The Engaging Introvert: Socializing Admirably with Exes, Extroverts and Complete Strangers

I dreaded the end of season party for my son’s football team.  I actually lost sleep over it.  Here’s why:

1. I didn’t know any of the other parents. It was the first middle school team my son had played on and the families came from all different neighborhoods and elementary schools.

2. I was going without a partner while my ex-husband would be there with his sweet and effervescently extroverted girlfriend.

3. The hosts’ home was ostentatious which made me think this could be a grand show of posturing and I am so uncomfortable with and uninspired by schmoozing.

4. I thought the conversations would all center on sports, kids, and “What do you do?”.

The two-minute body language tip that will change you

Wonder_WomanI geared up for the event by practicing my newfound confidence and enthusiasm postures compliments of Amy Cuddy and her TedTalk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.  I laughed at myself as I stood in the bathroom, hands on hips, feet planted wide ala Wonder Woman. I felt goofy as I mirrored the Boston marathon winner with his hands thrust in the air in a V shape, chin tipped toward the sky. Did you know that blind people do this same pose when they succeed at something even though they’ve never seen it done by anyone else? Anyway, you are supposed to practice these postures and take up a lot of space with your body for two minutes before entering a setting where you need to shine. Studies show it works, not only affecting how others see you but how you feel yourself. I so wanted this magic to be true.

You glow girl!

Another secret weapon on my utility belt of extroverting super powers — Do what you need to do to feel beautiful (or attractive).  Before any special occasion — first date, interview, anytime I have to speak in front of others — I exercise.  It gives me a healthy glow and my body and posture feel and look stronger. I also carefully pick out clothing that I feel good in.  For the party I wore an oatmeal colored sweater with flattering neckline, good fitting jeans and tall leather boots.  I love boots.  They say, Yes, I am confidently sexy.  I made sure to apply makeup in the shades that compliment my skin tone and eyes. I accentuated my best features.  At 43, I know what those are. All of this is surface but it enhances the true beauty of being comfortable in your own skin which I feel more and more these days… but still have lapses.

Lamb to the slaughter?

The night of the party arrived.  My kids were so excited.  It was awesome to see and feel their joy. I did my best to feign the same level of eagerness.  I plugged the address into

Not actual door.

Not actual door

my GPS and before we knew it we were using the wrought iron knocker to knock on their impressively large door. The hostess let us in with pleasantries and offers to take our coats. We walked through a well-appointed living room with a beautiful fireplace and framed pictures of lions taken while on an African safari a few years back. I placed my suddenly weak and underachieving store-bought fruit tray (still in plastic container) next to Wilton Armetale bowls of chicken salad and silver trays of shrimp cocktail. Someone obviously went all out and it wasn’t me. The hostess offered me a glass of wine.  I took it eagerly hoping it would relax me or at least make me appear relaxed.

Find the other introverts

I quickly spotted the one woman I’d had any type of conversation with on the sidelines during the football games. We stood clinging to each other with our daughters at our elbows in a corner of the room while a group stood in the middle of the room circling the bar. The owner (husband) of the home stood in the main circle with his older daughters, a few of the parents and my ex-husband and his girlfriend. I thought, this could be a long night.

Warm smile, engaging questions and non-judgmental listening

I disentangled from the corner introvert and headed toward another woman I had seen many times at the games.  She was often alone and had an approachable warmth about her.  I walked up to her and smiled.  I told her she seems like a warm and kind person I should know.  Her shoulders eased and her face softened.  She smiled back and we slipped into a comfortable conversation. She is a single mom with stories to tell about her years struggling as a waitress and her years as a successful real estate agent.  She introduced me to another man who was in the restaurant business. Eventually a well dressed Indian man joined our group and spoke openly about the frustrations and complications of having your kids in so many sports and activities. Much head nodding from me on this topic.

boston marathon winner 2010 finish lineThe main dinner food was set out and the coach gave a speech.  We clapped for the team, the coaches and ourselves (the parents). I stood against a column and tried use big/confident body language.

Let an extrovert help you 

After the speeches I touched base with each of my children.  I went out onto the deck to watch my daughter jump on the trampoline.  As I turned to go back into the house, I heard a woman’s voice say, Brenda, I want to talk to you about introversion. It was my ex-husband’s girlfriend.  Let’s call her Kathleen.  It was obvious she had taken the time to find something in my wheelhouse to discuss.  She reached out and I liked her more for it. Kathleen has a friend who is an extreme introvert. She was hoping to enhance their relationship by gaining some understanding of her friend’s proclivities. We had a kind and open conversation that felt respectful and mutually beneficial.  I didn’t even feel the need to do any big Wonder Woman poses. 😉 For part of the conversation my daughter stood between us.  This could have been awkward — two mother figures vying for the child’s allegiance and attention — but it wasn’t.  A silent peace pact passed between us, an alliance of sorts.

