I fervently believe there’s a level of hell that’s full of people standing awkwardly around a bowl of pretzels, trying to make small talk. I really hate parties. I never know how to dress, how to act, what to say, where to stand, or what to eat. A lot of my party-going time is spent standing in corners, staring at the wall across the room, with an expression that I think is a friendly, welcoming look, but which has been interpreted as a withering, “stay-away-because-my-best-friend-just-died” look. (Those aren’t my words. A stranger once described my face that way in high school.)
I spend a lot of time being awkward. It’s such an innate skill of mine that I’m thinking of turning it into a street performance act and making a little money. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill you can really brag about at dinner parties or after-work get-togethers. I demonstrate it for people instead, but no one really gets my art. The point is, I’m terrible in social gatherings of four or more. I can’t be the only one, either, so I made a guide. (I know I’ve been making a lot of guides lately. It’s all in the hope that they’ll help me, too. So far no dice.)
Stephanie Summar, Conjuror of All Things Awkward, Presents “How Not to Act at Parties”
Don’t rely on food to help you.
This is a rookie mistake… that I make all the time. I spend a tremendous amount of my life vigilantly avoiding food that isn’t bite-sized because I know the instant I put it in my mouth, someone will ask me a question or need CPR. At parties, however, I do the opposite. Some foolish part of me believes that if my mouth is full of food, it will discourage conversation. This is wrong. Exactly as you’re struggling to close your mouth over a piece of sushi the size of your fist, someone will ask how you know the host. Then you’ll both have to stand there in embarrassed anguish, while you plead with your eyes that they walk away so you can tilt your head back and swallow the raw fish like a pelican.
Avoid getting a drink because you’re not thirsty.
Cups are great, because you always have something to do with your hands. I sometimes grab two cups, because then I have something to do with both my hands and when I’m alone, I can wander around pretending I got the second drink for someone I’ve misplaced. The only drawback is if you talk with your hands. (I didn’t realize I do until a date that ended when the chopsticks I hit animatedly smacked our waiter in the back of the head.) You may end up sloshing yourself, or another partygoer with your beverage. This is especially bad at ice skating parties when you’re drinking hot chocolate.
If there’s alcohol, don’t drink until you feel more social.
For me, the outgoing feeling doesn’t hit until about two drinks in, which also happens to be around the time that I need to stop drinking before I say something foolish. The result of this unfortunate coincidence is that I end up laughing a little too hard and saying things like, “Do you know that song? The one that goes like this?”, then singing. I’m going to let Tina Fey demonstrate my drinking style, in yet another unlucky Liz Lemon/Stephanie Summar parallel.
Don’t stand in a corner or against a wall.
Cosmopolitan, which is never correct, may actually be right this time. Their articles urge you to go to the center of the room, to focus attention on you. For introverts, it sounds like cruel and unusual punishment. We naturally gravitate towards the edges, where it’s safe and no one can stab us with forks from behind. (Not that I’m worried that will happen.) (Yes I am. I’m so worried that will happen.) Although corners and walls make you feel protected, they also cut off your escape routes. In a corner, you have one side open. If someone engages you in an awful conversation on that side, all hope is lost. The only method of escape is to tackle them and run, which doesn’t seem very sociable. Against a wall, your only option is to slide sideways, hoping you’ll eventually hit an opening and be able to duck into another room. This method’s drawbacks include accidentally bumping the light switch and shrouding the party in darkness (WHICH IS EVEN WORSE BECAUSE YOU CAN’T SEE ANYTHING COMING) or finally feeling that break in the wall and stepping backwards, only to find it was the top of a staircase.
Don’t bring an outgoing friend to the party, thinking they’ll be your buffer.
By definition, extraverts get their energy from other people. They want to mingle at parties, which means you’ll be abandoned the second a newer, shinier, less-neurotic person comes into view. Your friend will come back to check on you periodically, but never long enough for you to hold their their attention. They won’t save you from small talk because if they see you talking to someone else, they assume you’re finally having fun and not dying on the inside in the most horrible, slow, painful way possible.
It’s impossible to convey this message with your eyes because the discreet eye signal for “I cannot breathe. Help, this is awful” is always mistaken for the eye signal for “I’m having the time of my life! This is so interesting! Wheee!”
Don’t try to sneak out quietly.
Someone notices every time. When you quietly thank the host, they’ll beg you to stay because you haven’t met half the people at the party. Even if you extricate yourself from that situation and time it so perfectly that you’re at the door at the very same second a giant punchbowl has just fallen over your host’s baby, and everyone’s worrying because the kid is trapped beneath the bowl like a confused fish in an aquarium, the baby will be rescued in time for one person to notice you turning the doorknob.
That person will always say something like, “Leaving so soon?” and every eye in the place will turn to you.
You’ll have to smile and say something like, “Yep. I hate fun,” even though you don’t hate fun– you LOVE fun. You just love the kind of fun that involves a roller coaster or a large bowl of mashed potatoes or reading about astronauts, not this kind of fun. Everyone will laugh awkwardly and judge you, and you’ll walk out of the party exhausted, feeling like a party-pooper, thinking, Next time. Next time I’ll do what Cosmo says. Next time I’ll stand in the middle of the room and laugh like Julia Roberts and everyone will love me and ask me questions about astronauts and mashed potatoes.