Prior to and during college, there are widely accepted hallmarks which indicate that an informal social get-together is in fact, a party. A few universally accepted characteristics of the pre-grad party: the red Solo cup; the beer pong table; the five dollar entry fee; a tacit air of danger, lust, possibility. The predictability and comfort that defines these gatherings becomes apparent only in hindsight, as one distances oneself from behaviors like decorating walls in crushed beer cans and instead becomes drawn to what we often refer to as Becoming A Real Person.
Perhaps the first Real Person party a post-grad enjoys is the Graduation Party; wherein friends are invited to celebrate and imbibe with the graduate’s family which may or may not include: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, various children, neighbors and friends who are ‘like family,’ etc. The intermingling of the family (Real People) and the other guests (You, or someone like You) requires, on your part, behavioral adjustments as to appease and/ or not mortify your host, the graduate. You might, for example, avoid screaming ‘F-ck’ in the presence of young and/ or old people. You might opt to wear an outfit that covers your T&A. You might come prepared to answer the question, “What’s next for you?”, as your age will indicate that you are on a comparable life path to that of your host, the graduate, and as such should be ready to entertain badgering and prying questions re: what steps you are taking toward Becoming A Real Person. Answer these questions vaguely, succinctly, without venom. You might begrudge that, absent from your Graduation Party invitation, was a post-script informing you that all intrusive questions posed to Graduation Party guests are merely a pregame for the interrogations [via perspective employers, concerned friends, and relentless family members] that will come to define your 20s. Regardless of this oversight, a Graduation Party is an opportunity to both have fun and learn how to make it through an evening without pantsing yourself in a driveway while ruminating on the attractiveness of your legs (“sooooo hot”), a feat the author regrettably admits is not easily achieved.
Based on your perceived social desirability, you might attend anywhere between zero and 600 Graduation Parties. The monotony of dressing acceptably in exchange for free alcohol will be offset by a series of parties we’ll call How The Sh-t Did I Get Here parties. HTSDIGH parties are most prevalent in the early 20s, when a post-grad has not yet come to understand adult concepts such as, ‘money is a real thing,’ and ‘probably it is not safe to begin partying at 9 a.m. with some Italians I just met on the sidewalk who are still awake from the night before, probably.’ The HTSDIGH era is characterized by freedom and wonderment, by pushing limits that weren’t previously conceivable and answering questions that were never meant to be answered [how many sedatives does it take to completely alienate myself from everyone at this party; what’s the worst thing that could happen if I follow that okay-looking dude to the roof of this apartment building; is Staten Island as bad as everyone says it is; how the sh-t did I get here]. Once these questions begin to shred the soul, a collection of decent yet undeniably neutered parties become the norm (though you should never believe for a second that you’ve matured to the extent that HTSDIGH parties no longer appeal to you. Moving to a new city, losing a job, finding out your ex is dating someone who is indisputably better-looking and more desirable than you could ever hope to be — these instances birth new opportunities to revisit HTSDIGH partying.)
One celebration characteristic of your 20s is the Double-Header, which translates to dinner followed by getting wasted at a bar in an effort to celebrate someone’s birthday. The least fun of all the parties, the Double-Header pretty much ensures that drunk mathematics will fail and the dinner bill will sit unpaid on the table as each person recounts their order down to the letter; the squabbling only coming to an end when you (and only you, seemingly) offer to pay anywhere between $3-$60 more than what makes sense. After having spent ~$103 on what should’ve been a $40 dinner, continuing the party loses its sheen, and moving on to the second leg of the evening in your frustrated and empty-pocketed state is inadvisable.
A common celebration staple is the It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To party*, wherein the host is driven to tears by the sort of pitfalls typical of hosting a party, like: destroying of expensive property; hot person invited for the purpose of validating the host hooks up with another guest who, if we’re being honest, should’ve known better than to actually show up to a party that yes, they were invited to, but only out of a misplaced sense of obligation on the host’s behalf; feeling way too comfortable in one’s own home and getting uncontrollably sh-tfaced, at which point crying becomes an inevitability.
*Of course, an It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To party could also refer to a fete wherein the host — a ‘quirky’ girl who wears full skirts and glasses, most likely — sings aloud the Lesley Gore classic, “It’s My Party” while lethargically swaying to-and-fro and inviting guests to join her on the ‘dance floor,’ more commonly known as the kitchen area. This iteration is arguably less depressing than its predecessor, depending on how much you’ve had to drink and what your feelings toward 60s R&B are.
Another unwelcome foray into post-grad partying is the I’m Too Old For This Sh-t party, whereby a guest enters a gathering and either immediately or begrudgingly announces that they’re Too Old For This Sh-t. [This is patently false, by the way — in your 20s, you’re not ‘too old’ for much of anything. Even at 30, you still have to live another life the length of the one you’ve already lived (and then some) to even consider retirement — which is something that actual old people do. The only thing a person in their mid-20s is too old to do is audition for The Real World, which is a blessing in disguise. If ever you walk into a party staged by or bearing resemblance to The Real World, go home. You are too old for this sh-t.] Jello shots, gratuitous stripping and/ or spilling, the uneasy feeling that should the police come, you will somehow be arrested for supplying alcohol to minors, and guests feeding vodka to geriatric pets are all indicators that you might be too old for this sh-t.
And yet, you might feel you’re too young to attend certain parties, like a friend’s wedding. Yes, you still wear a modest outfit in exchange for free drinks, but this is no Graduation Party. This is the celebration of a union you’re supporting and there are myriad emotions to combat as a result, emotions you hadn’t anticipated years ago when you attended Graduation Parties and stood around a keg and used the sweat from your nose to quell the foamy head of a beer. That was what made Graduation Parties special; they were a kiss of responsibility that welcomed you into adulthood while understanding that you might take some time to grow up — and isn’t a wedding the opposite, isn’t a marriage all of the responsibility, isn’t it frightening? Despite your confliction, despite maybe feeling too young to watch your friends get married, there’s something a little magical about a wedding, something pretty and hopeful and warm that makes having all the responsibility seem like it could be okay.
But first, or during, or after all of those parties are the celebrations whose terms are undefinable; parties that begin at 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., parties that require your friends to make food from scratch, parties of two and three and of two- and three-hundred. There are roof parties, and brunch parties, and pool parties, and dance parties. There are holiday parties. There are Pod People Parties, where everyone takes their shoes off and dines on cheeses purchased from speciality stores; there are parties to which you were not invited but attend anyway; there are parties that will make you laugh and parties that will make you cry. Most important though, are the parties that refine your ideas of freedom and responsibility and how a person might have enough of both to be happy; moments that strike this balance are most definitely worth celebrating.