I have found a most helpful marker to enable me to distinguish between the gatherings I can manage gracefully and the ones where my stamina is likely to give out and I might
a) behave badly
b) feel the need to leave, urgently and fast
c) be so drained that I then behave badly all the rest of the day.
I can tell if it’s likely to work out by whether the people’s mouths are open or closed.
The kind of gathering where people have their mouth open is the sort where I am likely not to cope. I mean the kind of event where people look like this. If they are looking like this or this, I’ll probably be OK.
If the socialising is taken a stage further and as well as showing their teeth and red glistening bits of their mouths and standing too close they are also smacking their lips over food, or eating with their mouths open in demonstration of how delicious something is, or making loud wet kissing noises in greeting each other, I definitely shouldn’t be there because it freaks me out even when it’s only on telly.
I have found it very helpful to arrive at this discovery because it helps me sort things out. At our church, the 10.30 service is the variety where people have their mouths open a lot – at the peace they come towards you with that look, and there is a significant amount of socialising where people look like this. At the 8.00am service, on the other hand, though the people are still friendly they mostly look like this (only with bigger spaces between them), and I know it’ll be OK.
I miss Quaker meeting, where their mouths are mostly shut tight all the time unless they have something purposeful to say, which I found very soothing to the spirit. But I still think I was right to decide to worship in the place my family can feel comfortable – I just have to identify which events to be at, and checking how the people do their mouths is a good rule of thumb.