Category Archives: anxiety

The French Kiss: An Aspie Makes Peace with Her Past.

If you’ve read my memoir,  Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, you’ll know I was once subjected to a French kiss that was the beginning of a severely anxiety-producing period in my life.  This column is about a much better relationship: one with the French language.

As Aspies, we need constant challenge.  To live without it is a form of unpleasant inertia for us.

Perhaps that’s why we find games so absorbing; they challenge us while providing an anxiety-free way of being engaged.

An Aspie self-reflection might be to ask ourselves how we can utilize our Aspie focus in a more productive way.

This early in the morning, I’m usually doing a French lesson on Duo Lingo.  So far it’s free, I’m interested and I’m learning French!  As with many games, my online French lessons do not require any anxiety-causing social interaction, just self-motivation and tremendous concentration, at which Aspies excel.

Why French?  Because I have a brief background in the language, including some high school instruction (This is Canada after all, where French is our official second language) and some French at university where a second language was required in the first couple of years.

So, imagine my amazement when visiting in France I discovered that while I could read the signs, and understand quite a bit of what was said, I was unable to communicate verbally.  When it came to speaking my tongue got thick, my mouth got dry and I got stuck. That was an unpleasant and for me, rather traumatic surprise!

Now I spend a great deal of time in a household which includes someone who is a native French speaker; someone kind enough to teach me conversational French.

Taking  advantage of this opportunity with any degree of accomplishment meant revisiting the vocabulary, the conjugations and the grammar. Voila, Duo Lingo!

At first the conversational aspect was terrifying.  After all, it combined a modicum of social interaction along with the practise of something in which I had already failed while in France.  It was an effort to go into the sessions and blunder my way through.

Then, one day, for the very first time we had a conversation in which I could fully engage, understanding every word and being understood in return!  It remains so significant to me that I even remember exactly where we were standing in the kitchen when the exchange took place.

I may never get back to Hyeres in the south of France, but I will have the satisfaction of being able to speak in another language.  To wrap my brain, my tongue, and my throat around another verbal method of communication can only be good for me in so many ways.  Surprisingly, each night, my dreams include a word or phrase in French.  And the exercises, now that I am in my third month of self-imposed study, have become far more complex; a challenge I enjoy.

Is French helping me in any measurable way?   I cannot say.  I can only say that the universe has opened up this opportunity for me.  And I learned a long time ago—do not say ‘no’ to the universe!

 

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My Asperger Personality Unmasked.

Research published online on May 19, 2017 examines the notion that Aspies and others on the spectrum camouflage their autistic personalities in order to manage social situations.

The study entitled, “Putting on My Best Normal”: Social Camouflaging in Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions* looks at a number of issues ranging from:

  • why females in particular are often diagnosed later in life,

  • if the fact that so few females are diagnosed is due to the feminine personality being more successful at camouflaging, and

  • that perhaps camouflaging can be detrimental to our mental health.

Before I read the study, I wrote this blog in an explosive mood after experiencing severe anxieties about taking a bath. I didn’t post it because I was afraid of what my partner would think if he read it.

After what I read in the study, I realized that by not showing him the blog I was camouflaging, masking my anxiety–though honestly, not very well.  

Why did I take a bath?  Because it’s such a normal thing to do, and I felt that I must be weird to be so resistant to sitting in a tub.

What follows in the resulting blog are my true feelings about the situation.  Looking at it now that a little time has passed, I realize that while some of the blog sounds reasonable, logical and fairly intelligent, other aspects simply seem to be the rantings of an angry child.

Here it is then, one Asperger personality, my own, unmasked and unleashed!

The Bath: A Source of Anxiety for Asperger Me.

As an Aspie, maintaining a relationship can be a challenge.

My partner thinks of baths as sensual, delightful, peaceful and meditative experiences.  Candles, essential oils, music, time for reflection.

There is no music in my bathroom, I told him.

To break the ensuing period of uncomfortable silence, I spoke up.  I said Baths are boring.  Which, granted, was probably rather inconsiderate.  That’s when he brought up the essential oils, candlelight, reflection etc.

You have to sit there.  I said.  Doing nothing.  

