This is a recurring theme for me. Along with the lesson that “no matter how much you think you can talk to your ex’es about your current love life, you really can’t,” there’s the lesson that “parties are for when you already know a bunch of people there, not for getting to know people.”
See, I keep making that mistake.
When I go to a party, I see a few basic strains of social interaction. First off, of course, are all the old friends. “Hey, I know you from such and such event way back when. How’ve you been? What have you been up to?”
At this party, I knew one person. She’s awesome, and it’s great to see her, but that’s not exactly enough to hang out at a party. I can hover around her, and start to feel like a creeper, or I can smile awkwardly to myself as she goes and mingles. Saying hi to her, seeing what’s up, shooting the breeze — okay, there’s 10 minutes. Now what?
Ah, you say, get to know people! Easier said than done; first, I’m kind of introverted and a little socially awkward — at least in this kind of situation. It seems incredibly bizarre and awkward to me to just walk up to a group of strangers and say “Hi! I’m Tom! Who are you?” Who does that?! Very drunk people, very socially challenged people (ie, too socially challenged to realize the awkwardness of the situation), and the insanely extroverted. I am none of the above. So I can hope for someone to approach me — you know, bring a few “props,” look approachable, have conversation starters… but eventually you run out of “shticks” and you’re just sitting there, again, smiling awkwardly to yourself, wondering why you’re there.
Finally, there are the drunks. Let’s face it — one redeeming quality of alcohol, possibly the only redeeming quality, is its function as a social lubricant. In other words, when you drink enough, you become insensate to all of the myriad social faux pas you are committing. You don’t care, just barge into that conversation. See someone attractive? Who cares if they’re there with their significant other, just walk on up and flirt! Strangely enough, this sometimes works — enough people at the party are feeling awkward and isolated enough on their own that they’re relieved when someone comes up and talks to them, even if it is a bit of a slurring, stumbling drunk.
I don’t drink. I can’t do this.
So this gets me back to the fundamental question: why do I go? I think that there is an aspiration coupled with a bit of magical thinking. The aspiration is reasonable enough; I want to be more socially connected. I want to have a circle of friends that I know and hang out with, and not just “online buddies.” I’m great at making online buddies, but honestly if you don’t hang out with them at least once in a while in the real world, that doesn’t count for much.
Unfortunately, the magical thinking gets in the way — the magical thinking is that if I just “show up” enough, eventually I’ll get to know people, start to get connected. No… not really. It doesn’t work that way. You have to interact, and let’s face it — parties are about the most stilted, unnatural way for humans to interact known to mankind. I am not doing the AA thing, but there’s a reason they tell you to “get involved” — chair a meeting, pour coffee, whatever. It’s because participating through some kind of goal-directed activity is the best way to get to know someone! Just throwing a bunch of people in a room and saying “annnnnnnd… MINGLE!” This doesn’t work. This never works. Problem is, I want to believe it does. I want to believe that I’m the kind of guy who can just show up at a party and magically start making friends. There aren’t many people in the world who are wired this way, and I’m certainly not one of them.
Parties where you know a bunch of people and have stories to tell and swap — those are great. You can reconnect, flirt, hang out. You can even meet new people — friends will introduce you, circles of conversations will grow to include strangers. But parties where you know almost nobody? Frankly these are a bust — you won’t make many new friends, and for someone like me, they are pure torture…
So I have to remind myself: stop going to parties, Tom. If this means I don’t go to the potlucks on Monday any more, so be it. But I’m simply not getting much out of them right now, and let’s face it — they are a test of my sobriety. I know that just a few drinks and I’d feel like Mr. Sociable — able to talk to anyone, flirt with anyone, gab the night away. That’s true. And that’s the danger.
So yeah. Stop going to parties, Tom. Find some other way to expand your social circle…