Walking into a room full of people I don’t know is pretty much my worst nightmare. I’ve gotten much less introverted over the years, but I’m still a quiet and reserved person at heart, and I prefer hanging out with a single friend one-on-one to going out in large groups. Going to a party with people I don’t even know? Forget about it.
However, I’m still relatively new to San Francisco, and trying to meet new people. I do get out of the house regularly, and I have no problem eating alone in restaurants or shopping alone. I even prefer going to concerts, movies, and the theater alone, a holdover from my days as a movie critic. But all of those activities are inherently solitary—you go, enjoy the show/food/consumer goods, and then you leave. There’s no small talk involved.
Going to a party alone is totally different. There’s an expectation to be social, to have fun, mingle, and be friendly. There’s still the middle-school voice that says if no one’s talking to you, you must be a loser. Back in the days when I had a roommate, we were always each other’s “plus-one,” because having a trusty friend by your side makes it easier to deal with the panic of figuring out who to approach first, or whether to make a beeline for the food and then strike up conversation over canapés. When you’re part of a team, at least you can rely on each other. If you’re alone, do you start by making random unsolicited compliments and hope they blossom into a real discussion? Do you say to everybody, “Hey, didn’t you go to NYU film school, too?”
I’d been to parties before where I knew one or two people, and always managed okay making polite chit-chat. Last week, though, I took a big plunge and went to a party to which I’d been invited by a very casual acquaintance, and I fearlessly went without a plus-one. It’s tough to get motivated to leave the house alone on a foggy Thursday, but after gently reminding myself that I’d been here for seven months and still knew only about twenty people, I put on my big-girl pants and a fresh coat of lipstick and tried my hardest to seem friendly.
The best part? I had tons of fun. The fourth-grade-nothing in me still gets scared that I’ll be ignored, but everyone I met was friendly, excited to meet me, and interesting. Many of the people were relatively recent transplants to San Francisco, too, and looking for the same things as I was—a good time, tips on where to get the best burrito, and new friends. I walked out of the party with all of those, as well as lunch plans for next week.
I originally recruited someone to go with me to the event, lest I get stuck in the corner alone, pretending to be assaulted by a barrage of text messages. As it turned out, I was glad I went solo. It forced me to open up and be friendly in ways that I might not have been if I had someone there with me. In fact, I started thinking about all of my friends, and realized that I’d met many of them while in situations where I was more or less forced to be social. Walking into a roomful of unfamiliar faces might be uncomfortable and panic-inducing, but being social on your own is like learning to trapeze without a net. It feels better without someone else grasping onto your ankles.
Read more stories from our The Power of One series:
A Table of My Own (Eating alone)
There’s a Tear in My … Zin? (Having a drink alone)
The Great Mistake (Traveling alone)
All Alone in the Woods (Backpacking alone)
Front Row! My Solo Concert Experience (Going to a concert alone)