I sat on a couch a few weekends ago at a house party. I was invited to said party by what I’ll call a fringe friend from college. He was with work friends at the party, so the only person I truly knew on a first name basis ten minutes after arriving was the kid who had invited me. The anxiety I felt in that situation was unbridled and raw. Should I start milling around on my own and hitting on girls? Better not, can’t risk alienation from every girl here within the first ten minutes. Should I ask the host if he wants to shotgun a beer? Too desperate. Was this one of those parties with only couples at it?
So many questions. Enough uncertainty to make my brow and upper lip sweat uncontrollably.
In the past, I’ve thrived at house parties. When you know everyone at a house party, everything goes. You can yell, you can make jokes that don’t land, you can throw up in the bathroom. In short, you can be yourself. When you’re in a city with a limited friend group you can kiss that good time feeling goodbye. Familiarity is what made me comfortable at house parties of yore. I always had a backup plan and a backup-backup plan if I got bored or did something truly horrifying. Horrifying would include, but is not limited to, hitting on a girl who wasn’t interested in my advances or insulting some guy who couldn’t take a joke. Here – in Austin – on that day a few weekends back, this house party was the only thing I had going for me. I had to make this work or go back to my empty apartment. And make no mistake, it was fucking hard. I can’t say I did a great job of putting myself out there on that particularly sweaty Saturday night, but I wasn’t horrible either.
So what is more exhausting? A party or a bar? It’s a tough call, but I would venture to guess that most people will say the bar is much more tiring because at least when you get invited to a party you’re not surrounded by strangers, right? I can get down with that train of thought most days, but what happens when, like me, you’re invited to a party in a city in which you’ve only just recently moved to? I’ll tell you what happens: sheer, unadulterated panic.
When you’re invited to a party where you only know one or two people, you better be #on or else you’re going to wind up standing next to the kitchen counter checking your phone for an hour before you finally decide to slip out unnoticed. For those who aren’t familiar, being #on just means that you’re firing on all cylinders. Everything you say is met with haughty laughter, high fives, and side eyes from guys who wish they would have thought to say what you just did. But being #on at a party where you don’t know anyone is next to impossible because you’re treading lightly. Walking on eggshells. Making sure everything you say can’t possibly be taken the wrong way. Only involving yourself in safe, politically correct conversations. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you do put yourself out there, you’re at a very real risk of becoming secretly hated. If you don’t, you’re just the squid in the corner who everyone is ignoring.
Meeting new people is hard in your mid-20s. You don’t want to come across as too nice, but you also don’t want to seem aloof to a person you’ve only just met. You need to toe the line between dickhead and affable, and staying on that line throughout the night is damn near impossible. You can’t just be going up to other bros and asking them if you can get their number to hang out sometime. I mean, I guess you can do that. But I’m too self-conscious and in my own head to think that another guy would just want to hang out with someone who they met five minutes ago. The same goes for girls. Ask the wrong girl for her number and she’ll probably give it to you out of pity then walk away and tell all of her girlfriends (or worse, her boyfriend who is also at the party) that the guy who no one knows is just walking around hitting on everyone.
The best thing you can do, nay the only thing you can do- is put yourself out there and hope you’re not chastised for it. Granted, anyone worth their salt will have haters. A certain amount of hatred is good for your persona at a party. Walking into a party where you know absolutely zero people wearing an absurd outfit can go one of two ways. People will hate how much they love you, or they’ll love how much they hate you. And in some cases, either one is fine. Just be careful. Get drunk enough where you’re comfortable enough to say something a little outlandish. Just don’t be the guy at the kitchen counter refreshing his Twitter feed. No one likes that guy..
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