Did you ever walk into a room full of people, politely say “hello” and then wonder why everybody but you seemed normal? No? Just me? C’mon, that can’t be right.
If you’re the first person at an informal gathering of friends, it may be stilted and awkward to make conversation with the hosts (once you get past the “are you sure I can’t help you with anything?” obligatory exchange) but at least you get a prime chair choice: where will your butt be parked for the duration? Personally, I avoid couches as they’re too soft and difficult to get out of easily, especially if you’re the kind of person who stands when somebody new comes in. It’s also the seat that everyone wants to steal when you go to refill your drink or grab a couple of chips, so you return all at sea, a ship without its berth, self-conciously juggling your full drink and salty chips in a room full of happily docked boats. That’s why I usually pick a dining-room chair that’s been pressed into service as “additional seating.” I like the hard seat, the high supportive back, and the lack of desirability by the other butts in the room.
If you show up when the room is about half-filled with invited guests and give a weak “hello” to everyone in general, you’ll get a “hey” in return from some of them because the rest of them are still laughing at the story that concluded just before you walked in and half of them didn’t notice you arrived. They have done the parking-lot system of sitting: don’t park next to the car in the lot, leave a space in between or even two, makes it easier. Except for the poor cars that come later and have to park between a giant SUV and a smart car that’s hanging over the line (and really? You’re the tiniest car in creation next to the ones the Shriners drive in the parades and you can’t stay in the lines? I bet you raised hell in kindergarten, didn’t you?), you can sit between two people on the couch or perch on the arm of the overstuffed chair-and-a-half or take the one dilapidated folding chair that doesn’t look like it would support Kate Moss. (I was going to say Twiggy but I don’t know how many of you are in my age bracket and would get the reference.) If this is the situation presented to me, I usually go find the hosts in the kitchen where I can snag a kitchen chair, be near the drinks AND the chips, and justify that I’m keeping them company while performing the “are you sure I can’t help you with anything?” rodeo.
But what if the hosts are also in the living room? You can’t sit in the kitchen by yourself, so you flit around the room saying things like “Oh, your hair looks fabulous, I love that look,” and “Don’t you look comfortable, what a great pair of sandals,” and “That drink looks delicious, what is it?” Somebody offers to get me a drink, and I say “Oh, I don’t mind getting it myself, just point me” and they follow me to the drink-creating area and now I’m out of the awkward sitting situation and only have to deal with the awkward small-talk situation which is always a little easier if you happen to be slicing limes. Then you can linger in the kitchen, admire the aromas coming from whatever we will be feasting on, and thank them for their generosity in having everyone over. You are now the good guest, because you’ve spent quality time with your hosts and thanked them before anyone else. If you are lucky, the hosts have offered you their seat in the living room as they have to “see to a few things” and bonus! It’s the dining-room chair!
Where I end up not feeling normal (and I do understand that if the preceding narrative hasn’t made me sound not normal, then you are probably just the kind of person I like hanging out with, which, you know, poor you) is listening to other people’s conversations and wondering how they have so many stories to tell, so many interesting facts to relate, such an easy time recalling shared adventures, and so up-t0-date on movies. I begin digesting the details of their story about meeting the hosts in Manhattan for a drinks and dinner date and how hilarious the escapade was from the train ride through the mixed-up desserts, and sorting it out in my mind when someone says “You’ve eaten there, right? Did you like it?”
Smiling and anticipatory faces turn to me, willing me to embellish this great story even more with additional bon mots of frightfully good humor, and I say, “Oh, yes! Yes, we did! Yes, it was really really good!” and the faces grow a little less smiley and a bit more anticipatory like they’re waiting for the punch line. “Um…it was just so good… when we went.” The faces turn back to the main arena, smiling even less and changing the subject.
The thing is, as I’ve mentioned, I’m really bad at small talk. My strength comes in the little editorial one-liners, the quicksilver observations, the plays-on-words. I am more the editor than the novelist, more the movie critic than the movie maker, more the taster than the winemaker. My words come quickly and quietly and are usually only picked up by the people near me, so a group of entertainment-needing people makes me feel not normal at all. Then I have a conversation with my brain about why we can’t make cool stories like Hannah or funny accounts like Edward or even amusing movements like Rover the family dog, and I look at Hubby who’s sitting silently but has a relaxed expression and will say later what a wonderful time he had and I wish I was normal like him.
Go sit in the kitchen.