There’s nothing quite like the existential dread of arriving to a party after your friends have already settled in.
Although riding separately often makes geographic sense, one mere traffic hiccup can unlock a bevy of additional feels: You’re going to have to walk into the party alone and fight your way through the crowd until you find your crew. You’ll feel everyone’s eyes on you, surely pitying the fact that you look like a lost cat.
These feelings can extend to a number of social events if attended alone, like going to the movies or a concert solo. A 2015 report in the “Journal of Consumer Research” stated that anticipated negative judgment from strangers can prevent people from partaking in such activities alone. When there’s a world of restaurants and performances worth enjoying sans company, how do we overcome the association that flying solo may warrant unwanted attention? How do we move past it?
“We don’t have the distraction of another person,” says Sophia Dembling, author of “The Introvert’s Way.” “Sitting alone, looking at everybody, you’re projecting that they’re all looking at you as well. People are usually not thinking about us.”
Much of the fun (and potential horror) of social situations can be that so much is left up to chance.
While it’s human nature to suspect that people are staring at us, especially during moments of uncertainty, we’re also social beings, so combining our hunches that we’re being watched and judged in the absence of a group can create a perfect storm for self-consciousness. In fact, this describes our brains acting naturally—not that people are secretly mocking us for not having friends.
“We are programmed to be in a group and we are programmed to think we have to impress other people,” says confidence coach and human behavior expert Jo Emerson, “but we really don’t—this is a cultural myth.”
Luckily, there are ways to build confidence when entering crowded situations:
1. Take control of what you can
Because much of the fun (and potential horror) of social situations can be that so much is left up to chance—the line to get into the venue or bar is unspeakably long or you can’t find a friend in a crowded room—it can be helpful to take advantage of what you can steer. For instance, wear clothes that you won’t have to constantly adjust and in which you feel like yourself—this can help combat self-consciousness, Dembling says. So, too, does determining how you get acclimated to the event. If you’re attending a few holiday parties without a plus one, it may be helpful to get there early before the room fills up, which can make it easier to approach new people.
“When it comes to parties, some introverts want to get to the party early before people get there to get comfortable and chat with the host,” Dembling says. “I, on the other hand, like to get to the party a little later when people are already distracted. So I try to get in there and get a drink and take my time becoming comfortable in the space before I start interacting.”
Jodi Aman, counselor and author of “You 1 Anxiety 0: Win Back Your Life From Fear And Panic,” suggests that just identifying the things that give you anxiety about social situations can help one feel more in control.
2. Set a time limit
One of the easiest things to control is the duration of time spent at an event. Walking in knowing you can leave at any moment—or staying longer than you’d planned—can be empowering; the beauty is that you can change your mind and hit the road at any time.
“It’s a lot easier to say yes to things if you assure yourself that when you’ve had enough you can leave,” says Dembling.
3. Be curious
Aman suggests using a highly attuned capacity for observation as an advantage. “You’re up in your head thinking ‘Everyone’s looking at me,’ but if you actually watch people, you realize that everyone is in their own world,” she says.
People-watching can easily transition into an introduction.
By surveying the room, you can confirm that no one has noticed you’re attending a concert alone, and you might catch some interesting interactions from afar, too. People-watching can easily transition into an introduction: Emerson suggests breaking the ice with honesty and interest can help elicit a positive reaction.
“Entering a social situation alone is tough, so I would advise approaching someone and saying, ‘I’m here alone, can I join you?’” Emerson says. “Once the ice is broken, focus on the person you are with—ask them about themselves and relate when you can. Other people love talking about themselves so you will be on safe ground if you ask questions.”
4. Fake it
When all else fails, fake it ‘til you make it. “The more confident you pretend to be, the more at ease you put other people, so it begins this cycle of comfort building for everybody,” Dembling says.
Especially during the holiday season, when families and extended networks of people with varying backgrounds, perspectives, and opinions gather, putting on a brave face can help trick you into manifesting real confidence. If you think of it as a performance, the character you’ve embodied can become second nature.
5. Get out of your own head
There’s some solace in accepting that most people have walked into a packed room, eyes darting, looking for a familiar face. And even if you trip and fall making your way from the concession stand to your seat in the movie theater, chances are the people who witnessed it will likely forget about it within moments. To get out of a negative spiral, Aman recommends countering thoughts with practicality—no one is judging me right now—and to avoid trying to “figure it out” when it comes to why you feel anxious.
Additionally, Emerson suggests savoring the time alone and how putting it into perspective can allow you to enjoy the moment.“People may even be envious that you get some ‘you time’.”
Artwork by SAMANTHA F. WILLIAMS