You know, you'd think that having been raised by a mother who is always the belle of the ball, who is a terrific hostess, and sparkles in social situations (even with her early dementia!), being the granddaughter of a grandmother who was on the stage and also loved to throw parties and was quite comfortable in social situations, and having birthed children like Ned and Tom who seem to exude sociability and comfort in social situations, that I would not be such a stick in the mud.
Now, I realize, of course, that there is "sociability" and the "air of sociability," and perhaps all these people in my family who seem to be so good at it are just actors, but I am neither a social butterfly, nor a good actor.
The holidays are always filled with social gatherings to which we are invited (many fewer this year than usual). I have also been to a few parties since the first of the year and I always come away kicking myself for sitting off in a corner (yes, Ron, behind the potted palm!) not knowing what to say and so saying nothing, and just stuff my face with goodies because it give me something to do.
Here are some situations which have come up since, oh, let's say Thanksgiving.
I arrive at a party and someone I have not seen in a long time comes rushing up to me, as I stand by the plate that used to hold shrimp and sauce. She gives me a hug and says "Oh, I haven't seen you in so long. I want to talk with you, but I want to get some shrimp first. Don't move. I'll be right back" and off she floats through the crowd.
I stand there trying to see where she is and soon I see her on the other side of the room, in deep conversation with someone else. I weave my way through the crowd and get to her side of the room, making it easier for her to catch up with me when she has finished her conversation, but she moves to another person and then another person. I am surrounded by people I don't know, so I finally find a chair that has an empty seat next to it and sit down. She never gets back to me at all. She leaves the party without even saying goodbye.
In another case, someone comes up to me and we begin talking. She asks me something about a show I have just reviewed. I begin answering her question and someone walks up and interrupts, the person who was talking to me turns to the interrupter and starts a conversation with her and I am left wondering if I should stay and wait for her to finish or move on. I stay and wait and when the second conversation is finished, the first woman walks off to talk with someone else.
We are invited to a party where I am under the impression that I will have an opportunity to talk with like-minded individuals, and when we get there, it is never pointed out who are the people I should meet, but I try anyway to get into the spirit of the conversation. Two people are discussing bread machines and how much they hate them because they make the wrong sized loaf. I happen to like my bread machine, but these people used theirs once and put them in the garage and obviously think anybody who would use a machine to bake bread (says the third person who joins the group), is cheating. Well, so much for contributing to that discussion.
Another group is discussing movies, which I find fascinating, but can only listen because they have studied these movies and have deep insight about their real message, and I have only gone to see the movies and enjoyed them (or not). I feel dumb and uninformed and just listen, but don't talk.
I am standing with a woman and another woman comes up. The first woman says "...of course you know Gay Flebbich. She's lived here 40 years, you've lived here almost that long..." and then she leaves me standing there with this total stranger whom, as it turns out, I have never met before. Gay Flebbich looks uncomfortable, turns and walks away, leaving me standing there.
I've tried stepping out from behind that potted palm and asking someone questions about their lives but, though interviewing people is supposed to be what I do in part of my job, I get monosyllabic answers and I can never come up with a follow-up question and the other person finds someone more interesting to talk to.
This is why I used to love my editor's Christmas party each year. The guests were, for the most part, a bunch of social uncomfortables, some of whom were good minglers, others of whom (like me) were not. For us there were party games we could play alone, answering trivia questions or counting objects or checking which of 7 drawings was different from the other 6.
If there was someone you wanted to talk with and if that conversation seemed to go well, that was great, but if there was not, you never felt that you stuck out like a sore thumb.
I like to think I'm sociable, but time and again, when we go to parties where we stand around a table full of food and drink and make small talk, I feel like a total idiot, like I don't have a brain in my head and even if I do, I can't formulate a statement or a question coherently, so I just stand there looking ridiculous.
Maybe I should switch my party beverage of choice from water to wine. D'ya think that would help?