. . .
Dear Swipe This!
I can’t say no to an invitation and it’s ruining my life.
Like many people, I say yes to Facebook events I know I won’t actually go to. Sometimes I just think of it as a thumbs up, like “Cool! This looks fun!” I’m being supportive while making the event look more popular.
The problem is, I feel like I actually do have to go to everything. Especially when the invites are from closer friends. And I sometimes end up with a ton of commitments and no way to do it all. I know it’s no big deal if I skip an acquaintance’s comedy show, but sometimes there are bigger events like birthdays and dinners and they all pile up into one big mess.
One recent weekend, I had three different birthday parties to go to and all of them were people who I didn’t want to disappoint! I made it to all of them, but I was always leaving early or arriving late and I could tell my friends were pissed. Over the holidays, I went home to the East Coast and a guy I hadn’t seen in a while reached out to me, so I went on the date even though I knew I had promised to make a stop at an old friend’s holiday party. I ended up an hour-and-a-half drive away from home with my mother screaming at me on the phone that I needed to hurry back because I was missing an important family gathering.
I am a very social person and I like that about myself. I love to meet new people and go to parties and I stay in touch with a ton of friends in different cities. I also adore my friends and I pride myself on being a good pal. I feel like sometimes I hit a stride where having so many people in my life feels really fun and great! But lately, I’ve felt really anxious.
In the past, I’ve mostly had a handle on my tendency to double-book. People would get upset, but, in general, it was all forgotten by the end of the night. Sometimes I’ll text, “I’m almost there!!! See you in 10!” when I know I won’t hit the road for another 15 minutes. And then, when I finally do arrive, my friends are annoyed. I am really good at keeping the peace, though, so I always make up for it and everyone kind of floats back to partying. But I’m starting to feel worn out. Like I’m trapped and I’m always about to disappoint someone.
What should I do? Should I start warning people that I’m a terrible over-scheduler? Will that just make them hate me more? I know you’re going to tell me to just stop saying yes to things, but I don’t know how to do that! Especially when sending a text that says “Absolutely!” or hitting “going” on an invite just feels so easy. I truly don’t know what to do. Help!
Everywhere All the Time
. . .
Dear Everywhere All the Time,
First of all, it takes a lot of courage to admit to yourself that something in your life simply isn’t working. So I want to congratulate you. Because you could have told yourself a few more little white lies to keep this going. You could have said, “My friends are too difficult.” Or, “My mom is dramatic.” But, even if it’s only in this private little corner of an anonymous internet letter, you’ve chosen to tell the truth. You know you’re messing up. You know this isn’t working.
So the question isn’t really what do you need to do next. You know that change is the only answer. The question is why do you feel that you can’t change? What’s holding you back? And what nightmarish outcomes await you if you do?
There are people who have a hard time saying yes to things. They fear being invaded, losing their precious space to others and because of that, they miss out on opportunities to connect. You have the opposite problem. You can’t say no because you are afraid to claim a space of your own. So I wonder what happens when you do withdraw. When you give yourself permission to have a precious bit of downtime, what feelings bubble up to the surface. Do you feel lonely? Sad? Like life isn’t as full as you’d like it to be? Do you still like yourself when your bubbly personality isn’t being reflected in the eyes of a friend or a stranger you met at a party?
You say you’re afraid of disappointing people. You also say you fear that people will hate you. What I see in your letter is someone who loves to connect and have fun, but who is also terrified that she’ll lose all value if she asserts even the most minimal boundaries. You are allowed to retreat into your own private world, however. In fact, I would argue you must give yourself that time and space to recharge in order to build and maintain the meaningful connections you crave.
There was a period in my mid to late 20s when I could not and would not stop going. I taught middle-school English five days a week, but that wasn’t enough. I took on extra responsibilities at work like leading a grade team and coaching softball. Nevermind that I didn’t know how to play, the girls approached me and said they needed a coach, so I said, “Sure!” If someone asked me to go somewhere or do something, my automatic response was an enthusiastic “yes!” I joined a local food co-op, where I put in the dairy orders every other week. I played Sunday-night soccer on a freezing cold field in the middle of January because my friends were on a staff soccer team. I went to concerts and birthdays and my friends’ late-night DJ sets. When I finally had a vacation, I managed to double-book that, too! It didn’t matter that I had a flight to Barbados with my best friend at 11am—when another friend texted that she was going out, I joined her and stayed out late, met a guy, and started a fling. I made it to Newark on time for my flight beaming with pride that I was making “the most” of my vacation.
Outwardly, my life looked busy and exciting and interesting. I told myself, “You’re doing all this because you can and because you want to!” I was proud of my big, active life. It was full of people and energy. But the truth is, I was running myself ragged. I made mistakes. I graded papers late. My flings fizzled. I placed dairy orders for too much milk and not enough eggs. By the time my friend and I got to that beautiful beach in Barbados, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel room for a very long nap.
I can understand why you are so reluctant to slow down. Running on fumes can be exhilarating. Who’s ever gotten a thrill out of hitting the brakes? It’s thrilling to see just how far and how fast you can go without pausing to refuel. But ultimately, it’s perilous.
In the rare moments that I glimpsed myself, I could see the truth. I wasn’t doing all these things and living at warp speed because it actually made my life more exciting or interesting. No, I was filling my life up with activity and running as fast as I could because I was terrified that if I didn’t, my life would feel terribly, devastatingly empty.
What I’ve learned slowly and through repeated mistakes is that overcommitment is often a sign of feelings of low self-worth. When you’re late and someone’s disappointed, that can be its own kind of fix, a reminder that someone cares about you. Saying yes to all these events, especially ones you can’t go to, is like keeping a running tally of all the little ways you matter. But I’m willing to bet it doesn’t feel substantial or fulfilling. And so, you’re always chasing new commitments and new reasons you matter.
For people like you and me who love to feel connected to others, slowing down and being alone can be terrifying. But it’s the only way to get in touch with what you really want and need. And it’s the only way to start doing the important work of sorting out what you really like to do, from what you think you’re supposed to do to please others. I promise you, you won’t find what you really crave by going to every single event you’ve been invited to, and you won’t find it by texting seven friends at a time. You’re only going to get in touch with what really brings you fulfillment if you’re brave enough to retreat into yourself. It may not be easy at first, but I promise you, if you spend the night in and really take an interest in yourself, you’ll have a lot more of you to bring to your next social event.
The fact is, you matter regardless of how often you show up. You are a uniquely exciting person with special things to offer, and your time is precious. If you can pare down your commitments and respect your own time and its value, I guarantee you it will become much easier to respect the time of those you care for. And they won’t be angry. They’ll be grateful. Showing up less often but with more of you is far more valuable than popping in constantly to say, “I’ve gotta leave in 20!”
Ultimately, by showing up for everything you’ve put yourself in a space where you rarely get to be present. You’re robbing yourself of your experiences.
So I recommend you cancel everything for one weekend, or one week, or even a month. Give yourself permission to take however much time you need. And while you’re at it, log off of Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Take a hot bath. Go for walks. Listen to music. Stretch. Journal. Light some candles. Do at least one thing you’ve seen in cheesy feminine hygiene ad. You deserve commercial amounts of self-care. You deserve to rest. Your friends, your real friends will absolutely be there for you when you get back. In fact, I’m willing to bet that they’ll be very happy to see a refreshed, well-rested, fully present you.