Navigating the social cues at a house party are difficult after college ends. That 23-year-old who is throwing a party in her first real apartment will have an almost identical party to a 21-year-old living in a dilapidated college house with five other people. There is a lot of cheap vodka, red solo cups, and maybe a bag of tortilla chips if you’re really lucky.
Strangers make out with each other, the music is always whatever happens to be in the top 40 Billboard at that moment, and no one really knows what they’re doing personally or professionally. The arguments for and against the house party abound, but once you pass that early twenties threshold and enter into seemingly “adult” parties, there really isn’t a whole lot to get excited about.
Mingling and making small talk requires high energy, awareness of surroundings, and a knack for picking up on lulls in conversations. I used to be good at mingling, but I’ve never exactly enjoyed doing it. When I was 19 or 20 years old, I could walk into a party and talk a stranger’s ear off about absolutely nothing without getting bored because I had a youthful exuberance about me. At 25, I get exhausted just thinking about getting dressed to go to a party.
Much like sushi, I have to be in a certain mood for small talk with a stranger. But when you agree to attend a house party at my age, it’s not only assumed that everyone will engage in small talk, it’s expected. And once you get to a house party, hanging out solely with the people who you showed up with is frowned upon. Standing in a corner with the guys you came with makes you look anti-social and that’s not what you want. But you also don’t want to just walk around aimlessly the whole time having the same conversation over and over again. These conversations are almost always about what the other person does for a living, whether or not they enjoy what they do, and what their fucking dog’s name is. It’s banal, it’s tedious, and underneath that earnest look on the person’s face who is talking to you, there is another person screaming inside of them, telling them to leave the party and go do something more interesting.
Small talk has never been something I was ever particularly interested in doing. I like getting to know people, sure, but the format at a house party for small talk isn’t really my thing. It’s predicated upon the notion that you’re interested in what a stranger does to make money, and unless you’re a hot girl, I really don’t care (and even then, my level of interest is not that high). You form these 10 or 15-minute friendships with total strangers over the most boring subjects in the book and then later, if you see them at the party again you don’t really know what to say. Mingling is just a whole to-do that, in my opinion, needs to be updated. How, you ask? Well, it’s actually quite simple.
First of all, you can’t just walk up to any Dick, Jane, or Nancy at a party and start asking them about their life. You’ve got to carefully observe before making any sort of move, always being on the lookout for someone who looks like they could be interesting and has the skill to hold an intelligent conversation. Avoid anyone you hear talking about their college major. Those people are always boring and they’ll definitely ask you questions like “How’s your commute in the morning?” and “Which high school did you go to in Michigan? I know a ton of people from your area.”
In my experience, you want to look for the people standing in the kitchen as opposed to the asshats sitting in the living room playing Cards Against Humanity or Apples To Apples. The people who have to resort to gimmicky card games are, by definition, awful human beings. Corny, boring, and void of substance. Also, remember to stay away from anyone wearing something tacky (i.e. Affliction shirts, bootcut jeans, or American Eagle button downs).
What you want in a potential “party friend,” as we’ll refer to them from here on out, is someone who you can latch onto for the majority of your stay. Similar sense of humor? That’s a must. The ability to subtly insult mutual friends at the party? You’re going to want to be able to do that.
Basically, you need someone who you can walk around the party with that isn’t a total goober but who also didn’t show up with you. There’s no forced conversation, no questions about where you eat lunch on workdays in the city, or observations about how bad the weather is supposed to be for the upcoming work week. You can stand in comfortable silence, walk around and meet other people with your party friend, or simply share a laugh about some girl you both know who is a total dragon in the sack.
I have a lot of friends who live for small talk. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it just isn’t for me. The people who are really talented at small talk go to the bar with you and lose you almost immediately because they step past the bouncer and start scanning the room for strangers to chat up. I’ve come to a sobering realization that mingling just isn’t in the cards for me. I’m a latcher and I probably always will be. I know there are plenty of you like me out there, so next time you’re at a party just try to find one person who is interesting enough to latch onto. Once you have the party friend you’re golden. Latch on and avoid having to do the song and dance that is mingling at a house party. .
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