How I Party

Part I

I've just arriv-

Wait. Backup. Stop. You’re way ahead of yourself - I don’t just go to a party. It’s not as simple as that; I’m not going to just walk into the place, grab a drink, dance, and party. Maybe that works for you, but not for me. For me, this begins a couple days earlier.

It begins with the “do I really need to go?” phase. I’d say 19 out of 20 parties stop right here. I mean, truthfully, I probably don’t need to go to your party - no one is really going to notice me anyways, and there’s going to be heaps of stress if I do go. So I usually just won’t.

But this one I have to go to. It’s that special number 20 - the rare party I have to be at. You just had this huge success at work - like massive success - big enough that they’re throwing a party. You poured your heart into it and begged me to join you as you celebrate the fruits of your labor. You really want me there - it’s important.

I’ve tried to ignore the anxiety of deciding whether or not I actually go… but here we are, a couple days until I’m expected to be there. I need to make a decision.

Time to dig for excuses. This is my jam.

Am I busy? Can I make myself be busy? Would you believe me if I said I forgot? If you did believe me, would my forgetting be crushing for our friendship? Can I pretend it’s a hassle to get there? Are there going to be enough people there that you might think you just didn’t see me? If you knew I didn’t go, would you be mad at me? How mad? Like, stop being friends, mad? Or just, skip our weekly coffee, mad? Are you… uhh.. really an important enough friend that it’s that big of a deal to lose you?

OK - that didn’t work. Shit. I have to go. Shit.

Holy cow, I’m an asshole. Why am I fighting so hard not to celebrate my friend? I’m an ass.

Why the hell don’t I like parties? Normal people like parties. I’m supposed to like being with people. What the fuck is wrong with me? When did I start being so weird?

If you could see me at this moment, you’d probably notice that my eyes have glazed over. I’m staring numbly a few feet in front of me. I surely hope I wasn’t in the middle of a conversation with someone when my brain went down this path - it just got really awkward if I was. My brain just hit a short-circuit of sorts. I’ve done this enough times that I seem to have trained myself that instead of feeling those things, I should just… shut off. It’s like restarting your computer. Kill the processes, give it a few seconds for the memory to wipe, and then come back up fresh. So, in a few moments, my face will come back to near-normalcy as I wake back up and start thinking about the next item: logistics.

Logistics are the most important thing for me to figure out. There’s a few reasons for that. The most obvious, of course: I’ll be so overwrought by the end of this party that I won’t have the capacity to figure out logistics. The more important reason, however, is logistics are a great tool for minimizing my time at the party. “Oh, I’m having a grand time, but my ride is here, bye.” “Ah, what a wonderfully funny joke, my meter is about to run out, bye.” See? Useful.

Getting to the party should be the easy part. I’ll be in a fine mood at that point, so really I just need to have some time on my way there that lets me prepare myself. You know, all the normal steeling things that happen before every party. Think about the (entirely untrue) ways I might have fun, remind myself how important this is to you, convince myself I’m tough enough to be uncomfortable for just one evening. Driving should be easy and quiet enough to let me prep.

Oh, but I want to be late. I forgot. There are few outcomes worse than me getting to this party before the crowd arrives - even worse if you aren’t there yet. I’d have to talk to your coworkers. Or randos that are also early. I either have to make shitty small talk with those people, or stick out like a sore thumb. People would know how much I’m hating this; I’d be that guy. Nope. Can’t do that. Can’t be early. I need a way to get there that has a reasonable excuse for being late. I’ll walk - our offices are like a 30 minute walk apart. I’ll walk slow, make it 45 minutes, and show up just as the crowd gets big enough for me to… manage.

Next up is actually my favorite part! Now I get to answer the deeply important question of how long I must be at this party. Turns out this is largely the same for all parties. It’s not actually important how long I’m at a party, as long as the important person (you!) sees that I was there. The actual important part is how long I can tell people I was at the party. You know, the next day when people start asking, “How late did you stay last night?”, “Did you go to the bar after the party?”. I need to be able to respond in a way that doesn’t give away that I counted every fucking minute until I was able to leave.

Anything less than an hour is too short. People will notice if I say the word “minutes”. Ideally I would stay around two hours - then I could say something like “a couple hours”. Truthful, but vague enough that people will translate it to “a long time”. That’s unrealistic though - no way in hell I can stay at this thing for two hours. The next best thing - similarly vague, although a bit shorter - “a bit over an hour”. To you I’m hoping that means like an hour and 45 minutes. To me that means an hour and 15. I think I can do that. I can... right?

