The Adult’s Guide To Being Antisocial
Illustration by Mr Calum Heath
A few weeks ago, after noticing that the indoor waterfall spewing through the ceiling and into my building’s communal hallway didn’t seem to be resolving itself, I took steps to contact the flat from whose kitchen sink this leak had undoubtedly sprung. After much toing and froing, the guy upstairs copped to a “micro” leak coming from his pipes.
It was then that a terrible thing happened. After agreeing that he would contact his landlord tout de suite, my neighbour – new to the building – suggested he and his girlfriend go for a drink with me and my partner. A nice enough invitation, to which I responded, “Maybe,” as I winced internally and my hand strayed towards my front door.
I’m not the most social person and, casual as my neighbour’s invitation was, it felt like a big commitment. Where do we go for this drink? If we go to a crap pub, we’re in a crap pub. If we take them to one of our favourite pubs, there’s the risk that every time my partner and I return, our neighbours will be there, too. If the initial drink doesn’t go well, that’s doubly awkward. We also can’t make excuses about going home and then sneak off to another pub because our neighbours live above us and will probably walk home with us. And then what? Invite them in for a game of Catan?
“Life’s already a lot, isn’t it? When the heck is anyone supposed to find time to socialise, even if they want to?”
I’m sure the people upstairs are perfectly nice, and I can’t remember the last time anyone new invited me out to do anything, but life’s already a lot, isn’t it? All those work emails. Trying to exercise most days takes its toll. And walking the dog is a part-time job. I don’t have children yet, but even so, when the heck is anyone supposed to find time to socialise, even if they want to?
With all that faff eating up your energy, only true heroes can find the time to feign excitement with strangers. The intricacies of your marketing job? Please, no. Detailed gossip about your home town? Spare me. I have my own boring life to ponder endlessly.
This isn’t an American high-school comedy where everyone is trying to be popular. I’m in my mid-thirties. I (sort of) know who I am. I know who my people are and whom I want to hang out with. I’m lucky enough to have a few close friends whom I love and who fulfil my social needs. It’s nice to go home and be by yourself after a few hours, right? I’m sure my friends (and neighbours) feel the same.
“Setting boundaries and being able to assert yourself is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy relationship with others”
As anyone who has ever tried to arrange any sort of social meet-up knows, it’s difficult to see the few good mates you have, let alone carve out time to get to know a new neighbour whose hobbies include playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers songs on the guitar at 11.00am on a weekday morning. I’ll go out of my way to be friendly in the hallway. If he needs someone to take in a package, water his cat or walk his plants while he’s away, I’m his man, but just because we’re friendly, do we have to be friends? Isn’t a polite “Hi” and “Bye” enough?
“Setting boundaries and being able to assert yourself is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy relationship with others,” says Dr Sarah Bishop, a clinical psychologist and member of the Health And Care Professions Council. “Saying no does not mean you don’t like or care about the person. It simply means you have priorities and needs of your own that need to be respected, and it’s OK if that includes bingeing Netflix.”
A lot has been written about male friendships and how we don’t make the effort to sustain them, and to that I’d say: sexist. On more than one occasion I’ve heard, “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” come from the other room, only to rush through to find my girlfriend has just received a text from a loose acquaintance inviting her for an inconvenient drink – or worse, an art show. The key question is: how can we duck social invites without coming across as rude? The last thing I want to do is cause offence, but isn’t it better to rip the Band-Aid off instead of constantly coming up with excuses? No one likes the friend who cancels last minute – or ghosts.
“If you struggle to say no, it’s important to work out why it’s so difficult for you,” says Bishop. “Typically, people say yes when they mean no out of a sense of guilt and responsibility. This can be more likely when we are highly empathic and can be linked to a fear of losing someone if we disappoint them. It’s important to recognise that saying no is a normal and healthy part of communication.”
“It’s important to recognise that saying no is a normal and healthy part of communication”
I put this to the test. A group of four of us go bouldering once a week. Someone suggested we get brunch on Sunday. That sounded lovely, but this particular weekend I was knackered and wanted to hang out with my partner. Instead of sugar-coating it, I said exactly that. And no one cared.
Bishop approves. “The best way to say no to a social invite is to be honest and direct, yet polite,” she says. Whatever you do, don’t mumble, “Fuck that,” when someone asks if you’d like to go on a 10-mile dog walk on your one day off. “Decide in advance and be firm once you’ve set your boundary,” says Bishop. “You can simply say something like, ‘Thank you for the invite, but I won’t be able to make it this time.’ If you can provide an explanation, such as a prior commitment or needing some alone time, it can help the person understand and feel more comfortable with your decision.”
When it comes to my upstairs neighbour, there’s every chance I could be missing out on a great friendship, but so be it. I think I need to tell him my partner and I are mostly just tired, so no offence.
But, dear neighbour, if you’re reading this and do feel offended, I suppose I could do next Wednesday. Unless, of course, something comes up between now and then.