Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 19, 2012

I am curious about how a group of friends get together and spend time. Is it activity based or socially based? That is, do the group come together to do the same thing, like to ski or to play bridge, or does the group come together to share food and conversation. If the gathering is activity based, then generally speaking, people will feel that they fit in based on their perceived competency in the activity. On the other hand, if the activity is socially based, the ones who are more socially skilled will feel more at ease. Of course, this situation gets more complicated in that the more socially skilled folks are often the more sensitive folks so they can be more bothered by what they are perceiving to be unconscious processes at play. The layers of social interaction intrigue me, needless to say.

Alexis, sixty-one, describes to me how uncomfortable she felt at a gathering of dear old friends who seemed to be preoccupied discussing the successes of their respective children. Alexis has two children who are doing pretty well, but Alexis derives little pleasure in sharing the successes of her kids. She would rather talk about her new interests and passions, but none of her friends seem to want to engage with her about that, at least not at this particular party. “It is hard for you to adapt to different social situations because you are so uncomfortable with yourself,” I say, causing her to look at me, at first in shock, but then with an understanding that may be true. “You are not quite comfortable with the choices your adult children have made, and so when you are in an environment when that is the topic of conversation, you begin to recoil and you want to go home,” I say, pointing out that her discomfort at this party is a window into her triggers for anxiety, her vulnerabilities. “Parties can highlight vulnerabilities,” I say, stating that social gatherings are emotionally and psychologically complicated affairs. “Yes, I guess so. It was hard to sit with my feelings, so I wanted to leave,” Alexis says with candor and shame. “I stayed and got through it and it was nice to see my friends,” she continues to say that the party was indeed a layered event for her. “It is interesting how complicated a Sunday afternoon can be,” I say, stating that within daily, ordinary activities, emotions can rise high and low. Parties, as the word implies, creates all kinds of “parts” to our emotional interior.

12 Responses to “Parties”

  1. Shelly said

    I have gotten together with various groups of friends in both cases: activity based and social based. I have to agree with you that the activity based social gatherings are far easier to relax and enjoy than the social-based ones because the social-based ones generally do involve all sorts of layers of feelings that make me feel either left out or a part of the group. When I feel part of the group, I feel good about myself, but when I feel left out I feel lonely and isolated. The social-based activities generally involve dinners, birthday parties, or other food-based activities and most-often, a group of families get together and discuss our children (as in your fictional story, above). I do indeed relate to Alexis because like Alexis, not all of my kids’ stories are success stories–yet I am uncomfortable speaking about myself. This leaves me in the awkward situation of having nothing to speak about and then I feel left out. All in all, activity-based get-togethers are so much easier and fun!

  2. Hi Shelly,
    Thank you for sharing your experience….as always! Generally speaking, women tend to have socially-based parties, whereas men have activity-based parties, so maybe “Superbowl Parties,” for example, may be the way to go to create community and friendship. Being together can be so meaningful. The conversation is not always the best part of that. Like a kid who does not like recess, it is hard to say that parties are stressful, but it can certainly be true.

  3. jo said

    I enjoy both types of parties, but it’s much easier for me to attend an ‘activity’ party if it involves people I don’t know very well! Once I know them well, I’m comfortable with social outings.

    • Hi Jo,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I wonder if you ever feel uncomfortable at social outings with people you know well because you feel that even among friends there can be feelings of envy and competition. Thanks Again.

      • jo said

        Hmm, I rarely pick up on feelings of envy and competition among my friends. I would say that if I’m feeling uncomfortable in a social setting with close friends, it’s usually related to a feeling of not really fitting in and/or not being understood. I’m one of those highly sensitive folks who pick up on way too much! Thank you!

  4. Jon said

    Parties, to me, seem to be shared experiences with people. In your distinction, the parties that are activity based create such a shared experience; the parties that are more socially based build upon, or at least allow for, an exploration of the shared experience. Thus, your question of activity based or social based interactions is asking about if one wants to create a new experience, or reflect upon existing experiences. As usual, both have their positive and negative attributes; both tell us something about our inner workings.

    • Interesting. I think that social parties create and reflect at the same time, whereas activity parties simply create new experiences. As a person who enjoys reflection, I tend to like social activities, but at the same time, reflection can be tiresome, so activity based parties are sometimes a relief. Yes, parties certainly tell us about our inner workings-grist for the therapeutic mill-to use a platitude. I would not say that activity based versus socially based parties have their positive or negatives, but I would say they present different kinds of opportunities for relaxation and connection. Thanks, as always.

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