Partying seems like it should be one of the easiest things for people to do but time and time again, we see that it is actually a great source of anxiety. Despite that, most of us have a deep need for social connection. Individual friendships are valuable, but nothing can replace the experience of celebrating with a group of peers and community. The value of this cannot be understated.
Social value of partying
The worst-case scenario of a party is a wasted night, but the upsides are enormous. People have had their whole lives changed by meeting the right person at the right party. Parties solidify social bonds and extend social networks, allowing you to discover available human capital in a low-pressure way.
Imagine learning that a person at a party has a hobby that would be exactly the right thing to help a community center or a project you've been working on. This kind of serendipitous coincidence is rare in one-on-one interactions but common in the larger gatherings correlated with community health. Correlation may not be causation, but it sure does wink and nod suggestively.
Partying as vibe communication
A party is a group of three or more people engaging in recreational, social activities.
While two and sometimes three people can have a deep discussion, each extra person makes the conversation shallower. Thus, if the purpose of the interaction is communication, two or three people are the maximum. However, parties often have far more than three people — so they clearly aren't just about communication between individuals.
Note. For more information on communication models, check out our workshop series Context and Communication.
A party can be modeled as a feedback system between you and a collective vibe. When you talk to an individual at a party, you're not really talking to a person. You're talking to the appendage of a much larger collective system. Unfortunately, while individuals talk through regular language, the collective party communicates through something else: vibes.
Vibes are a low resolution communication channel that relies heavily on nonverbals such as tone and body language. It's that gut feeling you get when you step into a room, or the split-second assessment you make when you meet a stranger. The good news is that your intuition was designed to handle these situations. The bad news it that your intuition still needs to be trained and if you're unaccustomed to the medium, then you'll probably have anxiety over using it.
Few partyers will give you detailed feedback — most often, the best you can hope for is something like "you have bad vibes". This is their intuition picking up on the fact that you're having trouble sending or receiving signals to the party collective. It's a vague assessment of skill, not a personal insult. (Or at least, it shouldn't be taken as a personal insult, because that makes it harder to improve.)
Example. A wallflower is someone who doesn't engage at a party and lurks along the walls (hence the name). Wallflowers signal one of two things:
- They can't read the fun and relaxed vibe
- They can't express themselves through the medium of vibes
Either way, a wallflower's true signal is that they lack social grace and skill. Even if most people can't consciously read this off them, almost everyone will get the gist from their intuition.
Example. Some people dominate the conversation by interrupting, bragging, and redirecting the flow back to themselves. This signals a lack of confidence — they can't let the spotlight move away because they don't trust their ability to get it back later. It also signals that they're not curious about people, and nobody likes a know-it-all.
Your first goal at a party is to know what vibe you want to signal. You won't be able to express anything deep about yourself, so the objective here is to give a vague impression about how you approach life. People often feel afraid of taking a stand in this way. Some people might not like the side you're on, and that can be pretty stressful —
— but it shouldn't be. Those people will filter themselves out of your life and you won't have to deal with them anymore. Haters are a self-correcting problem.
Your second goal is to align with the room. This has two parts: matching flavor, and matching intensity. You don't want to be the sociopath laughing and joking after someone learned their friend was hurt in a car crash. Similarly, you can't be too low-energy or too high-energy. Instead, match the approximate flavor and aim for 10-15% higher intensity than the collective vibe while maintaining your authentic signal.
It's hard, and as you practice, miscalibrations will inevitably happen. Still, a sincere apology and an effort to change tends to go a long way.