1/12/2014 07:14

Never Invite Me To a Party

I hate parties. Every once in a while I go to a party out of some misplaced sense of obligation. The depressing sense of hopelessness usually lasts for many hours, sometimes days. It is bad enough when most of the members of the party are strangers to me; in that case I can delude myself by thinking that they are people with whom I don't get along and hope that I will never see again. When most of the people attending are people that I know already, that facile self-delusion is not available to protect me. When the hosts who have compelled my attendance are, or were, friends of mine, I begin to wonder how they have come to hate me so.

There's a certain conversation which is endemic to parties in which nobody quite says much of anything while maintaining the appearence of expressing their deepest, innermost selves. The most interesting of this conversation consists of stories of people's pasts. Now, sharing one's story raises the danger of exposing who one really is, but the conventions of the party will offer significant protections against such revelation. In the first place, it is customary to tell about events which occurred with other party goers so that nothing really new is revealed; such stories may have the benefit of connecting someone who had the misfortune of not being among the party on some prior occasion with the history they missed, but in most cases the stories serve primarily as a means of living in the past. In addition, the story is customarily told as a recitation of objective events without much of the matrix of aspriations and relationships that make a story revelatory. We might learn that you made a decision to take a job or to move to a new city without learning what impelled you to make such a choice; you may tell us that you were afraid to tell your parents of your decision but you may not expound about the relationships among members of your family, what was good or lacking in those relationships, or how your family's relationships have improved or decayed with the passage of time. In this way, your story can have a vaguely entertaining aspect without engaging heart or mind.

Another common topic of party conversation is the expression of unsupported personal opinion. One would expect that opinions might be engaging or even arouse a certain amount of emotion, but the rules of the conversation again come to the rescue. At a party I'm invited to express an opinion, but never to develop it. I'm expected to allow my neighbor to express an opinion, but not to respond to the content of it -- unless by an exclamation of, "That's so true!" which may only be said as a bridge to another, unrelated story or opinion. At a party, it doesn't matter whether you have heard or understood another's opinion provided that you do not pursue the topic. In this way, you have the freedom to express the most outlandish ideas while still being invited to the next party.

I had thought that the challenge of being polite to 12 or 25 people all at the same time was a proximate cause of this superfluosity, but experience, even my limited experience, argues against this notion. I have attended gatherings of a similar size at which politeness reigned and opinions were not only expressed but questioned and contradicted. Of course, these were not designated as being parties. I've also been to a gathering of 3 which devolved into shallowness and inanity, although it must be said that this smaller group relied on beverage ethanol to create the barriers to deeper interpersonal communications. Chemically shutting down the higher mental faculties is recognized as an expedient method of encouraging party goers to adopt the customs of disengagement, but not an essential one.

Upon reflection, I think that my problem with parties is brought on simply by differing personal experience. Here am I, a lifetime bachelor who lives alone and eats alone and walks alone and is (most willfully) unemployed; when I look for a special occasion I look for connectedness with the lives and minds of other people. When I want to be alone, which is often, I am alone; I don't need a formally social period of factual isolation to break up the stress of excessive personal interaction. Indeed, the contradictory condition of being alone in a group merely exacerbates the desire to, once in a while, be not alone. But that is a passing desire, and when the only alternative to being with myself is being at a party it is a desire which I can easily suppress.