It's Okay To Be Less-Social, Be Quiet, Not Like Sports, And So On
"I'm just not a very social person. Is that okay?", "People are always saying I'm quiet. Is being reserved really that bad?", "I've always found sports boring. Is that so wrong?"
Many people doubt themselves for having socializing-related traits and preferences that differ from the norm. They feel conflicted and confused because they've received a steady drip of messages implying there's something off about them for feeling the way they do.
This article will go over many of these views and emphasize there's nothing inherently wrong with any of them, regardless of what some people may have told you. If any of the items below apply to you you've got a lot of company, even though you might have been made to feel like a weird outlier. Knowing you're not a broken toy may simply make you feel better. It may also help you decide what your real priorities are if you're trying to improve your social life.
While the sentiments I'll cover are intrinsically acceptable, anyone who holds them knows they can still get hassled for being less-conventional. I'll get into that later on.
Things it's okay to be
It's okay to be less-social than other people
People naturally vary in how social they are. Some have dozens of friends who they're constantly hanging out with or texting. Others have a lower drive to socialize, which can show in a variety of ways:
- They like to spend a lot of time alone. They're solitary by choice, not because they want to be around people more often, but can't.
- They have solo hobbies they enjoy more than being with people.
- When they do socialize they're happy to do it in smaller doses.
- They're content to have a smaller number of friends.
- They're choosier about who they want to hang out with.
Many of their peers don't understand this, and slap less-social people with a number of negative stereotypes. This is particularly true in many Western countries, where the ideal is to be a social butterfly.
It's okay to be quiet and reserved
It's okay to be quieter on the whole, and it's okay to be quieter than usual in particular conversations. It's okay if your style is to hold back a bit when meeting someone new. Not everyone gets it. Every quiet person knows what it's like to be sitting back with a group of friends, happily taking in the discussion, when someone says, "You're so quiet. Is something wrong?" Quiet people might also be seen as shy or unfriendly.
Sure, sometimes people are quiet due to discomfort and inhibitions, but often they're that way by choice. There's no rule saying every person needs to be equally as talkative as the next. Some people prefer to hang back and listen. Just because they aren't constantly saying something doesn't mean they can't be a good person in other ways, or make an impact when they do speak. Again, the idea that everyone should be super-talkative, and if they aren't it means they're troubled or defective, is a very Western attitude. In some cultures being quiet and reserved is seen as a sign of politeness, wisdom, and maturity.
Even people who are usually chatty are going to be quiet sometimes. Maybe they're in a low-energy mood, or they have something on their mind. They may be in a group conversation where everyone is talking about a topic they're not that interested in or can't contribute to, and they'd prefer to stay silent until the subject changes.
It's okay to get drained quickly in social situations
A lot of people have gotten flak over the years for wanting to leave a party early, or for looking tired and out of it during the fourth hour of being at a bar. "You're going home already?!? Aren't you having fun?", "Why did she take off? It's not even midnight. What's her problem?" For a variety of reasons many people get depleted by social interaction more easily than others. It doesn't automatically mean they didn't like the socializing they were doing. They just can't do it as long. It's like having a smaller appetite. Just because someone gets full more quickly doesn't mean they didn't enjoy what they were eating.
It's okay not to like everyone you meet
For some of us it takes a lot to want to get to know someone better. We may meet a group of people and not be particularly keen to hang out with any of them again. As long as you're not rude about it, is it really a problem? The societal ideal is someone who's friendly and loves everyone, and tries to find the best in each and every person they talk to. That's hardly a horrible way to be, but someone shouldn't feel like they're broken, or using overly-high standards to hide from intimacy, just because they don't fit that description. It's okay to think, "Wow, this guy's self-absorbed and annoying. I don't need to try to discover his inner beauty."
