4 Tips for On Base Socializing From an Introvert

Family members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion East speak with Ellyn Dunford, wife of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. (U. S. Marine Corps/Chloe Nelson)
Family members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion East speak with Ellyn Dunford, wife of U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. (U. S. Marine Corps/Chloe Nelson)

If you're an introvert, then you know that not everyone understands what socializing (shudder) really feels like for you. In many circles, being introverted is synonymous with "shy," "wallflower" and perhaps worst of all, "homebody."

But the truth is while you may actually enjoy being social under the right circumstances, it requires more of your mental energy than it does for extroverts. You need time alone in order to recharge because too much social interaction can be draining.

This is bad news if you spend any significant amount of time on a military post. Whether it's military ball season or just a trip to the commissary, you know you're going to encounter many (too many) familiar faces.

When my husband was still in the Basic Officer Leaders Course, we attended a Commandant's Mixer ("mixer" was the first red flag) that was intended to teach a group of new officers and their spouses how to mingle and network with other, much higher-ranking officers.

If you're like me, then the words "mingling" and "networking" cue instant nausea, so I spent more of the evening trying to convince my husband to let me wait in the car than I did actually being social. But there's a way to get past the nerves and start networking. 

4 Rules of Socializing for an Introvert on a Military Base

1. Always assume there will be mingling. If you arrive at an event and the etiquette for the evening is sitting exactly one chair away from your neighbor and not speaking at all, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. But if it follows the norm for most military-related events, mingling is par for the course. The benefit of this rule is that, in following it, you will never be taken off guard (like I was at that traumatic mixer). And if you know there will be mingling, then you can follow Rule #2, which is:

2. Have a mingling game plan. Your mingling game plan will require you to do a bit of homework. Stay on top of current events -- particularly those that are relevant to your branch of the military and, even better, your spouse's unit -- and make it your go-to conversation topic for each social encounter. Also choose two or three small talk topics ("Can you believe it's this warm in November?" or "Have you tried the cake yet?", etc.) so you aren't fumbling for words during an awkward silence or lull in conversation (which is when your introvert brain is most likely to flatline).

Once you know what you're going to say when you mingle, it's important to make sure you have an opportunity to say it. The number one most uncomfortable feeling in any mingling situation is when you're standing alone, looking around helplessly with no one to talk to. It isn't so much that you want to talk as it is that you want the security of standing with someone (and no, that potted plant in the corner and the hostess's dog don't count). The sooner you achieve the appropriate amount of mingling, the sooner you can go home and binge-watch more Stranger Things in the comfort of your cat hair covered pajama pants (speaking from personal experience here) ... which leads us to Rule #3:

3. Corner and Converse. Inspired by the ancient battle strategy, "Divide and Conquer," this rule is the most difficult for us introverts to follow. To avoid prolonged mingling sessions (that will zap your energy and take a huge toll on your mood), it is often necessary to approach people yourself instead of waiting for them to approach you. Either find someone standing alone or ease your way into an existing group. If it's someone you're already acquainted with, start the conversation with a lighthearted compliment (i.e., "I love your dress!" or "Your hair looks so good like that!"). If it's someone you haven't met before, make a quick introduction and use one of your small talk options to break the ice. Once you've got a foot in the door, retreat to your go-to conversation topic from Rule #2, and check one more person off your mingling To-Do List.

The last (but arguably most important) rule that an introvert can follow when forced to mingle is the tried and true #4.

4. Fake It 'Til You Make It. You may be dreading the social interaction, but as long as you pretend to be confident no one will have any reason to know the truth. Even if you're shaking in your heels, acting as though you are self-assured will make people more comfortable talking with you and will help you to successfully socialize while keeping the awkwardness at a minimum. And after all, isn't our fear of awkwardness one of the biggest reasons we hate to mingle?

You are not a shy, homebody wallflower; you are an introvert -- and there's nothing wrong with that. But when you're an introvert on a military post, you're likely to find yourself in a myriad of social situations that, in a perfect world, you would have figured out a way to avoid. Learning to mentally prepare yourself for such events will help you to better endure the inevitable mingling, and maybe even come to enjoy it!

(Just kidding. We know that won't happen.)

From one introvert to another, good luck and happy mingling!

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