I never know how to write the first sentence for this kind of article because it always feels like I'm introducing myself in a support group.
"MY NAME IS ZARA, AND I HAVE SOCIAL ANXIETY." Nice to meet you. I'm the loner forever pouting in a pink dress.
So, yes. I have social anxiety.
But despite the ballerina dress, my anxiety is not the cute kind. Not the "Ooh, I just talk a little too much when I'm a bit nervous and whoops, I'm adorably klutzy!" kind of anxiety.
I always longed for that kind of charming social anxiety, the romantic comedy sort of anxiety. Think Zooey Deschanel wearing oversized spectacles and a vintage dress, rambling on too long because she's nervous, but the boy falls in love with her because of it.
Her anxiety only makes her more lovable and endearing because what's more lovable and endearing than a beautiful creature made accessible and human by having a few transparent flaws and insecurities?
My social anxiety is wildly unattractive. There is nothing cute about hiding out in the bathroom, furiously pretending to text on your phone, slurring your speech and sweating like a meth dealer in a sea of cops because you're so tense.
My quilted, black Chanel bag has a stick of deodorant and a bottle of Xanax inside of it at all times. Not to mention a bottle of Ambien that I haven't taken in 6 months, but I have this irrational fear that I'm going to get stranded somewhere and won't be able to sleep so I NEED MY SLEEPING PILLS JUST IN CASE.
People who don't know me probably think I'm a closed-off bitch. While yes, I'm closed-off, I promise I'm not actually a bitch at all. I'm not of the cool "anti-social girl" camp. I'm not the I'm-a-"BITCH AND YOU CAN STFU ABOUT IT" power chick. Ha! No.
I want to talk to you; I'm just afraid of talking to you. I'm more like a shelter puppy yearning for your attention, but has been locked in the cage so long that it's comfortable in there.
I dream of seamless small talk, but I'm just too nervous and too irrationally intimidated and people-pleasing that I cower instead.
But that was the old Zara. The old Zara cowered or self-medicated her way through the social anxiety, but THE NEW ZARA works through it sober (for the most part). Ugh. It's a total nightmare.
And I'm not going to lie to you: Dating when you have social anxiety is an even worse nightmare.
Dating when you have social anxiety is a nightmare.
There are a million different facets to dating with social anxiety that are hard. There is first date anxiety, post-sex-pillow-talk anxiety, meeting the parents for the first time anxiety... the list goes on.
But I think the most harrowing one of all is meeting your boyfriend or girlfriend's friends for the first time. Or just hanging out with them in general.
I had a visceral reaction just typing out that sentence. It's so silly that I'm actually feeling mildly embarrassed about being such a socially anxious 30-year-old woman.
Normal people (do you know any of those?) don't get "thrown" when a childhood friend of the person you're dating joins you for a drink before dinner without having had three days to "mentally prepare." But a socially anxious person's world will fall apart.
We hate the sudden, impulsive plans that make life colorful and interesting. I fear the sentences "I ran into so-and-so, and she's going to join us for dinner. Do you mind?" like I fear STDs and phantom pregnancies.
But we want to be easygoing partners, don't we? And look, my shy kittens, it's not really our partners' problems that we're so screwed up in the head. That's our own baggage, and asking them to carry all that is not fair.
And while, of course, they should be understanding of our fragile mental conditions, they SHOULD NOT -- I repeat, SHOULD NOT -- have to acquiesce to our neurosis. You will tire them out, and they will grow to resent you.
And if you like the person you're dating, I recommend you learn to deal with your anxiety. (I've learned the hard way. Just ask my exes.)
So here are some tips and tricks that I have for dealing with meeting your partner's friends when you suffer from the pleasant illness of SOCIAL ANXIETY.
Take a deep breath before you protest hanging out with their friends.
OK, so let's say my partner springs a random socializing request at me because she's pretty balanced, and balanced people like to do fun things like hang out with their friends without needing three days advance notice.
Since I like my girlfriend a lot and respect the hell out of her, I'm not going to drag her down into my spiral of irrepressible nerves with me.
The first thing I do when she asks me is feel frightening swells of panic that quickly turn to irrational anger and unjust resentment toward my partner. So I take a second to breathe before I open my red-lipsticked mouth.
Literally just breathing works mind-blowing wonders.
I used to hate when yogi types would say, "Feel your feet firmly rooted into the earth." I would be like, "Listen, you kale-eating bitch. I can't feel my feet rooted into anything with these mega platforms on! Give me a Xanax instead."