It's okay not to like small talk
Small talk can be tedious. A lot of people feel that way about it, but sometimes when someone says they hate it out loud they're made to feel like a misanthropic grump who can't accept how to world works. There's nothing wrong with not enjoying every aspect of socializing equally. Small talk often isn't that bad, and it does have its purposes, but I think it's safe to say very few people would sign up to have a four-hour conversation of only surface-level fluff.
It's okay not to like forced socializing events like office parties
Like with small talk, a lot of people tolerate rather than enjoy events where they're obligated to mingle and act chummy with a bunch of people they're not especially interested in socializing with. But if they admit they'd rather skip that office Christmas party or family reunion, they can be made to feel like they're anti-social jerks. Someone isn't a monster just because they feel there are things they'd rather do than go to a banquet hall and make strained chit chat with the HR manager about how her home renovations are coming along.
It's okay to prefer more low key types of socializing
Another Western idea is that the best, most fun type of socializing is when everyone is partying in a big group. Think of beer commercials that show a hundred people at a cottage, or movie montages that show a 'fun night out' involving a bunch of friends drinking and club hopping. People who are into lower key activities can be made to feel like they're stodgy and boring. But really, not everyone is a party animal. If someone likes partying, all the power to them, but there's nothing wrong with thinking it would be more fun to stay in with a few friends and watch a movie.
It's okay to not like getting wasted
Especially when people are in their late teens and early twenties there's a lot of direct and indirect pressure to drink a ton. It's not that everyone's a drunkard. Statistics always show that most college students are pretty moderate in their alcohol intake, if they drink at all. It's that there's a vocal, visible minority of heavy drinkers who can create the impression that everyone but you loves getting hammered every weekend. I don't think there's anything wrong with getting drunk here and there, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.
It's okay to not like team sports
Society can assume everyone loves team sports. People who don't care about them are sometimes made to feel like they're freaks. They got a hard time in school when they weren't enthusiastic about being forced to play baseball in gym class, or when they didn't want to run to the basketball net every recess. When someone asks them if they saw the game last night, or who their favorite team is, they think, "Here we go again. I'm going to tell them I'm not a big sports person, and they're going to look at me like I'm a mutant, and then the conversation will peter out." Every non-team sports fan also knows it usually doesn't work to try to fake an interest or skate by on the smattering of knowledge they do have, or try to gain back some cred by talking about an individual sport they follow. Nope, if they're not into team sports then the damage is done.
Generally men are under more pressure to be into team sports. They're seen as a stereotypically masculine interest. That doesn't mean women aren't affected as well. For example, a female high school student may join a bunch of teams to try to fit in, when she'd really rather pursue other hobbies. A woman who works at an office may be expected to get excited about the playoffs alongside everyone else, when she couldn't care less.
If you're one of these people who's indifferent to team sports, realize there are more of you out there than you may think. They may even by right under your nose. The problem is a lot of people are ashamed of their supposedly abnormal lack of interest in sports so they don't go out of their way to advertise it.
It's okay not to like other popular things
Doesn't matter what that popular thing is, whether it's an activity like clubbing or a new entertainer or TV show you can't see the appeal of. Everyone's got their own tastes. If you don't like something popular it doesn't mean you're uptight, out of touch, or destined to forever feel estranged from society.
It's okay to have quirky, esoteric interests
If someone's into golf no one gives it a second thought, but if a person says they're into studying subway systems many people think less of them. They assume only someone who's awkward and maladjusted would have a hobby like that. Jokes about the autism spectrum may get thrown around. Again, everyone's into different things. Just because an interest is more obscure doesn't mean it's inherently worse than a more common one.
It's okay to have a quirky personality
Like with several other items in this article, society often confuses 'doesn't have mass appeal' with 'intrinsically bad'. Someone may be odd and eccentric, and their behavior may not appeal to everyone, but that doesn't mean it's aberrant. Yeah, some 'weird' behavior is clearly pointless and socially inappropriate, but often what people label as 'weird' is just different from their own style.
