Parties do strange things to the human psyche. Just as the television programme The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds is set in a playground, if The Secret Life of Midults were a show, it should be set at a party. Or perhaps in front of the mirror before the party because of the weird things we do there – pulling skin taut, examining back fat, shooting ourselves a ‘winning smile’.
Parties are the Midult jungle. At work we know how to handle ourselves – we are, after all, not rookies. But each party feels like the first: exposing, revealing. Who are we meant to be tonight? How will this go? How much do we care? Why did this outfit have the disrespect to look like dirty laundry the moment we put it on our body? How drunk is too drunk? And what about tomorrow?
Oh God… tomorrow. Emilie, a secret show-off (you’d never know: she’s utterly unassuming), is always pleased to see everyone and, as a result, gets trapped. She has to remind herself repeatedly that this is not a hostage situation. But she has now realised that, having spread the word about her tiny bladder for years (‘It’s the size of a lentil, you know’), the loo is her escape chute. She spends a lot of party time there, provided there is Wi-Fi.
Annabel, despite being terrified of most people because she is so secretly shy (you’d never know, she appears to be appallingly confident) operates on rails. Zooming around the room on a loop to try to either get drunk or get out. She can do a drinks party (the worst kind) in seven minutes just by virtue of ruthlessly constant motion.
Parties bring out the ‘us’ in us. Because we are all more than one person. ‘Be yourself,’ they say. Who even is that? But here are some tips from the battle-scarred.
1. Beware the pre-lash sharpener
The thing about this little measure of Dutch courage is that we never include it in our alcohol maths and it is often the one to tip us from attractively vivacious to absolutely spannered.
2. Our oversized handbags are gifts from heaven
They are also this season’s big accessory story. Remember two things: firstly that they are useful to hide behind if you are feeling body-shy and, secondly, that they lessen the impact of everything else you wear by virtue of their sheer scale. So we may look like faintly directional, harried bag ladies.
3. If you go home between work and the party…
… You may never make it out again.
4. No one cares when you leave*
Except when the party is thrown by a very close friend. In which case it is, in fact, a hostage situation. There is nothing you can do about this. (Note: *Unless it’s a seated dinner, or you are famous.)
5. When you can’t remember someone’s name…
… Just beam (you’ve been practising your ‘winning smile’) and exclaim, ‘Oh, there you are!’ How marvellous is that going to make them feel?
6. There’s a reason we call it ‘throwing’ a party
The host is throwing out all kinds of possibilities to the universe. If it’s a good one then anything could happen. Isn’t that great? Isn’t that anxious-making?
7. Party you is probably not real you
Real you may need lots of time alone, in the bath, with a book, not speaking. Parties are the time to try on bits of your personality for size. An opportunity to show real you what all the other yous might look like. Relentlessly flirtatious you. Really rather argumentative you. Generous and friendly you. Is-it-going-home-time-yet you.
8. Uncomfortable underwear…
… Never makes for a fun night.
9. You are the boss of your diary
It is not the boss of you. Do not allow your diary to fill itself up in a way that is likely to make you short of breath or miserable. That is the way to turn every party into an ordeal. Write ‘NIGHT IN’. Which means ‘party for one on the sofa’. With you as the host. And, if you cancel, you will be very, very cross with yourself. And you really won’t like you when you’re angry.