I went to a party last night for a co-worker who is moving away. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve been to a real party. I have a small group of friends who get together from time to time, but a party is different. It’s bigger. It’s louder. And it’s way more complicated. I used to attend and throw parties all the time, so it’s not like I don’t know how parties go. It’s just that I hadn’t attended or thrown one in quite a while, and I’d almost forgotten how to do this party thing.
I should probably start by saying that I am mostly an introvert at heart. When I was young I was super shy, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become easier to be social. But in general, I tend to be a homebody, and am comfortable in small groups of people I know well. But when it comes to walking into a larger party situation, I am initially shy, and have trouble getting into the swing of things. Once I’m comfortable, I’m fine, and I don’t have trouble talking to people, but I still feel awkward at times.
Anyway…I was noticing the various aspects and complexities of a party. After all, when you throw a pile of people together in a new formation, you have to expect some interesting social phenomena. First you have the momentum to consider. As people are arriving, there is a low level of communication and activity. Introductions, making connections as to who knows who, and how you each got invited to this celebration. As the numbers of attendees climbs, the momentum increases, until you have a peak of hustle and bustle where everyone is engaged in conversation, and people are getting to know each other and feeling more comfortable as a group. This may be partly due to the consumption of alcohol and good food, which always seem to make people more social, but certainly not a requirement for social interaction. And then, as the evening wears on, and the group seems to have formed a set of smaller social packs, the momentum relaxes, and settles into a low hum. Then, folks start to depart, and the momentum goes dark.
Another aspect of the party is those packs that form. They are not always static. Some people hang out with only the people they know, or have latched onto early in the festivities, and never reach out to the other packs. And others like to regroup frequently. It was interesting to watch the packs move about last night, and see who stayed with whom, and who buzzed around and visited with everyone. I tend to be a flitter. I tend to eavesdrop on the various conversations going on in the various packs, and then I mosey from group to group. And it’s sometimes awkward, because you’re engaged in a conversation with your little pack, and then you get distracted by something another pack is talking about, and you jump into that conversation, abandoning your pack. On and individual level, I suppose that would appear rude…you’re talking to a friend, and suddenly bolt from him to talk to someone else, leaving him standing there alone. But in a party situation, it seems perfectly acceptable to trade pack members. You get up for a drink, or a bite of food, and you start talking to someone else near the refreshments. Or you hear something in the conversation from another pack that you know about, or feel you can contribute to, so you jump ship. No one seems to find that weird at all.
Adding to the complexities is the movement from a work relationship to a party relationship. This happened to be the first party I’ve attended with my co-workers at my fairly new job. They are all great folks, and I knew a couple of them prior to starting to work with them, so it was a pretty easy transition. But I did have to do some sleuthing before the party to get a feel for what type of gathering it might be. It’s quite different to be eating, drinking, and socializing for the first time with those that you normally work with. And I tend to do the nervous drinking for the first hour or so, and then realize I need to slow down. You don’t want to get really tipsy with your co-workers the first time you socialize with them…could be dangerous. And I’m not the type to get really tipsy much anymore, anyway. So, I think I monitored my consumption pretty well overall.
I guess I’ve never really analyzed the whole party scene before. But since it was my first party in quite some time, and with some new people, I think I was paying more attention than usual to the party machine, so to speak. I’m also fascinated by social interactions, so I try to pay attention to what’s really happening. Some day I’ll write about my bad habit of eavesdropping on conversations of strangers in airports and other public places. All in all, it was a great mix of people, and I was able to feel comfortable, and not hide in the bathroom all night.