Last but not least, how to get home. Uber, for sure. It’s the perfect option. Thank goodness for technology - I don’t know how people survived before Uber. Think about it - Uber has everything we need. It’s a phone app, which gives me a great excuse to pull my phone out and avoid conversation. It’s on-demand, so I can leave the moment it seems acceptable. And it’s someone else picking me up! It would be rude if I made them wait! I have a totally valid reason to just leave and wait outside until my ride gets here. I’ll blame the app or something, “It said they were one minute away…!”

OK. Logistics done. I’m doing this, see! No biggie - it’s just a party!

I’m… uhh.. excited.

Part II

I've just arrived at the party

Oh shit. I shouldn’t have walked. My back is all sweaty; everyone’s going to see the giant fucking sweat stain on my back. How the hell do I always forget that my back sweats like Ted landing an airplane. Hopefully it’s dark in there and people just won’t notice.

Registration desk, good. This is the perfect place to stall as I scope out what’s going on in this party. There’s a handful of important things to make note of at the beginning of any party.

Most importantly, bathrooms. Where are they? Are they private? Are there multiple places with bathrooms? Which ones will probably not have people loitering around them? Bathrooms are the saving grace of parties. As a man, I can probably escape to the bathroom twice per hour without people getting weirded out. That gains me a solid 3 minutes of hiding each time. Depending on where the bathrooms are located, I might be able to do two trips to each set of bathrooms - that really adds up. This is absolutely key to success. Not only does it kill precious time, but it gives me a place to take some deep breaths and reign in my anxiety. It’s a safe space to reset.

There’s a dance floor here. Usually that’s a bad sign, but it seems like people are just hanging out on the dance floor, making small groups to talk. That’s good - standing crowds will make it hard to start up real dancing. If I do hear the DJ make the effort to kick off the dancing, I need to stay far away from the floor. Otherwise, it’s actually a good place to be. You mentioned there would be a speech at some point, and this is likely where it will happen. When that time comes, I can kill a little time acting like I’m waiting for the speech to start.

Finally, I need to start figuring out who I know. There’s a few classifications of people that I might run into at a party. Close friends are the most valuable - that’s people like you - because they will invite me into a conversation, and talk directly to me enough that I can fit. There’s two of you here. I need to know where you are at all times. Regular friends are up next - these people will probably open up a circle if I walk up and try to join the conversation, but they might not make an effort to actually include me. Three regular friends. Finally, we’ve got acquaintances. You know what I mean by that - people that you think you know their name. They’re not much use at a party like this, aside from helping you weigh which conversation to join. It’s ideal to join a conversation with a friend and at least one acquaintance. It just creates some common ground. A bit more familiarity. There’s a handful of acquaintances.

OK, cool. Party is scoped out. I’m gonna stop faking like I can’t find my name tag, and head to the dance floor. I see you on the far end with a group of three other people. No one else I know, but that’s OK - I need to congratulate you anyways. I start sliding through the crowd, avoiding as much eye contact as possible. The few times that I notice people look at me I make sure to force a face of confidence and enjoyment. That’s what they’re expecting. That’s how people feel at parties. Or, at least, that’s how they feel.

I make it over to your group, and as I expected you give me a warm welcome. You even remember to introduce me to the other three in this conversation - all co-workers. That’s great - an easy small talk topic. Asking about people’s jobs is the best sort of small talk - it’s something I’m expected to not know much about. As long as I can ask good leading questions, I can get people talking for a long time. It’s not like the weather or sports, where I’m supposed to somehow have all this unique knowledge and contribute it to the conversation. I can just stand quietly as you and your coworkers talk.

We get a solid five minutes in talking about work and how everyone contributed so much to this project. You’re proud - I’m glad. Then, as the conversation lulls, you make the disastrous move. You excuse yourself from our group. I guess you have to mingle or something. Now here I am, left with three total strangers. This is panic. I can’t think. 2 seconds of silence. My mind is running at a mile a minute to think of a quick way to restart the conversation. 4 seconds. Work. I know where you work. But… I already asked about work. What else about work? 6 seconds. Your coworkers just got that familiar look on their face… they realized I’m awkward. Here it comes - yep - they dismissed themselves.

Here I am. A lone soul lost in the sea of a party. Drowning.

My only life boat - you - is as good as sunk. At least for the next twenty minutes or so, I can’t seek you out. It would be desperate. You’d know that I’m way out of my league here… and you’d either reject me, or adopt me as your “pet” for the rest of the evening. Neither of those outcomes are acceptable.

