I am pathologically allergic to parties of any kind. When forced, I will make a brief appearance at one as a matter of friendship or familial duty.
I chalk my anathema up to being single, and to having read one too many of the discrete “no singles need apply” sign most couples post near their doorbells. Try walking alone into a summer barbeque in any suburban neighborhood. If you are smart you will head straight for the bar; if you were really smart, you would have declined the invitation in the first place. Drink in hand—better make it a double—what will you find should you attempt to mingle?
Most men and women will self-segregate, and even in an academic town such as mine the men will likely be talking sports. Moving on. The women will be talking about their husbands or children or both. OKaaay. The few mixed-sex clusters will likely have husbands and wives in fused dyads…best not to intrude and upset their equilibrium. As a last resort, you look to the kids for companionship, and, if they are well mannered, it is here you may strike conversational gold for a moment or two. By this time you’d best head back to the bar for a refill.
Single women everywhere, especially those over 50, know the strategies for surviving parties: help pass hors d’oeurves, volunteer to sit with senile Aunt Josephine, enlist as a litter patrolman and police for discarded napkins, glasses and plates. In other words, they assume the role intended for them by the hosts: unpaid laborer. “Working the room” has a very literal meaning for single party-goers.
So why do we subject ourselves to such abuse? To placate the inner child for whom the word “party” signifies ineffable excitement and possibility, even though experience has taught the grown-up otherwise. To dress up in fancy clothes or jewelry that otherwise remain in the closet or safety deposit box. To scope out ideas for our own social repertoire. Whatever our reasons, year after year, many of us continue to be authors of our own agony and show up like the good sports we are.
Don’t believe me? Fine. Listen to the experts: How to Meet a Man after Forty begins reasonably enough, roasting all the old chestnuts about being too picky, holding oneself too aloof, but then, having lulled the reader into a false sense of familiarity, the article turns mean, and launches its ad feminan full frontal assault:
If there is one thing the single woman cannot afford to be, it’s a burden. You must be sunny and amenable, the best guest, the most reliable friend, the tonic at the party and the one who blends in on the family holiday. Precisely because you are not part of a couple, you need to give out the message, loud and clear, that you are no trouble and guaranteed life-enhancing.
Gotcha. Remember the old belief that in order for a black person to be accepted in the workplace, she must work twice as hard as her white counterparts? In what way does the above paragraph (written, I might add, by a married woman) differ from the prejudiced thinking that held the black to a different standard? The answer of course is that it is no different at all, except—and this is a big one—that discrimination against people because of their skin color is not only against the law, it’s socially unacceptable, thank God. All you recovering racists out there, take heart! You have a new outlet for your prejudice.
How to Meet a Man after 40 continues
People….are waiting for you to get swervy and take to the dance floor, on your own, clutching a bottle of champagne, and then collapse sobbing on the shoulder of some man who has long since married your best friend.”
At 58 I don’t get swervy about who married whom. My swervy days are pretty much behind me. I am a peace with not being the life of the party. Now when I put in an appearance, I seek out the lost-looking recent divorcee adrift in a familiar milieu all of a sudden so strange to her. I offer her advice: “Try passing the hors d’oeurves.”