Giving Up And Checking Out Of Social Interactions
You're trying to improve your people skills and make new friends. You're at a social event. You put in an honest effort, but it's not going that well. Suddenly feelings of wariness, resignation, apathy, and irritation come over you. You're over it. You're done for the night. It's not going to work out, so why bother?
If you could leave right away you would, but you've got to stick around a while longer. Perhaps you're in the middle of dinner, or a friend is giving you a ride home later, or it would just seem strange to take off so early. Instead you mentally check out and stop trying. You sit off to the side and don't say much. If you have to talk to someone, you make conversation in a flat, half-hearted way. You're tired, annoyed, and discouraged, and are just running out the clock. You can't be bothered to hide it.
On the surface you may look similar to someone who was having a good time, but is now drained and done chatting for the night because their social batteries ran out. When you give up on an outing, you often do feel depleted, but other emotions, like grumpiness and pessimism, are in the mix. You also have thoughts along the lines of, "This sucks. What's the point?"
Here are some social situations that may set off feelings of wanting to throw in the towel and shut down. They're usually group get togethers, where if things aren't going your way you have the option of mentally checking out and hanging off to the side. If you're spending time with someone one on one the context usually pushes you to keep trying, even if it isn't going great.
- You're at a party where you don't know many people. You were already feeling nervous and out of the place to begin with. You try to start or join some conversations, but nothing pans out. You're either too anxious to approach anyone, or the interactions quickly fizzle.
- You're hanging out with a few friends, and they're all having a great time with each other. You feel awkward, left out, and like you can't get on their wavelength or connect with their sense of humor.
- You're in a rowdy group conversation. You've been trying to take part, but keep getting ignored or talked over.
- You're in a group conversation where everyone has been going on and on about a topic you can't contribute to, such as a sport they're all obsessed with which you don't care about, or a friend they share who you've never met. You've tried to change the topic, but they seem determined to stick with it.
- You're on an outing where everyone is eagerly doing something you find boring, like dancing for hours, or playing a videogame you're indifferent to.
- You're with a new group of people, perhaps from a meet up, and it's become clear you have little in common with them, they aren't very interesting company, and some of them are even kind of unpleasant.
Ways to recover from the apathetic, checked out feeling
Obviously it doesn't help your cause to give up on a social event and become upset and detached. First, it clearly doesn't feel great to start an outing in high hopes, only to plummet into annoyance and disillusionment. Practically, you can't do as much to improve your people skills or social life if a rough patch in an event causes you to give up on it entirely. There's also a chance that you won't make the best impression if you hang out with a group, then become silent and sullen halfway through the night. In my experience when this happens the others typically don't have a hugely negative reaction to it. They mostly assume you're too tired or shy to keep up, not that you're a jerk. Still, it would be better if you didn't get that way at all.
Here are some things you can do:
Don't think you can never feel discouraged or irked in a social situation
This article isn't saying you should never have that reaction. Sometimes you will be at a get together that isn't going your way. As you're working on your people skills and confidence you will have frustrating, discouraging moments. But it's one thing to have those emotions and let them pass. It's another to let them unnecessarily ruin the rest of your night.
Recognize what's happening
When the urge to mentally check out comes over you it has the most power to derail the outing if you aren't aware of what's happening, and just get carried along by your thoughts and emotions. The first step is to realize what's going on, and give yourself more control over your actions. You want to be able to take a step back and tell yourself, "Argh, I've been at this party for an hour and no one seems that interesting to talk to. I'm starting to feel bitter and defeated. I'm thinking the night is pointless, and I'll never make any friends. I'd love nothing more than to sit on the couch and sulk until it's time to go. That's what part of me wants to do, but let's see if I can pull myself out of this."
Question the thoughts driving your desire to give up and check out
Whether they're noticable mental dialogue, or more unspoken and implied, there are disheartening thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations fueling your urge to give up on the outing. For example:
- "I'll never make any friends."
- "I'll never have better social skills. This is pointless."
