Navigating family gatherings can be tricky for any number of reasons, but it’s an especially hard task when you’re an introvert. You’re expected to be “on” for hours at a time, smiling politely and answering the same three small-talk questions over and over. School is going fine, thanks. I’ve got about one year left. Yes, Little Boy is doing well. He’s picking up more words. Yes, my husband likes his new job. Various groups of people that you only sort of know and only sort of like mill around doing nothing in particular. It’s exhausting.
So how does one cope?
1. Take frequent short breaks.
This one is the absolute #1 key to my survival at family get-togethers. It’s amazing how just a few minutes of silence can be enough to power me through another hour of chatty performance.
Being an introvert means that you require alone time to recharge (versus extroverts, who are recharged by interactions with other people). So to keep from running out of gas, you need to find some alone time. At least in my family, disappearing for long periods is frowned upon and earns one the label “antisocial.” But a 5-minute break slips under the radar.
Depending on where you are, there are different options for where to take these short breaks. Best-case scenario is when you’re staying at that relative’s house and thus can duck into “your” room for a few moments. Otherwise you can duck outside, or into the garage, or a quiet room. When all else fails, the bathroom is your friend.
2. Do something with your hands.
A few years ago, I discovered that I am much more tolerant of small talk when I’m knitting. Doing something helps me through the weird party state of having to be on and attentive while nothing in particular is happening.
Knitting, crochet, and other handcrafts are perfect here because they’re portable, and because people don’t perceive them as negatively as, say, reading. You will have to put up with a constant refrain of, “What are you making?” But at least then you can talk about something that interests you.
If you’re not a crafter, helping the party host can be another good option to stay occupied. Chop vegetables, set the table, do the dishes. (Alas, this scenario assumes that the party host is someone you can stand to be around for any amount of time, which may or may not be a valid assumption in your family.)
3. Eat regularly.
When it comes to making it through a lot of social interaction as an introvert, food is fuel. Don’t skip the appetizers, especially if you know grandma won’t be putting the roast on the table until 8 p.m.
There’s a level of balance here—eat too much, and you’ll be sleepy and uncomfortable—but seriously, it’s not the time to go on a diet. Imagine a multi-hour family party as a marathon: you need to keep your energy levels up over the long term.
In moderation, of course, and only at events where others are drinking. No joke though: alcohol helps. My ability to keep up pleasant small talk gets infinitely better after a glass or two of wine.
Any other good suggestions for me?