For introverts, there is nothing worse than being forced into a situation where you have to meet strangers and execute small talk. Actually, there is… small talk with your partner’s family’s extended family. I’ve no doubt it would raise the hackles of any introvert.
It’s the worst situation for an introvert to be in because unlike with random strangers, you can’t remove yourself unless you run out of the house on the pretense of an emergency of some kind. For many of us, sitting through tortuous family gatherings, especially for special occasions like Christmas, is a must.
We travelled almost seven hours and stayed with my husband’s parents for Christmas 2020. On Boxing Day, some of his extended family came over for a visit. The in-law’s family room housed my husband’s two uncles, two aunts, cousin and her two children as well as the eight of us that were already there. Teas and sweets were passed around, and the small talk began.
True to form, as soon as the small talk began, I made excuses to leave to another room. I gathered the children and set up the Nintendo Switch to play video games. I stayed with them in the front room on the pretense of supervision. I was really avoiding the awkward small talk and uncomfortable feeling of having many sets of eyes on me while I tried mumbling my way through conversations. I didn’t need that stress in my life. Was it rude? Most definitely, but I’ve made no secret about my anxiety with small talk.
When the children had their fill of video games and decided to play a game called “Don’t Step In It”, I reluctantly returned to the family room where all the adults had gathered.
“Find a chair and stop looking like an outsider,” chastised one of my husband’s aunts upon seeing me lurk around the fringes of the room.
“I’m fine where I am,” I replied sheepishly. I hate being made a spectacle. I’d happily hide in the shadows if it meant no one asked me uncomfortable questions or expected me to converse like a grown adult. No thank you.
When the time came for people to leave, I stood around awkwardly, knowing that I had to say goodbye to them. I walked out with my husband and children, waved goodbye to one set of aunts and uncles then returned to bid farewell to the other set still inside the house. The aunt gave me a big hug and threw out my ‘I don’t really like to be touched’ rule. As the uncle made his rounds with his goodbyes, I stood there debating whether the uncle would expect a hug too because his wife just gave me one.
The aunt totally threw me with the hug. Now I was confused as to the appropriate social etiquette expected of me. So when the uncle turned to me, I gave him a hug and surprised the both of us. It was self-inflicted awkwardness and you know how I hate feeling awkward.
When everyone was gone, I threw myself on the couch near my brother-in-law and his partner and bemoaned how awkward the experience was for me. My brother-in-law’s partner, a fellow introvert, hadn’t enjoyed the small talk and mostly sat there listening to others converse instead.
Fellow introverts, what is the secret to small talk with extended family? Better yet, how do you avoid giving and receiving awkward hugs?
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