Two summers ago, at a “house-cooling” in Brooklyn, I discovered the undeniable power of taking a break to read mid-party. The friends of friends who had called the apartment home throughout college were a group of aspiring poets, and boy, oh boy, did they make a point of making sure everyone in attendance knew they were among the next-gen of Walt Whitmans.
At one point in the night, I found myself sitting on the couch next to a wordsmith who had self-published his own collection of haikus just a month earlier. He placed a copy in my hands and the introvert inside of me swooned—and not in a “this poet is flirting with me!” way. Nope! I was just thrilled to have an excuse to read rather than continue my ruse as the gal who thrives in loquacious situations. The room hummed around me as I read poem after poem. It was the first time I can remember actually enjoying myself at a party.
I’ve since repeated this ritual at many a social engagement (networking events included!). If I’m spending QT with close friends or family, I give them my undivided attention. But asking an introvert to enter a room full of strangers and play nice is a lot like asking a penguin to fly—adorable. So whenever the sea of red cups and small talk makes the room feel claustrophobic, I go on a quest to find a bookshelf (or pull out the BYO option I pretty much always have in my purse).
I take my book to the bathroom (sitting in the bathtub is best, depending on the kind of company you keep) and give myself seven uninterrupted minutes with the heroine of a novel. On rare occasions, if I’m feeling emboldened or the bathroom is occupied, I take a seat right in the middle of the room. (Note: If you are at a work event, I would advise against taking a break where everyone can see you; find somewhere private to hide.) Usually, the whole process goes one of three ways for me.
Scenario 1: While I’m perusing the resident’s book collection, someone comes up to me and strikes up a conversation about Sylvia Plath, Roxane Gay, or another writer who has taken up residence on the bookshelf. (These literary conversations are the only kind throughout which I can camouflage as an extrovert.)
Scenario 2: I find a place to sit with my title of choice until my time is up. Then I usually feel recharged enough to stick around for a bit longer.
Scenario 3: Scenario 2 happens… except I’m having a really nice time reading. So I go home and read some more. (LOL.)
To make sure I’m not the absolute worst person for taking me-time in situations that are inherently social though, I asked an expert to weigh in. “The TL; DR version: Yes, it’s okay to need a break if you really like being there and you just need some peace, or a quick rest from social anxiety,” says Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a psychologist in the Chicago area. “If you just don’t know anybody, you’re really brave for going. Use food, drinks, books, music, or the dog as conversation starters and recognize that if people are resistant, they just might not be the right people or the right party.”
If the people you’re spending the weekend with don’t understand that you just need a time-out with some ink on paper, then you’re not likely to want to get lit with them anyway. Am I right or am I right?
If you’re looking for books to add to your to-be-read stack, here are a few that will help you deal with social anxiety and a few more of our favorites.
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