Here's a scenario that used to play out fairly frequently in my first marriage. Sue, my wife, and I would go out to socialize with some other couples -- for dinner and drinks, say.
At that time I didn't drink alcohol. So I used to think that my inability to stay in a chit-chatty frame of mind could have been the result of me being the only non-imbiber in a group of people who grew more and more boisterous as the evening wore on, while I grew more detached.
Driving home, my wife would say to me, "Brian, you looked bored during much of the dinner." I'd reply, "Well, that makes sense, because I was bored."
Now, I don't know if bored is really the right word.
It's more like mental exhaustion, kind of like a runner hitting the wall of physical fatigue during a long run. I just find myself less and less capable of diving into a group conversation, especially one that isn't about anything substantive.
I love politics. I love science. I love philosophy. I can talk about this sort of stuff for much longer than I can chit-chat about music, movies, people's travel experiences, children, grandchildren, dogs, sports, the weather, etc. etc. etc.
Thirty years or so later, with me now enjoying a glass or two of wine or beer, which takes away the non-drinker hypothesis of why I hit a two to three hour socializing wall, I'm usually still prone to wanting to go home before my second wife, Laurel, does.
Again, if you're part of a social group where I'm starting to fade away, conversation-wise, after a couple of hours, don't take this personally. I'm not burnt out on you, or anybody else. I'm burnt out on talking.
Yesterday, over coffee, I told two male friends that I was planning to write a blog post about this subject. Their response was interesting. One of the guys says that he "hits the wall" even earlier than I do -- even before two hours. The other guy was equally sympathetic to my chit-chat burnout.
Indeed, my experience has been that, by and large, women are more into long talk fests than men are.
When I'm at a party where socializing is the focus, I rarely see a female showing the signs that I'm intimately familiar with: glancing at my watch to see how long I've been here; leaning back in my chair, closing my eyes as much as is socially acceptable; strolling to the snack/drink table because this is more interesting to me than more talking.
On the whole I consider myself pretty damn well adjusted. I can flow with most situations. I'm generally relaxed, not tense. This two to three hour Maximum Tolerable Socializing just seems to be something that is an inherent part of my psyche.
Being hooked on Tai Chi for the past thirteen years, sometimes I think it has something to do with yin and yang. I need a break from active "yang" socializing after a couple of hours. I feel a strong "yin" desire to chill out, be by myself, stop talking, experience quiet.
I don't feel any desire to change. I'm fine with who I am. I just decided to write this post because I wanted to explain my socializing quirk, and maybe reassure other people who also are less chit-chatty than their friends and acquaintances that...
THIS IS OK.
It takes all kinds. Heck, some people are way less social than I am. Others, much more social. (Here's a piece about "social exhaustion" by a woman who is pretty similar to me.)
We've got to be who we are. (Not that we have any other choice.)