how to: surviving parties for socially awkward people

My mother knows me so well. Here’s why.

One time she was on the phone with a family friend of her and my father’s age. The lady was a preacher’s wife. She invited me to come to her party with my family. I didn’t have anything to do, but I didn’t (still don’t) like hanging out with church-going crowds. I told my mom to tell the lady that I wasn’t going to make it. The lady then said, “Oh I’m sure Yuska would be the life of the party!”

To which my mom replied:

“Well, not really, no. He’s actually very quiet and shy when he’s around new people he doesn’t know. He’s terrible at making friends.”

I was 28 years old when that happened. What my mom said was not out of spite. She wasn’t trying to mock me. She was actually trying to save me from going to the party because she knew I hated parties where I had to feign interests and smile the whole time just so people wouldn’t ask me what was wrong. My mom succeeded, the lady understood, and I came to terms with my social awkwardness. Now I can read this article and not be blown away by the revelation.

Santa Bear and Seven Gay Elves by Mark Thaler.

Santa Bear and Seven Gay Elves by Mark Thaler.

Still, Christmas and New Year are coming, and there will be parties. Your family/friend/significant other may want to include you and you can’t really say no without sounding like a dick. You know you’ll regret it, but come on. Everything can’t be all about you.

Here are the things you need to do, especially if you’re actually not introverted, but just socially awkward:

Don’t drink.
If you’re like me, drinking will only make it worse. I’m a drunk. When I drink, I get sleepy and slurry and I’ll start embarrassing myself and others by revealing not only my deepest, darkest secrets, but also my companion’s. And my deepest, darkest secrets are not fun. Well, perhaps for those who don’t like me they are. So, don’t drink. Reach for the unspiked juice or mocktails or settle for water. Say you’re on a diet or your throat isn’t feeling really good or you’re horribly allergic to alcohol. Also, lay off food that makes you gassy. The sound (and smell) that comes out of the lower end can be just as embarrassing.

Find an animal, a baby, a small child to play with.
Generally find critters whom you’re most comfortable with, but do not give them desperate pleas to come back when they leave you (because they will). Do not fiddle with your phone. That’s just rude and will alienate you even further.

Be gracious.
Compliment people (sincerely) of their hair, clothes, collection of superhero figurines, cock-shaped weed pipe, but don’t just dish out compliments without thinking. One time I asked a woman where she lived and she said Fresno and instinctively I nodded, smiled, and said, “Very nice.” Learn to say “fascinating” instead of “interesting”, learn to say “fabulous”, “gorgeous”, “lavish”, in a sincere way.

Do background checks.
Ask your companion about the people you’re going to meet. Stalk their Facebook page, WordPress, Blogger, Flickr, Tumblr, LinkedIn, profile, Amazon purchase history, but don’t mention anything about their work, their posts, their photos, their vacations in the Poconos or Bali, the fact that they bought terrible books, or the horrible photos they took that have been Instagrammed beyond recognition. Practice your smile and your handshake while doing this. No, smizing is not the look you want to have. Background checks also include what kind of party it’s going to be, is it a garden party? An indoor party? A pool party? This is related to your wardrobe choices. Ask you companion what people are going to wear. Is it a black tie/black dress event? Is it a luau? Is it a good time to wear your Rarity muscle shirt?

La Banks showing you how to smize.

Make them talk. Forever. And learn to like it.
We all know that people are interested in talking about themselves. I mean, I know I am. I don’t necessarily like the sound of my voice (it’s too trebly), but I know I have interesting stories, like when I fell off a table I was dancing on at Hard Rock Cafe, or when I fell and grazed my palm and knees chasing the bus and bled all the way home, or when I fell while rollerblading downhill. But no. Ask people where they work, what they do for fun, where they got the ring/necklace/piercing/tattoo/hilariously clever boyfriend shirt, what they think of Rule34 Apple’s ridiculously overpriced products, that terrifying situation in Chechnya, or if they believe in God Santa Claus Baby Jesus love at first sight Obamacare Justin Bieber’s retirement announcement. Say “fascinating”, “gorgeous”, “priceless”, “fabulous”, “lavish”. Heck, say “fetch” and see if they get it (if they get it, then you know you’re with the right people).

Do not overact / overreact.
Your companion will be with his/her friends. Don’t expect him/her to give you undivided attention. I mean, sure, it’ll be really nice of him/her to introduce you to his/her friends, but don’t get too clingy that it gets uncomfortable, don’t be mad at him/her for leaving you alone from time to time, especially if you don’t understand what your companion and his/her friends are talking about. I did this once. We had great make-up sex the morning after, but not everyone is that lucky. Consider yourself warned.

Befriend the lonely people in the room.
It’s easy to spot them. They’re usually the new boyfriends/girlfriends. You can find them near the wine bottles, finger food/dessert trays, the cats, the dogs, or locked inside the toilet. You know, the things you’ll do. Sometimes the loneliest people are the ones with so many stories because they’ve been dying to tell people all night but can’t and don’t know how or where to start. Be the angel. Offer them the warming gift of friendship. Make them feel welcomed. Get a discussion going (movies, books, restaurants). Before you know it, your crowd will be the cool crowd where the liveliest conversations take place. That’s the power of social awkward camaraderie. It’s a socawkwarderie. However, do not talk about your companion’s bad habits just yet. You don’t know how they might process/use such information. Don’t trust people too soon, no matter how lonely (looking) they are.

If all else fails, suck it up and find a spot and stay there for the rest of the night.
Find a place to sit, to stand, to nurse your one glass of apple juice for two or three hours. Just make sure it’s not near the bathroom or the kitchen door or the bedroom door, or any kind of door. However, proximity is important. Don’t stand too near the crowd of people you don’t know (they’ll have conversation that includes private inside jokes you don’t understand), but don’t stand too far from the crowd either because then you’ll look like a lurker or a stalker (if you smile, that’s going to be creepy; if you look cross, that’s going to be a mood killer; but don’t be expressionless either).

Well, happy holidays, stay safe, stay sane, and be yourself. Sometimes the best way to win people’s affection is by not overdoing or underdoing things.

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