“Over the years I reduced most of my anxiety and I have pretty good social skills but I still don’t enjoy socializing. I mean, there are tiny bits of conversations that I can enjoy but for the most part, basic socializing is boring to me and at times it can be draining and almost painful.”
“I just wish I felt more of a drive to seek social outlets – I want good friends to talk with, but I don’t put a lot of energy into these friendships because it feels like a ‘duty’, not something I enjoy.”
Although lots of people find socializing fun, it can be difficult and draining for many of us. Rather than forcing yourself to socialize despite your discomfort, I want to help you actively enjoy socializing.
Some people struggle to feel motivated to attend social events. If this is you, know that you’ll probably enjoy it when you arrive. It can be frustrating that this isn’t enough to override the sense that you don’t want to attend.
Other people find that they just don’t enjoy socializing, or even actively dislike it. I have experienced both of these at different periods of my life, and I’d like to share the strategies I developed to help.
I can’t promise that the ideas below will mean that you enjoy every social event from now on. I do hope that they will help you to enjoy the majority of your social interactions.
While this guide provides tips for how to enjoy socializing, also see our main guide on how to be more social.
“I’m there, but I don’t feel really present.”
Feeling isolated or left out can make any social event miserable. Research shows that socializing is more enjoyable when you feel included and actively engage with others.
If you’re attending social events but not enjoying them, trying some of the steps below might help.
When you think of socializing, you’re probably thinking of large groups of people having casual conversations. This type of contact can feel unsatisfying and frustrating, much like being offered popcorn when you want a full meal.
Not all socializing has to involve lots of small talk. Socially savvy people are able to move quickly from small talk to finding out about someone’s passions, interests and expertise. We have a great post here full of ideas to help you have deeper and more rewarding conversations.
Here’s our guide on how to get past small talk and make interesting conversation.
Disliking small talk is very common, so there’s a good chance that the person you’re talking to will be keen to move to a more substantive topic as well.
Although I’ve said that you can learn to enjoy socializing, there will probably be some social situations that you will never enjoy. If you don’t drink then long evenings in a bar are not likely to appeal to you.
It may be that there is something around the social situations that you are planning that makes the idea of socializing feel more stressful to you. Try to understand that problem and see if you can deal with it directly. This may reduce your discomfort around socializing more generally.
As an example, you might feel stressed at the idea that you have to stay at a social event until your lift is ready to leave. Making sure that you are in control of your transport arrangements could allow you to feel more comfortable. Try driving yourself or ordering rideshare, to see whether you feel less stressed. Finding and adapting to what you find stressful can make socializing more manageable.
Feeling curious about other people can make even surface-level social interactions more interesting. It can also encourage deeper connections. Thinking about how other people view the world can be enjoyable. Studies show that considering someone else’s worldview uses parts of the brain that are associated with pleasure and reward.
Try to understand what makes the person you are speaking with ‘tick’. Ask them questions about their life, why they hold certain beliefs or how they feel about a topic. This will often make you more fun to talk to as well.
Sometimes other people’s behavior is what makes us uncomfortable in social situations. This is often the case with family gatherings. They may ask intrusive questions or expect hugs.
Set boundaries about what you are and are not willing to share in a particular social setting and practice sticking to them. It can be difficult to tell someone that you don’t want to discuss a certain topic with them, so have a response ready. Try saying “Work is going well, but it’s stressing me a bit, so I’d rather talk about something else.”
It might take a while to understand where your boundaries are for each social situation. After a social event, think about anything that made you feel uncomfortable. This can help you to decide where you should place your boundaries. Remember that these are your boundaries and you can set them wherever you like. You can also have different boundaries for different people.
Having your own personal goals when socializing can give you a sense of accomplishment. A practical goal might be to talk to three new people over the course of an event. A more whimsical goal would be to mention the word “rabbit” in as many conversations as you can. Your sense of achievement is more important than the goal itself.
If you achieve your goals, try giving yourself a reward after the event. Combining socializing with a reward makes your brain respond more positively to social situations.
If you rarely want to attend social events, try to create a routine that includes socializing. This can be particularly helpful if you meet the same people at the same time each week.
Once meeting up with friends becomes a habit, you may find that you feel less stress before you go out. This is because it has become an ordinary part of your life, rather than a specific event that you have to psych yourself up for.
The things we tell ourselves inside our own minds is called our internal monologue. The language we use in our internal monologue about our socializing can have a huge impact on how we feel about the event itself. When we use words like “should” and “ought” to convince ourselves to do something, we can unintentionally make ourselves more reluctant to do it.
Just trying to remove these words from your internal monologue can feel inauthentic. Instead, try to find positive aspects of socializing. Focus on ones that feel important to you. Try telling yourself “I can go and see how Susan is feeling after her operation” or “Tom might have some pictures of his new kittens I can see”. This may be more motivating than saying “I should”.
If social events leave you exhausted, you may be more introverted than extroverted. This exhaustion can be physical, mental or emotional. Introverts are energized by time alone and time spent socializing costs energy
Knowing that you will be exhausted can make it harder to convince yourself to go to large events.
Rather than trying to fight through your exhaustion, make plans to have a quiet, restful day after a major social event. It won’t reduce your tiredness, but knowing that you will have the time to recharge can reduce your worry about how tired socializing makes you.
Here’s our main article on how to be more social as an introvert.
Conversations that are mostly focused around small talk can feel shallow. It’s not surprising that you quickly become bored and frustrated. This is particularly true if your conversations don’t result in meaningful relationships.
See socializing as a way to strengthen your social skills and remind yourself that every time you socialize, you’re becoming more experienced. You can also try to select activities or events that have a goal or a sense of purpose, such as volunteering or developing a skill. Or, go to places where people share your interests. Here’s our guide on how to find like-minded.
If this isn’t possible, try to move the conversation away from small talk and onto more engaging topics. Here’s a guide on how to make interesting conversation.
Not enjoying socializing can make you feel more isolated. You might be surprised to find out that up to half of the population would describe themselves as introverts. Many of those don’t enjoy most social interactions.
It might help you to understand why you don’t enjoy socializing, or why you lack the drive to engage with social interactions.
Both physical and mental health problems can increase the difficulty of social interactions. Problems such as chronic fatigue syndrome can increase the energy ‘cost’ of socializing beyond what you can handle. Hearing or speech impairments can also make it hard to communicate and lead to you feeling uncomfortable
Mental health problems often directly impact your enjoyment of social situations. 50-78% of young people with major depression show reduced pleasure in social interactions. Anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety, can also dramatically reduce your desire to socialize. This can make the social interactions you do have less rewarding.
If health issues are making it hard to enjoy social interactions, it’s important to treat the underlying problem if you can. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible.
There may be little your social circle can do to ease your health issues, but it may still be worth discussing them with a trusted friend. It may be possible to change social events to make them easier for you. For example, they could turn off background music if you have problems with your hearing.
Many people who grew up shy or awkward find that they expect negative experiences from social events. This is especially true if you have been bullied or had toxic friends or relationships
This form of anxiety may be due to an underlying lack of trust. You might not trust the people around you to be kind or you may not trust your social skills to carry you through the event without making a social blunder.
Trust is built slowly, whether it is learning to trust others or to trust yourself. Socializing in smaller groups to begin with can help, as it limits the number of people that you have to trust. We often overestimate how much others notice or remember our social mistakes. This is known as the Spotlight Effect. Understanding this might allow you to take some of the pressure off of yourself.