People who take baths seem to think that to truly enjoy bathing you have to sit in the water … like forever.  I am not tall, but my chest is always out of the water.  It gets cold.  I soak a cloth in the warm bath water, but it quickly gets cold too.

I could catch a chest cold.  Not to mention the other alternative: die of boredom.

You haven’t learned how to let go, he says.  How to be one with the water, breathe in the aroma of the oil, enjoy the sensual texture of the water against your skin.

It’s tap water, okay?  Tap water.

You want me to be at one with the water?  Take me to a warm ocean, where the air is fresh and salty, the water buoyant and in constant motion.  My body, floating, swaying with the sea, caught up in the ebb and flow, me at one with the sea responding to the universe. Now that rocks!  Moving in tune with the moon’s gravitational pull … that’s a sensual, soul-saturating sense of unity.

But a four-foot tub filled with tap water?  Come on!

You have to learn to relax, he says.  He means be STILL.  Unfortunately to actually be still is a physical impossibility for me.

I have a familial tremor, which means my body is in constant motion whether I am consciously moving it or not.  It also means my adrenalin is always, to some extent in fight or flight mode, under which circumstances, unless I’m sleeping or comatose, it is pretty much anxiety-producing to be still.

But okay.  I had a bath.  I believe I stayed in that tub for ten whole minutes.  Maybe eleven.

Because I know it’s important to him.  I just don’t know why it’s important to him that I have a bath.  I shower every day.  Sometimes twice a day. I’m a bit of a clean freak.  But it’s important to him that I try, so I’ll fill the tub, light the candles and sit there as long as I can bear it.

Next time?  If he brings in a portable CD player and puts on some Celtic music, I’m going for twelve minutes.

*More about this study can be found at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5509825/

 

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An Aspie Memoir: “Unforgiving” by Margaret Jean Adam.

I handed the ‘Life Writing’ assignment in to my professor.  It was entitled “The Fictional Story of My Life”.

He gave it a high grade, but asked me, “Why fictional?”

I told him, “because important factors have been left out.”  I didn’t say what.  Like not understanding how ‘social interaction’ worked. Or, like being repeatedly abused by a sexual predator.

“You should write the truth,” he told me.  His name was Roy Miki, it was to be his last class before retiring from a long and illustrious career at Simon Fraser University.  He knew all about hard truths.  As a young Canadian of Japanese ethnicity he and his family had been interned during the Second World War.  He had since fearlessly examined and written his own truths.

At that time I had in mind five books which I wanted to write.  My life story was not one of them.  But Miki’s words haunted me and I found I could not work on anything else. So, almost reluctantly, I began to recall and piece together my teen years.

“Focus upon an event or period of time that was pivotal, and write around it,” Miki advised.

So I did.  I wrote about the summer I auditioned for a part as the lead actress in a National Film Board production.  About the boys I loved and the numerous times I made an Aspie faux pas.

And about the humour and sometimes the horror of situations that arose as a result of not understanding the underlying messages in conversations or events, inferences that everyone else seemed to pick up on automatically.

The resulting book is not a fictional version, but the truth, or at least as much of it as I felt people could endure.  As much as I could remember.  As much as I could bear!

Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen is a book that is not so much about what Asperger’s is, but instead one which intends to illustrate the naiveté and social disconnection characteristic of Asperger’s.

I wanted to express how the realization that one is excluded from socially contextual understanding leads to strong feelings of rejection.  And how this sense of isolation then denies a person those meaningful ties which would otherwise develop to allow a teen to have a sense of security within her immediate community: family, friends, peers and lovers. A social shelter without which, she is isolated and vulnerable.

Easy prey.

And I wanted to express how, as a teenager, when I recognized this abandonment, and the full force of my emotional aloneness in the world, I found myself to be unforgiving.

 

To order a copy of Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, go to:

https://www.amazon.ca/Unforgiving-Asperger-Margaret-Jean-Adam/dp/0973136421

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Hey, Aspies! Here’s the Key to Social Connections.

 

Do you often feel like an outsider?  Unable to connect in a meaningful way with others?  In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I talk about how, as a teenage girl, “the entire female species was as foreign to me as a zebra to a long-horned steer.”

