If there’s one thing that makes me want to turn into a giant wind-up-teeth-chatter-with-feet toy, it’s going to social events or parties by myself. Entering a room that’s filled with strangers, without a friend or my S.O. by my side, instantly makes me want to crawl into a shell and call out sick from life.
If this resonates with you, that means you came to the right place (and also, email me. Let’s hang). While bringing a plus-one to a social event is completely fine and dandy, it’s important to know how you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and go by yourself.
The good news: a lot of people (and I mean a lot) don’t really like going to social gatherings by themselves. Heather Glubo, the director of behavioral medicine at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, believes this happens because we tend to associate stress with meeting new people. “It’s not unusual for people to feel anxious or uncomfortable when it comes to being sociable at events. They may be distracted by internal negative self-judgments or panic when having to socialize with [people who are] outside of their comfort zone,” says Glubo. “When we panic, we automatically enter into a fight-or-flight response, which makes it hard for us to think rationally and non-judgmentally. We might have thoughts like: I have nothing interesting to share or those people seem more interesting/attractive/smart/etc. than me — why should I even bother? When we hear this negative internal voice, it keeps us from connecting with others, which in turn, [strengthens] our negative beliefs about ourselves.”
Allowing that negative voice to dictate our actions is never going to get us far. While we might feel safe, we’re preventing ourselves from meeting new people and exploring new opportunities. So to prevent our inner crabs from staying in their shells, I connected with Glubo to provide a step-by-step guide on how to be social for your next event or party you have to attend. And no, you’re not allowed to bring a plus-one.
Step 1: Pump yourself up!
Have you ever watched that scene from the movie Booksmart where Beanie Feldstein’s character, Molly, listens to an inspirational audio recording of someone telling her to visualize her success? Well, that’s exactly what you need to do. Pumping yourself up right before an event will help you break that negative self-talk cycle and stop yourself from wanting to cancel last-minute. “Research has shown that repeating self-affirmations for positive self-statements can bolster and increase feelings self-worth,” Glubo explains.
Step 2: Be mindful
There’s no time like the present, right? While you can easily worry about all the things that could go wrong, why don’t you think about all the things that could go right instead? Glubo suggests completing a few mindful exercises before you go to events to help break that anxiety-induced thought pattern and to “give [you] a nonjudgmental vantage point.”
What are some mindful exercises you can complete? I’m so glad you asked. According to Healthline, you can go for a walk, do a small meditation practice, or set an intention before you head out the door. These tricks won’t take that long and provide exactly what you need: a peaceful state of mind.
Step 3: Take a deep breath
How we breathe can dictate everything we feel and think. And the slower we breathe, the more in-tune we can be to our thoughts and feelings. “[C]onsider taking some deep breaths before entering the event and even during a conversation,” Glubo says. “Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep breathing, is a way to combat physiological symptoms of anxiety, which can help alleviate our level of discomfort, and in turn, negative thinking.”
Step 4: Set goals
Sometimes we panic before an event because we don’t know how things will turn out. We place too much control in the hands of strangers and forget that we can actually control the outcome of our outing. One of the best ways to do this is by setting a few personal/networking goals of what you’d like to accomplish for the night. “Setting goals can be helpful when we are looking to actively stay social all night — maybe aim to meet five new people or have three meaningful conversations. It may sound contrived, but goals can help us stay on track (either to create deeper connections or keep us engaged for longer),” Glubo explains.
When you arrive…
Step 5: Make eye contact with others and stand in the center of the room
Did even the thought of doing this step freak you out? Yeah, me too. But while we wish everyone and their mom will approach us to start a conversation, this might not happen so easily when you’re far away from everyone in the room. “When people are nervous, many of them resort to safety behaviors to reduce their anxiety,” Glubo says. “Examples of this may be: keeping your eyes glued to your phone, bringing a friend with you and not leaving their side, [and] staying on the outskirts of the room. Although it feels ‘safer,’ this leads to it being harder for others to interact with us and may even signal to others that we don’t want them to approach us.”
Step 6: Find a group that is open to having new company join them
Going to a party or an event can be scary because once you arrive, it seems like everyone knows each other. If this is true for your event, don’t panic. Glubo suggests to “try standing next to a group of people who appear to be open to having others join the conversation. (They may be standing slightly apart and occasionally glancing around the room).”
Once you notice there’s a small break in the discussion, try to wiggle yourself into the conversation. She mentions that you can say things like: “I couldn’t help but overhear that…” or ask, “Do you mind if I join you?” Then, once you’re in, feel free to introduce yourself. “[S]ay your name and what brought you to the event (how you are connected to the event/[person] and what your goal is if you are looking to network). Ask questions and listen to what others are telling you about themselves. Make eye contact and mirror their body language to show engagement in the conversation,” Glubo continues. “If we wait for others to approach us, we relinquish our control of the situation and might not meet others.”
Step 7: Remind yourself that you being there alone is a positive thing
While it’s incredibly scary to go up to strangers and introduce yourself without a plus-one, you may be able to enjoy yourself more if you look at the positive side of your solo adventure. “There are upsides to being at an event without a plus-one: you can navigate the room independently, you get to decide who to speak with and for how long, [you can] be able to leave when you’ve had enough and not have to take care of or check-in with another person,” Glubo says. “Just because others brought a date [or a friend] doesn’t make us less than and it doesn’t mean those people are in a fulfilling and deeply committed relationship [or friendships]. People and couples come to events and parties to socialize, so get to it!”
Step 8: Be mindful of your limit
Even though you’re putting yourself out there only for a couple of hours, it can take a toll on your psyche and energy levels when this is something that you normally don’t do. Throughout the night, it’s important to check in with yourself to see how you feel.
“Know yourself and how you feel during and after socializing. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? If you feel wiped after attending an event, then pace yourself. For some, taking a break might be essential,” Glubo says. “If you gain energy from interacting with others, then circulate the room and continue to look for those who are alone or seem open to socializing.” Doing this will help you understand yourself better, so you can better prepare for your next social event (because you know there will be a next one!).
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re a badass. Putting yourself out there isn’t easy and you deserve an ice cream cone or a glass of wine (or both). Remember, though, not every social outing has to be perfect. As long as you set your goals, pump yourself up, and remind yourself that you deserve to be there, then you’ll be just fine!