One thing I used to find particularly difficult after coming out of serious, long term relationships was the awkwardness of being single at parties, dinners, and other social occasions.
A partner by your side for social occasions is comforting when you hardly know anyone else in the room. You always have one another to communicate with regardless of how well you get along with anyone else there.
One of my long-term partners was an intelligent man with a fantastic general knowledge – he could quite literally talk to anyone about anything, regardless of age, social stature, or other perceived barriers. He had no trouble at all sitting down at a dinner table and striking up conversation, or opening up a group and meeting people at parties. At the time I was a poor communicator, shy, and socially awkward. I tended to wait until he broke the ice with a group and then wander in and meet people that way. I had always taken his knack with people for granted until the relationship ended. Suddenly, I was attending parties and dinners as a single woman!
Going out single was a culture shock, to say the least. Having been in a relationship for most of my adult life, I found it very difficult to go out and connect with other people without my partner as my social buffer. I came to the harsh realisation that I had no idea how to approach a group, communicate something of value, and be accepted into the group without feeling like a complete idiot. I was also too terrified of being rejected than to even try.
I endured many awkward moments where conversations would just trail off into cricket-chirping silence. For a while there I had an unmatched ability to put my foot in my mouth or say something completely inane during the course of conversation that would make me cringe in hindsight. I lost count of the times I thought I may just be the most socially incompetent person on the face of this planet, but I kept putting myself out there. I kept trying.
I started to educate myself on how to communicate, and thought more about my interactions with people. The more I practiced, the better I got at initiating and maintaining conversations. Slowly but surely, I began to lose some of that social awkwardness. I began looking forward to social occasions where I wouldn’t know people rather than dreading them, viewing them as a great opportunity to meet new people. My mindset changed. “Thank god I got through that alive” became “That was so much fun! I made some great new friends tonight!”
Stepping outside your comfort zone is tough. The first few times you make the effort to improve your social life, you will probably suck at it. It doesn’t matter. Stick with it and keep trying. I know I had some spectacular fails. Improving your social skills is just like learning any new skill – it takes practice and persistence to get to a level of competency.
The next time you are out alone and are feeling a tad awkward, pay attention to other people’s body language. You will be able to tell who is also feeling shy and uncomfortable. Go up to those people and initiate a conversation. It is much easier and less threatening to begin a conversation with one person than it is to crack a tight-knit group. Most of the time, these people will be grateful to you for rescuing them from social solitude and awkwardness too. This also gives you a base for approaching a group they happen to be in later on, and it’s much easier to gain the acceptance of a group if you already have that familiarity. Naturally, it also helps to have something to talk about. Brush up on what is happening in the world, observe your surroundings, look for common connections with the person, and read How to Become a Social Epicentre ;). If you happen to hit upon a subject they are passionate about, you won’t have to worry about having no one to talk to anymore – they’ll keep the conversation running on autopilot from then on!
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