Fortunately, early in my adult life I found Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. I strongly suggest you find a copy and read it. His main lesson for social success is simply to get other people to talk about themselves while you actively listen.

And you may be surprised to learn that just being quiet while someone else is talking doesn’t mean you’re listening.  Really hearing what the other person is saying is the key to social connection.

This is especially true for us Aspies, because real interest happens only when we allow someone else into our neural space.  For me, this can only happen when I shut up and listen.

Only then can I ‘get’ everything the other person is communicating.

For instance, if the other person is speaking about the weather, or their vacation, that’s probably a good indication that, at this particular time, they don’t want to hear about world affairs, software engineering or other complex subjects with which you may be currently obsessed.

And if you think you may like to get to know this person, you need to keep the conversation on their level.  You need to ask specific questions related to what they’ve just told you, and you need to do so in a way that expresses your understanding and interest.  

Some people are lonely because they haven’t learned to listen.  They believe they are right–more intelligent, educated or experienced–and they bully their way through conversations, correcting people, and boring everyone with what they know on the topic. Sound familiar?

This conversational hi-jacking impresses no-one.  The fact that these people are knowledgeable, intelligent, highly educated and/or experienced in their field may be both true and appreciated. But it does not override the other person’s need to be recognized.

We all enter into conversations to feel validated.  And if that validation doesn’t occur, the brilliant intellectual is going to find himself or herself alone in a room full of uninterested people.

Listen.  But do not stand quietly waiting to say what you have to say.  Actively engage the other person while being polite, and attentive. Take care to address what they are saying.

You want attention, right?  So does the person speaking with you!

And if they really have nothing to say that interests you, excuse yourself politely and move on.  Do not be rudely dismissive. Everyone wants and needs to feel important. It is not always all about us.

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Asperger Dread: The Job Interview… Arrrgggg!!

 

Do you have job interview nightmares in which you self-destruct? 

 We all have them.  Even neural typicals, I’m told!

How may we best avoid them?  By being prepared!  If it is a phone interview, here are some helpful tips.

Read and re-read the job description before editing and perfecting your resume.  Then print a copy of your resume, and keep it on your desk so you have it on hand when the interviewer calls.

Make a simple, clear list of the main requirements of the job description, along with a succinct but precise list of how you can achieve them, and keep those lists on hand, also. 

Practice stating clearly and confidently out loud how you believe your previous job experience, your type of personality and your approach to your work make you a good fit for the job.

Read and reread the instructional email regarding the interview.  Make sure you have a clear understanding of the date, time, and process.

Here is my (latest) nightmare interview:

It is 10 a.m.  I sit, waiting for the for the ten o’clock phone call.  According to the email, this is the time scheduled for a corporate interviewer to contact me.

I have been recruited for this job so I shouldn’t be so nervous.  But my back and shoulders are rigid.  I rotate my shoulders and flap my hands, hoping to ease the tension.

It is now 10:13 a.m.  My phone should have rung by now, but it hasn’t.   I check the email.

Oh no!  I was supposed to phone them.

It is 10:15 a.m.  I quickly dial the number and navigate my way through front end messaging to get to interviewer.  I apologize for being late. and explain in my Asperger way what happened.

It boils down to: I didn’t take time to read the instructions I was given.  But neither the interviewer nor I am saying so.  No doubt she is madly keying this info into her computer file!

I try to collect myself during some general discussion of my work history (thank goodness I have my resume beside me, along with the job description of the position I’m applying for printed out beside me.)  I thought I was well prepped, but I blew it by misreading the email and now, no doubt I am considered to be unreliable! 

The interviewer is rushing a bit because we’re late, and I’m just barely managing to keep up.  Still, my preparation with the job description and my resume are paying off.

Next I’m given some sample client questions.  The first one is simple, direct, uncomplicated.  I confidently answer it off the top of my head.

The second question, is more complex.  I can only answer part of it without research, which I explain to the interviewer without apology.  Third question?  I nail it!

My confidence somewhat renewed, I deflect the interview back to her by saying I think she has a great job.  She agrees, and tells me a bit about it, and about herself. From this openness I gather she must feel I am a reasonable prospect.

