We tend to socialize because we want to be, well, social, subjecting tired bodies and drooping limbs to the transformative powers of makeup and ironed shirts. On a regular basis, in fact, we actually intentionally abandon our Netflix queues and Snuggies for the fleeting promise of personal affirmation via coordinated exchange of quips and compliments.
But then, sometimes, we don’t. Not that we stay inside. Sometimes we go out, or are forced to go out, but still kind of want to be alone. To be in the world, but not all up in it.
It’s not an easy thing to achieve, not least because it seems to be slightly paradoxical: why go to a bar to be quiet? It makes people uncomfortable, a kind of reversal of the natural order: don’t you have a joke to tell? Aren’t you at least going to try to hit on the bartender? No, and no. You want to be out. You don’t want to be “on.”
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But how do you actually do it? How do you go out, to a bar or a cocktail party, and simply chill by yourself without seeming like a total misanthrope? There’s plenty of advice on the etiquette of socializing (and it gets predictably annoying, e.g., “a cold, wet drink should never be held for more than the time it takes to have a quick sip”), but there’s actually not much out there on the etiquette of being alone. As frequent anti-socialites ourselves, we figured we’d put together a few pointers, easy, non-aggressive ways to establish your intentional “Lone Wolf” status at a bar or party without having to resort to police tape or making some kind of Gandalf-esque “You shall not pass!” announcement.
Bring A Book.
Or a Kindle. A newspaper. A pile of fortune cookies. Whatever. Even if you have absolutely no intention of reading, bring something with some text on it. (This tends to only work at bars, clearly.) It may seem odd to other people, but as long as you’re not at a club with bottle service and a terrible DJ, a book is an appropriate and actually kind of pleasant way to spend time out alone.
Put Your Earbuds In.
This is a classic and extremely easy way to (politely) tell the world “Hey, I know you’re there and I think that’s fantastic, but I’m really focused on what’s being pumped into my ear canals right now.” Even if you’re not listening to anything, earbuds will help deter anyone who may want to talk to you. And if you are forced into taking them out, you can always say “I’d love to chat, but I really need to get back to this podcast about the native cheeses of Belgium.”
Be All Dark and Brood-y.
OK, don’t just sit there glaring at the crowd. (In fact, making eye contact with anyone is the first step down the slippery slope of actual human contact.) We’re talking more of a George Constanza thing here—he figured out that when he looked just annoyed enough, people would assume he was working hard. Same goes for you. Look annoyed, slightly, and people will think you’re thoughtfully preoccupied with some upsetting factor of your life. And socializing people generally don’t like to talk about upsetting stuff. We want to know how much you’re obsessed with “Better Call Saul,” not if you and your roommate had a tense discussion about the chore wheel.
Forget hors d’oeuvres, since you can talk and nibble canapes ’til the sun comes up (and, per socializing etiquette, you’re supposed to carry them in the left hand because the “right hand should always be kept free to shake hands with any man or woman who may be arriving or leaving.” Yeah, it’s all very annoying). But if there’s sit-down style food, fill up your plate and find a seat. Most people won’t want to talk to you while you’re noisily masticating gobs of pasta salad.
No need for rubber barf or some kind of fake rash application. Nothing to merit a call to the CDC. But if you carry a handkerchief or whisper a little something about how you have “just a bit of a sore throat,” folks will not only grasp that you cannot talk, they’ll grab some Purell and likely avoid you for the rest of the night. Win!
Have a “shut it down” line ready.
Let’s face it, sometimes interaction is inevitable. There are people out there who will stop at nothing to get your opinion or, more likely, excessively share their own. They usually mean well, but if you’re flying solo on purpose, you’ll want to evacuate the conversation as soon as possible. One option: excuse yourself and go to the restroom (this may or not not involve dramatically clutching your stomach). That’ll break up conversation and buy you some time to figure out what to say. As for that, something honest and straightforward works best, e.g., “I’m actually a bit tired today, it’s not you, I’m not in a very talkative mood since my parakeet died, I’ve taken a vow of silence for the month, etc.”