Organizing fun gatherings

A reader asked:

Ever since my depression got better, I been doing more leading in get-togethers. Like inviting people over to my house and suggesting what we’re going to do. But I feel like people don’t have as much fun at my activities as those led by my other friends. I take a lot of input on what we do, and I tell funny jokes.

Is there anything else I can do when leading a group, formally or informally, to help people relax and have fun?

realsocialskills said:

I think you might be pushing yourself too hard.

If people are having fun and liking your get-togethers, that’s success. You don’t have to be the best or the most fun for what you’re doing to be good enough. It’s not a contest, and it’s ok if you’re not as skilled at throwing parties as some of your friends. It’s a skill set that you can develop over time.

That said, from the way you’ve described things, it sounds like your gatherings might be happening this way:

  • You invite people over
  • They come over
  • You spend time deciding together what to do
  • Then you do the thing together

If you’re doing it that way, it might be making your gatherings less fun than they could be. Negotiating with a group about what to do isn’t very much fun, and it can set the tone for the gathering being less fun.

Also, if you don’t pick the activity in advance, there will usually be someone who wanted to hang out who doesn’t want to do the activity that the group decides on. That person usually won’t be very happy, and that can make things less fun for everyone.

If that’s how you’re doing it, your gatherings are likely to become more fun if you decide on an activity in advance, like this:

  • Pick something that you and some friends like
  • Invite them to come do that thing with you
  • People who want to hang out and want to do that thing will come
  • People who don’t want to, won’t come
  • There won’t be any tiresome negotiation phase of the gathering
  • No one will be stuck in an unanticipated activity that they don’t enjoy

Some examples of activities you can decide on in advance:

  • A game night (either a specific game, or whatever games people decide to bring)
  • Going to the new Exciting Movie in a series you like
  • Going out to dinner together
  • A dinner party at your place
  • Getting together for movies and popcorn at your place (better if you pick the type of movie in advance, or maybe even the actual movie)
  • (Here’s a post about things some people like to do at Halloween parties)

In any case, organizing fun gatherings is a skill, and you’ll get better at it as you get more experience. You don’t have to be perfect or the best for your gatherings to count as successful. If you like them and most of the people who come like them, that’s success.

Short version: Picking an activity in advance and inviting people to do it is likely to be more fun than gathering a group of people and deciding together what to do.

Celebrating fake holidays

Sometimes families can’t get together on holidays or birthdays, even though they want to.

One way of dealing with this is celebrating a fake version of the holiday at a different time.


  • Frances: I can’t get off work for Thanksgiving this year.
  • Jeremy: Me neither. I really miss you though.
  • Frances: The airfare is really expensive anyway that week; I couldn’t afford it even if I could get time off then. Want to celebrate fake Thanksgiving the week after instead?
  • Jeremy: Ok. Can you take care of ordering the turkey? I’ll make the stuffing and pies.


  • Susan: I’m sorry I’ll be out of the country all month. Let’s celebrate your fake birthday when I get back?
  • Heather: Yeah, let’s have a party when you get back.
  • Susan: Cool, I’ll make you my chocolate cake, and I’ll bring you something awesome.

If you do all of the things you associate with the holiday or a birthday, it might not matter as much that you’re not able to do it, or not able to do it with family/friends on the day itself. Celebrating the fake holiday on a different day doesn’t work for everyone, but it works really well for some people.

About defining abuse

Hi, I saw your post about abuse. How can you tell if your partner is abusing you? I’ve been told by a few of my friends that what my boyfriend is doing is “abuse”, but I don’t think it’s that severe. I don’t know how to feel about the situation.
realsocialskills said:
I don’t know your situation, so I can’t tell you much about your relationship. What I can say is that friends can often see things going wrong from outside a relationship that are really hard to see from inside it. Whether or not you agree that what is going on is abuse, I think it’s important to listen to your friends, take their perspective seriously, and consider carefully whether they have a point.
If your friends whose judgement you respect think that you’re being treated poorly, it’s important to make sure that you understand why:
  • Your friends might be wrong, but I think you should hear them out
  • Let them completely explain what they mean
  • In the course of that conversation, don’t argue or defend your boyfriend
  • Listen, and make sure you completely understand what they are saying
  • Take some time to process and consider whether they have a point
  • What do they think is abusive about your relationship?
  • Do you think the things they’re talking about are actually happening?
  • If so (whether or not you’re comfortable using the word abuse) do you agree that those things are hurting you?
  • If so, do you think there is a way to get your boyfriend to stop doing those things? Is this something you and he can work out?
  • If he doesn’t stop, are you willing to tolerate those things long term, or are they dealbreaking?
  • If you’re having mixed feelings about this, it’s probably a good idea to go back and talk to your friends some more about what they’re seeing and what you’re seeing

If you consider what your friends are seeing and whether you think you’re being hurt, you’ll get a better answer than you’ll get by considering in the abstract which things are bad enough to count as abuse.

When a friend won’t take no for an answer

Hiya, I often don’t like being touched or having people get very close or breathe on me, I also can’t handle too many people talking at once etc. (I have actually suspected that I have autism for a while now)
But one of my close friends always gets really offended when I ask her to stop touching me or to leave me alone. It’s gotten to the point where she stresses me out so much I try to avoid her all day. What can I do? I enjoy her company sometimes but she really pushes my boundaries…

realsocialskills said:

I think it might help to identify when you enjoy her company. What kind of circumstances is it in, and can you make more of your interaction with her happen in that kind of setting?

Some people are nice to spend time with in some contexts, but don’t treat you well in others.

One way this can play out is that some people respect physical boundaries in environments that suggest them, but not in more open-ended space.

For instance, some people who will touch you if you meet up in their house or yours won’t if you meet in a restaurant and sit on opposite sides of the table.

Some people will respect your physical boundaries if other people are present, but not if you are alone. Or vice versa.

Similarly, if the boundaries she pushes are all or mostly physical, it might be that spending time with her online works better than hanging out with her in person.

It’s also ok if you decide that you’d really rather not spend time with her. Even if you like spending time with her sometimes, it might not be worth it. Most people who do deal-breaking things are also pleasant to be around some of the time. I don’t know what you should do, because I don’t know you or your situation – it’s up to you and how you feel and what you decide.