I can think of two occasions recently when this happened and I felt like a fish out of water both times so I like today to think of some strategies if this happens to you. What can you do as an introvert or an extrovert to make this situation more comfortable?
First of all let me tell you about my two recent experiences.
Out of the blue one weekend I was contacted by a friend of mine asking me if I wanted to go to a party. Because this person is quite extroverted I thought that it would be OK to tag along and see what the party was like. It was a home party at the apartment of someone I had never met and I didn't even know his or her name.
My friend asked me to meet at a station in the north of Tokyo at 6pm. I arrived as usual a few minutes early and then I get a text saying that she was in a car and wouldn't be back until about 7.30pm and that I should go to the party and she would meet me there.
Think about it for a minute. I was asked to go to a someone's place that I didn't know. I didn't even know their name. That person didn't even know me and didn't know that I had been invited. What would you do?
Well, after I got the address I put it into my phone and proceeded to walk there mainly because I was curious about the neighbourhood. It is always interesting walking around new neighbourhoods and seeing what they have to offer.
I got closer to the destination and I thought this is going to be extremely awkward and in the end I chickened out.
I was quite angry with my friend and I texted her to tell her that I am going home. It felt a little disrespectful to be honest. That she had invited me and then was going to be one hour and a half late.
The second occasion was with another friend who had invited me to a restaurant. They were having a party to celebrate their anniversary of the opening of the restaurant and I was invited. I was told to meet my friend there. I had figured that I was going to be the only non-Japanese person there and the fact that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb caused me to be a bit anxious.
I arrived and I couldn't see my friend anywhere. This was another occasion in which I had been invited by my friend and I didn't feel entirely comfortable but went along.
When I got there I had to compose myself in the loo (British slang for toilet). Fortunately my friend was outside and I was able to enter the place comfortably.
What can we learn from these two experiences? What should I have done better?
First of all, like any social occasion for people who are a little introverted like me the first ten minutes of any event is always going to be uncomfortable. I'm not sure what else to say but you are going to have to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
I think the best way at a social event is to basically see someone that is on their own and go and say hi. 99 times out of 100 they are going to love to hear from you because they are thinking the same thing as you. Also after a couple of beers all of that uncomfortable stuff has gone and you will wonder what all your worry was about.
There is that great saying that you need to fake it until you make it and when you arrive at an event sometimes it's best to imagine, in the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, "I'm the king of the world" and walk in like you own the place. I know, once again it is going to be uncomfortable, but only for a few minutes but finally you will be comfortable and you will have a great night.
I remember a friend and I a few years ago walking into a bar in Tokyo. We didn't organise this beforehand but we both walked in like we owned the place sat down ordered a drink quite quickly, flirted with the server a bit and had a great time all because we didn't apologise for being there. I believe that is the secret, don't apologise for being there.
What about the home party? I think that I did the correct thing. If a total stranger turned up to my party (that I host once a decade) then I would be suspicious. I think it's best that you turn up with your friend and if they are late, walk away.
Also, I believe that even though the host is going to be busy try to say hello and spend a couple of minutes chatting with them so that you feel comfortable in their place. Also the fact that you spent a couple of minutes chatting with them means that they are comfortable with someone walking around their place who was a complete stranger five minutes before.
Take chances to interact with people but be selective. Remember that your social battery is going to run out faster than a lot of people so pick which invitations you are going to accept, be careful not to accept all of them because you are going to be shattered by the end.
Have fun and remember that there is a high chance that there are a few people who are also feeling uncomfortable. Seek them out, they are going to be pretty easy to spot. They will appreciate your effort.