naturally inclined towards those skills.

Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks when you need it. I’ve been known to “go get a breath of air” and take a few moments to myself even in the worst of weather. It helps, even though it leaves you with the difficult task or re-inserting yourself into a conversation group.

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Dawn May 7, 2013 at 10:58 am

I usually say, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion. Do you mind if I chime in?”

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The Elf May 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

Lo, I completely agree that a little (depends on your tolerance!) alcohol is great social lubricant. It helps get rid of that first desire to freeze in place.

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Allie May 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

“Overcoming wallflowerism requires that you not sit back and wait for others to pull you into the life of the party…it is incumbent upon you to take the initiative to introduce yourself to people and then ask questions that draw them out.”

Um, that kind of goes against the definition of wallflower. If we could do that, we wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. It’s kind of like saying in order to overcome shyness you need to start by not being shy.

I like Serena’s suggestion. I’m going to try that next time I’m at a party. Or more likely I’m going to try to try that. I may not be able to work up the courage to approach another wallflower.

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MollyMonster May 7, 2013 at 11:25 am

As an extrovert, I’ve never really had this problem…or not to a high degree. If I go to a party and don’t really know anyone (or at least anyone there yet), I go into stealth mode and sneak into whatever conversation is loudest or most interesting sounding and join right in–and then usually steer it to where I want it to go.

I realize for most people this isn’t an easily do-able option, but as a view from the other side, (since I am usually at the center of the loudest conversations), we love an audience. Hold your drink as you scootch into the circle, take a seat on the sofa/floor, and you’ll get yourself integrated. Make sure to pick a group of five or more if possible. Even if you mostly smile and nod as the conversation flows, you’ll probably feel better and more involved than just hanging out in a corner somewhere. At some point, there should be an opportunity to introduce yourself (“Oh, Hostess and I work together and we had that same thing happen to us! My name is BettyLou Who, by the way.”) and then the conversation meanders along with you a part of it.

I also second Lisa (#7) in offering a compliment as a ticket into a group/conversation. Us extroverted, conversation-hoggers eat that shit up, and then turn it into a discussion about fashion, online shopping, or other things that you can then participate in. Sometimes we even remember to return the compliment. ;)

I also don’t think you should need to ask permission or apologize for “interrupting” at a party to join in. Just hover and wedge and wait for a good moment to pounce. And if the moment doesn’t come or the conversation is not to your liking, find another group and rinse/repeat. At a professional seminar, I think the hovering works too–especially if you pick a group large enough that it is clearly not a private/personal discussion going on.

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Ashley May 7, 2013 at 11:29 am

With me, I always have somehow managed to be lucky enough that something happens that sparks a conversation almost instantly. For example, my friend’s birthday happened and she invited all sorts of people she has worked with at one point or another and had become friends with, and her core group of friends which includes me. This was the first time I was meeting her work friends, but we all wound up hitting it off after a certain rock song came on and at the same time we all said something to the effect of “I love this song!”.

I dread the day my luck runs out though. I can keep a conversation going just fine but I am absolutely MISERABLE at starting them.

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TylerBelle May 7, 2013 at 11:58 am

I’m good at wallflowerism myself. Not just for the initial approaching of others, but also the physical part as well. I have a anxiety of chatting while standing around in groups. Standing being the key. For on occasion, while being in a circle of conversation with others, another person nearby will for some reason move their self directly in front of me thus putting me on the outside as the group moves in. Usually I stand there for a few more moments and if the view of their back doesn’t change, I move on.

I too believe a good host should be conscious of how guests are doing and being aware if anyone looks left out. Also it’s on the guests themselves to do their part to integrate into getting to know others there. There have been some good points given here to help in doing so. :)

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Mary Fran May 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm

I’m wondering if OP might have gone to a group function where there wasn’t a clear host, like a club gathering or something like that. I am typically an right in the middle of the action among my own friends, but when I’m in a new situation with new people, it can be hard to break in. For some reason, I’m particularly tongue-tied at professional networking events. One option is turning to someone who isn’t actively engaged in a conversation, and reapplying “Have you tried the bean dip?”

Introductions are a lost art. I remember learning them in school, “This is so-and-so. She’s interested in blah blah.” And highlighting something they might have in common or that might interest the other. But I have almost never been introduced that way in my social or professional life.