Feeling relieved and way more at ease, I still opted out of jumping on the trampoline with the kids and Kathleen. I didn’t feel the need to make myself that BIG.

I spent the rest of the evening talking with various people:

A 73-year-old grandmother who could relate to my divorced-with-children position. She’d been through it and survived.  She gave me hope and a sweet feeling of support.

A single dad photographer.  We talked under the watchful eyes of everyone else at the party — or at least that’s how I imagined it.  Oh look, the single people are talking…

The team coach who wanted to talk about mutual friends and partying stories (introvert brain struggled here).

Tired?

Before I knew it, it was time to gather children and go home. I freakin’ made it!

My ex-husband hugged me by the door and quietly said, Thank you. 

I thanked the hostess for everything. She replied with a solid, Oh sure! This is fun!  I am so grateful for people like her and her husband who consider hours of prep work;  chatting with large groups of people; having their house trashed and chaos in general, fun.  Because of them, I get to socialize enough to satisfy the urge for connection, and then leave. 😉

Contrary to normal introvert behavior, I left the party energized.

What have you learned to do to get through challenging social setting? How do you cope? 

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19 Comments

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    September 26, 2014

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  3. Casey Sheridan
    October 22, 2013

    Kudos to you for doing something so difficult. You are braver than I. Many cyber hugs being sent your way.

    I had to laugh when I saw the pic of Wonder Woman. I do that stance all the time. Especially when dealing with my boss who is an extreme extrovert. Besides, Linda Carter as Wonder Woman…totally cool! 😀

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 23, 2013

      Thanks for your support and hugs Casey! Do whatever you need to do to be heard with your extreme E boss.;)

      Reply
  4. karpiadiem
    October 20, 2013

    Yet another post I identify with! United in “uninspired by schmoozing…” Thank you for eloquently writing those thoughts I have had in my mind for years.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 20, 2013

      Schmoozing ruffles my feathers. I’m all about openness and genuine communication. No agenda. I feel I am fairly sensitive to non-genuine conversation. I sometimes marvel at how tolerant others are of it. I’ve watched many succeed by employing the fine art of schmoozing. :/ I’m glad warmth and real talk work too.:)

      Reply
  5. ilona fried
    October 19, 2013

    Great post, and I love the Wonderwoman poses. Thanks for walking us through your experience and sharing your strategies…glad you had a positive evening!

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 20, 2013

      I think the Wonder Woman poses actually worked or at least they made me laugh at myself which helped me relax.;)

      Reply
  6. EmSpeaks
    October 19, 2013

    Reading this post, I got so excited for you! I’m glad it was a positive experience, and it gives me hope for when I’m in similar situations. I’ll have to check out that TedTalk on posture.

    I had a laugh at “Not actual door.”

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 20, 2013

      I had fun with the images on this one. I like to add a little tongue-in-cheek. I amuse myself.;) Thanks for reading and commenting Em.

      Reply
    • Zen Greenway
      October 23, 2013

      I’m also going to find that TedTalk. I had no idea such tools were available!

      Reply
      • Brenda Knowles
        October 23, 2013

        The Tedtalk lightened my mood. May it give you some giggles and confidence.:)

        Reply
  7. elizabeth2560
    October 19, 2013

    “I am so grateful for people … who consider hours of prep work; chatting with large groups of people; having their house trashed and chaos in general, fun.”
    That sentence describes my “before” life – except for the last word which belonged to my ex-husband. Isn’t it amazing the interpretation different people put on that word ‘fun’. Now I rarely use it when describing something I want from life and instead speak of ‘joy’, ‘contentment’, ‘well-being’ or ‘fulfillment’. Great post, and I am so glad you felt energized after the event.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 20, 2013

      Yeah ‘fun’ seems like an over-simplified word for activities kids do. I like all of your satisfaction words – joy, contentment, well-being, fulfillment. They seem more thoughtful and meaningful.

      I was the prep0work hostess for many years too. I liked having people over that I knew intimately but often I spent so much time playing hostess that I didn’t get to truly enjoy them. I’ve relaxed my ideas of what a good party looks like. Much more casual now, fewer people and more space for real conversations.:)

      Reply
  8. chehaw
    October 19, 2013

    Great story, with a great twist! I admire how well you handled that situation. I usually dread parties, but the best ones I’ve been to have left me with a nice buzz and good memories.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      October 20, 2013

      I usually don’t mind parties as long as I know someone there and the music/noise is kept to a level where conversations are still possible. This one definitely had me nerved up for the reasons I stated. I love it when the people rather than the alcohol served at a party, give you a nice buzz.;)

      Reply
  9. The Presents of Presence
    October 18, 2013

    I am proud of you! xo

    Reply
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