The holidays are a wonderful time: the chill in the air, the promise of a new year, and, of course, the varied reunions.
Some of these will be welcome additions to your calendar. It’s good to see old friends. It’s good to find the comfort of family still aglow. Even just a drive around your hometown, communing with the landmarks and half-remembered scenes of your adolescence has a tangible charm to it.
But then there are the obligations. Some of these may even fall into a few of the former categories. Family can definitely be a whole thing and you’ll probably run into some of the less savory members of your high school landscape, and, the biggest hills to ascend of all, the disparate mid-afternoon mixers thrown by the connections that are a little too close to refuse entirely, but not close enough to truly necessitate sucking it up for. In order to get through things as pleasantly unscathed as possible, it’s best to not overburden yourself.
So if you have appearances you really feel like you ought to make, but aren’t sure how you’ll possibly get through, here’s how to limit the exposure without, you know, making your intro your outro.
1. Show up in the early-to-mid goings.
Too early and you’ll be locked in as a pillar of the gathering; too late and you’ll almost certainly have to stay until its over to make up for not being there earlier.
There’s a certain sweet spot though.
If the set duration is 2-6pm, you should get there a little after 3. That way you can be nearly assured that things are moving along: people have probably started in on the hors d’oeuvres, and there’s a base of new and old acquaintances to buffer you from having much social responsibility.
Time spent: 1 minute.
2. Make it clear you can’t stay.
But like, gently. And, if possible, make it seem as if you’re taking a break in whatever action you’re all about in order to be there. They ought to come away sure of the herculean effort it took to tear your nose away from the grindstone even for just a fraction of an hour.
“I can’t stay too long,” you’ll gasp, a sickened hint of apology in your tone.
“Just glad you could come at all,” your host will respond, a comforting and understanding hand on your shoulder.
Even if you can’t sell the apologetic side of things that well, the important part is to excuse yourself at all. Some effort is still an effort, and you’ve hopefully arrived near the peak of the host’s duties, so any reservations they may have about your sincerity will be sloughed right off in the milieu.
Time spent: 1 minute.
Total 2 minutes.
3. Introduce yourself around.
Blandly ingratiate yourself with everyone else: a handshake here, a smile there. Chances are if you really were dreading the occasion, you might not know many other guests. This is good because there’s no way anyone will expect to fill up a lifetime store of befriending in just the space of an overcrowded afternoon soiree. Even if you are familiar with most of the room (which is probably just as legitimate a reason to not want to be there), you’re hopefully estranged enough to keep things surface level.
Small talk? That’s easy, and repeatable! Having a basic set of talking points makes it simpler for everyone there to compare agreeable notes on you later, so you’re actually sowing seeds of harmony without even trying. The more innocuous your descriptions of self and inquiries into others the better; if you leave too distinct an impression, the very next thing your interlocutor’s will consider is how briefly you were there.
Time spent: 3 minutes.
Total 5 minutes.
4. Sample the spread.
The spread of food that is; don’t have a drink. You’re about efficiency here and imbibing will only slow you down by softening the edges of the experience. Also food is much more personal. Potluck style is popular this time of year. So not only are you participating in the proceedings, but you’re also giving some kindly person in the corner a reason to puff up their chest a little: “Well, what a nice young man/woman, sampling my chili,” they’ll think, a simple smile of approval on their lips, a full-bodied beam warming them from the inside.
The main benefit of eating something though is that it makes you seem less the looky loo outsider if you’ve got a plate in your hand. How much of a rush could you have possibly been in if you’re taking the time to strategically load up a plate?
Note: have something easily swallowed: soup, curry, whatever. Bread is probably a poor choice. Again, you’re all about efficiency.
Time spent: 4 minutes.
Total: 9 minutes.
5. Make your exit.
This is where it all comes together. The apologetic, rueful facial expression, the finished plate in hand, your confident brand of quick, compact dialogue: this is your big moment.
“Hey [name of host], I’ve really gotta run. Sorry again for not being able to stay longer. Would really love to catch up in more depth soon.”
“It’s no problem at all. I wouldn’t’ve been able to talk much anyways.”
And with a few nods and maybe repeat handshakes, you’re off into the clear blue yonder of the rest of your day with no one probably that much the wiser. Obligation fulfilled.
And, if you feel you’ve been a bit of an asshole by even considering this version of the dine-and-dash, no one should hold it against you. What are the holidays a time for, if not forgiveness?
Time spent: 1 minute.
Total: 10 minutes.