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Heather May 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I thought someone was going to bring up body language before now!

This may not be the best and only way or anything, but as far as I’ve been able to learn, the reason that asking straight out is embarrassing is that it’s too obvious–you *are* supposed to ask permission to join, but through body language.

First you stand near enough to hear what they’re saying and gauge whether it’s a public or private conversation; if it’s public, you come a little nearer and start listening, with a smiling, open expression, to whoever is speaking. You sort of keep one foot angled away from the group to show that you’re not pushing yourself in and are prepared to leave. Then you see if anybody looks at you, makes eye contact, smiles at you, or maybe even shifts aside a little to make room for you to join the circle. If so, you’re invited in. If not, maybe wait one more minute and then drift away, pretending you were just interested in something you heard from their general direction and have now lost interest.

I think a lot of people do this instinctively, but I had to learn, and maybe other shy people do too.

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NbyNW May 7, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I will be very interested in the replies to this question. I, too, am very shy and awkward around people I don’t know and have always had trouble starting up or joining conversations.

One incident will always stand out in my mind. Our family had just moved to mid-sized southern city. In an effort to get to know some people I had volunteered to be on a committee at my child’s schools to build a new playground (one of those made with tires and ropes, etc. so we were literally building it). The woman heading the committee lived in our neighborhood and, as luck would have it, sent out invitations to a block party she was hosting at her house. All communications to this point had been in writing and there had been no formal meetings so I was excited to get to meet someone I had this committee, at least, in common with.

The day arrived and I headed over (alone–my husband is not social). Sure enough, I didn’t know a soul but I recognized the hostess/committee head as I had seen her at the PTA meetings at school. I decided to introduce myself to her first because a) she was the hostess and b) we had the committee in common. I stood near the group she was chatting with and when there seemed to be a lull in the conversation I went up and introduced myself. I thanked her for inviting me as I was new to the area and told her I was on her committee and looked forward to working with her. I don’t remember her exact words but instead of introducing me around, which I admit is what I had hoped for and expected, she shut me down and turned back to her conversation. She didn’t say, “You nasty little toad! Get away from me!” but it was clear our conversation was over with her reply. I’ve always wondered if I was rude. I was so humiliated I just quietly slunk home without speaking to anyone else.

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JeanLouiseFinch May 7, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I completely agree with “Puzzled” that a crucial part of the host’s job is to make sure everyone is having a good time, included in at least one group, and not put into the position of a “wallflower.” I have been to client parties (where they invite the clients to a party and the attorneys are supposed to schmooze them), and the attorneys were circling like sharks around the first few clients to show up. It’s agonizing and all of us attorneys used to dread these functions. Added to which, collectively, we were all the dullest group of people ever to have a party. Once I quit smoking, I did not bond with the other smokers outside. Finally, I started to show up with something to do, like crocheting and all of a sudden, people were coming to me to ask me about what I was doing. Originally, all I was trying to do was to finish my Christmas presents, but doing something with your hands tends to spur conversations about the person’s craft projects, their mother’s craft projects, etc. It’s a surprising conversation starter and if you are actually making something, there is a bonus!

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Angel May 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I remember going to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party where I literally knew no one, except for the hosts, and one other couple. I had just gotten a new camera and brought it with me. Once people started loosening up a little bit the camera was a great icebreaker. I think with something like that you kind of have to know your audience, but I do agree with JeanLouise that sharing an interest that you have with other people is a great icebreaker. Especially if it’s a mainstream interest such as crochet, crafting, photography, etc. I am also big into scrapbooking so I got some great pictures for a fun scrapbook page. Some of the men wore women’s sweaters which was in itself a great conversation starter. Also playing bartender, organizing a fun party game of some kind, are all great ways to take part in the fun. The conversations do not have to be indepth, it’s just a way to be social.

A word on the hosts introducing newcomers, most of the folks we know do this and it might work for a few minutes, you talk about how you know the hosts, where you live, what you do for a living, maybe, but in order to sustain the conversations, it helps to have strategies to cope. The hosts can’t always be around to babysit.

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Marozia May 7, 2013 at 3:35 pm

My first thought is if you are wallflowerish, don’t go alone. Go with another friend who is invited to the same party.
If you are alone and don’t know too many people, just tell your host/ess and I’m sure they’ll introduce you to some.

