It's Very Tricky To Know What You Want Socially
Each person has their own social goals and should be free to pursue them, even if not everyone gets them. One shy person may want to try to become more confident and outgoing. Another may decide they're happy how they are, and try to find ways to do their own thing and not be hassled for it.
The problem is there's so much baggage in our culture about socializing that it's often hard for people to have an accurate sense of what they want. You'd think someone would have no problems knowing themselves, but in my experience that's not the case. I've come across people who said they wanted one thing, but it was blatantly obvious they were fooling themselves.
Maybe it's impossible to be 100% in touch with what you want, and be free of interfering influences. In the end we just have to weigh all the factors, make a choice, and course correct if it turns out we went down the wrong path. Hopefully the information below will give you more to think about and help you come to a better-informed decision.
There are two ways people can not know what they want socially. There are factors that can make someone think they want to change in some way socially, when deep down they really don't care about it. There are also many factors that can make someone think they don't value some aspect of socializing, when they really do.
Things that can make someone mistakenly think they want to change
The theme in these is what society tells people about the value of socializing.
Buying into the ubiquitous message that being sociable is important
Society tells everyone that being sociable and improving your social skills is a good thing, and that have bad interpersonal skills is a problem. It's not an evil conspiracy. That's just what most people think. I mean, there are plenty of upsides to being socially savvy.
These messages may come directly from other people, or through more indirect sources like books or movies. Even when competing messages appear, they still implicitly reinforce what the dominant view is. You can't take it in a dissenting opinion without your mind automatically calling up what it's standing against.
Even if someone really doesn't care much about a facet of socializing deep down, after being bombarded with messages that it's important, they may come to believe it. They may then spend years trying to attain a personality and lifestyle that's not a good fit for them.
This point is about values toward socializing, but a similar thing can happen with other societal conventions. Like a guy may absorb messages he's defective for not caring about cars, then try to force himself to get into them.
Wanting to avoid rejection
Being ostracized from a group hurts on a primal level. Nobody likes that feeling, and we'll often try to go along with what the group wants to avoid it in the future. What I'm talking about here is when someone makes an unconscious decision to change in order to ward off rejection. If someone purposely, pragmatically decides to change to avoid being rejected, you could say they know what they want. If they make the choice without realizing it, then they may be going against what they truly care about.
Wanting to win over the people who rejected them
It's human nature to want acceptance and approval. If someone's been given a hard time for being socially different, sometimes they can fall into a mindset where they want to prove themselves to the people who rejected them and gain their acceptance. They think if they can do that it will erase or balance out the sting of being ostracized earlier in life. They may unconsciously believe, "If I can just become more like the kind of sociable people who rejected me, and get them to like me, then everything will work out." Having this mentality also involves buying into the societal message that the type of person who you want approval from is "good" or "better" than you. Setting off on this quest can take someone further and further from what's really important to them.
Factors that can make people mistakenly think they don't want something socially
There are a quite a few of these, and many of them are very legitimate and apply to a lot of people who think they don't care about their social skills. The main idea behind these them is that some people can rack up so many negative experiences that they conclude they don't like aspects of the social world.
The points below could be said to fall under a more general philosophy. I'm not saying this philosophy is right or wrong, but it goes like this: "Everyone has the ability to enjoy socializing deep down. It's inherently rewarding. If someone thinks they don't like it that's because of their baggage, not anything wrong with socializing itself. If they gave it more of a chance they'd like it. They don't know what they're missing."
Some aspects of socializing people may believe they aren't interested in are:
- The concept of socializing as a whole
- Certain activities such as making small talk, or going to parties
- Hanging around certain types of people
- The idea that they'll ever enjoy certain interests that often come up in social settings, such as dancing or drinking
If someone is under the grip of a strong unpleasant mood, and they feel they want or don't want something, I have a hard time saying it's the "real them" making that decision. Their emotions are getting in the way of their normal thought process, and skewing their priorities and the way they look at the world.
