Holiday parties are harmless, right? Wrong! Sure, there's festive music, tinsel and lots of wool sweaters with snowflakes in cutesy patterns. But for people like me who would prefer to gift wrap their cat in tissue paper than talk to semi-strangers about my stalled personal and professional life, it can be rough.
I'm single, unemployed and living back at my parents' house in my 30s. I'd rather hug a pine tree naked than field questions about my life to semi-strangers in a holiday party scenario. It's hard enough to explain my situation in normal lighting, but when there's gingerbread men and "Jingle Bell Rock" in the mix, it can be downright weird.
I should really just lie. When people ask me what I do for a living, I should say that I'm a principal analyst for my own online media company (meaning: I write funny tweets about a multitude of Bravo shows that include both the words "real" and "housewives" in the title.) When someone asks if I'm dating anyone, I'll say that I'm "weighing my options" (meaning: I'm debating whether I think Brody in "Homeland" is hot or not because it honestly varies from scene to scene). And if someone asks where I live, I'll just say that "I'm staying in a chalet just outside of the city (meaning: I really hope I just distracted them by saying a random French word out of the blue).
Like a Des Moines strip club headlining a jazz flutist, holiday parties just aren't the best forum to showcase my skills. I'm good at lots of things -- like wondering if the party hosts will get mad if I flip on the TV in the living room to watch "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" during the party -- but making lively small talk with gainfully employed, happily paired-off people isn't one of them.
Usually if you stick me in a dimly-lit room with mistletoe and a large bowl of peppermint Schnapps-spiked punch, I'm like a puppy in a room full of squeaker toys. But since my world's shrunken to a room upstairs at my parents' suburban house, I've been more like a lizard in a room full of iPods, just totally out of my element.
Besides, I already know how the party will go: All the cute guys there will be taken. And all the single guys there will be strange. I'll give forced, tight smiles to all the women glowing about their recent wedding engagements. I'll feign interest as I coo over their sparkly engagement rings while I'm secretly trying to catch a glimpse of the dessert table and see if there's any fruitcake left. I like the candied cherries. So sue me.
This is wild because I never had this kind of social anxiety when I was younger. When I had a steady job and a boyfriend many, many moons ago, I saw holiday parties as a way to eat a variety of cookies as quickly as possible as I gulped down free alcohol. When people asked me questions, I had straighforward answers: My job? It's a boring gig in a big building downtown. My boyfriend? He's the guy on his fifth glass of eggnog trying to get people to ironically sing Billy Joel songs around the piano. Where do I live? Next door, which is why I'm drinking so much because I don't have to drive anywhere.
I still eat roughly a metric ton of cookies and drink the booze, but the tone of the conversation has changed since I've moved home. Everything feels like a pop quiz about my life that I'm unprepared to answer. The questions people ask make me squirm: What do I do for a living? Where do I live Am I seeing anyone? I don't even want to answer them.
Seriously, as soon as someone asks me if I'm seeing anyone special, I wish I could hide behind a giant adult-sized candy cane the way the Pink Panther slinks behind lampposts. No, I'm not seeing anyone special. My love life has been the exact trajectory of Santa's sled: It's definitely a downward curve. I haven't kissed a guy in over five months, and the last guy who asked me on a proper date did it by messaging me over Facebook. He didn't have an actual picture as his icon, so I'm not even positive that he was a guy -- or human being, for that matter.
I shouldn't be such a pessimist. Maybe this holiday season will be different. Maybe the single guys will be cute and people won't ask me about my personal life. You know what? Screw gift cards to Sephora, that's what I really want for my Hanukkah present this year. Let's all come together over the pinecone-scented Yankee candles, enjoy the abundance of red and green-foil wrapped Hershey Kisses and debate the hotness of the characters on "Homeland." The next time someone at a holiday party asks, I want to be able to say: the chalet is a small one-bedroom apartment within walking distance of the city's best dive bars. I tweet about TV housewives. And the man in my life? Brody, clearly.