When You Don't Want to Go to That Party But Should

Psychological and practical tips.

Posted Dec 17, 2016

PublicDomainPictures.Net, Public Domain
Source: PublicDomainPictures.Net, Public Domain

You've probably gotten an invitation to one or more to holiday parties. Let's say there's at least one you'd rather not attend. That can be true even for extroverts although, of course, more relevant to reclusive types.

And maybe you shouldn't go, for example, if the attendees will be liberally laced with people you don't like, not going won't significantly hurt your career or relationships, and the host wouldn't be too offended by your absence.

But often, you would pay too big a price for not going. Here are tips for making the most of a party you'd rather not attend.

Overcoming fear

Sometimes, your reluctance to attending a party comes from a fear:

Are you afraid you won't know what to say? Bring an anecdote or two. I've been using my rat problem. (Everyone likes to feel superior and it's hard to feel inferior to someone whose home has a rat infestation.) Of course, you don't start a conversation with an anecdote about rats or any anecdote for that matter. An easy way to begin is with an environmental comment--No, not about how much we should try to control the planet's climate but about the immediate environment: the weather, food, music, how you know the host, etc. You might then ask a question or two to find common ground, perhaps family, career, sports, even politics. If the conversation lulls,then you can trot out your anecdote or stick your hand out and say it was good talking and you're going to get a drink, to the bathroom, whatever.

Are you scared you won't know anyone? The aforementioned anecdote or two should help. And even if you're too shy to approach anyone, standing with open body language near a friendly looking person or group may encourage someone to start a conversation with you.  And who knows? You might even meet someone you'll like at least well enough to enjoy a brief conversation.

You don't like some of the people at the party but are afraid you'll have to interact with them? Remember that you can keep it brief and extricate yourself using that stick-your-hand-out approach.

Afraid you'll overindulge? It might help to decide, in advance rather than in the heat of the moment, how much you'll eat or drink. And worst case, if you don't keep to the plan, you'll survive having enjoyed a treat.

You fear you were invited only out of obligation. One way to make the host glad s/he invited you is to bring an unusually thoughtful present. Instead of the standard bottle of wine, how about your favorite kitchen item? When my wife and I were invited to a professor's house for a party, my wife brought a lovely pie plate. That triggered a conversation with the professor that was key to Barbara to getting into the doctoral program at Berkeley—really.

Finding positive reasons to attend

The previous tactics attempt to minimize the downsides of going to a party. Might any of these positives be motivating: dancing, career networking, meeting a new friend or romantic partner, getting to eat good food without having to cook?

Many people are embarrassed to do career networking, especially at a holiday party, for fear of being inappropriate, pushy, imposing, or expressing vulnerability. It may help to remember that you're not asking for a handout or even for a job. You need only say something like this, "My resolution for the New Year is to find better work. I've liked being a counselor at a community mental health agency but I'd like to work with kids with family problems rather than adults with substance abuse problems. By any chance, might you know someone I should talk with?" Nothing pushy or embarrassing about that. And If the person at all likes you or even is neutral to you, if s/he knows someone, s/he may well tell you.

Another way to motivate yourself to go to a party is to decide that, while there, you'll try to be helpful: Whether it's serving food or drink, approaching a wallflower and asking about him or her rather than prattling about yourself, or offering to help clean up.

It may also be motivating to have a goal, for example, to talk with two people you don't know, or to recruit someone to volunteer with you for some charity effort.

Okay, you've gone to the party but now you'd like to leave. One inoffensive way to being even the first to leave is to explain that you have another event to go to (Going home to watch a movie alone counts) or that there's someone you need to take care of—My explanation often is--and it's true—"I have a doggie at home with separation issues. I should rescue him." Or you might even try radical honesty: "I've enjoyed the party but I'm quite the introvert and so I'm going to take off." Who knows, such disclosures are the stuff of which deeper relationships are made.

The takeaway

Don't overthink. Take just the few minutes to think about what you'll wear that will feel good, remember one or two ideas from this article, and let go.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.