The help desk: 'I'm a single mother in my forties and I dread any social event'
Q. I'm a single mother in my forties and I think I've begun to develop some kind of social phobia. People think of me as quite a confident person. I'm fine dealing with people in my work and at the school gate (I have two sons aged 11 and 14), but I dread any social event.
I usually like the idea of going out when the invitation arrives, but when the day comes around, I start to feel the dread and want to stay in with my boys. If I do go, for ages afterwards I go over what I've said and feel as though I've talked too much or said the wrong things – though friends have told me I generally come across as quiet and even a bit standoffish. Occasionally, I do have a good time – usually when I've got someone to go with (eg a friend – I've been single for six years). I really want to keep up with my friends but it all feels like such an effort. How can I be more sociable?
A. A friend of mine, when she got married a couple of years ago, issued plus-ones to all the single friends invited to her wedding. It was a generous gesture, and also, I thought, a perspicacious one. Does anyone really enjoy going to parties on their own? That giddy moment on the doorstep, stone-cold sober in your glad rags, when you're about to launch into the hubbub inside; the awkward times when you find yourself standing alone, feeling as conspicuous as a Belisha beacon, or you've simply worn out all your topics with the other lone partygoer, and there's no co-conspirator to whom you can signal for help or sidle up to with a refill.
A solo social life is not always easy. It might have been fun once, years ago, when you showed up in a chattering gang, behaved a little badly and then dissected it all the next day. But in middle age, all too often, it's a cautious dose of wine, a little mutual boasting about your children, then off home to see if you can catch the end of Newsnight.
So while you might be finding it difficult because of a newly developed social phobia, you're probably just finding it difficult because it is difficult. We tend to take it for granted when we're part of a couple, but working as a pair somehow dilutes you both, and diffuses the spotlight of social scrutiny. It sounds old-fashioned to say so, but even in the most boho of circles, coupledom oils the wheels of social interaction.
So, first off, I'd say that if you don't want to go out, then don't. Why go just for the sake of it? Your friends aren't going anywhere. I recently got reacquainted with a group of friends I hadn't seen for nigh-on 20 years and we all simply took up where we'd left off.
If an invitation sounds tempting, then ask if you can bring someone along, or if you know someone who's going, go with them – arrive with them, maybe even meet for a drink beforehand.
Failing that, team up with another solitary guest and stick with them. Good luck finding one, though: not a few will have already given in to the siren call of their sofas.
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