Do I have any questions?  I do.  Are they seeking agents who can answer the questions, or agents who know where to find the answer?  She eplies that they want agents who know the answers and can back them up with online references and put it all in laymen’s terms.

The interviewer reminds me that my next interview is at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  As I am on Pacific Time, this takes some calculation and I realize it will occur in an hour and a half.

After the first interview, I remember only what I have done wrong.  I called in late for the interview, and I was flustered.  I didn’t ask a single probing question when given the sample customer queries.  I answered her first questions about the work with only one or two word answers.

 I make certain to call on time for the next interview.

Guess what?  I did get the job!  After my intial nervousness I was able to settle down, analyze the procedures and really excel.  But that’s another blog entirely…

For information on the most commonly asked interview questions and preferred answers refer to:

https://www.agent.media/grow/most-common-interview-questions-and-answers/

You CAN do it!

Margaret Jean.

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The Christmas Party: An Aspie’s Dread

In Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I am the only person in my entire class who is not invited to the class party.

Yes, it happens, and somehow, we survive. Obviously, I had no gift for social interaction.

But one thing Aspies are good at is learning, and our ability to learn and acquire social skills is key to our enjoyment of the world around us.

And, it’s Christmas.  If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a Christmas party, or maybe you just end up there by default–it’s an office thing and you can’t avoid it–wouldn’t it be nice to be able to relax and enjoy the moment?

Knowing some of the basic behaviours and unwritten rules that others take for granted have really helped me since that day of the big un-invite.

Let’s consider the office party.

First of all, I’ve been told that it’s rude to not show up. It could count against you. However, it is not impolite to come a bit late and leave early on, but if you arrive closer to the start time (say, 15-20 minutes after) people may not have clustered into cliques and you might find making and joining conversations easier.

  • Here are some conversation starters from the November, 2017 issue of Canadian Living Magazine:

    • Do you have any plans for the holidays?  Are you travelling?

    • What were your favourite holiday traditions when you were growing up?

    • Tell me about a book that has had a huge influence on you.

Be sure to see your bosses: your supervisor, the manager and/or the department head before you leave.  “Thank you.” And “It’s been a pleasure working with you this year.” are some things you might say.

Leaving early?  Even though the office party may be a high anxiety event for you, try to wait until someone else has already left before saying your goodbyes.  If it’s conspicuously early, you may say you have another commitment. But if it’s curling up with your cat to watch a good movie, it may be wise to refrain from saying so!

I do hope this helps.  Thankfully, my social life has improved immensely.  And believe me, yours can, too!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean

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Aspies: Ten Ways Volunteering Can Help Us Learn to Adapt.

When someone else changes plans which also affect us, as Aspies we may become temporarily stuck in a “this is unacceptable!” zone.  How can we become more adaptable?

What activities or new experiences may best help us handle change so that we might adapt to other’s needs and acquire a healthier focus; one which does not lead us to a feeling of dread when we must deal with a changed agenda?

Save The Children’s Marc and Craig Kielburger give a possible solution in a recent newspaper article*:

“Youth who volunteer through our service programs…are more comfortable adapting to change…”

Renowned for creating the Save The Children Foundation as a young teen in high school, Craig Kielburger still operates the organization that was originally entirely run by and for children.

In their article, the Kielburger brothers note the following ten ways in whiuch volunteering helps teenagers adjust to school and other stresses, including aversion to change:

  1. When you do something for others, your stress levels are reduced.  This is proven by research**.

  2. Volunteering may give you an alternative social scene, in which you can find a sense of community and belonging.

  3. Volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about will connect you with mentors who have similar interests.

  4. Helping others puts your focus outside of yourself, encouaging you to see your own situation in a different and possibly more positive light.

  5. Volunteering broadens your outlook.  Your own problems may seem far less significant when you come face to face with the plight of others.

  6. Seeing other’s problems, Kielburger says, can help you build both perspective and empathy.  Kielburger also notes that doctors state that empathy is a powerful antidote to stress.

  7. As a Volunteer you enjoy increased self-esteen.  According to research done within the Foundation, volunteers for Save The Children are 1.3 times more likely to “have a strong sense of self”.

