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You know the feeling. You’ve been invited somewhere. Somewhere fun, where there’ll be food and tasty beverages, potential hook-ups, and the promise of not staring at the walls of your own abode for a couple more hours. But the only person you’re guaranteed to know is the host—who will be busy making introductions and generally flitting about.
What to do? You don’t want to look like a loser in the corner, but after the cooped-up, sourdough-making, talking-to-our-plants year and half of isolation we’ve just had, you know it’ll be good to get out. To connect IRL with a living creature that isn’t your dog. So how can you survive, even enjoy, this gathering you’re attending solo? Let us count the ways.
Offer to help the host Whether you volunteer to assist in pre-party set up or passing the hors d’oeuvres, this is a genius move. Not only are you helping someone else, your good deed equally serves your own purposes. It gives you something to do, instead of idly standing around. In a LifeProTips thread on Reddit, user Rustytrout also notes that it provides social proof that you are tight with the party-thrower. “If you are seen setting up you are viewed as closer to the host and that immediately makes a strong first impression (presuming those attending have a positive view of the host).” If you don’t want to get stuck cleaning up too, specify you need to leave by a certain time.
Arrive earlyForget being fashionably late. Have you experienced the wonders of being on time? Not only do you get extra time with the host (who is presumably your friend), you can meet people individually, when they first walk in, instead of later, when less approachable groups have already formed. Another plus is being able to have conversations without needing to shout over the deafening din of dozens of people hopped up on booze. (Although if that’s your scene, you do you.) Bonus? No awkward guilt if you want to bail early and get back to your sweet, sweet bed for a good night’s sleep.
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Bring a skill Do you have a hobby or skill to contribute? Can you help make fancy drinks, or serve as an amateur sommelier? HouseTonyStark on Reddit noted that, being a cocktail lover, he once brought “a bunch of cocktail shit” to a party to make drinks for others. Even though he said it felt a little gimmicky at first, “it got me focusing on making these drinks (that I’m confident with) rather than worrying about whether I was saying or doing the right thing.” And everyone thought he was “some fantastic cocktail dude.” Winning.
Prep a few conversation startersIt helps to have some questions or relevant convo topics in mind that you can discuss when you feel a lull in conversation. Super simple things like: How do you know the host? Is that appetizer any good? Have you seen the new Marvel movie? or I’m looking for a few new podcasts, do you have any favorites? are all good entry points. And, yes, it will feel cheesy and forced…at first. But once the conversation gets going, you won’t remember or care how it began.
Avoid hot button topics that can start an argument, like politics or religion. And be aware that the question What do you do for a living? can be off-putting for some. When in doubt, pretend you already know the person. You look so familiar, have we met before?
Hand out complimentsWho doesn’t love a compliment? It’s a pleasant surprise that makes us feel acknowledged. Saying things like I love that jacket. Mind if I ask where you got it? or What a cool baby name! How did you come up with that? will earn you silent social capital.
Ditch the negativity Remember, everyone is almost always thinking about themselves. Themselves, you hear me? There is no spotlight on you (unless your hair catches fire when you laugh and tilt your head back into a shelf candle). Seriously, no one is looking at or noticing you nearly as much as you think. Ditch the self-consciousness, negative self-talk, and feeling like you don’t belong. You were invited, remember? That means the host thinks you’re a good addition to the gathering.
Adjust your expectationsIt may not go down as the best night of your life, or the night you meet your future spouse (though it could, just saying). But what if you went with the intention of meeting, say, three new people—or having just one fun or meaningful conversation? Seems a lot more attainable, doesn’t it?
Lastly, be proud of yourself. Interacting with strangers is an important—and sometimes intimidating—life skill. If you extend beyond your comfort zone and do something that feels awkward, give yourself props for trying.