Are You Most Comfortable One-on-One?

Are you the kind of person who has always spent time with friends, family, or co-workers one-on-one, rather than in small groups?

It seems to me that people tend to fall into two types, being either ‘group’ people or ‘solo’ people. I’m not naturally a group person. In the past I’ve never been one to suggest that a group do something together. “Let’s all go to the movies!” Nope. That was not me. I’m drawn to the individual, because one-on-one time feels well-spent, by which I mean deeper, more interesting, and less superficial.


But, as always, it’s in my nature to double-check my assumptions, to do a 360 degree walk around my habitual behaviors, to investigate myself. So, when I began to wonder why is it that I have spent more time one-on-one than in groups, I came up with the answer that it’s got to have something to do with growing up in an alcoholic household.


People who grew up in a family that spent a lot of time with other families and extended families where lots of people-centered events took place will grow up to find themselves comfortable and naturally drawn to spending time in groups. They were raised that way!  (An image of a first-generation Italian family comes to mind — food-centered and family-centered gatherings of people, with large amounts of hot, homemade food, jolly conversation, and laughter.) In any case, the alcoholic family isn’t one like that — alcoholic families tend toward isolation. An alcoholic family tends to breed loners.


If we grew up in a family that was isolated because of its “illness” of alcoholism, then we’re not going to be naturals at enjoying group events. Just the opposite; we tend to feel extra-awkward, lost, or left out and insecure in groups of three, or four, or more. We grew up uneasy with our own spontaneity. We haven’t let our spontaneous self out to play very often, or not at all. We’re out of practice, and some of us are likely afraid that if we let our real self loose, we’ll be laughed at for being us, and ultimately be rejected.


Guess what? It’s harder to control one’s spontaneity in group settings. Spontaneity is required for groups, and it’s impossible to pretend to be what the other person seems to want when you’re in a group setting.  (If you’re a people-pleaser, then it’s easier to be one-on-one and just reflect what the other person seems to need — not so with groups of people. )


Small talk and large groups go together like pasta and garlic bread (i.e., they go together deliciously.)


People from alcoholic families don’t feel very talented at making small talk (brevity is even a challenge on Facebook).  Small talk is hard because we didn’t do much of it in our families. Talk in our families was loaded with meaning, accusations, longing, and suggestions of betrayal.  And, so, we are hard-wired to REACT to what is being said to us. And, also, we never learned how to RELAX, stop reading things into every word people utter, and just have a simple, meaningless conversation.  Let’s have more meaningless conversations, let’s just simply enjoy one another’s company!  Lighten up, laugh.  Let go of your old habit of unconsciously monitoring every conversation for threats to your safety. That’s an old habit.


So, why don’t we hang out in groups more often, and let our spontaneity out to play? Why not say ‘yes’ next time you’re invited out, or take initiative and invite a group of people to do something (don’t worry what people will talk about or if they’ll get along)? Wouldn’t it be a relief to let go of your analytical, over-active mind, your self-checking apparatus, and have fun?


I often admire eccentric, loud, or brash people — not because I like them, but for their spontaneity.


If you’re a narcissist, this may be hard because one-on-one situations are best for captivating (or would that be monopolizing?) a person’s attention entirely — you only have to fight one person for the spotlight, not three or four. And it’s harder to enjoy yourself in a group because you have to draw on skills that you infrequently use, like listening, having interest in what others have to say, and good conversation skills. But, do try it.


You’ll learn more about life listening than you will talking, I guarantee it. Listen with interest, not an agenda. This takes practice, incidentally! Get used to asking people “Why?” a lot, or “Really?” or just, “Yeah?” and waiting, quietly for the response.


Shut off your head, and open your ears.


We’re growing up, bit by bit.


  1. Keely says:

    Interesting post. I’ve recently been coming to terms with the fact that I’m terrible at having light, casual interactions with people. It never occurred to me that it might be because I was raised by a single mother who was constantly reading things into what I said and how I said it. Small talk on some level probably feels too risky. If you don’t really need to say something why say it and risk it being misunderstood.

  2. Madeleine says:

    I’m really glad you’re back!

  3. amyeden says:

    Thanks Keely.
    Light, casual interactions are painful! I always feel like I’m winging it, getting through by the skin of my teeth.
    I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie I Love You, Man, but when it comes to small talk, I feel like the main character, who blurts out nonsensical comments because he’s nervous and the stakes are high (i.e., he wants to be liked). I felt like I was laughing at myself as I watched the movie.
    Small talk can be SUCH a delight and a break from my analytical mind and all those heavy, “loaded” conversations.
    And I think small talk gets easier with practice, too. (And it’s not “small” at all!)
    Thanks for the comment,
    – amy eden

  4. Teek says:

    Thanks for clarifying that feeling of hypervigilance re: threats, put downs, accusations from my abusive mother and stepmother, and a couple of “friends” who used me for a mirror in which to see everything they hated about themselves, then punished me for. I’m glad to say I am truly done with that BS, but you gave me extra insight.
    I actually do much better now with groups and welcome it to some extent. Considering that I had a severe anxiety disorder growing up (from the abuse) it’s nice to have my real nature with people be accessible again.
    Thanks so much for this wonderful blog!
    And congratulations on your lovely new baby, I have a feeling this will be one very fortunate child! :)

  5. Ryan says:

    Welcome back, I like the new layout! Another point well made for you. I have had a tendency to isolate myself while in a group since school days. I guess thats where I am most comfortable. My wife comes from a socialy “normal” family and has done wonders to help me with this and adapt me to groups of people without having an anxiety attack wondering what everyone is thinking about me…It has taken a long time to realize that the only one analyzing me is…me!

