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Pretending to be an extrovert

There are occasions throughout life when being an introvert is not ideal. A semester abroad is one of those times.

Since the Boston airport I’ve been chatting with people, joining groups on a whim, striking up conversations, and sustaining small talk. It’s been exhausting, but also really nice. I went from having no friends and being really nervous to having plenty of friends and lots of travel plans.

Throughout the week I kept bonding with whomever I could. It’s been difficult but lovely, and it became easier the more I did it. I think it’s good to be able to pretend to be an extrovert.

However, it is not a mask I can wear for too long. Thank goodness for no-class Mondays! I spent today, everyone’s first day of class, on a solo bike ride down a lovely Dutch bike trail. I saw some cute animals along the way, like two horses, some cows, some sheep, and even a small herd of deer that someone had kept as farm animals (or pets? I’m not sure). Then I got back to my room I share with two other girls, and it was empty. What a rarity! I caught up on my YouTube shows and ate a few Stroopwafels, allowing myself to unwind.

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I was impressed with my ability to make friends in such a hectic, crazy, beautiful, wonderful place. I feel like I’ve already grown as a person while in the Netherlands, and it’s only been four days!

More importantly, I can see now where I may have gone wrong before, like with high school and the beginning of college. There are some introverts here, I can tell. They sit alone at meals, they don’t talk before class. I realize now that seeming shut off to the world like that can make one seem unappealing to befriend. A bit of reservedness is fine, but appearing too introverted can, I would say, be a bad thing.

Perhaps when one can’t be alone, one should embrace company. Nothing is wrong with reading at night, or a solo-stroll around the grounds, or any other time alone, but when I must be with people I will BE with people. Openly, honestly, 100%.

Basically, I don’t feel the need to hide myself anymore. And I feel good about that.

Stock Photo by Sean Lockewww.digitalplanetdesign.com

Meeting the family: Conversation Starters

Your new significant other is amazing. They’re everything you’ve ever wanted, and the last few weeks or months have been like walking on air. They met your friends recently, and got along swimmingly. Now, they want you to meet their friends—or worse, their family.

Naturally you comply, though when they pick you up you’re shaking like a leaf. The night starts out fine, quick introductions, you talk about your job a bit. By the time the appetizer arrives you’re feeling pretty relaxed. It’s halfway through the appetizer that you realize you hadn’t said a word since you ordered, and that was nearly ten minutes ago. They’re all chatting up a storm, and you can barely get a word in edgewise. The topics are changing fast, and inside jokes keep coming up to inexplicable laughter.

How do you deal with meeting a group of people who are already close to one another?

Whenever this sort of scenario happened to me, I found myself being quiet, just observing the family. Whoever was introducing me would later tell me that their friends thought I was “nice, but quiet.” They would say I could talk more. I would be astonished, thinking I had done quite well.

Surviving an evening is different from enjoying one. While it might be beneficial and easier to sit back and observe, these people want to get to know you. They can’t do that if you don’t talk to them.

My suggestion is to act like a predator and go for the weak! Just kidding. Kinda. What I mean by this is to talk to someone who isn’t talking much. Maybe it’s the kid sister, or the father, or one of their quieter friends. I wouldn’t try to strike up a conversation with the person commanding the room, because then everyone will be watching your response. Instead, wait until the table separates into smaller conversations, and talk to a calmer person, to start.

Well, you’ve found your target. Now what? They’re quiet, seem friendly, and are close enough so you can speak at a low-to-moderate volume, but what on earth are you going to say to them?

Think. Didn’t your significant other talk about them before? A great way to start up a conversation is the good old, “So, Sam tells me you’re into [insert hobby here].”

People love talking about their hobbies, especially to new people. It’s also more fun to listen to than a flat description of their job. If you’re lucky, someone has the same hobby as you do, and you can bond over that.

Did your significant other not prepare you at all? Well, you’ll have to be quick…like a predator, again! Follow the conversation and don’t be afraid to jump in. Chances are, they want you to speak, and are waiting to hear you contribute. So, join in. I know, easier said than done (rather, easier said than said in front of other people). But if they’re talking about movies, a simple “Oh, I haven’t seen it yet, is it good?” could get you points.

I find that you don’t have to be a super talkative person on the first group adventure, but you do have to talk. Think of it like a class participation grade.

If it’s truly painful, try to get through the evening mathematically. There are a few different formulas I’ve used to make sure I’m talking enough. One is to try to talk again once I’m the last person to have spoken. Meaning, if everyone in the table has said something since I’ve spoken last, I try to participate again.

Another tactic is to use time and simply try to talk once every five minutes or so.

If you still feel like you aren’t talking enough, remember that a huge amount of language is in the eyes. Make eye contact, even if you aren’t talking. It will make you look engaged and participatory.

Finally, remember: even if your relationship is new, your significant other likes you. They care about you, and want you to have a good time with their family/friends. Ask your significant other for help, if need be. Tell them you get nervous around big groups of new people. Ask them to make space in the conversation to you. Ask them not to leave you alone in a room with them. Ask what so-and-so likes to talk about, and if there are any sensitive topics not to bring up. Ask them to do whatever you want, and they’ll likely do anything to make you more comfortable. After all, they’re probably about as nervous as you are.

If all else fails, just make sure you say something, at some point. It’s okay if they think you’re quiet, because, well, you’re quiet. Things will get easier the more time you spend with them, so just bite the bullet until it becomes second nature. Until then, best of luck. May the flow of conversation be ever in your favor.