How to Get Through Unavoidably Awkward Situations

Dear Social Introvert,

I am getting close to an important moment in my life. I’m going to introduce my partner to my family. And I am quite dreading the occasion, obviously. I love my family, and I love my partner. I really want them to get along, but I am very nervous, anticipating many awkward situations and potential problems.

My partner comes from a very different family background, and I have no idea how he’s going to feel at home with my folks. Everyone’s looking forward to meeting each other, or at least being curious and prepared to make an effort, but I’m still worried sick that something will go wrong. I often find my lovely family quite exhausting as some of them are way more extroverted than I am. I feel that while I’m introducing my partner, I should navigate the whole situation, and I really don’t feel up to it due to my introversion.

Moreover, his visit coincides with my grandpa’s birthday celebration, who invited the whole family for a lunch. However, he asked the grandkids not to take our partners. (There will be an informal barbecue later on where we’re allowed to bring them.) This takes my anxiety to a whole new level as I really don’t know how to handle the situation.

On the one hand, I absolutely respect grandpa’s wish to only include close family. On the other hand, I really want my partner to feel welcome, and not taking him to lunch doesn’t seem welcoming. What would he be doing during that time? Staying at my parents’ place, cooking for himself?

Should I ask my grandpa to include him even though he would be the only non-family member there? Or should I politely excuse myself from the lunch and spend the time with my partner, joining the family later for the barbecue? I really am not sure what the best solution would be as I want both my grandpa and my partner to be happy and to show them that I really care.

How do you think I can ease my mind about the introductions, and what would be the best solution for the birthday lunch?

Thank you in advance, dear Social Introvert!

Best regards,

Your Socially-Impaired Introvert In Love

Dear In Love,

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t disrespect your grandpa’s wishes! It’s HIS birthday. Plus, your grandpa sounds crazy cool. He wants to have a close, intimate lunch with all his grandkids, but he also wants to involve their partners, so he chose the best of both worlds.

Your grandpa set up a lunch AND a barbecue. He took into account his needs and everyone else’s too. You cannot (I repeat, CANNOT) ditch out on his birthday lunch by saying, “Sorry, Grandpa. I have to go kick it with this dude.” Nor can you ask for your partner to join. Your grandpa already squashed that option. The whole benefit of making it to his age is that you get to ask people to do whatever you want, and your grandpa isn’t even being unreasonable! He’s being very kind. (Your partner can fix his own lunch or find somewhere to eat on his own—he’s a grown man who will have plenty of forewarning. And he has a whole new town to explore.)

In Love, I love your grandpa because he is making my job really easy right now. He is providing you with the perfect example to follow. You need to make your wishes known like your grandpa does and start communicating your needs and boundaries. You need to talk to your partner about this meeting of the family.

You say you have no idea how he’ll feel…but did you ask him? I can’t tell from your letter whether he’s an introvert or an extrovert, but while you might find your family exhausting at times, he might not feel so depleted. Maybe he’ll even be able to help you navigate the situation. Is there something that’s holding you back from saying, “I’m so nervous about you meeting my family. I’m afraid the conversation might dwindle a bit at times, and I’m dreading it. Does that scare you?”

You also need to pick your favorite sibling/cousin/crazy aunt of the bunch and request their help. Select the person who will be able to spot when you’re struggling and step in with a few helpful questions to smooth over any awkwardness. Because that awkwardness is unavoidable. Take some deep breathes, and just succumb to the fact that it’s going to happen.

Meeting a significant other’s parents is a weird situation no matter how much you plan. And, In Love, I have a feeling you’re a lot like me. When I have a situation coming up I know is going to be socially taxing, I start to plan. I try to foresee every instance, every way it could go wrong so I can decide ahead of time how I am going to react. This has never done anything to better prepare me—I just get exhausted. And youre exhausted, I can tell. Plus, all this plotting and scheming robs you of seeing that theres just as much of a chance for a positive outcome. What if your parents and your partner LOVE each other, but you don’t even realize it because you’re too busy worrying to notice?

Please don’t think I am trying to downplay your social anxiety. I know how very real it feels to you; I often experience these feelings myself. However, the trick of social anxiety is that it makes us think our fears are very real when they most definitely are NOT. You need to constantly remind yourself that none of this has actually happened yet. Social anxiety is selling you the myth that the walls are closing in around you, but theyre not. Youre okay. Social anxiety is telling you your introversion is going to keep this situation from going well. But it doesnt know that—its lying to you. You need to notice when youve gone so completely deep in your head that you forget your surroundings, and then pull yourself back into the present and whisper, That wasnt real.Its simple, but its not easy, so chances are you’ll have to practice it so many times, youll start to listen.

Is your introversion possibly going to cause you to have some social limitations? Sure. So what? Ill say it again. SO. FREAKING. WHAT. Communicate those limits, and let the chips fall where they may. Both your partner and your parents seem excited to meet one another, and that’s not always the case in these types of situations. Try to enjoy their willingness to be a part of your life because they love you. Try to enjoy the family who wants to spend time with you and include your partner when its appropriate. This is all very beautiful, and youre missing it.  

Go, have fun. Tell your grandpa I said Happy Birthday.

Sending you all my best thoughts,

The Social Introvert

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