  6. dennis says:

    i’ve always done better with one friend rather than a group until best and only friend of over 20 years was recently imprisoned for something he didn’t do.this friend and i were attached to the hip for over 20 years and he is a cousin as well,so we shared family ties as well as being best friends.i wish now i’d have made at least one other good’s difficult to find someone else out there in the world who desires to hang with just one person and to begin to establish that kind of friendship with someone.most people are group people.solo people are so hard to find when looking for friends.i wish i felt more comfortable with a would be esier for me at this time,but i’m not.

  7. Paul says:

    For the most part I am the same way. Is this why it is so hard to find an ACoA group meeting? LOL

  8. Gina says:

    I am an INFJ. I always thought my reaction to groups was because I was an introvert. but you’re right, the motivation behind staying away from groups doesn’t necessarily follow personality. and being an acoa Italian makes things even more twisted. You don’t just alternate between feeling ashamed, over-analyzing, and fear of rejection. it’s almost like feeling trapped in your own body, the only people you want to hang out with are the ones who are most destructive to your self esteem which just makes you nothing but angry all the time. am i loyal or disloyal? do I compete or not? do i allow myself to respond and get pulled in? not eating at the table is not an option…at least not unless I want to be part of a group meltdown.mostly it’s just easier for blocks of people to band against you if they decide they don’t like the way you’re doing things. is it possible to be free of myself and my family? so the next logical question then is how much of this is really personality and how much is dysfunctional upbringing? –gf

  9. Susan says:

    I’ve been browsing the archives here today, Amy and you are so right on the money here again. I think this is why I like blogging tweeting and Facebook – I can think about what I want to say before I say it. It never fails that if I am in a situation that requires spontaneous interaction that I bomb – badly.
    Thanks for what you do here:)

  10. shyska says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’m linking this to my LJ, and thought you might appreciate knowing. I found your site through a google search that brought up this hit:

  11. maks says:

    I would disagree. My AcoA is more comfortable with groups and small talk because they tend to be superficial and I prefer one on one even though I am not ACoA. I am Russian Romanian and I would say in Russia and Romania families with alcoholics are not isolated in the sense you mean. People don’t hide their drinking here because it’s so widespread and rarely anyone drinks alone, there is even a joke that drunks go in groups of three. There are get togethers and parties all day long, the isolation happens on more initimate, one on one level – it simply stops existing.

    • Amy Eden says:

      That’s interesting to learn, and thank you for sharing that. I’m very interested in learning how drinking and addiction look in other cultures. “Groups of 3!” Is it like they’re alone together? Sometimes it’s easy to hide in a group, to stay superficial.

      What happens when just two people are together? Or do friends most often spend time together in groups only? Is one-on-one, when it occurs, intimate and real, honest? Do the masks come off? Too scary? Very curious.

      Thank you!

      • maks says:

        Well, I am too young to know since the three drinkers tradition originated (somewhere around late 70s). The thing was Soviet Union was not what people in other countries think it was. First, there totally were no “equality”: there were government officials, that is any position staring with manager and higher, and then there was regular folk. The male regular folk drank, all of it. One very famous Soviet actor who I really like since he played in comedies and he was beloved all around the country but he was also a teetotaler which at those times was perceived as not manly and whats wrong with you. So when his son was drafted in the army and he went to visit him, some officer offered him an alcoholic drink and he refused. He did it nicely and he did say that he didn’t drink but nobody believed him! Instead they decided he considered himself too “popular” to drink with the likes of them. To get revenge they made his son’s army life real hell and put him through such abuse and humiliation that it broke him complitely and ruined his relationship with his father.
        So usually men would get in groups of three because a bottle of vodka and some snack cost 3 rubles and it made sense economically but I actually think you are right and it was more because drinking one on one was intolerably close so they needed a third party to “get lost in a group”. The whole reason why people drink so much in my countries is because they try to run from reality they perceive as too hard to face and change.

  12. maks says:

    gosh sorry for typos, I really should start proofreading what I write. hopefully message still comes across.

  13. maks says:

    When I was growing up the relashionship between people and alcohol was very weird: real men were supposed to like drinking and want to get together and drink but being a drunk was “bad”, mind you, not unacceptable, just “bad”. In other words, if you have a job, you have a car, house, and provide for your family your drinking is not alcoholism, it is you being a normal guy. If you have nothing and sleep in a ditch then you are a drunk but again, people may comment, people may disapprove but they still don’t perceive that as something awful. Nobody knows about ACoA here, the only effect alcoholism can have on a family is thought to be economical. If you have money then all is great and your kids having any “psychological damage” need to watch less movies, get real, and get over it.
    Things are changing now. I can’t be an absolute expert on Russians because I am a weird multicultural multilingual blend and even though I live in Russia I have no friends here and I identify myself as Romanian, but I can definitely see the difference, here and in Romania. Young people may struggle and be lost and get too much of American pop culture in them (parties and sex and fashion) which is just another way to run from reality but they also more mindful about alcohol and drug addiction and they are asking questions and many many of them were severly hurt by their parent’s drinking so they are more invested parents, they are willing to do better than their parents and they are willing to face uncomfortable truths about themselves.
    I did come across people imbittered by their relashionship with an ACoA but these people don’t seem to understand that if in the US one out of every 5 people is an ACoA (and that is just offical statistics but we all know it is way more than that), than in Russia and Romania that is …. well, one in every three. And if we add here the grandparents who were alcoholics? Even more than that.

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