A conspiracy exists and it goes like this: Parties are Fun! I keep falling for it. And then I go to a party, and I remember: Parties suck. I tell myself this is because other people do not know how to throw a good party. In my mind, a good party looks like the one Holly Golightly hosts in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There are assorted interesting guests wearing fabulous outfits, a bit of drama, and someone’s hair catches on fire but it’s no big deal. Alternatively, I picture some kind of hippie-fairytale-lovefest where people are dancing barefoot under string lights, passing the peace pipe while a woman with waist-length chestnut hair plays the guitar.
But I can’t blame these scenarios not happening on other people’s lack of expertise when it comes to parties; none of the parties I’ve hosted have looked like this. Which is to say, my parties look like everyone else’s parties: people sitting on the couch, talking about stuff. Usually boring stuff. There are chips, and mediocre wine. No one smokes anymore so no one’s hair catches on fire.
Neither am I the host I expect other hosts to be, flitting about, gloriously arrayed in a shimmering caftan, introducing people to other people, forging connections with my fairy-torch of luminous conversation. I do have one friend who is like this. She throws nice parties. She also has the good sense not to call them parties. Everyone else just does what I do, as both guest and host: awkward flitting from room to room until it’s time to go home.
The best party I ever threw was a Mardi Gras party. Someone broke a chair by sitting in it. I considered this a great triumph. Later, the party even devolved into people playing folk songs on a guitar. Where had the guitar come from? It was a minor party miracle. I should have also considered this a great triumph, but by then it was two o’clock in the morning and I wanted everyone to go home.
At a recent Christmas party hosted by someone else, I was flitting awkwardly until I saw another woman tucked into the corner of a sofa, actively avoiding the goings-on by messing with her phone. I have never seen anyone concentrate on her phone so hard. Aha! I thought. A kindred spirit! I sat down beside her.
“Hi,” I said. I was really going out on a limb here, trying to have a good time.
“Hi,” she said. She did not look up from her phone.
Feeling that forthrightness and even a bit of vulnerability were in order, I summoned my inner Brené Brown and said, “Do you feel awkward at these things?”
“No.” She did not look up. “I’ve been to enough of them to know what to expect.”
Clearly, the woman was some kind of party Zen-master. She’d relinquished all her illusions about the inherent nature of parties. I was out of my league.
“Um. Garrgh,” I said, floundering. A long time passed. Maybe four or five years. Finally the woman remembered I was there and that she had some sort of onerous obligation to respond to. “Why?” she asked.
“I dunno,” I mumbled, trying to remember why I’d started talking. “I guess I do? Feel awkward?” The woman was silent, still scrolling. “Okay,” I announced (unnecessarily). “I’m going to get a refill.”
I did not need a refill.
Everyone else seemed to be having a good time. They were talking to each other. Some of them were even laughing. I thought: What the fuck is wrong with me?
Perhaps it’s simply an issue of expectation. So many things in life have turned out lame that I thought would be unbelievably awesome. Grad school. Driving a car. Having my own mailbox.
Accepting that parties inherently suck once you exceed ten years of age is one of the hardest truths of adulthood. I still struggle with it. That’s why, at your next party, I will be the weirdo in the caftan, huddled in your laundry room with the cat and a creepy smile on my face. Don’t be scared—I’m only trying to make my face look fun. Have mercy on me, refill my wine, and shut the door.