The symptoms of anxiety are very uncomfortable, and our minds will take us in all kinds of directions to avoid it. If something makes us anxious we'll often coming up with reasonable-sounding explanations for why we don't like and don't want to do it, when it's really all due to nerves. For example, someone may tell themselves they don't like going to parties because they're boring, when they actually make them feel keyed up and out of their element.
At other times we're put off of something not because we have anything against that thing it itself, but because it's linked to something else that does make us a little jittery. For example, someone may be fine with a certain hobby, but are ill at ease around the types of people they'd have to interact with if they did it. They just think they dislike the hobby.
If something has caused someone anxiety for long enough, especially if it's medium to strong in intensity, they may also come to despise it for the pain it causes them.
When people get even a little depressed they start to see things in a more negative way. A depressed mood can also cause people to socially isolate themselves. They may start to believe that their friends suck and that hanging out with them is a waste of time. They might start to lose their self-confidence, and not want to be around anyone for that reason ("I suck. I have nothing to offer. I'll just screw up somehow.")
Sometimes people are depressed for so long that they come to believe their thoughts, feelings, and preferences are coming from their "true self" or core personality, when they're really just chronic mood disorder symptoms. If they start to come out of their depression they can find their outlook totally changes.
Lack of skill, familiarity, or experience with socializing
These points argue that a reason people may not like socializing is because they don't know enough about it to see that it's actually worthwhile.
Never having enough good experiences with socializing yet
Sometimes I think of younger people who are sure they don't like socializing. Then I think about how their only experiences with it so far may have been with the jerks at their high school, their mean-spirited siblings, their overbearing parents, and their critical, uptight teachers. Who's to say a whole new world won't open up for them once they go to college and meet some friends who are more their style?
Not yet having the skills to be able to enjoy socializing
Some things you'll like right away, and enjoy even as a bumbling beginner. Socializing isn't always like this. If someone doesn't have a good foundation of skills they may not have the tools to "unlock" its fulfilling parts. For example, for someone who's inhibited around people and who doesn't have the ability to take a conversation in interesting directions, talking to someone may be a stilted, boring affair. If they became better at conversation they'd probably like it much more.
Of course, you could say this about a lot of things and, "You may have fun eventually" is not a reason to take up every pastime or learn about every subject. A pragmatic perspective would be that socializing isn't as avoidable as a lot of hobbies, and learning enough about it to reach the "This is rewarding now" stage may be worth the trouble.
Being unpracticed enough that being social is mentally draining
One way being around people may be unrewarding is that it can make your brain hurt. You feel uncomfortably drained after making conversation for an hour or two. This could partially be because you're not skilled enough yet, so your mental resources are completely taxed when you interact with people. With more time a lot of the internal processes that now require so much of your energy will start to operate effortlessly in the background, and you'll be able to think more quickly, not become as depleted, and enjoy yourself more.
Not yet having a tolerance for the annoying aspects of socializing
There are many parts of socializing that are irritating or illogical. If you're newer to it the annoying parts may stand out to you more than anything, and that's what may be putting you off. If you're not used to them they may catch you off guard as well. With more experience, and a realistic idea of what to expect, those aspects may stop irking you as much, allowing you to take in the good stuff.
A rigid, poor self-image
Sometimes people want to change their social skills on some level, but they've also come to believe that they're losers, or not capable of improving in that area. The idea that they could become more socially savvy or less-lonely doesn't seem possible. If they take steps to change, their mind may tell them, "Who are you kidding? You're not the type of person who's meant to have many friends. Don't even bother. You don't really want this."
An identity as someone who's not into socializing
However it starts, some people base their identities and self-esteem around the fact that they don't like certain aspects of socializing. Even if part of them wants to change, they may be reluctant to give up their self-image. For example, they may see themselves as a refined intellectual who's above empty, casual conversation.
An identity as a misunderstood victim
Some people may want to improve socially, but have also constructed an ego-salving narrative that the reason they don't currently have any relationships is because they're too amazing for all the small-minded idiots to appreciate. When they keep to themselves they don't have to challenge this view. Getting out there may force them to admit it's not true.