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kingsrings May 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

OP here. To answer questions: I had to been to the hostess’s house many times in the past. She has these parties pretty frequently. This was the first time awkward wallflowerness had been an issue for me, because usually, plenty of my good friends are there and I have a grand old time socializing. This just happened to be the party that nearly every one of my good friends wasn’t able to be there for one reason or another! Consequently, I knew hardly anyone.
I usually don’t have a problem joining little groups if they’re “open”, so to speak, gathered in a very centrally public area that makes it easy to approach them. But in this case, little groups were all literally gathered in their little, private corners of the rooms, making it hard to join. As for the hostess doing her duty to help others to socialize as mentioned here, this was a big party that encompassed several rooms in her large house, so she was pretty busy chatting, spending time with people. And I agree with Admin that I’ve never seen any host/ess do that at a party, anyway. Sounds like it would be a great idea, though, and make yourself the ultimate host/ess!
Also, at one point, I ran into one of the “members” of one of the socializing groups as we were crossing paths in the room. We knew each other, had been co-stars in a show and hadn’t seen each other for awhile, so pleasantries and big hugs were exchanged. Then he said that he had to get back to his friends and went back to the group. Could I have asked to join him? Or just tagged along after him to join?

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kingsrings May 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I’ve also had bad experiences with being brushed off or shoo’ed away by people when I’ve tried to socialize with at gatherings, such as what NbyNW experienced. When you’re shy and it’s so hard to socialize in the first place, those experiences can crush you. I know I shouldn’t be a victim, though, but it makes it harder the next times.

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Library Diva May 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I’ve been in this predicament several times with my job! I’ve had to go to several receptions and “mingle.” There is no clear host — these take place after concerts, and it’s generally tiny groups that all know each other and no one else. They’re the worst! I’ll have to try some of these tips.

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Another Alice May 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I’m an extrovert and don’t usually have problems chatting with people, but honestly still sometimes find my back against the wall because I like to have a third party introduce me. The first move is absolutely the hardest to make. What I’ve found is to hang out by the food/bar. Usually, that’s where people go by themselves, breaking off from their group. So most of the time, it’s “singles” (in the conversational sense) that are there, and I’ll make a comment about the party, food, or host we must have in common. It’s usually relatively easy to go into, “How do you know Liz?” or whoever the host is, from there. And one person at a time, who can bring you into their “group” is less stressful than trying to walk into a conversation.

This may sound silly, or overly analytical, but if this is a constant problem for you, consider going over in your head on the way to the party how you know the host, any names of friends/family they may have mentioned that would be there, and any subsequent details. People warm to others more quickly when they say, “Hi, I’m Dan!” and you respond with, “Oh, yes, Dan! Brian mentioned a Dan he went to college with!” and then follow up with the proper questions. Salespeople do this all the time before calls (not even just on “The Office”!). “Oh, you’re Cousin Sally! It’s so nice to meet you. Sabrina showed me a photo from when she was in your wedding last year. You looked beautiful!” Obviously, I’d keep it to really benign, general details so they don’t think you were stalking them, haha, but if it’s framed in a compliment especially, I think it can be a nice start and show that you actually care about the event.

The last thing I’ll mention is that even extroverts have “off” days. When I’m in the right mood, I can go to a party and charm everyone there. Other days, you’re just not into it and don’t feel like being the one who has to approach everyone and try to make conversation. It *is* work, even for those for whom it comes more naturally. No biggie if it’s not your thing.

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momofeveryone May 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm

my go to? strike up a convo at the food/drink table. i try to carry on the convo for about 2 minutes past leaving the table. usually the person im conversing with has someone they know come up to them and i get introduced to them too. chat themup, and before you know it,imin a ‘group.’

but i ahve hosted lotsofparties with all diffrent typs invited, and i make sureno one is left out. ever. its justmean!

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Elle May 7, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Here’s something I learned that greatly reduced my anxiety in social situations*: Strangers don’t care about you. You can jam your foot in your mouth so badly that you wish the earth would swallow you up whole and replay how awful you must have been for weeks. Meanwhile the other person will forget all about you a few minutes after the party has ended. Short of spilling tobasco sauce in their eyes they won’t remember your horrible gaffe.

