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I Like To Be Around People … But Only One Or Two At A Time

Can anyone out there relate?

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Anja Slibar
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I used an entire therapy session a while back to try to figure out what was wrong with me because, for the most part, I no longer enjoy socializing in big groups of people. I mean, sheesh! I attended a book club I adored for 20 years. For over a decade, my husband and I threw a big bash each year on our anniversary. I positively lived for a girls’ night out. I was all in for a church retreat, a group camping trip, a big backyard grill-out or holiday shindig — you name it! If it involved a pile of people and revelry, I signed up for it. Until I no longer did.

Turns out nothing is wrong with me simply because group energy and dynamics don’t work for me like they used to. I don’t know why I needed a health care professional to tell me that, but I did. If I had to guess at why I needed the affirmation, I’d say it’s because therapists often work like a mirror — reflecting you back to you, allowing you to see yourself more clearly.

“We ALL change as we age and experience life and all its complexities,” she said. She may have even added, “No big deal.”

I’m a person who will tell you I love change — crave it, even. But I also realize I balk when I myself change, as if I shouldn’t for some reason. When I do an about-face, it feels wrong to me. When I’m off-kilter, my go-to response is to define said state as bad or problematic. I don’t know where this mindset comes from, but it helped to learn it’s incorrect. It’s wholly unreasonable to expect to remain the same forever. If life does anything, it changes us.

My therapist went on to explain that what’s often termed a mid-life crisis is actually more akin to a mid-life awakening. We finally come into our own in the second half of our existence. Pretenses fall, because we finally allow them to. Priorities shift, because we pay more attention. We’re less eager to people-please, because we’ve learned we can’t please everyone and that if anyone is responsible for pleasing us, it’s us.

I love people — one or two at a time; one or two days apart. That’s the sweet spot for me. And, where I’m sweet with people. Conversely, I’ve realized the times I often feel the loneliest are when I’m adrift in a sea of people. I do not feel calm or collected amid a group. I do not feel seen, not in the way my soul longs to be noticed. I do not feel connected, integral or fueled while in the danger zone of too many people all at once.

A danger zone is an area in which there’s a high risk of harm, especially where this risk has been officially identified. My gut has officially identified big groups as potentially harmful to my system. Minutes into a gathering, my body will often react to my surroundings with a bout of painful bloating and gas. TMI? Maybe, but it’s just the right amount of information for me — as it tells me loud and clear where I’d rather be.

When I go for a walk with one friend, I feel divine. When I have lunch with a couple of treasured companions, I feel giddy. When my husband and I take a road trip with another couple, it registers as delightful. I value the memories and bonds I create with but a few people at a time as priceless.

It’s not that I’m no longer a people-person like I used to be, but rather that my optimum dosage of others has changed. It needed to, for the sake of us all. The heart knows what it needs, even while the brain will try to argue with it. Sometimes, the brain just needs a minute — and a great therapist — to catch up to what’s ideal for the rest of the body’s systems.

Change is inevitable and the only constant. That changes occur in our preferences and comfort level in certain situations isn’t really the problem; it’s how we view those changes that can present as problematic. The good news is we can also decide to view the ways we change as functional and necessary: productive, normal and emblematic of good sense.

The dictionary defines the “sweet spot” as the point or area on a bat, club or racket at which it makes the most effective contact with the ball. Be so careful to honor your own sweet spot — which is wholly different from dishonoring the rest of you.