Life's our oyster and we're gonna suck that bitch down with a champagne chaser.

  • Behavioral Therapist
  • MA Developmental Psychology, Columbia
  • BS Psychobiology/ French, UCLA

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Sunday, May 24, 2009  
Along Party Lines
I don’t like parties. Ever since I was little, at stereotypical “Persian parties,” with cousins I’ve never met and who have no interest in anyone but themselves, I didn’t understand their purpose. Thankfully, I was spared a gratuitous amount of these exercises in child abuse, save for when I traveled to where more relatives existed. In truth, parties which consist of more than 40 or so people in attendance are really gatherings for a circle of about 6-8 close friends or family members to socialize and surround themselves with people that they know, in the slightest sense of the word. The lowest common denominator at these events is of course the people who are secondary or tertiary invites. The people who were told, “Hey one of my friends is throwing a party Saturday night. You should totally come.” Well, I have nothing better to do, and maybe I can meet some new people…so I’ll go. This is in contrast to the, “WOOOO PARTTAAYY,”and the, “Time to find candidates for my orgy,” approaches.

Many of you are probably thinking to yourselves as you’re reading this that any of the three party mentalities I have just described are dysfunctional, at best. “Normal,” and I use the term loosely, people, I’m guessing attend a party, or an otherwise social gathering, with a more neutral approach. Namely, I know a couple people there so I’ll hang out with them then talk to people in passing, get some free drinks, and go home. This fantasy world mentality is of course inherently flawed because, at least in my experience, whenever I’m a secondary invite to a party, the primary invite never shows up. Hence, I’m the awkward wallflower who knows no one at this gathering and does not find speaking to people I don’t know the most pleasant experience I can think of. Don’t get me wrong, I know I should be able to accomplish such simple social exchanges…in context. In an academic setting, sporting event, conference, seminar, marching band rehearsal…you know, normal scenarios. But in these forced gatherings, walking up to someone in a dark room with Lady Gaga blasting in the background is not my idea of an accomplishable feat.

In behavioral therapy, an Autistic child who has difficulty functioning in a social setting must be prompted or otherwise shown how to participate in a reciprocal conversation with another peer. The ultimate goal is for these skills to be generalized to other settings such as in school, on a playground and at parties (of the birthday variety). At the “End of the Year Bash” a couple of weeks ago, for example, I tried to imagine what I would say to someone like me to prompt me to initiate play…err, conversation, with a fellow student. “That boy has a sangria too. Maybe you should ask him what other drinks he likes.” This sounds as ridiculous in my head then, as it does coming out of my fingers, now. “You’ve seen her in your Atypical Development class. Go ask her what other classes she took.” An improvement, but still can’t gather up the nerve.

Finally, an hour into this exercise in social defeat, after 2 sangrias, a mango margarita and a watered down Coors, a visibly inebriated girl stumbles up to me and says, “ ‘Scuse me…aren’t you Ned?”
“No, I can’t say I am.”
“K, cause…you look like Ned.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.”

Whether it was the free fire water talking, or the fact that I was fed up with this party, this exchange, as innocent as it was, inspired me to turn to the person standing next to me and say, “That girl just asked me if my name was Ned.”
“Are you?”
“No. I’m not. Do I look like a Ned?”
“I guess not….What’s your name?”

And so began what some may call a conversation. It wasn’t as bizarre to initiate such an exchange with a complete stranger as I had anticipated prior to this. I’m of course, describing this as the first time I’ve ever spoken to anyone at a party, which isn’t the case. However, I have to say, it was one of the first conversations initiated based on no knowledge of shared interests, similar drink choices or other commonalities. It was based on nothing more than we’re both at this party, we both go to the same university, and this fucking crazy girl accused my mother of naming me “Ned.”

Children may require banal suggestions to initiate a social exchange, but suffice it to say, if a grown man (don’t laugh) strikes up a chit-chat on the basis that my shirt is the same color as your shirt, that dialogue will go nowhere fast.

A more salient prompt, as we say in the biz, in adults would appear to be a controlled substance, such as alcohol, rather than common interests. Should these skills be practiced under the influence, they have the potential to be generalized in the future, based on those prior experiences and practice.

Before you start up an intervention on my behalf, know that a moderate amount of such things can lead to more amiable characteristics at such social functions, such as garrulousness and conviviality.

Also, vomit.

2:11 AM


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