The other day, my friend in New York was complaining. This in itself is certainly not remarkable. What got my attention was the subject of his complaint: He and his roommates were throwing a party, and had agreed to each invite a certain number of people. My friend had just discovered that one of the roommates had secretly invited way more than his allotted number.
My friend was furious about this breach of the invitation agreement. “It’s pretty messed up,” he said. This is not a paraphrase. He actually used the words “pretty messed up.”
To me, the phrase “pretty messed up” has always denoted the kind of offense that is so unbelievable that you’re not even going to bother coming up with a better way of expressing how terrible it is. It’s how a Californian might talk about incest. It’s not how I would ever describe a party problem.
For one thing, there is no such thing as a party problem, especially when the “problem” is that there will be too many cool people at your party. This is the very definition of a “first-world problem.” I mean, imagine how someone in a developing country would react to hearing this complaint. They’d be like, “We can’t even have a party because we don’t have water!”
And that does suck, but what’s really surprising is that there are actually people right here in the USA who hardly go to any parties — or worse, complain about the ones they do go to. Maybe we should solve these domestic party problems before trying to throw parties in other countries.
I should know: I used to live in New York, where there were so many parties that I would often find myself with more than one party to go to per night. Some people define success by job title or goal weight. For me it’s the ability to be at one party and then leave and go to another party.
I naively assumed that the rest of my life would be one long succession of parties (and some other stuff in between, so I would have something to talk about at all the parties). Then I moved in with my parents on an island in Washington, and the proverbial lights came up.
There was a time when I thought bars were a great alternative to parties. “They’re like parties you don’t have to be invited to!” I would tell anyone who would listen, which was no one, since I was the last of my friends to turn 21 and they were all at the bar.
However, in the years since bars have become available to me, I’ve come to realize that they aren’t like parties at all. They’re more like the United States government: They make a big show about your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, but when it really comes down to it, they don’t encourage talking to strangers. At bars you end up talking only to the friends you came with, which is fine, but not exactly ideal. Friends are just people you’re not interested in sleeping with because they are the wrong gender or have some other gross defect.
Once you grow up a little, you realize that the great thing about parties is that they’re like bars that you have to be invited to. Not only is there a better chance of talking to an intriguing stranger, but there's a better chance you might actually like that person. The invitational nature means that the guests have been put through, if not a fine strainer, at least the kind of strainer that ensures they know what a Facebook event is.
Another great thing about parties is the exchange rate. Where else on Earth do you give someone an $11 bottle of wine and get an all-you-can-drink alcohol buffet plus unfettered access to their medicine cabinet? Japan? I don’t think so.
The best thing about parties, besides all the free stuff, is their essential unknowability. Going into a party, it’s impossible to predict what the night will bring. This is mainly because it’s a private residence, so things can get pretty weird before the police are called. Will you fall in love? Will there be roof access? Will they play “Ignition (Remix)”? Will you say something brilliant like, “If that’s the remix, what’s the regular ‘Ignition’?” It’s this potential that makes it almost impossible for me to stay in on a Friday night.
In the last six months, I’ve been to exactly one party, and I only call it that because that’s the term the host used. Looked at objectively, no one with the ability to see and/or hear would have mistaken it for such.
The first sign that this was not a party was when the host tried to cancel the party before it had even begun. He said this was because not enough people were able to come. I’d never heard of such a thing. The reality of parties is that a lot of people don’t come. It doesn’t release the host from their sworn duty to have the party that I was promised via modern blood oath (Facebook message).
The other thing that confused me was the idea that there were people (and I use that word loosely) who weren’t dropping everything in order to go to a party. Remember, we are all on an island with zero parties per square mile; there’s nothing to drop. After considerable whining on my part, the host decided to have the party that no one was coming to.
I was the first to arrive. When you have only one thing to look forward to, you’re probably not going to be late. My hosts, a friend from high school and his wife, were gracious and had a kitten. I brought champagne. OK, it was prosecco, but still, it seemed an auspicious start to the evening. (OK, it was “sparkling wine.”)
Then the children arrived. There were only two, but in my opinion that’s two too many for something that has not been advertised as a children’s party. I felt the possibilities of the night begin to close down around me. Then someone turned on the football game.
Everyone was friendly and the kids were even cute, in their own way, but it just wasn’t a party — a fact that I pretended I hadn’t been warned about when the host tried to cancel. I began drinking at a rapid clip. I was so fixated on my expectations for what a party should be that I couldn't just relax and chat with these nice people. Instead, I was the guest who drank all the champagne she had brought for the host and made fun of football, as if not liking football is a novel position.
Maybe this specter of dashed expectations is one reason that people (more and more of them every year, it seems) claim not to enjoy parties. They act like parties are the absolute worst, especially around the holidays. “Ugh, I have to go to another party.” I may have had one disappointing experience, but it doesn’t mean I can get on board with the position that it’s horrible someone invited you to drink in their cozy home for free while providing you with open access to their friends and refrigerator.
I think a lot of this has to do with the rise of a certain kind of performative introversion. I say performative because I doubt that a real introvert feels the need to take a quiz about whether they are an introvert and then post the results to Facebook. I find it telling that this introversion does not extend to social media, where these supposedly bashful people have no problem bragging to strangers about being shy. Can you imagine an actual shy person shouting, “I’M SHY!!!” into a room full of strangers?
I have nothing against actual shy people, but pseudo-shy is a breed I cannot abide. You can identify these people because they are always going on about how they watched Netflix all night instead of coming to your party, or are Instagramming themselves swaddled in their bedsheets like overgrown babies. Now, I love bed and Netflix too. The difference is that I feel rightfully ashamed of how much time I spend in the former watching the latter. I would never advertise it like it’s the best thing about me.
This intense desire to brand yourself a loser, which includes “I’m such a nerd,” Nice Guy Syndrome, and probably juicing, is most likely a by-product of the internet. Thanks, Steve Jobs, or whoever made that thing! And the worst part about all this faux self-deprecation is that it makes people who know they are amazing (or, at the very least, functionally social) feel ashamed to say so in public. If Carrie Bradshaw had lived to see this sad state of affairs, she’d definitely take a moment to ponder: When did it become more socially acceptable to binge-watch than to binge-drink?
For this reason, when I’m invited to a party, I don’t scream and cry about the injustice of it all, or stay home and Instagram my computer screen. I go, and I make it my business to party like no one is watching, talk like everyone is hard of hearing, and dance like I know how to dance.
It’s not that I think every party is going to be transformative. It’s just that I know sometimes they can be. Any night could be one of those nights where we’re loose, not drunk, but easy with each other and kind, and we’re laughing and just golden. A song comes on that everyone loves, even though they shouldn’t. The crazy guy finally goes home, and everyone ends up on the roof watching the sun rise. By the time you walk home it is very early. You nod to someone coming the other way. You’re young, still, and everything is just fine.