How I Realized I Don’t Have to Perform for People for Them to Like Me

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I used to cancel a lot more social engagements. As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, I rarely if ever book myself to full capacity, preferring to stay at about 70 percent maximum in case I have something unexpected happen. In my life this can be health issues (I have a couple of chronic conditions that can be unpredictable) or someone else having a crisis or needing some help.

Not booking to capacity equals flexibility. And it can equal spontaneity (having a free time to go do something fun spur of the moment).

And it seems to be working pretty well. I underbook at baseline. But I almost never cancel.

And I particularly almost never cancel social engagements.

I’ve found this is actually kind of rare. I typically have other folks cancel on me far more often than I cancel on them (thankfully, I always have writing as a fallback activity for when plans don’t happen).

And I get it. Things come up. Other people book more thickly than I do. And there’s another factor we don’t talk about: Sometimes people just don’t feel like doing the hangout when the time comes. (I find that people are reluctant to fess to this cancellation reason when it pertains to me, but friends will easily admit they do it with others, which tells me it probably happens to me too.)

Since social engagements tend to carry lower consequences for cancellation, they’re more likely to say “never mind” to a hangout than to call out of work. It happens.

You can feel however you want about it — and likely feel differently when you’re the one canceling versus the one being canceled on, if you’re like most people — but however you feel about it doesn’t change that it happens.

And I used to do it too. Especially when it came to parties. Because of my social anxiety, I’d worry that I was too uncertain, too full of doubt that evening to go and have a good time. Because I had to be “on.” And to me, this meant I had to be my highest-energy, most entertaining self.

So if I didn’t feel up to it, I’d stay home.

The Great “Phoning It In” Party Experiment of 2012

This was the case until 2012 when I was talking to a counselor I’d hired to help me through my divorce (It was supposed to be relationship counseling, but my ex wouldn’t go talk to someone about our issues and as a result of this and other things became my ex).

I mentioned this tendency in passing. Frustration that I was getting invited to a ton of parties and other fun events, but my emotions were all over the place because of the divorce.

“And?” my counselor had said. “It sounds like it’d be good to get out and get your mind off things.”

“Well, sure,” I’d said. “But I have these sudden dips in energy. I don’t know if I can go and be funny and charming for 4 hours straight.”

“No one says you have to,” she’d said.

And we ran smack dab into a strange expectation that I had for myself. That I had to be an entertainer in any situation I found myself. That if I wasn’t making the gathering a great one, then I was bothering everyone. Wasting space. This was all old baggage leftover from childhood.

Finally, she said, “Okay, let’s do an experiment. The next time you want to decline an invitation because you don’t feel like you’re your best self, just go instead.”

“Go?” I said. “And be low energy?”

“Sure,” she said. “Phone a party in. Just go. Do it. And report back.”

I agreed. But I thought for sure I’d be crying at the next appointment, regaling her with tales about how badly it went. I’d have lost all my friends. Humiliated myself. Something drastic.

But I did it. And a curious thing happened: I had fun at the party. No one could tell I wasn’t “on.” I had dips in energy, sure. But it didn’t matter whatsoever.

It was a powerful lesson. Over time, I continued to do other little experiments, diligently testing this odd expectation I’d placed on myself. And I can tell you… nothing bad ever happened when I showed up feeling like I couldn’t be “on” the entire time.

“There Isn’t a Big Difference At All”

I recently had a friend over while I’d been up for most of the night with chronic illness issues.

I definitely was a little spacy during our hangout. Low energy.

But the friend said she had a wonderful time. And seemed to mean it.

I checked in with my partner afterwards about this old issue. “I know it feels night and day to you, but from the outside, there’s isn’t a big difference at all between when you’re ‘off’ and when you’re ‘on.'”

I asked him if he could tell me what the difference was.

He thought about it for a long time before saying, “No.” It was too subtle. He could kind of tell but not really.

Anyway, that’s how I learned that I don’t have to perform for people for them to like me. Frankly, some days I still forget. But I’m trying to do that less.

Featured Image: CC BY – Trev Grant