It's okay to feel shy, anxious, and awkward around people
What I mean with this point is that while most people wouldn't choose to be shy or awkward, it doesn't make someone a terrible person or a failure if feel uncomfortable around others at times. Everyone has their shy moments.
It's okay to have less-common life goals
This point is broader. Taking a less-mainstream path through life can lead to lots of friction and little judgments day to day. That doesn't mean you're doing something wrong though.
- It's okay if you don't want to get married.
- It's okay if you don't want kids.
- It's okay if you're only looking for a committed long-term relationship and don't want to casually date around and sow your wild oats first.
- It's okay if you don't ever see yourself settling down with one person.
- It's okay if your career isn't that important to you.
- It's okay if you want to be a stay-at-home parent.
- It's okay if you don't care about money, as long as your basic expenses are covered.
- It's okay if realize your family is toxic, and decide not to make them a big part of your adult life.
While all the things above are inherently okay, and you shouldn't feel like you're flawed for experiencing any of them, they can obviously cause more practical social problems. While it's important to start from a place of feeling confident and self-accepting about your personality, just because you're self-assured doesn't mean everything about your social life will neatly fall into place. Life's not an uplifting family movie. However, knowing these issues are the result of a mismatch between your preferences and societal norms, rather than because of a flaw you have, will likely influence how you deal with them.
Your differences may get in the way of your social goals
I'll give a bunch of examples:
- A college student may be at peace with the fact they're a lone wolf, but acknowledge that their social skills are a little underdeveloped because they've spent so much time alone.
- Someone may accept they're quiet, but realize they'd have an easier time making friends if they could be more talkative in certain situations.
- A woman may get drained by socializing easily, but wish she could last longer when she went out with her friends.
- Someone dislikes and avoids small talk to the point where it gets in the way of them connecting with new people.
- A guy may not beat himself up for having esoteric interests, but admits it would be simpler to meet people if he had some more mainstream hobbies as well.
- A man might be content with not liking drinking and sports, but that doesn't stop some guys from unfairly writing him off, without getting to know him better.
You may accept you're a certain way, but the social world is what it is, and people with certain preferences and personality types are going to have an easier time in it than others. As I've written about elsewhere, when faced with these impediments one option is to be pragmatic and try to adapt to the world in little ways. Another is to aim to be true to yourself and try to carve out your own niche, and not worry about pleasing everybody. Everyone can find a balance that suits them.
You can get crap for going against the grain
This article has pretty much already covered this point. When people do things that go against the societally agreed-upon template they can get a hard time for it. They're hit with negative stereotypes and generally misunderstood. They may be seen as broken, maladjusted, intentionally hostile and difficult, or even dangerous and subversive.
Even if you're different in an acceptable way, you can still express it badly
There's a difference between someone who doesn't like small talk, but who will be pleasant enough if they run into a neighbor in the elevator vs. someone who acts huffy and put-upon every time a co-worker makes a comment about the morning's traffic, and who loves to rant about how everyone who likes casual chit chat is a mindless sheep. Another example is someone who's picky about who they want to be friends with. It wouldn't be okay for them to arrogantly act as if they thought everyone was beneath them. If you're different that's alright, but don't package it in a blatantly off-putting way.
Being irritated at being misunderstood can lead to its own set of problems
Sometimes you'll come across someone who's less-social and less-mainstream, and who is so sick of being misunderstood that they've developed a chip on their shoulder. If everyone had accepted and respected them to begin they'd be cheerful, but the world has created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and now they fit the misanthropic stereotype they were saddled with.
Their resentful attitude isn't their fault. Their complaints are justified. The self-fulfilling prophecy is unfair and twisted. Still, I'd say those actual bitter feelings are a legitimate problem. It does no one any good to be stuck in that headspace.
Even if you're okay with being a certain way, there may be some baggage behind it
I think everyone should make their own choices about how they socialize. But I also think it's important that they do it from a place of self-awareness. Because of the disapproval some people get from society they can get really mixed up as to what they want in the social world.