In my last post, I wrote about how overwhelming it can be to even think about heading out to join a new group. Front Door Syndrome can pop up even when you want to meet new people and expand your social world. Your home is familiar and comforting; the group will be new and unpredictable—it’s no wonder we often find ourselves staring at the door, trapped in a psychological tug-of-war. To help you make it out the door, consider the following:
1. Creating more connection is good for you. In the 1960s, Lisa Berkman, who was then a graduate student at Berkeley, began looking at the relationship between social connection and longevity. Her final analysis, published in 1979, showed that people who lacked social and community ties were two to three times more likely to die in the nine-year follow-up period than those with more contacts.
We now know why those people died earlier. Recent research has shown that disconnection increases our blood pressure, disrupts our sleep, weakens our immune system, and doubles the risk of developing dementia. (If you want more info, a good source is John Cacioppo’s book Loneliness.) As introverts, we need to know that the health risks associated with disconnection are mostly about unwanted aloneness. If you’re choosing to be alone, your health will probably be fine. But the line between isolation and solitude can be a fine one—and a group commitment that sees you meeting with the same kindred spirits each month can keep real isolation, and its physical consequences, at bay.
2. Good social ties often start with a dose of nervousness. When I was reading Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person, I was struck by one question: What were you doing when you met your best friends? When I thought about my closest ties, I realized that they all had come about when I was doing something a bit nerve-wracking.
Years ago, for instance, I had to get from Toronto to Montreal. My boyfriend at the time told me he knew someone who was driving out that day. Did I want her to pick me up? My instinct was to say no since I didn’t want to spend five hours in a car with a stranger. But instead I said yes, and the young woman who picked me up was pretty, nervous herself, and awfully funny. Twenty-four years later, Juliette is still one of my closest friends, and I would have never met her had I not forced myself away from my routine (I could have taken the train) and into a new social situation that initially put me on edge.
3. You have more control than you think. We often believe that if we show up at a community garden, a church group, or a volunteer meeting, we’ll be stuck there for hours. This isn’t true. I’ve walked into plenty of new groups, and I can’t think of a single one where I couldn’t have just turned around and walked back out. Most groups do like you to stick around, but no one’s guarding the door. If you want to leave, you can. (As a general rule, the less structured a group is, the easier it is to leave, but even in more structured situations—such as orientation sessions for new volunteers—you can always slip away.)
4. You’re not taking on a huge social commitment. Joining a community group isn’t like making a new close friend. The sociability is more limited than that. You can attend as often or as infrequently as you choose (once a month is fine), and the sociability you find with the group won’t spill over into all the perks and hassles associated with close private ties—phone calls at work, surprise birthday parties, requests for lifts to the airport, etc. The whole beauty of group ties is that they’re not about filling a critical role in someone’s life. You’ll grow to know and like your fellow group members, but you can go for months without anyone even asking you your last name—let alone your phone number.
5. Treats work. I ate a lot of energy bars during my connection challenge, and that’s because a peanut butter Clif bar became my reward for getting to a new group outing. If you’ve done this great thing—made it to a new group event—reward yourself! The treat will perk you up and make you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile…and that’s because you have done something worthwhile. You’ve overcome Front Door Syndrome and made it to an outing that might open up new horizons, present you with new ideas, and offer you all sorts of new connections.
In my next post, I’ll be talking about how to choose what to head out to, but it’s helpful to keep the Front Door Syndrome tips in mind whenever you’re seeking connection. We all have low-energy moments, and it’s fine to skip a meeting or two if you really need to be alone. But if you’re standing there (as I often was) dressed but still hesitating, remind yourself of all the good things that connection can offer, and use these tips to give you the boost you need to make it out the door.