Doctor NerdLove’s practical tips for how to not make an ass out of yourself at holiday parties.
We’re well into the holiday season, with Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, Kwanza, Yule, and Saturnalia all competing for our attention (and occasionally trying to edge Christmas out of a little market share) and then the headlong rush into New Year’s Eve. All of this means one thing:
It’s party season.
The winter holiday season—no matter which holiday you’re planning on celebrating is a time of almost constant parties: the dreaded “office Christmas party”, shindigs with friends, more formal Christmas Eve gatherings, the Festivus feats of strength, the rebell “Fuck the holidays” party in defiance of supposedly suffocating social norms and—of course—the all important New Years Eve party.
There’s so much cheer, celebrating and togetherness that it’s almost enough to make you want to hole up in a cave like a hermit until it’s all over and everybody’s stumbling back out into the light, blinking through their hangovers and life gets back to normal.
But whether you’re a party animal or a wallflower, parties make for an incredible opportunity to meet people, expand your social network and—critically—possibly even meet someone awesome and spark a new relationship.
But you need to know how to party right. There’s a fine line between being the life of the party and the guy nobody will forget—as much as you really wish they would. Whether it’s the office Christmas bash, a college kegger or a more elegant dinner party, you need to know how to handle the social dynamics with aplomb.
The first key to a great time at a party is to feel good… and one of the best ways to do that is to look good and feel comfortable. It doesn’t matter what kind of party you’re going to, whether it’s just friends hanging out in a backyard with some beers and a stereo or a catered affair: the more comfortable you are and the more stylish you feel, the more confident you will be strolling through the door. Clothes do make the man after all; it’s remarkable how the right outfit can make you feel like the king of the world, and this is the attitude you want to have when you hit the scene.
This means being freshly showered and shaved and in your favorite outfit… depending on the expected dress-code, anyway. You don’t want to roll into a semi-formal event in your best t-shirt, ripped up jeans, novelty belt-buckle and beat-to-shit Chuck Taylors after all.
So it’s time to take your look and kick it up a notch or two. You want to stand out, but just a little. You want to be dressed just slightly cooler than everybody else, not looking like you were attacked by a rampaging Thalidomide baby of costume store and haberdasher.
This, incidentally, is one area where PUA culture got off track. Mystery got away with fluffy top-hats, goggles and nail polish because he’s a stage magician from Los Angeles; it’s part of his archetype and is congruent with his personality. Everybody else in the scene thought they had to dress like him in order to show that they were uber-confident while also getting attention. Thus, peacocking was born, helping to keep Hot Topic flush with the profits from the sale of novelty hats and cheap body jewelry.
If you’re not sure what to wear, it’s hard to go wrong with a suit; you can get a great Rat Pack vibe with a pocket-square and skipping a tie if you’re worried about looking too dressed up. That being said: as a general rule of thumb is that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed and it’s far easier to make a suit seem informal than it is to dress up a graphic tee and tennis shoes.
Just remember: part of comfort comes from proper fit; if you feel constricted in formal-wear, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re wearing the wrong size.
Pre-Game The Party
Before you leave the house, you want to be ready in the right emotional state… so you’re going to pre-game the party.
Socially, that is.
Parties can be intimidating and draining if you’re a little on the shy side, introverted or just take a while to warm up to people. It helps to think of them as a social exercise, and just like with any form of exercise, you want to warm up first. You wouldn’t start trying to crank out reps on the bench-press without stretching and limbering up first after all, so why wouldn’t you want to stretch out your social muscles before heading out? You don’t want to spend the first half of the party either hovering around the food or clinging to a wall while you try to work yourself up into a state where you’re ready to start mingling; you just end up missing great opportunities to chat, network and flirt with everybody.
Instead, you want to get into that social headspace before you even leave the house. You want to get yourself pumped up and ready to have a good time.
Play some of your favorite music while you’re getting ready – something that gets you excited and makes you want to move. An hour before you head to the party, call someone you love talking to: a close friend, a family member, a particularly motivating co-worker and just chat. It doesn’t have to be for terribly long or be about anything of consequence; you just want an easy, free-flowing conversation to help set your mood and prepare you for later on that evening. You want to be feeling relaxed and talkative when you get to the party. The less time you have to spend psyching yourself up (or steeling yourself for nerves) the more time you’ll have to actually meet people… and you’ll find you’ll have more fun too.
Make An Entrance
Sometimes just ringing the doorbell to a house-party can be intimidating, especially if the host is someone you don’t know well. There’s nothing that feels quite as awkward as lingering on the stoop, worrying whether anyone you know is there already to make fitting in easier or worse, whether you’ve somehow fucked up and you’re at the wrong place altogether. I mean sure, what are the odds that two houses might be hosting parties at the same time but then again it is the party season and…
…and then the door opens and you end up slinking your way inside, eyes darting around for familiar faces and generally feeling as though everybody knows you don’t belong there.
Um… not that I would know anything about this.
This is another one of those times when your own brain tends to psyche you out and convince you that everybody at the party/bar/club/classroom is staring at you and judging you… and the reality is, most of ‘em didn’t notice you at all. It’s your own anxiety clamping down on what had been a good mood and the plan to have a good time.
Fortunately, avoiding this is easy.
Arriving with some friends in a group will help with the feeling that you’re at the wrong place or – worse – that you don’t know anyone there. Similarly, if you’re getting there late, having a friend meet you at the door can help set you more at ease.
