No matter how much I try to hide, there comes a time when I need to come out and face the music.
No, really. It’s actually music. You see, I’ve been invited to a party.
Not just any party. A party full of strangers, who may or may not have anything in common with me and probably wouldn’t talk about it in that setting if they did. A party at which I am expected to behave in a relatively ordinary and unthreatening fashion. A party at which, from arrival to exit, I must keep a strict rein even on my facial expressions, let alone anything that comes out of my mouth.
It’s a company holiday party, and my husband has asked that I attend with him. I have no compelling reason to refuse: even though I will hate it, I know I’m capable of getting through it, and it’s a chance to be supportive for him.
So it’s time to look for that social balance that is so elusive for me. To be authentic, but not too authentic. Articulate, but not too articulate. Curious and interested in others, but not to the point of asking what I really want to know. (So, what’s your favorite coping mechanism for existential despair?)
Yes, small talk is my greatest obstacle. I have to work really hard to have a conversation beyond hi-nice-to-meet-you without getting into dangerous ground. It’s easier for me when some kind of common ground is understood to exist:
Choir practice: “Beautiful piece, huh? Boy, that B natural is tricky.”
12-step meeting: “Great speaker today! Are you going to the convention?”
Various specialty events: “Wow, that’s a lovely sword/costume/set of restraints you have there. Tell me more about it.”
But I know nothing about these people except a few snippets about what they do for a living (something with software) and that it’s in my husband’s best interest not to have his insane wife be the next topic of company gossip. I worry that I’ll slip and get into conversations like this:
Coworker: Hi, I’m Bob.
Me: Hi, it’s nice to meet you.
Coworker: So, what do you do?
Me: (deer in headlights expression)
That’s actually not so bad. I might be written off as shy and socially awkward of that’s the worst conversation I have. Or it could go like this:
Coworker: So, what do you do?
Me: Well, I used to work in biotech, and then I worked in counseling until my drug addiction and bipolar disorder got too severe. Now I sort of homeschool my daughter who’s just had her first psychiatric diagnosis, and I write a lot about the weird things I do to stay away from drugs and resist my suicidal impulses.
Coworker: (deer in headlights expression)
Now, realistically, I don’t think it’s probable that I will forget myself to that degree. But it’s what will be going through my head. The true conversation is more likely to be somewhere in the middle: I’ll mention my previous career and the fact that I homeschool without going into details about why. Then I’ll turn the conversation to some safe topic like books or games.
It’ll be okay. Really. I wouldn’t have been invited if he didn’t think I am quite capable of making a good impression. I should be proud that the wife he has today is one that he wants his colleagues to meet. And I am. Years ago, even if he wanted to ask me, he wouldn’t have bothered because he knew I wouldn’t go. So tonight’s a gift for both of us, and I am grateful for it–I’m going to try to walk into that party with gratitude, not fear or shame.
That being said, wish me luck.