- "The people here are all boring, unfriendly jerks."
- "I suck at making conversation. Why am I even trying?"
- "I never meet anyone I click with."
- "Why do I even bother? I'm always too shy to talk to anyone."
- "This is like middle school all over again. Everywhere I go, I'm not accepted."
- "This is so boring. The night isn't going to get any better."
If you can catch these thoughts and logically challenge them, you can improve your mentality. Even if you can't make yourself feel better at that social event, you can do some work on your beliefs after it's over and prevent them from affecting you as much next time. Here are some examples of challenging your initial assumptions:
- "Does that fact that I haven't made a new friend in the first hour of being here really mean I'll never have a social life?"
- "Will I really never improve my social skills just because I'm feeling discouraged in this moment?"
- "The first two conversations I got into didn't go anywhere, but does that really mean every last person at this party is a jerk?"
- "Should I give up on ever attempting conversation again because there were a few awkward silences while I was catching up with my one friend?"
- "I haven't really connected with anyone at this event, but is that a good reason to completely shut down for the night?"
- "No, this get together isn't going perfectly, but is it really exactly the same as my time in the seventh grade?"
- "I'm not having a great time right now, but does that automatically mean the rest of the outing will be a write off?"
Ask yourself if you're checking out as a way to escape uncomfortable interactions
The answer is often 'no', but it's worth considering this just in case. Sometimes when people are feeling insecure and uncomfortable in a social setting they'll unconsciously do things to escape and feel better. Suddenly thinking, "I'm annoyed. This sucks. I don't care anymore. I just want to go home" is a way to do that.
Take steps to get your physical energy back
As I said toward the beginning of this article, giving up and checking out is about more than just feeling tired, but that is a part of it. It works both ways: Once you've become annoyed and resigned, you'll often feel sluggish too. And if your batteries are already low for other reasons, it's easier to fall into that 'I'm over it' mindset.
Once you've become checked out, recovering some of your energy can put you in a better mood and restore your motivation to socialize. You can try things such as:
- Having a small amount of caffeine
- Having something to eat, if you haven't had any food in a while
- Retreating to the bathroom to regroup for a few minutes
- Getting up and moving around a bit (even if you can only go to a restroom and swing your arms around and stretch your legs)
- Purposely try to talk to everyone more rather than sitting back and dwelling on how tired you feel
For more details see: When You Easily Get Drained And Tired In Social Situations
Do what you can to improve the interaction
This is another suggestion that you may not be able to apply that day, but can pay off longer term. You're likelier to get frustrated and quit on a social event if you don't have the tools to have a good time in it. I can't list every way you could improve your ability to get more out of an interaction, but a few common examples are learning how to start or join conversations, handle hectic group discussions, or hang in there when everyone is talking about a subject you can't add anything to.
Do what you can to ride out the rest of the outing without completely shutting down
Sometimes you'll want to mentally check out of a social situation because it legitimately is disappointing or tedious. The feeling doesn't only come on because you're irrationally, prematurely throwing in the towel. At other times you'll become grouchy and apathetic for the usual reasons, but won't be able to snap out of it.
In either case, your priority should be damage control. You can't change how you feel, but you can try to control your outer behavior:
- Mention you're tired and had a long day to frame your new quiet, low-energy demeanor in a more neutral light.
- Do your best not to have body language that comes across as completely grumpy and exhausted.
- If possible, try to appear tuned into the group's conversation, even if you're not saying much.
- Chat to people at least a little, even if you're on autopilot. It may feel forced and fake, but that's preferable to seeming rude and disengaged.
- If it helps you stick it out, make it a social challenge to yourself to come across as if you're at least somewhat still interested in the outing.
If you don't think you'll be able to recover your mood, and it's an option, politely leave
If you're really done for the day, don't see your mood changing, and can't be bothered to put on a happy face, you can always take off early. I realize that's not always a possibility, but if it is make your polite excuses and head out. It can feel awkward to take off before everyone else and have to fend off their pleas to stay, but that's something you can get used to.