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There are certain things throughout life we seem to just naturally age out of. Openly picking wedgies in public. Anger over teeth brushing. Holding a glass with two hands like it’s the biggest chore in the world to successfully drink from it. But then there are some things that haunt us, especially the more introverted among us, for the totality of our lives.

Suspending the current reality of a pandemic lockdown, one of these things is the stress associated with the societal pressure to “go out.” And “hang out.” Like it’s some big great deal to have a social life. Like we’re contractually required to have one in order to be considered valid.

Being forced to make excuses for not wanting to be social is a burden that can seem unshakeable, but guess what, with adulthood comes the ability to just pick something and proclaim that, no, I do not want to do that thing, and I can “I prefer not to” the hell right out of it whenever I want to. *Picks wedgie*

From roughly middle school years, until you’re nothing but a fully deceased bag of bones, we’re made to feel by TV commercials, shows, movies, and just strangers passing by our windows peering in that if we don’t have hot and crazy plans for after work and on weekends, we’re nerdy losers whose only source of oxygen comes from the exhaled breaths of the 155 pets we live with.

I’m here to tell you otherwise. Think of me, in what is now most certainly Hot Probs #7, as the poster woman for “I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.”

And as you’re reading this, feeling the pressure ease off of your chest while allowing yourself to look forward to evenings and weekends of not being social unless you absolutely want to, if a question or concern comes to mind that you’d like me to field for an upcoming Hot Probs, feel free to do so HERE. Don’t worry, it’s 100 percent anonymous, and there’s no question that I’ll look down on. And maybe I’ll help you, or maybe I’ll just give you that laugh you need to get through the rest of the day.

The Hot Prob:

My whole life, I’ve spent so much time coming up with excuses for why I don’t want to hang out with people. While on one hand, I know that having a social life is “healthy” and “the norm,” I really only want to hang out with my spouse, and myself. Now that I’m middle-aged, I feel like it’s time to just embrace my nature and be honest with people who reach out to make plans by saying that I’m just not interested. But that feels so crazy. What would you suggest here?

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I could not relate to this more. I’ve written before about being less than social from the womb, and how I’d refuse to play in the park if there were other children there. I’m more or less the same now. I can honestly say that roughly 95 percent of the plans I accept with people other than my wife are accepted out of sheer politeness, and the feeling that the stress and effort put toward coming up with a good excuse for bailing is often more taxing than just agreeing to do the thing I was invited to do.

But do I really want to do it? Rarely.

I feel completely healthy and content at home, reading, and working on any number of activities, going places by myself so that I have the option of coming and going however I please, or hanging out with my wife, who provides whatever type of social stimulus I may need. Anything else seems like some weird job that I feel guilty for not appreciating. Guilty for wanting to quit.

I want to suggest making a habit out of being honest with people in situations where they ask you to do something that you really don’t want to do, but I know how hard that is. One time I tried it out, after months of avoiding plans with a casual friend, and told them in the kindest way I could “I just don’t really like to hang out. I’m sorry.” I was almost immediately made to feel like a serial killer, so I never did that again. I just reverted back to my old practice of ducking and weaving social scenarios.

But really, what’s so wrong with what I said? What’s so bad about not wanting to hang out?

Coming up with excuses is easier, and saves face on both ends as, I’m sure, no one wants to feel like the person they’re trying to hang out with doesn’t want to hang out with them. But I’d imagine it feels even worse to learn that someone is hanging out with you when they would really rather be NOT hanging out with you, or anyone, for that matter. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, as I’m sure you don’t either. But we should both be allowed to live as our natural selves.

If handled honestly, and gently, the people we do hang out with will be secure in the understanding that we actually enjoy following through on plans with them. There won’t be any question to this because, there we’ll be, hanging out with them, and not on the sending end of a text that starts with “you’re gonna hate me but…”

Honesty is hard, but it’s a difficulty worth working toward.

Just like our lives shouldn’t be weighed in value by productivity, we should similarly not be rated and weighed by our social lives. The “loner” or “loser” character from 90s sitcoms probably had a rich and fulfilled interior life that they enjoyed and were made to feel embarrassed by because what they enjoyed didn’t involve raging the hardest in a hot tub in the back of a crowded limo en route to an everlasting Spring Break. People love to encourage others to be who they are, but so rarely put forth the effort to allow the people being encouraged to actually do so. At the end of the day, we only have this one life to live. Try to let yourself live it however feels best. I’ll try to do the same.

Kelly McClure is a writer who has written for NY Magazine, GQ, The Hairpin, Rolling Stone, and more. Find more of her work here.