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The truth will set you free. Or so they say. Could setting down the truth possibly help me get through the holiday cocktail party season? Even if I choose to tell the truth anonymously?

This is my new voice coming out, trying to work through all my demons, one at a time.

Like you, I am a woman of a certain age. I am married, with no children, which means that I can do pretty much what I want—except courteously avoid the parties I so dread, where most people drink a little too much, the food is questionable, the wine  mediocre. O to have a mother’s gracious, non-offending excuses!  “I would so love to,  but . . .”  “I have to pick up the kids . . . ” “I have to go to the school play . . . ” You get the picture.

During this happy holiday season, one of the year’s most angst-producing obligations for me is the business cocktail party. What am I going to wear that will look simply fabulous and hide the 10 pounds I’ve gained during the year? Who am I going to talk to? What on earth can I possibly have to say that will keep the conversation light, yet riveting? 

As a senior member of my organization, I need to be a role model for the younger members of the staff. But will I come across as dull? Under my “Extrovert” outer skin I am painfully shy. Standing and conversing with strangers (not to mention my colleagues) at these required parties is like death to me. I struggle through the evening feeling like a wallflower at the dance. I steel myself to the reality that I am at risk of standing alone, wineglass in hand, with that pasted-on smile, my eyes darting around the room to see whose conversation I might be able to break into. There is little that is worse for your self-confidence then trying to break into a knot of people in conversation who do not welcome you in.

And on the chance that they do, what do I say?  Fab travel plans somehow seem just a little self-indulgent at a time when family is the center of focus. What about shopping for gifts? Depending on who I am talking to, it can fall flat. Grrrrr. Head held high, keep moving, keep trying.

My inner voice keeps saying, run, run, before everyone figures out that you are not the strong, capable executive everyone thinks you are. This is where some of the younger folks come in handy.  I end up talking to a group who are anxious to impress (me?) and I try to become more real to them by talking about the most ridiculous things: taking the car to the repair shop; challenges with commuting; you name it and I have it pretty down pat. Boring!!!

And then I recap on the way home: Did I talk to enough people? Did they like me?  Did I stand out?  It’s no wonder we all drink too much at these events; it’s to numb the pain.

So there, I’ve acknowledged the painful secret of my vulnerability—and, with this post, I am making my first attempt to add my voice to those I have come to admire on this site. Already the confession seems to have made my party planning just a little easier.

For the first duty party of the season, I made the calls to find out who in my circle was attending, trying to be upbeat and positive: “Won’t it be so much fun?” Figured out the dress code (dark and slimming, but that is another topic). Got there, paused for a moment at the door, then headed on in.

It was worse than I expected—think Mad Men, but with less-interesting characters. After 15 minutes I was so ready to leave. Determined to face my inner wallflower, I proceeded to introduce myself to people I had never met before.

Okay, to two people I’d never met before. That was about all I could manage, and with that I permitted myself to switch from seltzer to wine.  Ironically, it turned out that one of the two I spoke with is someone from my past life. Twenty-five years later, she remembers me and I remember her. What a wonderful coincidence! We chat for 15 minutes, both admitting our disdain for such events, but acknowledging that had we not attended we would never have gotten a chance to reacquaint. With her business card in hand, 10 minutes later I am out the door and on the train home.

I reflect on the evening: Not so bad. I managed to renew a friendship while avoiding the bad food and wine. 

I still hate cocktail parties. This acknowledgement of truth has indeed set me free.

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  • Marina Oppenheimer September 25, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    I loved this piece. I totally agree with the fact that spending more than 30′ among a crowd of people doing small talk is uncomfortable and a waist of time.