The ABCs of hanging out



By Grant J Everett

The onset of mental health issues can interrupt milestones that most people take for granted. For lots of us, our social development was interrupted. We might not have learned the basic social niceties that are expected of adults, or they’ve become blunted. Whatever the case, there are a lot of non-negotiable social expectations we need to fulfil whenever we go out with a bunch of with people. Thankfully, with a little practise they’re not that complicated.

First off: ALWAYS turn up when you say you will. Ditching people is insulting. Punctuality is even more important with time-sensitive events, like going to the theatre or if you have reservations. If you cannot make it to something you’ve committed to, call and explain beforehand, preferably with notice. 

Getting too familiar with people you just met might not be a good idea. Hugs and kisses may be unappreciated by virtual strangers. 

Bad language and off-colour jokes can also be a real turn off for a lot of people, so err on the side of caution. 

Try and include the whole group in the conversation. If anyone’s fading into the background, try to bring them in. 

Unless you’re after an argument, it’s best to avoid controversial topics. Politics and religion aren’t always off the table, but shoehorning them into the conversation may annoy people. If the topic comes up naturally and is relevant to what you’re discussing, sure, go for it. If you’re tired of hearing about Trump, you can always redirect the conversation. Just change the topic.

Basic hygiene is important. Every adult needs to shower, brush their teeth, apply deodorant and wear clean clothes every day.

Flexibility is important. If you’re arranging a get-together, keep in mind that certain days and times will work better depending on their schedule. And give people notice: coffee is the sort of thing that can be arranged a day or two in advance, but movie nights and dinner parties require a week or two. 

Overly personal questions might make people uncomfortable. Asking if they’re pregnant, how much money they earn or why they are still single are all best avoided. However, when you meet a new person at a gathering, there are a lot of good questions to ask. Exchanging names, what they do for a living and how you know your mutual friend is a good start.

Gossip can be a violation of privacy, and makes people appear untrustworthy. Ask yourself:  if this rumour was about me, would I want people secretly discussing it? Outing somebody’s sexuality, legal issues and recent breakups and listing things you don’t like about them will put you on shaky ground.

It’s best not to be stingy over small amounts of money, as this sends the message that you value a bit of spare change over your friends. You don’t have to be extraordinarily generous or anything, but be willing to pay your way. Consider covering the coffee occasionally.

It’s unrealistic to always expect to call the shots. If you’re going out to the movies, for example, try and reach a consensus about what to see and where to eat. It’s best not to steamroll your friends every time you go out, or they’ll feel ignored and not come. 

Afterwards, check that people made it home safely, especially if your friends are catching public transport at night. It’s good manners, and it shows you care.

Having a mutual experience of mental health issues can serve as a good foundation to a friendship. Making friends during a recovery journey has many benefits. For instance, you’ll know what to watch for leading up to an episode, and can empathise with them.

Do you always rely on someone else to arrange a night out? Pick up that phone and do it yourself! If you are arranging things, make sure to fill everyone in on what they need to know. When the movie starts, how much it costs, where to meet, and so on.

With a group outing, try and make sure everyone is acquainted at the start. If they haven’t met, do some quick introductions with their names and how you know them.

Only share what you are comfortable sharing. It’s totally okay to hold parts of yourself back if you aren’t comfortable sharing certain things.

Further reading

“9 Tips for Being a Great Friend” by Dawson McAllister

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