I can’t stand here for long, or else people will notice. I scan the crowd looking for a familiar face, but am blind with panic. Bathrooms. I need to take my first escape. I start pushing my way through the crowd, once again forcefully emitting joy and avoiding gazes. I make it to the bathroom, but before I walk in I make a mental note of who is watching as I enter. I need to make sure those people don’t see me escape in here too often.

I close the door behind me, and practically fall on the sink as I grab it for balance. I stare at the stained white porcelain for a few moments, then look up at myself in the mirror.

Jeese, this is hard. This is harder than I expected. My brain is in overdrive. I can feel my head cycling faster than I can interpret the emotions. Breathe. Holy hell, this is hard. OK. Is it time for me to go back out? Wait for it - too fast and they know you’re hiding, too slow and they imagine messier things. OK. Breathe. Go.

I open the door, and once again make a quick note of who is watching. What do their faces say as they register me rejoining the party? Do they know I was hiding?

Whatever, no time to ponder that, I need my next move. I casually stroll towards the dance floor as I hastily scan the crowd. There it is - a group with two friends and 2 randos. That’ll do for now. I break my way through the crowd and walk up to the group, praying that my friend will see me and open up a spot for me in the circle.

He doesn’t. Shit. Uhhhh… I’m too close to bail out. I edge myself in, standing awkwardly close to both a friend and a stranger. The rando - a woman slightly taller than me - notices me first. She gives me a noticeably sharp and weirded out look, which catches the attention of the rest of the group. My two friends look over, and in an effort to ignore the awkwardness, open up a spot for me and push through with the conversation. I’m in.

I have no idea what they’re talking about. I heard a name that I think is an athlete. I nod. They laugh, and I quickly muster a chuckle. Someone catches my glance looking for my approval, so I give a slight, “Yeah”. Loud enough to be heard by those listening, but not so much that people would challenge it if I was wrong. This goes around for another 10 minutes, until one of my friends starts to break off from the group.

I can’t be stranded again. It’s too soon. I find a way to peel myself off with him, acting as if we are a pair. I follow him to the next person he wants to talk with (which, he naturally starts talking to. How the fuck do people do that? How can you just start talking so easily? Damnit, I’m so screwed up.) I confidently introduce myself, as we start talking about the party. Yeah, yeah, lots of people. Good turnout. As we’re shooting conversation, I notice - this guy seems about as nervous as I feel. He’s a loner too! My friend is his goto! This is perfect! We can get through it together.

My friend turns off once again, and I’m left alone with my fellow awkward companion. I continue forcing myself to push some conversation, staring at him, hoping that he’s had the same realization I have. But he hasn’t. I can feel his nerves rising. He’s reaching a limit. I run out of things to say, we hit that 6-second blank, and he heads off. What a loss. That was our chance. We both could have survived this night, together.

But here I am, again, stranded.

I glance over at the bathrooms, see new faces loitering, and take another break. It's my last escape, but I need it. Same routine as last time - panic, self-loathing, shortness of breath, fear, and perfectly timing my return.

As I come back out, I notice some important looking people starting to gather near the front of the dance floor. This is it! The speech! I check my watch and see that I’ve made it through a solid 45 minutes at this party. The speech will get us nearly to the end.

I slowly walk over to the fringes of the dance floor, and set up camp leaning against a pole. I am continuously scanning the crowd around me, looking for people recognizing that I’m alone. Whenever I see someone watching, I make sure to stare intently at the CEO prepping up front. Clearly, I’m waiting for the speech. I’m not weird. I’m just waiting. Don’t look at me. Look at him.

Your CEO makes his first chuckled attempt to get everyone’s attention. People slowly turn and collect in a semi-circle around him. You happen to come stand near me to listen to the speech. Great. Thank you. I can exchange reactions with you, and make everyone around us believe I’m actually listening. You might not know it, but this is a great service you just did me.

Finally, the speech starts. I disengage my brain and put it in autopilot for nodding and laughing at your reactions. This is good time to cool down.

Part III

I'm done.

He hits the end of a sentence, and you can practically see it on his face as he realizes that he has nothing left to say. Clearly that wasn’t a prepared speech. He closes with a friendly, “Thanks for coming, and enjoy yourselves!” Yeah, right.

I look down at my watch, and see that I’m only at 55 minutes. No way. That speech didn’t do it. It’s not time to leave yet. I can’t do this any longer. I can’t keep fighting my way through this crowd. I can’t keep desperately pushing my way into conversations. I can’t let my brain run like this any longer.

