The Nuances of Party Talk

ornaments‘Tis the season …

For neuroses.

That’s right kids, it’s holiday party season. A time when folks gather with family, friends and acquaintances … meet new people … or maybe finally get closer to people we want to get to know better, all in the spirit of fun and goodwill.

It can also be this time of year when, as the party circuit gains momentum, so does the potential to say or do something that might turn an interaction awkward …

And unleash that cold, sharp sting of emotional discomfort that can be hard to shake in the days that follow. 

Making conversation with people you may or may not know is a delicate art, even at the best of times. 

But around holiday time? The art of chatting during a time of merry-making can sometimes require the skill of a ninja.

And despite the best of intentions, you sometimes step right into it, without meaning to.

A case in point:

While kindly driving me home from work earlier this evening, a co-worker of mine and I were chatting about the work potluck we both attended the night before. It was great! Lots of good food, a chance to meet people and their spouses, or their friends.

But, she said, she thought she may have accidentally offended the wife of one of our other co-workers.

“Really?” I said. “Really? How so?”

Well, they’d gotten into a conversation about politics – specifically women in politics and powerful roles. The co-worker’s wife was making the point of saying that women should get a stab at high positions of office, such as President of the United States.

Essentially my co-worker’s point of view was that it shoudn’t matter – shouldn’t it just be the best person for the job? (There was a bit of pre-amble before that, so she just stopped short of saying this.)

My co-worker surmised she may not have gotten the drift of our  co-worker’s wife, because she got a weird vibe after that. And honestly, it wasn’t her intention to offend.

We probably won’t ever know what our co-worker’s wife was thinking. But it’s sometimes just one of those things.

And then there are situations that are, from the start, just friggin’ weird.

This past Saturday night, I went downtown for two shindigs. First stop was my friend’s birthday party at a bar.

I shed my layers, and saw one of my friends from work, in conversation with a few other women she knew. I asked if it was all right to join, to which they agreed.

After about five minutes or so, I introduced myself to each one. One of them I’d been hoping to introduce myself to for a while – the wife of another friend of mine.

Short story: This friend (the one with the wife, not the birthday) and I dated YEARS ago. So briefly in fact, it’s barely a wrinkle on the pleated slacks of Time. And by the time he met his now-wife, I’m pretty confident I was completely out of the picture and things were kosher.

And yet …

Have you ever been in a situation where you think you know in your head how something is going to play out, and it ends up unfolding in a completely different way?

I turned, and was ready to extend my hand when the woman said:

“We’ve met before. I’m ______’s wife.”


Normally this wouldn’t have caused me to flinch. Except:

1) I’m 99.9 percent sure I’ve never formally met her. EVER. The closest I got to her was last year, when she was still engaged to my friend. I spent the wedding ceremony of a mutual friend of ours looking at the back of her head from my church pew. Our tables at the reception were on opposite ends of the room. I never even talked to her there, either.

2) While I wouldn’t say she was unfriendly, I’d say she was hovering around cordial. She didn’t even say her name.

I honestly don’t even remember whether I still dribbled out, “Nice to meet you”, or modified the response.

But at that moment, my brain flashed one big, neurotic, neon “WTF?”  

To her credit, she did talk to me a little later on – for about 25 seconds –  because we have friends in common, who happened to be old classmates of mine. Although come to think of it, I found that equally as awkward. 

Not to toot my own horn, but I’d like to THINK I’m kinda likeable? 


So kids, whether your tongue sets you up for a fa-la-la-faux-pas, or you end up being targeted for merry mayhem, some advice.

1) Keep your tongue in check. 

2) Always keep your poker face.

 3) Know when to duck.

And please – if you have any awkward party conversation stories, feel free to share. I won’t judge.