My first experience meeting a significant other’s close friends was like being thrown into the lion’s den. I’m from a small rural town and had recently moved to a city. The group I was diving into was a suburban clique that had known each other since childhood.
I was in an unfamiliar place. People asked me lots of questions. I drank to relax. Long story short, it was awful.
Just getting out and dating with social anxiety comes with its own set of pitfalls and requires both courage and commitment. Now that you’ve jumped that hurdle, getting serious means meeting friends and family. This step of relationship growth can be a big social anxiety trigger.
Over the years, I searched for ways to make the best of meeting my partner’s friends, much to the benefit of the authors of the books I bought and therapist I paid. The following tips are what I learned and will help you have the best experience possible when meeting your significant other’s close friends or family. Before we dive in, my tips assume your partner knows about your social anxiety, your symptoms, and is committed to supporting you. If that’s not the case, that should be your first step.
Set Up a Buddy System With Your Partner
Tell your partner you want him or her to stick with you – no leaving unannounced (yes, that includes potty breaks and going to grab a drink). Request an invite if he or she needs to leave the table.
This strategy also includes an escape plan. Should you feel panicked, that’s okay. You and your partner need to agree that this feeling means it’s time to go, and have an excuse planned. If your partner isn’t willing to support you in this, then it’s time for a whole different conversation.
Review Your Thoughts
Evaluating your thoughts is a powerful tool. It helps you recognize and reverse damaging ideas that are based on assumptions rather than facts. This is a tactic CBT therapists use, and what social anxiety apps help you do on the go.
Pick the Place and Stay in Your Comfort Zone (A Little)
You are already going out of your comfort zone to meet you partner’s friends. It’s important not to overdo it. Meet up at a place you like and where you feel comfortable to minimize any tension. If you are a homebody, ask your partner to help you prep the house for a get together at your place. Make sure to keep the number of people managabely low.
Bring a Friend
It’s a group outing, right? The point is to get to know your partner’s friends, but bringing one of your own won’t hurt. You can rely on your friend to feel more comfortable when the conversation lags.
Think of things you like about your friends, common interests you share, or information you like to know about others. Then ask questions about those topics. Also, ask your partner about the people you’re going to meet for an idea of their interests. Most people love talking about themselves, which means you can focus on asking questions and keeping your partner’s friends talking. When it’s time to field a question, try to answer concisely and then ask another question.
Visualize The Situation Going Great
Visualizing the outcome you want is shown to increase the chance of that outcome happening. It’s like training. You can picture what you want in your head, grab a pen and paper, or do this verbally. Imagine, write down, or describe out loud the get-together in great detail as a successful meeting that already happened. Elaborate on how you got along with your partner’s friends, and how you feel about making the connection.
Keep Yourself Out of the Spotlight
This tip might seem obvious, but we sometimes overlook taking the right precautions. For example, many people find it helpful to stay away from bars or restaurants. These locations are often the first to come to mind when meeting up, but they put you around a table feeling like you need to keep a conversation going.
However, going to see a movie gets you out and about with the group but also gives you 90 minutes out of the spotlight. If you’re going to someone’s house, use a conversation-provoking game, like Cards Against Humanity, to get people talking without having to think much about what to say.
Stick Out the Panic
Research on exposure therapy shows that the longer you stay in a panic situation, the lower your feelings of anxiety. The idea is that feelings of anxiety initially rise quickly, but slowly decrease as your brain realizes you aren’t in any real danger. If you aren’t ready to stick it out, the next tip is for you.
Schedule Something After
Someone once told me to make up an excuse to leave, but being honest is noble. If you plan something a few hours after the meetup, you don’t have to lie. Plan something simple so you can bail on the secondary plans if you want, but you don’t have to lie should you feel ready to leave the group. Also, your partner’s friends will be happy if you bail on previous plans to spend more time with them.
Smile and Own Your Feelings
Smiling can improve your mood and that of the people you smile at, so it’s beneficial for both you and your partner’s friends. Also, It’s flattering to hear that someone was nervous to meet you. Telling your partner’s friends you are nervous gives you the chance to say you’ve heard so much about them, and they are an important person to your partner. You’ve now improved their mood and they feel important.
Stay Off the Sedatives
Using alcohol or medication to calm anxiety when meeting new people can be a strong temptation. However, the last thing you want is to have one too many, or medicate and come off as apathetic. If you must drink, set a very small limit and prepare an alternative — like a soft drink or water — for when you hit your quota.
Meeting your significant other’s close friends when you have social anxiety is a big step. The potential results – new friendships, a joyful partner who’s proud of effort, and new memories – are invaluable. These tips will go a long way when it’s time to schedule the first encounter.
Communication, planning, and transparency are a few of the core principles that are foundational to the tips on this list. Following these principles will ensure you don’t end up making the mistakes I did when the time comes to meeting your partner’s awesome friends.
Bio: Jairet is the marketing manager at Youper, the number one app for understanding and overcoming social anxiety. He writes and shares his experience with easing anxiety symptoms and facing fears to help others that share the experience.