Also, you can do low stakes practice. Take all of these great suggestions from the posters above me and put them into practice at the coffee shop, grocery store, library, anywhere you find a few people talking about something that sounds moderately interesting. It will feel even *worse* than the party because OMG these are complete strangers! But if you make a horrible fauxpas, accidentally offend, etc – then you will never see them again. This will give you a chance to practice your skills and become more accustomed to the reality that you won’t die from it.

* I do not and have never had “social anxiety” in the sense that these situations cause me clinical levels of stress. I won’t pretend to know what that’s like.

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Ergala May 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Can I mention something? I’m following along the lines of body language another poster mentioned. Always check yourself to see what kind of vibes you are sending off. I’ve been to parties where there is ALWAYS one person who kind of stands off to the side and the way they are postured they come off as unimpressed and disinterested in the rest of the people there. Some I’ve approached to chat with and I found that there was a reason for them being by themselves. Either they only talked about themselves, were very negative or found themselves to be an absolute expert on every single topic you bring up. I have a friend who has been pretty much shunned in our gaming world because of his “expertise” on pretty much everything. One of the guys worked in radio waaaaay back and my friend said “Really? You don’t really have the voice for radio….I would know I used to be a DJ”….no he wasn’t….he never was. He was a janitor at a radio station for a month. Now people avoid him like the plague.

Now I am painfully shy in social situations where I don’t know anybody. I hate rejection and I fear it. However I now throw myself out there and wait for a bite. If I crack a joke or make a witty remark I am welcomed much faster than if I kind of mosey on over and kind of ninja my way into the circle.

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Barbarian May 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm

At one job, I had to attend business networking functions, many times in place of partners or other managers. Sometimes, I would be introduced to other guests who would either show visible disappointment that someone more important than myself from our company was not there or else they would talk about how great other associates from our company were without engaging me. So I learned to respond, “Well, you’ve just broadened your horizons. Now you’ve met me and I specialize in…..”. I would then offer my card and say to call me if they had questions.

People can only make you feel uncomfortable if you agree to it.

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Abria May 8, 2013 at 12:00 am

Oh I feel for you! I wish that every type A person on the planet would magically have to live a day as a shy person at a social event with no one they know. “Just go up to a group and start talking! You’ll make friends. It’s so easy!” I almost physically can’t, no I won’t, and no it’s not! I’ve tried, I’m quite invisible if I do it like that! I really think it’s beyond a social butterfly’s comprehension what it’s like to be shy, how hard it is to talk to people and how a rejection can send us back into our shells for another month, just like we can’t imagine what it’s like to be so fearless and easy around new people. I’d very much like to magically live a day with a type A personality as well!

I have gotten better at this with age. It’s good advice to find the other wallflowers. My best friends in college were the only two girls shyer than I was. It can be hard to approach them, too, but if you’re standing alone desperately hoping that someone is going to talk to you, odds are they’re doing the same. If no one is standing by themselves, I station myself by the food and wait for people to come by. ” Oh what a beautiful updo! Do you mind if I ask you got the bit in the back to stay?” “I’ve never seen anything quite like your necklace. Does it have a story behind it?” People love to talk about themselves. Ask a question that allows them to do that while complimenting them at the same time.

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maude May 8, 2013 at 12:53 am

The easiest way to mingle is to carry around a tray of “munchies”.You can bowl up to any group,offer food and join any conversation, or not.

“Hi,I’m Gertrude.Would you like some cheese? Dip?{Biiig smile.}

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Ankh May 8, 2013 at 4:27 am

People have mentioned finding someone you know, even if only a little, and staying with them… That’s almost as bad, though, because then you have to worry about looking like a limpet, clinging to someone who may not know you that well or like you that much. I have (admittedly at high school functions) been ditched when trying to do that, and that’s even worse than standing off to the side and being miserable.

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Princess Buttercup May 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

I get over the wallflower anxiety by reminding myself that everyone has been there at some point. Most will understand the feeling and others may be secretly feeling it at that moment. So I’ll look for someone else alone or who looks lost even through they are standing with others and go introduce myself.

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Cat May 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

I have never liked parties in which I don’t know anyone. A friend once asked me to a small party and, when I arrived, was asked me to sit in her living room with other party guests.
I expected to chat, but the others picked up magazines and began to read. Figuring that this party was too much like going to the dentist’s office, I also found a magazine to read. The party’s climate stayed like that and I left.
If you don’t enjoy these events, don’t go. Popularity was never one of my goals in life either. I’ll bloom where I am planted.