  8. The kind of stress found in volunteering — that is, helping others with their problems — can be an opportunity to overcome challenges, to build resiliency and to develop self-esteem.

  9. Volunteering can build leadership skills.

  10. Volunteering helps develop a  life – long habit of giving back.

Find a cause you are passionate about, Aspies and get involved!

Maybe sorting clothes at the local hospice society thrift shop won’t do it for you, but perhaps volunteering in a Wildlife Preservation Society or starting up a chapter of Save the Children will.

Whatever you choose, if you give it your all you will find yourself thinking about situations, people and places beyond your own inner world.  Go for it. And, most importantly, enjoy!

*According to an independent study by research firm Mission Measurement.

**See:  https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-science-of-kindness

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Aspies: Back to School Stress: What helps?

School is a stressor for most of us.  While we love the learning, many of us suffer through the social aspects of every class from kindergarten to university.  A recent survey shows that 25 per cent of new high school students will rate their anxiety level at seven out of ten*.  Here are some ways to deal with that discomfort whether you’re starting high school, middle school, university or college.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the geography of your school, especially if it’s new to you. Where are the washrooms?  The lockers?  The labs?  What is the shortest route to take between classes? With your class schedule in hand, do a practice run from room to room to see where you’ll need more time to make the change.  Many schools have portables; do you know which portable your class is in?  How long will it take you to get from the main building to that class? Even if you attended the same school last year and the year before, chances are you’ll have some classes in new locations.  Knowing where you’re going and how to get there will give you a sense of confidence even before the class begins.

  2.  Check your supplies and organize them for easy access.  If you’re still using handwritten notes in a note book, keep the subjects separate, and the notebooks with the applicable texts.  Being organized means less time spent hunting down materials which means ultimately, less time spent on homework.  Who’s going to argue that?  One website, https://www.verywell.com/top-school-stress-relievers-for-students-3145179 has more suggestions for organizing and utilizing your study space.

  3. Always write assignments in one place.  This could be the notes app on your cell phone or lap top or at the end of your class notes.  Just be sure they are easily accessed and you won’t have to rack your brain about what assignments are due tomorrow.  For tips on how to organize your homework/study area and how to approach homework and studying, getting those assignments done and done well see this article at PsychCentral.com: https://psychcentral.com/lib/top-10-most-effective-study-habits/

  4. Study regularly; don’t just cram before a test.  Cramming seldom works.  Regularly familiarizing yourself with the information is the most helpful way of learning.  Talk about what you’re studying with someone else who is truly interested.  If you can help someone else learn, you’ll remember it far better at exam time.  For some excellent study tips try this website:  http://www.youthcentral.vic.gov.au/studying-training/studying-tips-resources/top-10-study-tips

  5. Learn to destress yourself.  At Wellcast’s website, you can learn 100 wellness techniques in 100 days.  This URL will take you to the one on meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWIFMfEgc8A

So head back to school with confidence and determination, visualizing a successful year.

Using these tips will help you do just that.

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

*McGill University Research conducted by Dr. Nancy Heath.

 

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Aspies Relax? How a Neurodivergent Rebel Learned to Meditate.

Apparently many people have issues with relaxation.  This week’s post is a reblog from a writer who goes by the moniker “Neurodivergent Rebel”:

TO EVERYONE WHO “CAN’T MEDITATE”

Mindfulness and meditation have been a big part of my life for several years now. I’m always happy to share with people how helpful meditation is for me.

Unfortunately almost everyone I talk to about meditation “can’t meditate”.

“I wish I could meditate. My mind isn’t made for that!” or “I can’t stand being still”, a few of the most common excuses why people tell me they “can’t meditate”.

People assume meditation was always easy for me, while in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

I started meditation because of a deep internal need for change.

My twenty-fifth birthday was coming at me like an out of control locomotive with a sleeping driver. The number made me uneasy and it was coming too fast. Like a doe, hypnotized by the headlights, I felt helpless to stop it.

Something was wrong, missing, empty and completely inexpressible. I’d been searching my entire life for something. . . peace, stillness, answers, meaning maybe?

In my mid to early twenties, I was very out of touch with my own feelings and emotions.

