As we move on to concerns that involve interacting with faces and brains other than your own (which is what an actual party actually is, after all), let’s quickly get one thing out of the way: You are nothing less than a goddamn delight. Maybe you are a shy delight, or one who doesn’t have much esteem for your peers—that’s all right! But tonight, we’re doing a different thing and shucking off those modifiers to let the “delight” part of your personality stand victoriously by itself. In the…spot-de-light, one might say.
Quick—imagine Debbie Harry wryly rolling her eyes at any Ramone at a party. Would she be nervous about hanging out with the kids from your soccer team? It’s amazing how much more confident that thought instantaneously makes me feel in any and every situation: Whoever your heroine is, what would she (or he, whatever!) do in moments of self-doubt? Do that!
Pretty much everybody in a large social setting is, on some level, nervous that they’re doing a bad job at being a cool ’n’ fun individual capable of having enjoyable interactions with the people around them. What you’re feeling as you shakily apply mascara while you wait for your ride is the same thing all those folks you’re nervous about seeing in half an hour are feeling, too, in their own bedrooms. If you bear that in mind, it’ll be easier to approach those people and talk to them—it will be extremely generous of you, in fact, and people will probably be grateful that someone else has taken on the responsibility of instigating social interaction. And there are mad methods by which you can do this!
Even if a particular soirée is filled with people whose tastes and interests are dramatically different from your own, you can find plenty to talk about. If you have nothing in common, it’s not going to seem forced when you ask them a slew of questions about what they’re into—you genuinely don’t know what makes that stuff great, and, boy, do people ever love saying their dang old opinions, especially concerning the topics that monopolize their brains most fervently! If nothing else, you will come away with lots of brand-new ideas about how and why people like the stuff they like in this weird world. Don’t be too scared of getting trapped in a conversation you ultimately find boring as hell—you can always get out of any interaction by being like, “Huh! That’s really cool. Excuse me, I’m going to get some water.” You need to drink water to live, so it’s a foolproof, graceful exit!
And sometimes you will find that you and whatever other humanoid attendee you’re standing next to by the fridge both like the same thing, and the next thing you know, you’re learning something new about your favorite basketball player’s childhood practice routines, or catching wind of a My Bloody Valentine EP you didn’t even know was floating around in the world. (Or you can impart such wisdoms to the other human: I don’t know a whit about basketball because I am a common bedroom slug, but if the second thing comes up, break the glass on this full stream of MBV’s You Made Me Realise.)
You also definitely don’t have to stick to a formula that goes, like, “I like [National Lampoon movies/Sudoku/Stan Lee/Miu Miu/whatever]. You?” My number one most foolproof way to get someone talking: asking “How was your day?” and then actually listening to the answer. (I learned this move from Anaheed, and it’s kind of a fan favorite among the Rookie staff. Now you know our secrets of sparkling conversation.) This worked out in pretty fine fashion when I went to a reading earlier tonight with my friend Hermione. She is a magnet for interesting people, and as she introduced me to each one, I asked, “How was your day?” I heard stories about virtuoso drummers, mysterious and wealthy ex-lovers, tumultuous ballet practices, plus more, plus I’m hanging out with some of those people again next week just because we had such a nice conversation. And, yo, I know this trick sounds dumb and formulaic, to which I would say, “Sure, maybe it is,” save for the fact that its results almost never are, unless you encounter the rare bore who just, like, scrunches up their gas-face and is like, “Fhnnne,” and that person is a friggin’ wash anyway—or maybe just a little self-conscious, and you know how that feels. Plus, I really do want to know how everyone’s day was! (Please tell me how your afternoon is going if you want—I will love it.)
Now, what about approaching/meeting that specific and hot Thad or Linda that you’ve had your eye on from across the room? Are you nervous about that? You shouldn’t be, because all the same “everyone feels this roiling swamp of self-doubt inside ’em” maxims above also apply to Thlinda (our stand-in object of desire for the rest of this bit). Introduce a topic of conversation with Thlinda as you would with anyone else, and, if things seem to be going swimmingly, well, that’s wonderful news and you can see what else might feel right from there on out. And if not, no big deal—go talk to Lad instead, if you want.
If you’re not really feeling anyone else at a party, though, in a friend way OR a crush way, it’s not the end of the world. When all else fails, in most cases, you have the excellent option of dancing, running around, and otherwise hanging with your friends—the best parts of any night out tend to be the things you’ll be able to inside-joke about together the next day. If you’re still not convinced, that’s OK, too: There’s nothing wrong with feeling a little withdrawn. Taking your time to work up your party nerve doesn’t mean you flunk Tubular Rockin’ Teen Party 101. Everyone has their own pace to work at, and that pace might differ from night to night and party to party, which just verifies that you are a living person capable of mood swings and not one of those animatronic grinning good-time rats in the band at Chuck E. Cheese. (Probably.) You’re not going to have a perfect night every time you go out, even if things go totally fine, and this isn’t a referendum on your relative funness as a person. I will say, though, if you work past the impulse to fall back on your shyness or insecurity, you will have a significantly better time, significantly more frequently, in the long run.
And when in doubt, just be Debbie Harry. ♦