Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Surviving The Dreaded Cocktail Hour

I groaned inwardly when I saw the invitation detailing the coming evening's events:

7:00pm - 8:00pm     Cocktails
8:00pm - 10:00pm   Dinner and Presentations

I hadn't been particularly excited a few days before when I was asked to attend the black tie dinner for work. I wasn't dreading it exactly, but since it meant bringing a dress and all the necessary accessories to work, changing in the bathroom, and not getting home until close to midnight, I wasn't really looking forward to it either.

But when I saw the invitation on the morning of the event I wished desperately for a violent case of food poisoning. Or Swine Flu. Or a nice bout of Ebola. Anything that would be an excuse to skip it.

It wasn't the dinner portion of the evening that I found problematic. That was easy. Sit at a table, eat, periodically smile and clap politely, and leaf through the program during breaks in the presentations to avoid having to make conversation.

But I had been to enough events to know what the invitation meant by "Cocktails." A cavernous room. Hundreds of people standing in small groups. Lots of talking and laughing. The discrete exchange of business cards over small talk. Nary a table or chair in sight.

Or, for a lifelong introvert such as myself, an hour akin to one of Dante Alighieri's circles of Inferno.

The thought of trying to find enough people to talk to to keep myself from standing awkwardly alone was exhausting. The mere idea of an endless hour of small talk had me longing for a quiet night at home with sweat pants, my couch, and hours of TV.

But I gave my word.

So at the appointed hour, I touched up my makeup, put on the dress, and clasped the pearls that would transform me from "regular person" to "sophisticated lawyer who attends cocktail parties." And I walked the six blocks to the hotel where the event was being held like a death row inmate taking his final walk to the execution chamber.

The scene at the hotel was exactly as I thought it would be. I entered the room, following my colleagues through the crush of bodies and the vague scents of perfume, light sweat and expensive alcohol. The potpourri of parties. As they each found someone to talk to I found myself, as predicted, standing alone amid the chattering groups, anxiety rising.

As a fiercely proud introvert for whom Susan Cain's words are gospel, I knew this was unacceptable. I needed a change of scenery. Immediately.

I asked a nearby waiter for the closest ladies room. I followed his directions to the beautiful bathroom, locked myself into one of the generously sized stalls, sat right down on the toilet seat fully dressed, and sent a prayer of thanks to the God of introverts that I decided to bring my normal bag to the event instead of a smaller clutch.

Romance novels don't fit into clutches.

And the cocktail hour was lovely.

35 comments:

  1. Ah, a woman after my own heart. I hate anything that requires me to mingle and make idle chit chat with semi-strangers. I have to attend an awkward BBQ this Friday, and I'm already trying to come up with a plan of action.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely recommend bringing a book and locating the closest bathroom.

      Delete
  2. I recommend standing perfectly still, arms at your sides, staring off into space. It will freak people out to no end, and someone may actually drop dollar bills into your normal sized bag to see if it will make you move. Bonus!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know why I didn't think of that!

      Delete
    2. Love this idea! Now I need a party invite so I can try it out! Genius!

      Delete
  3. I've been known to hide in the bathroom, but it never occurred to me to just STAY in there. I was always afraid people would think I had some GI distress the way I was in and out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Staying in there is the BEST. Because by the time you leave the stall, it's a whole new group of people so as far as they know, you just went in.

      Delete
  4. love it!! i hope you brought a drink in there with you!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. WHenever I have a client with social anxiety and they have had enough of exposing themselves to the hell of conversation i suggest they go to the bathroom for a break...No one is following you into the bathroom...but I wont recommend they take a book as they are gonna have to mingle at some point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh, it's the mingling that makes me crazy. I don't have social anxiety at all, and I'm not shy, just an introvert with an intense hatred of small talk.

      Delete
    2. I am with you there...there is nothing worse than staring into an empty drink glass wishing something was in it so your mouth can at least be busy...I hate the chatter!

      Delete
  6. I can't believe I've never thought of this before...brilliant!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I hear you! I'm a fellow introvert and completely relate to not wanting to attend such events. You handled it!

    I've gotten a lot better at small talk over the years, but somehow being dressed up and in a large crowd makes it so much harder.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, dressed up is always the worst because inevitably something it too short, too long, crawling up somewhere it doesn't belong, or just plain uncomfortable.

      Delete
  8. If I lived nearby, I would have met you at the bar downstairs away from the small talk :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, love it! I hate small talk more than anything.

      Delete
  9. Brilliant idea. I love that you did this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm nothing if not creative when it comes to managing big crowds and parties I really don't want to be at.

      Delete
  10. I love this!! So smart to bring a book...just hope nobody noticed you were in there! LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Luckily, this was a really fancy bathroom, so the stall doors went all the way to the floor :)

      Delete
  11. Brilliant! You should you write a survival guide for introverts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No need! Susan Cain wrote one called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and it is absolutely brilliant. A must read for introverts, but really for everyone. She actually mentions the bathroom trick in one of her chapters.

      Delete
  12. Awesome! I always hide in the bathroom during cocktail hour, too!!! I need to read Susan Cain.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely recommend reading Quiet. It changed the way I think about myself in a really dramatically good way.

      Delete
  13. I've always thought you were brilliant, now I know you're resourceful too! A reader/writer's MacGyver! What else did you have in that bag of yours? Next time, I'll bring the snacks!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I just like the free drinks. And if there aren't free drinks...I find myself standing on the wall like John Cusack in Sixteen Candles.

    ReplyDelete
  15. oh boy. as I read this, I started to feel all twitchy. I so cannot stand parties for exactly the reasons you describe. I hate it. so much. it freaks me out. I hate the small talk. the laughing. the drinking. the eye contact. the thoughts that run through my head. the sounds that seem to echo throughout my body.

    ReplyDelete
  16. sounds like you made that cocktail hour work for you!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I used to dread these things too. Now, after being home with the kids all day, I appreciate the rare chance to get a little dressed up and feel a bit fancy for a night.

    ReplyDelete
  18. From one introverted lawyer to another . . . this is brilliant. I will HAVE to remember this at my next frightening and sweat inducing social gathering.

    I find viewings (as in at funeral homes) to be equally as daunting yet unavoidable, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
  19. OMG, you're like my long lost introvert twin! I do the same thing!!! Cocktail parties are my idea of torment. Ugh. I also love the way you told this story, the progression and your "transformation" into your attorney avatar...very fun!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great plan :) I can appreciate it as an introvert myself. And even if you can stand the cocktail hour, nodding and smiling gets awfully repetitive...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Yep, I've spent cocktail hours, "meet n greets", networking events - all in the confines of the bathroom. :)

    ReplyDelete