I am ridiculously bad at schmoozing. My tolerance for awkwardness is approximately zero, and if there’s even the slightest hint of it in the air, my brain stem starts yelling things like, “PANIC PANIC GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT,” causing me to turn bright red and start stumbling over my own tongue. Then I have to go hide in the bathroom and send text messages like “OMFG HELP ME” to people across the country who can’t possibly do anything to help me until eventually, my body temperature returns to normal.
Holiday parties tend to send me into tailspins of awkwardness faster than anything else. Sometimes I feel like the entire month of December is one long, unrelenting awkward conversation. I was discussing this phenomenon with my sister a couple weeks ago, and we came up with a theory. (And she’s a scientist, guys, so her theories are all official-like and carry much more weight than mine.) I call it the Awkward Communication Parabola (ACP). Here’s how it works.
It’s almost never awkward to hang out with someone you see every day. Since those friends know all the tiny details of your life, you can talk to them about absolutely nothing for hours on end, and it’s totally fine. Conversations like this are perfectly acceptable:
Me: Don’t let me forget to call the plumber tomorrow.
Friend: Is your bathroom ceiling still leaking?
Me: Yeah, I almost slipped and cracked my head open getting out of the shower this morning.
Friend: That would be so awkward if you didn’t show up to work because you slipped and broke your back, and someone sent the police to break down your door because nobody could find you, and then when they burst into your apartment, you were naked.
Me: Do you think it would be better to have a really hot policeman find you naked with a broken back or a really ugly one?
Friend: Probably the hot one. At least you’d have eye candy to distract you.
Me: But wouldn’t it be more embarrassing that way?
Friend: Whatever. It wouldn’t be anything he hadn’t seen before.
This can continue indefinitely. Totally not awkward.
Likewise, if you unexpectedly run into someone you haven’t seen in years and years, you have tons of stored up news to tell them. So the conversations tend to go something like this:
Me: So, what have you been doing since we graduated from college?
Long-lost friend: Well, I was in training to be an astronaut for a while. But that didn’t work out, so now I’m in my second year of business school.
Me: An astronaut! That’s so cool! What was the training like?
[5-minute conversation about astronaut training ensues]
Long-lost friend: Also, I got married two years ago, and we have a nine-month-old daughter.
Me: Oh my god! Congratulations! Do you have photos?
[5-minute session of cooing over baby pictures ensues]
Long-lost friend: So what have you been up to?
Me: Well, I just got my first book deal!
Long-lost friend: That’s amazing! What kind of stuff do you write? Tell me all about it.
[5-minute conversation about publishing ensues]
Again, not very awkward. There might be a few long-ish pauses, but those can always be filled by munching on holiday treats.
And then there’s the dangerous territory: THE MIDDLE GROUND.
If someone lives in the same city as you and knows you well enough to approach you at a holiday party, you’re very likely Facebook friends. That means you probably vaguely know what the other one is up to. The thing is, you obviously don’t CARE very much, or you’d make an effort to see each other outside of this yearly holiday party. Behold a sample conversation:
Me: Hi! Wow, I haven’t seen you in so long!
Psuedo-friend: Yeah, probably not since this party last year!
Me: Yeah! So how’ve you been?
Pseudo-friend: Oh, you know, pretty good. How about you?
Me: Good. How’s work?
Pseudo-friend: It’s pretty much the same. Up and down.
Me: Yeah, me too.
Psuedo-friend: I saw you got a book deal. That’s great.
Me: Thanks! I’m really excited.
Pseudo-friend: The food is always so good at this party.
Me: Yeah, seriously. Did you try the little cheese-puff things?
Psuedo-friend: Yeah. They’re awesome.
Me: Do you know where the bathroom is?
Psuedo-friend: Over there.
Me: Great. I’ll be back in a minute.
*runs away and sends frantic texts to friends in California*
I’m pretty sure there are only two ways to avoid this.
1) Thoroughly Facebook-stalk anyone you might possibly run into before leaving for a holiday party. Take notes on very specific questions you can ask each person. Carry the notes with you to the party. Scope out who’s there, then hide in the bathroom and memorize the appropriate notes so you will be prepared when said people approach you.
2) Avoid holiday parties like the plague.
So… who wants to come over and eat cookies and have TV marathons with me until January?