Wanting to avoid discomfort
Someone may think they don't want to improve their social skills when they really just want to avoid the discomfort that might involve.
General fear of leaving their comfort zone
Even if you believe it's a good thing, trying to improve your social skills will take you out of your comfort zone, or your cozy little rut. Even if we're not totally happy with the status quo, comfort and predictability is hard to give up.
Not wanting to put in the effort
Improving your social skills takes time and work. You have to put yourself in new, possibly discouraging, situations, take time out of your schedule to be around people more, do research, analyze what you did right and wrong after the fact, and so on.
Wanting to avoid fresh new hassles
Improving your social skills and making friends changes your lifestyle. It may bring up a totally new set of problems and irritations that you haven't had to deal with before. Like whereas before you may not have had to worry about making plans, because you never had any, now you have to put up with friends who are unreliable.
Not wanting to bruise their ego
When you're trying to improve your social skills you're going to experience failure and rejection at times. No one likes that and may preemptively try to avoid it. Working on your social skills also involves dwelling on areas you may not like about yourself. Normally you can opt out of thinking about that stuff. When you're actively working on a problem you have to swim around in all those thoughts.
Feeling discouraged and frustrated
People often will decide they dislike some aspect of socializing if every time they try it, it ends in failure, and all the joys that come with that, such as feeling unskilled, rejected, left out, etc.
Disliking what makes them feel incompetent
Disliking what you're not good at in other words. This is also something everyone does to one degree or another. Failing at something doesn't feel great. It hurts our self-esteem. It creates negative associations. If we're not successful at something, and our sense of self-worth depends at least a little on being good at it, we may start to develop an aversion to it. For example, someone may start to hate group conversations if everytime they're in one they find they don't have the skills to make themselves heard and prevent being talked over.
Disliking something because of one bad experience
Sometimes we're put off of something because there was one clear, memorable occasion where we had a bad experience with it (or a handful of bad experiences, same idea). For example, someone may conclude they don't like clubbing because they went out one night, to a venue that totally wasn't their style, and which had an awful crowd.
Rejecting what they think they can't have
This is a pretty common defense mechanism. If someone cares about something deep down, but decides they're unlikely to get it, they may tell themselves, and everyone else, they don't really want it anyway. For example, an unconventional woman may think she hates the idea of having female friends, because she doesn't believe other women could ever accept her.
Resentment and bitterness
People sometimes don't like certain aspects of socializing because they're closely tied to areas they're bitter about. Their resentful feelings tarnish their view of something that's fine on its own.
An aspect of socializing is associated with people they don't like
X isn't bad, but all the jerks or morons you hate do it. So you become against it. Part of you even feels that taking part now would be letting them "win" in way.
They're envious of the people who take part in a social activity
This is similar to the above, except you dislike that aspect of socializing not because it's associated with people you dislike because they're jerks, but because you envy them.
They resent people for giving them a hard time over not being good at something
For example, some adults dislike team sports partially because they got a lot of crap for being bad at them when they were younger. They naturally resent the way they were made to feel, and carry a chip on their shoulder toward anything athletic. They bristle at the thought of taking part in any social event related to sports, like going to a pub to watch a game with some co-workers.
Resentment over constantly being pressured to do a particular social activity
Maybe you originally had nothing against a certain aspect of socializing, but you just weren't drawn to it. That was before half the people you knew kept prodding you to take part. Besides from that being annoying on its own, you also didn't like the implication that everyone thought you weren't good enough the way you were. Now you hold a grudge and don't want to get involved. For example, you have no interest in social drinking as an adult because in college everyone badgered you to get drunk all the time.
Resentment over the entire world seemingly being obsessed with something they don't care about
When we're indifferent toward some aspect of socializing, but everyone else's lives seem to revolve around it, it's easy to see how after a few years you could develop a healthy dose of bitterness. You'd just get sick of hearing about it, and constantly getting the unspoken message that it's one of the most important things in the world, and that anyone who doesn't care about it has something wrong with them. Drinking and partying works as an example here too.