But look, honey, those downward-facing-dog girls are onto something with the whole grounding thing. Just taking that ONE second to focus on nothing but your breath will instantly relax you.
Breathing naturally calms down the body, and it's a lot healthier than pills or booze. So before you spiral, just breathe, girl.
Before you spiral, just breathe, girl.
Give yourself a therapy session.
The next thing I do is take a little inventory of my feelings. I will act like I'm my own therapist, and honestly, ladies, it's pretty fun when you get into it.
I imagine myself in a sexy, tight, DVF wrap dress with glasses pushed down to my nose. I'm talking to my other self, who is wearing distressed denim boyfriend jeans, motorcycle boots and a cool vintage T-shirt I cut up myself.
BOTH are parts of me -- Dr. Zara and Distressed Denim Zara -- but today we're listening to Dr. Zara because Distressed Denim Zara needs her help.
"So Zara, why are you feeling such extreme anxiety?" Dr. Zara will ask Distressed Denim Zara.
Distressed Denim Zara will take a sip of an iced coffee with a hip splash of almond milk. "I'm nervous to hang out with my girlfriend's friends unexpectedly."
"Why do you feel thins way?" Dr. Zara presses, running her manicured nails across her Chanel brooch.
"Because I don't know them, and I don't know what the hell to say and I feel super shy right now, and I just think I'm really awkward at first and do better one-on-one."
"OK, so this whole socializing on the fly thing isn't in your comfort zone, and I totally validate your feelings," Dr. Zara will say. "But remember, Zara, you're not in any physical danger. And you're only human, and you're allowed to have feelings! Feelings can't kill you, girl! Just take some deep breaths and remember so many people have anxiety, too! You're not alone."
"You're right! I'm feeling nervous because I'm shy and I want to impress these people, but really it's not life or death. I'm just going to relax and try to enjoy these people."
You're only human, and you're allowed to have feelings!
Direct your attention onto the friends!
So it's time to socialize, and you're getting really nervous now. Like "Holy shit, I just want to crawl inside of myself and never come out" nervous.
But since that's not an option -- and you've done inventory on your feelings with your trusted therapist -- I have another simple tip I'm going toss your way: Direct your attention onto the people you're meeting. Take all of that nervous energy and funnel it into your partner's friends.
Instead of focusing on yourself (we socially anxious/depressed types can be a little narcissistic) and worrying about what THEY think of YOU, just ask them questions instead. Really, really try to get to know them.
Ask them about their lives, where they grew up and what their hopes and dreams are. Don't be afraid to go deep; people are hungry for depth in this meme-adorned world.
Also, in this self-obsessed Snapchat culture, it's so amazingly refreshing to have another person take a genuine interest in you.
People are hungry for depth in this meme-adorned world.
Bonus: People fucking love to talk about themselves. They will drop their guards and instantly like you. You're welcome, sweet kitten.
Watch the intake of drugs and booze.
The glittering fantasy of medicating the negative feelings away is SO TEMPTING. TRUST ME, I KNOW. I literally wrestle myself with taking the pretty blue pill or not taking the pretty blue pill everyday.
I fantasize about popping the Xanax, but I don't want to be THAT person who just puts a filter over the uncomfortable feelings -- in fact, I think medication is partly responsible for this anxiety problem to begin with; it stripped me of my confidence of being able to work through things on my own -- so I'm just trying to deal with it, babe.
I don't want to be THAT person who just puts a filter over the uncomfortable feelings.
I try not to get wasted, either. Because, I swear, it only makes shit worse in the long run. If you're socially anxious and you get drunk, all that nervous energy just makes you act weird.
Social anxiety and drunkenness is a recipe for disaster. People can feel when you drank because you needed social lubrication, and it's a people repellent.
And the next day, you will really spiral HARD, and it will just feed the social anxiety machine. Break the habit now because the longer you make this a habit, the deeper ingrained into your soul it gets. And the harder it is to break.
When in doubt, just own your anxious feelings. There is nothing wrong with saying, "I've heard a lot about you. I was actually nervous to meet you because I know you mean so much to (insert partner's name here)."
No one, no one, my fellow anxious vixen, is going to hate you for that. In fact, it will just make you an openly flawed human, which is far more favorable to the insecure human who tries to cover it up by acting "cool."
Actually owning your anxiety makes you cool. Anxious people are the great feelers and creators of this world, and we should wear our anxiety like a creative badge of HONOR.
Anxious people are the great feelers and creators of this world.