Failing that however, there’s one trick that I’ve used with great success whenever I’ve been going some place where I felt as though I stood out like a sore thumb. Greet the host as they open the door, tell them the party looks awesome and they have a great house / picked a great venue/whatever. Then, on the way in, pause, look out into the crowd of party-goers, smile as though you’ve just seen you best friend and give a greeting head-nod. Suddenly you’re not the stranger who crashed the party, you’re a friend of a friend. This is a great way of helping to mitigate the “everybody knows I’m not supposed to be here” feeling and lets you get back to why you’re at the party in the first place: to meet people and have fun.
Know Your Limits
But speaking of having fun…
A lot of us use alcohol as a social lubricant. It helps lessen one’s social anxiety, gives a temporary buff to your confidence and lowers your inhibitions. It’s perfectly normal to have a drink or two to loosen things up a little, especially when you’re feeling a little anxious.
The trick, however, is to keep it at a drink or two. It’s easy to lose track of how many drinks you’ve had, especially if you’re having mixed drinks or shots of varying sizes. No matter how rational you’re convinced you’re being at that moment, it’s incredibly difficult to accurately and impartially gauge just how intoxicated you really are. The reality-distortion field that booze applies to your brain is very good at convincing you that you’re more sober than you are and that you’re much more charming and entertaining than everybody else finds you to be.
Plus, the last thing you want is to wake up the next day convinced that you remembered everything that you did that night right up until the moment that the tagged photos hit Facebook.
The last thing you want is to get cock-blocked by your own drunk ass or the having to sit through the humiliation of the play-by-play of everything you did that you can’t remember from the night before… and frankly, “Sorry for party rocking” was only relevant for about 20 minutes in 2011.
Work The Room
Even if you’re not necessarily the most social of people, the last thing you want to do at a party is hide out in a corner or behind a wall of people. You’re there to meet people and have fun, and you can’t do that effectively if you’re hugging the wall and hoping for other people to do the heavy lifting by approaching you.
Parties are easily one of the ideal venues for meeting people with an eye towards finding a boyfriend or girlfriend… or even a casual hook-up. They’re a time when the social rules not only allow for approaching and flirting with strangers, it’s actively encouraged. Everybody is there to talk to people, drink, dance and have a good time – setting up the perfect mood for making an approach.
Even better: because of the nature of parties, you’re working within your social network. If you know at least one person at the party, you’re no more than a couple of degrees of separation away from everybody else at the party, effectively making the entire party a warm approach. When you’re a friend-of-a-friend of just about everyone at the party, you don’t need an “in” for the conversation; you can just introduce yourself and follow it up with “So, how do you know so-and-so?” or “How do you guys know each other?”
Boom: you’re in. Pivot into a conversation, tell a few stories and start establishing yourself as the cool, social guy or girl that they enjoy getting to know. Making new friends at parties this way will help expand your social network, which will in turn mean that you’re meeting more folks who will invite you to parties and outings and introduce you to even more people.
Even if you don’t know many people at the party in the first place, you can use that friend-of-a-friend network to bridge the gap; you’re a friend-once-removed to someone at the party, so they are going to feel more comfortable with introducing you to other people. All you really have to say is “you know, I don’t think I know that many people here? Could you introduce me to some of your friends?” and lead them towards that cutie you’ve had an eye on. Being introduced by a friend provides more social comfort with the person you’re hoping to meet- you’re being vouched for as a cool person.
Know Your Role
Parties are a great place for flirting; it’s an expected part of the interaction. A little playful teasing is fun; the last thing you want to is to fall into “job interview” mode, where you end up asking the same questions that everybody asks everybody else: “where are you from, what do you do, etc.” Leave that for other people to bore her with; you want to be the person they associate with making them laugh and having a good time at the party.
Part of making sure that they have a good time is that you don’t stick to them like glue. Too many men – especially those who tend to have low self-esteem or poorly developed social skills – linger for too long, either hoping to build chemistry via proximity or out of fear that somebody else will swoop in and snatch the prize out from under them. Not giving her space is a fatal mistake, especially at parties; you don’t want the other person to feel as though you’re clingy – or worse, a creeper, and there’s nothing quite as sad as watching somebody try to wave off other potential suitors like King Kong swatting at airplanes. Acting jealous or desperate will only work against you. The best thing you can do is be making the rounds, talking and flirting to other people. Being the social, fun guy is far more attractive than the person who latches on like a love-sick lamprey.
Make Your Move
As the party goes on and the chemistry builds, you need to know when and how to make your move. You have a multitude of options here, all of them contingent on a number of factors. Some parties are better suited for hook-ups than others; these tend to be more rowdy and raucous house parties, rather than calmer, more stately affairs. Others have a more romantic atmosphere, especially any that feature a live band and slow dancing. The type of party you’re attending will say a lot about the people who attend and what they’re more likely to be receptive to.
If you’ve been doing your job right building physical and emotional chemistry, you may well find yourselves in a quiet corner where the mood is right and your heart is pounding with anticipation. You need to read her signs; has she closed the gap between the two of you? Is she drawing attention to her lips by biting them or licking them? If so… well, it’s time to move in slowly and go for the kiss.
On the other hand, you may be having a great time, but it’s not the right time or place for trying to make a physical move. The best thing you can do is tell her “Hey, I have to go, but I’m really having a great time and I want to keep talking to you. Why don’t we meet up this Wednesday at this awesome bar I know?” and get her number.
Don’t linger for long after you have the number; make your exit with grace and text her the next day.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to get the numbers of the other awesome people you met that night. You want to solidify those contacts and expand your social network to include them.
After all, they’ll be throwing parties too…
Photo courtesy of Flickr/ dpstyles™