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AMC May 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

I was recently at a social work-related event where there was a lot of group mingling. Luckily I knew most of the people there. I did on a few occasions actually ask a group if I could join their conversation and that seemed to work. In addition to what Admin said, my advice to OP would be to look for body language cues as well. If a group is standing tight-knit with their backs to everyone else, speaking softly, and leaning in close, that would indicate to me that this is a private conversation. If they’re speaking loudly, animated, and standing with their bodies open, then that is a group that would probably be safe to join.

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kingsrings May 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

What’s interesting is that I don’t have much of a problem with this issue at business functions such as mixers for people in a specific industry. I don’t have much of a problem with going up to strangers and introducing myself at these functions. I think it’s because it’s we all have one central purpose for being there, which is to help each other in this industry and to make connections and network. So although I’m still somewhat shy at these events, because I have a sole purpose and a way “in” to socializing, I don’t suffer from the same anxiety, awkwardness, and shyness that I have at parties.

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The Elf May 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

I agree, Kingsrings. When there’s a central purpose for the event, it’s a lot easier to mingle with strangers. You know that you can talk about that purpose, and random introductions/connections is the way that game is played.

For what it is worth, I hate those kinds of events with a deep passion. But they are easier to avoid wallflowerism.

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Clockwork Banana May 9, 2013 at 9:28 pm

NbyNW (post 21): Reading your anecdote actually caused me empathetic pain. I will come back to that in a moment.

I have suffered with social anxiety my entire life. Pre-diagnosis and medication, I just assumed that there was something wrong with me, as in I just must not be a very interesting person because people did not gravitate towards me. I could never really figure it out, because I kind of thought I was fairly intelligent and had a wicked sense of humour. I just could not get this across in any group larger than two or three.

As I got older, I learned to mitigate my shyness with 40-proof social lubricant. That worked brilliantly for a while, and people seemed to think that I was awesome. But eventually every function or social situation required me to be half-cut. I would be the life of the party, but as the years passed, too often the social lubricant became more important than the function, and I went from being CB, the fun chick to CB, the always drunk one.

So now I am back to trying to navigate situations without any alcoholic help. It is no easier now than it was back in the day. Even with years of experience and a good sense of who I am, large groups still terrify me. All the suggestions about how to gracefully insert yourself into a group or conversation sound reasonable, but for the socially awkward, it is like suggesting that you jump out of an airplane without a chute.

So back to you, NbyNW. I so know that feeling. You bit the bullet and did the right thing by introducing yourself to the hostess and then she completely shut you down. I would have done exactly what you did and slunk away to ponder whether I was the rude one.

Well nope. That hostess probably did not even realize (I am giving her the benefit of the doubt) how rude she was. She was likely just invested in the conversation she was having and lacked the social grace to know how to include you, or it probably it did not even occur to her that this was her duty to do so.
I would a thousand times rather suffer and work through ‘wallflowerism’ than to be as clueless and rude as that woman was.

Since you mentioned that you were on a committee with her, I do hope your further interactions with her went better.

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mpk May 10, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I am also curious as to what happened with NbyNW when the committee met again. How that hostess acted then. I’m hoping you didn’t drop out of that. Please update us. She was definitely the rude one at that gettogether since she was the one who invited you and should have welcomed you properly. Shame on her.

I’m also an introvert. When i was younger at the parties i attended the guys and gals separated. there was one friend (girl) that if she joined the guys, soon everyone was mingling. I could never do that and i don’t know what it was about her that changed the dynamics. I tried one time and nothing happened. did not help my self esteem, but i figured that her personality was just so outgoing that she drew people to her.
I still struggle to this day. I’m fine one on one but terrible in groups.

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Enna May 11, 2013 at 3:52 am

This is a tough one: I’m quite shy too. I do think the host should be doing the introductions, maybe even kicking of an ice breaker. Maybe the OP could bring this up with the next host who invites her to a party?

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kingsrings May 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hmmm….that’s a good idea for any host/ess, Enna, but I would feel really presumptious telling a host/ess what they should do at their party.

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Debra May 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I find it helpful to remember “FORD” (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams) to overcome wallflowerism. I have a hard time thinking of questions to ask people to draw them out. I can’t remember where I heard about FORD, but it’s definitely helped me.

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