If having a looming social commitment ushers in dread, anxiety, and a fear of rejection, make gradual changes—one invite at a time.
By Susan Reinhardt
I love people. Well, most of them. Enjoying a meal and laughter with good friends paints a whole new coat of joy on my outlook. Stewing alone at home does no favors for my depression and anxiety.
But here’s the kicker: When someone asks too far in advance if I’d like to do something, I completely lose my head with dread. I’m partial to the quote, “No plan is better than a canceled plan.”
Somehow having a looming social commitment flips my anxiety switch. I have too much time to brood about painful possibilities. What if I say or do the wrong thing? What if they find me awkward or don’t accept me? All the worries and woes that stem from rejection back in junior high school.
This is not a trait I embrace, and it’s one I’m trying to gradually change—one invite at a time. Requests for my company have declined as a result of my phobia, and losing friends is too high a price to pay.
This fear makes it really hard to make new friends, too. Like when I had a book signing at a swanky country club near my home. The room sparkled with literary types, hawking their charms and wares from the podium while the audience enjoyed their beverages of choice at black-cloaked tables.
My husband and I had retreated to the far back—another one of my escapist stress mechanisms. When a lovely woman about my age and her husband sat down at “our” table, she and I hit it off as if we’d known each other for years.
I scribbled down my contact information. We became Facebook friends. Next thing I knew, she’d asked me to join her for a Girl’s Day Out—lunch downtown and possible pedicures. The date she inked for the proposed outing stretched an entire month into the future.
“I’d love to go, but I have to work that day,” I fudged.
Somehow having a looming social commitment flips my anxiety switch. I have too much time to brood about painful possibilities.
I’ve always been good at concocting excuses to avoid or get out of plans: “I need to write.” “My daughter is in town.” This time I actually called my boss and volunteered for a shift, just so I wouldn’t have to spend a day getting beautified and fortified with this wonderful woman who was simply wanting to pursue our acquaintance.
Feeling guilty for cancelling, I offered her a complete makeover free of charge at the cosmetics counter where I worked as a freelance makeup artist. She accepted, of course—who wouldn’t?
It went pretty well. We hugged when she arrived, we chatted as I wrought my magic on her, we took a “selfie” of her new look … and then I panicked when she wanted to go grab lunch. I couldn’t stomach the idea of spending a freeform hour or two with someone I don’t know well.
She’s still hoping to schedule our Girl’s Day. I have yet to confirm because getting together with a potential new friend is, for me, as nerve-wracking as going on a first date with a romantic prospect would be for someone else.
My solution for socializing with the friends I have used to be same-day spontaneity. “Text me if you want to do something,” I’d say, finding more comfort in being the instigator.
My M.O. of late is to be honest about my dilemma with people I trust, and to enjoy spending time with those people. As I write this piece, my phone is buzzing with text messages from a gal pal: “Want to go with me to yoga tonight? And grab a bite afterwards?”
Bingo! She gave me just a few hours’ heads-up—enough time so that I’m not scrambling to get ready, but not so much that I fret myself into a lather.
I’ve gotten to the point where I can at least commit a few days out. Sure, the anxiety rushes in. But like the ocean tides, it eventually retreats, giving me time to breathe and tell myself, “You can do this. You need to do this.”
I’ve learned that it helps to make plans for activities I truly love, such as yoga or hiking or dinner at a new restaurant with a close friend who “gets” my hang-ups. I’m reminding myself that for every “yes,” for every commitment I keep, I feel a sense of growth and fortify my social network.
I can do this.
Printed as “The Best Laid Plans”, Winter 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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