I scan the crowd, looking for you. If I’m going to make a break for it, you can’t know. I have to lie to you tomorrow about how long I stayed. You can’t know that I didn’t care about you enough to stay longer. I see you chatting with a few people over by the entrance. I know you’ll need to mingle some more in a bit, so I sneak in another bathroom break to kill the time.

I know. I went over my limit. Fuck it. I can’t do this.

I come back out, and can’t find you in the crowd. I grab my phone, order an Uber, and quickly start a roundabout path around the crowd - I can’t have all those people noticing my trajectory towards the door. The people manning the check-in table are sitting back chatting, not really expecting to do anything for a few more hours. They have to let me out. There’s literally a rope they have to unlatch. Why the fuck is there a rope? It’s like they put the rope there just so I have to stand here awkwardly. Fucking rope.

I give them a nod, certain they can see the distress in my eyes. One of them gets up, and makes a quick comment about me leaving so soon. Fuck him. He doesn’t know. He unlatches that damned rope and I slip out. I whimper an obligatory, “Have a good night…” as I pass.

As I open the door, I glance back and see you watching me through the crowd. I avoid your gaze. I’ll pretend I didn’t see you. Hopefully when I lie to your face tomorrow, you won’t remember what time it was.

As I wait at the curb, my mind finally starts slowing down. I can breathe a bit calmer. Four minutes until the Uber arrives. I’m out of the crowd. I did it, kinda. I look around, and - damnit - a couple girls I know are walking down the street, apparently late for the party. Suddenly my heart rate is pushing a solid 200 again as they start to make small talk. They ask where I’m going. I stumble over my words. They’re not relenting - they want to talk until my ride gets here. But I’m done. I give one-word answers. I don’t have anything left. They recognize that I’m closing off, and head into the party.

Yup. Confirmed. I’m an asshole. Those were my friends. I’m an asshole.

My Uber arrives and I slide into the back seat and take a few deep breaths.

You know that feeling when you stand up too fast? Your vision starts to get spotty, you feel dizzy, and there’s a loud ringing in your ears? That’s the feeling I have as I sit back in that Uber. I think this is where the phrase, “My brain is fried”, came from. It’s fried. Literally. For my first minute in that Uber I can’t think - I’m just in this weird daze as my head tries to catch up from all of the spinning it did for the past hour.

I start to catch up, and my capacity for real thought comes back. I feel dark. There’s some immense feeling humming in the back of my mind, and it’s… dark.

What the hell was that? Who am I, that I can’t even stay at a party for a single fucking hour? I’m weak. I’m selfish. I don’t deserve friends as good as you - I clearly don’t care about you. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just be tougher, and fight harder to stay at these things? Why can’t I just be normal, and not have to fight at all? Is anyone else like this? It doesn’t seem like it. What’s wrong with me?

I’m so messed up. I’m so weird. I’m a jerk.

This mantra rotates through my head for the rest of the evening. My Uber arrives, I go inside, and move on through the night, but the whole time these thoughts are on repeat. I’m functioning on autopilot while my entire brain is drowning in hatred.

I hate that I’m like this.


I wrote about a party.

Let me first say thank you. Thank you for reading this. Thank you for taking the time to know this part of me. I may or may not know who you are, but it's liberating that - with each reader like you - I spread the weight of this burden. I feel a little bit less broken because of you. Thanks.

Let me also say, though, that what you just read isn't who I am. I actually quite love the man I've become, and on most days feel very little worry about who I must present myself as to others. In fact, through many conversations with many wonderful people, I've come to truly love and embrace the unique things my introspective personality bring to any group. This story - this window into my largest struggle - describes my mind as it is overcome by the demon of anxiety. As I reread the text over and over, it strikes me that the words here don't even sound like me. If you know me, you recognize that - I don't swear, I value friendships immensely, I love talking with people. These words are not mine. They belong to the anxiety.

I wrote this story because, for months after the party I've described, I was struck by how stark the contrast is between what I thought on that day, and what I think now. I still am. Today, I know all of my thoughts on that day were irrational. No one was paying attention to whether or not I was comfortable; they were all having fun, partying. They were partying with me. The story that my anxiety was telling my head was entirely fiction. The emotion was real, but the reasons behind it were imagined. I don't yet have an answer on how to solve this. I don't have a pretty closing here to say that I'm "healed". But, I wrote this so that I might understand the strange dichotomy of anxiety a bit better, and I am definitely getting closer.

I hope I've helped you understand anxiety a bit too - whether it's something you feel in yourself, or something you can being to sympathize with around you.

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