How to overcome social anxiety when meeting people at parties


Today’s question comes from August Lee Mutton, of Larchmont, SD.  August asks, ” Is it possible for a human being to completely run out of things to say at parties?  When I go to functions now, I’m so afraid that I am repeating myself,  the only way I can cope is to pretend to be preoccupied with the host’s pets.”

Thank you very very much for your question, August, because quite frankly I thought I was the only one!  While not an expert of course, otherwise my assistant would have extracted the $25 medical copay out of you before you even had a chance to remove your coat, make sure you were in the right office, inform someone that you were dying, let alone ask a question,  it is my belief that it is possible for people to have exhausted every single topic of conversation within memory.

I ran out of things to say on December 13, 2008 at a Christmas party thrown by the parents of a teammate on my daughter’s soccer team.  Entering the front door with my wife, I was able to greet the hosts, mention how lovely their home was decorated, and successfully hand our jackets to their bow tie-clad four-year old son who I discovered later on had gleefully tossed every single jacket he received that night into the branches of a tree located off the back deck.

As an aside, one should always keep your guard up when confronted with a small child wearing a bow tie.   I don’t know if it’s the tie that makes them evil or if evil makes them wear the tie but either way, should your run across one, leave your jackets in the car or get a sense of where things stand with this kid by placing a string of garlic cloves around his neck or embracing him in a false display of affection so you can drag him in front of a mirror to see if he reflects.

Anyway, once I was inside the house and my wife began to speak to the wife of one of the guests, I was left to converse with the husband.   I asked if I had ever told him the story about the time I was hospitalized with mumps and the Olympic track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee accidentally entered my room looking for another patient and when I told her that this was 15 and 17 was probably next door she said, “Thanks,” and left.  When he replied, “Yes.  You told it to me when we ran into each other at the parent teacher conference last night,”  I felt like Bruce Willis at the end of that loopy movie where he’s the last guy to know he’s a dead ghost.   That was me, the past life, life of the party.

I stood there staring off into the distance until I could feel the sweat cascading through my shirt and down my tie like one of those Brookstone serenity fountains they sell for $189 before Christmas and then give away the day after,  if you purchase a solar operated spatula for $6.  I couldn’t think of anything else to say for fear I had already said it.  Finally, the hostess hollered out that the buffet was open and I spent the rest of the evening crouching in front of an aquarium holding a cup of eggnog in one hand, a plate of sugar cookies in the other and occasionally saying something like, “Fish.  So beautiful.  So mesmerizing,” to whoever was within earshot.

Now August, I give you this lengthy description of my plight as a means to let you know that you are not alone and while there is sadly no cure, there is a way to treat this chronic condition.  Technology, as always, has offered a solution.   In order to successfully navigate social events in which you often see the same people and can’t recall what you’ve said to them, purchase a polo mallet and before initiating a conversation, hand it to the person you’re with and say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this.”

© 2013 The Monkey Bellhop and John Hartnett

4 thoughts on “How to overcome social anxiety when meeting people at parties”

  1. Ha! That is too funny. I have also been in that situation, especially if you don’t know the people well and have little in common. I’m usually dragged there by my gal and just go for the food an drink! I let her do the talking.

  2. John, Loved this post! Tell your mother that she should definitely print it and give it to Henry. She (and he) will know why. She’ll also want to start carrying a polo mallet at all times! Thanks for making me smile!   Carol


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