How I Got Bolder at Parties (without Booze)

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When you are an only child, you can charm your way in almost anywhere, if you want. You tend to have confidence because you are the only little darling your parents focus on, and your every accomplishment is commented on, recorded for posterity, and bragged about.

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Or, you are like I was. You watch, an anthropologist in this alien world of sibling rivalry, mean girls and cliques. You stay on the outskirts, observing, and maybe you even write about it all (did anyone else grow up with “Harriet the Spy”?). But you seldom take the leap and jump into the crowd.

As a newly-minted career woman, cocktail parties were excruciating. The drink in my hand was more than a prop, it was a shield against the mortification of being unattached to any of the lively groups chatting away, of being all alone.

young woman is sitting alone in a nightclub

“My hair was awful and my dress didn’t fit right,” I moaned to my mother in the aftermath of one such party. “Nobody cares,” she said crisply. I goggled. What?! I was the center of the universe, wasn’t I? How could nobody care?!

But, my mother went on to explain, “Everybody there is so worried about their own hair and their own dress that they just don’t see your problems. So, they’re not really problems unless you let them get in the way. Next time, go find somebody who looks more miserable than you and be nice to them.” Oh. But they all seemed so confident, so perfect… “They all have their own issues,” my mother repeated firmly.

At the next party, I noticed a young woman, all elbows and knees in a too-short dress. She was against the wall, wearing that hopeful half-smile that we introverts use as masks at these kinds of events. I approached and introduced myself and the half-smile grew into a full-on grin as she eagerly replied to my greeting. And, within a minute or two, another person approached, and then another.

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Suddenly, we were a group. At a party.

It was a good lesson. Forget the booze; being bold is just taking yourself out of the center of the universe.

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Helen Mitternight is a former AP reporter and current freelancer living in downtown Charleston. She headed up public relations for the Humane Society of the...

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