At first, my meditations were distracted, plagued with racing, unwanted, thoughts. When the goal was to count to five without allowing your mind to wander off, sometimes I only got to two or three before starting over, and over, and over.

It was hard, but as I kept on it things got easier.

Finally, with Buddhism, I was beginning to unlock the tools needed to understand and shape my own mind. Somedays progress crawled along at what felt like a snail’s pace, but every week as I continued to practice it got easier.

As I’ve grown older and incorporated mindfulness into my life over the years, things have greatly improved. I still meditate every day but the way I meditate has changed.

I meditate all the time. At times I may meditate for only a few minutes or seconds, whenever I need to calm and relax my mind, think more clearly, or gather the words for an important conversation.

Meditation has become the tool that I use to recalibrate my brain. Sitting tall I close my eyes and bow my head as I take in a deep, slow breath. As I breathe in I focus on the feelings of my feet on the ground or my butt in a chair (depending on where I am).

As my lungs expand I shift my focus to the feelings of my breath. With eyes closed, I listen and feel, asking myself – “what’s happening now?” Depending on available time I may stay for a while, eyes closed, nose pointed at the floor.

This micro-meditations can be as quick as a few breaths. I’ve even learned to meditate with my eyes open, although I wonder if I have a blank stare when I do this.

I take the time that I need and if I get flustered I remind myself not to rush, gently whispering in my own ear “relax, stay in the present”.

Every day I am needing to remind myself less and less, thanks to a very conscious choice I made years ago to change my life.

Dear people who “can’t meditate” – keep trying.

For more great posts from Neurodivergent Rebel go to: https://neurodivergentrebel.com/

Hope this helps!

Yours truly,

Margaret Jean.

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Aspies: Ten Steps to Mixing at a Party!

Happy New Year everyone!

Invited to a party?  Anxious about how that will go? Good news, Aspies: Mixing well at a party is really painless. Here are ten steps to being at ease at a party:

  1.  Be presentable.  Clean body and clothes, regardless of what you wear. Fresh breath and deodorant are a must.  No pet hair on clothes.  Lots of people are allergic and you don’t want everyone in the room moving away from you all night.

  2. Arrive on time, especially if it’s a dinner party. Don’t come early, and don’t arrive more than fifteen minutes after the specified time.

  3. Be thoughtful of the host/hostess. Where do you put your coat, etc?  Can you help with anything?  They will most likely greet you at the door, take your coat, and either hand you a drink or point you to the refreshment table/bar.

  4. Forget about YOU. This is a gathering of diverse people the host brought together with the overall idea of a fun/stimulating/entertaining evening.  Therefore each person regardless of appearance, abilities or disabilities, is worthy of your time and attention.

  5. Spend a little time with each guest as they become conversationally accessible. Introduce yourself, mention the weather or the funny hat the host is wearing, or how you know the host.  Ask the person about themselves: what do they like to do?  How do they know the host?  What is the best movie they’ve seen this year?  The worst?

  6. LISTEN: Really listen. You aren’t listening if you’re waiting to talk about your favorite topic.  And you aren’t listening if you’re looking around wondering who to talk to next.  To listen, look at the other person.  Absorb what they’re saying.  Think of something to ask that relates to what they are saying, or, if the conversation is complex, briefly rephrase what they’ve said to make it clear that you understand.  The point of any conversation is to draw the other person out, to see into their mind, their interests, their lives.

  7. Excuse yourself, when it becomes obvious the other person is never going to stop talking, or others have joined in and are pretty much carrying the conversation. Do not take offence that this has happened, it is a natural evolution of party talk. However, if you see people moving away from you? Probably you are talking too much!  Go on to the next.

  8. At the end of the night, say a brief goodnight to each person you chatted with, thank your host and check that you have everything; cell phone, purse or wallet, hat, scarf, gloves.

  9. Do not be the last to leave! Unless the host has designated you part of the clean up crew, exit the party in a timely manner. It’s okay to leave at any time, but probably best if you wait til after two or three others have left.

  10. The next day, call or text your host/hostess to tell them how much you enjoyed the event. Be only positive in this missive.  Do not point out how they could have improved the party or who they should not have invited or that your aunt has a better recipe for baked Brie.  Positive remarks only along with thank you.

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