It's arrived! The return of parties where the boring/obnoxious/awkward plus ones are back on the guest list, where you must dance, and mix drinks for strangers you’ve just adopted and speak to 15 people in the space of one fast-paced hour.
House parties were always a chaos of all humanity - but can you handle one after a year in stop-start lockdowns, cocooned in forgiving bubbles with rule-of-six chosen ones? If the prospect of attending one makes you want to cry real tears, this is an etiquette guide to get you back in the game.
Firstly, the bad news: the cast of a house party is a Rolodex of friends, mortal enemies, exes, sex exes, crushes, acquaintances and perfect strangers. Which leads me neatly onto the worse news: for the first time in god knows when, you must deploy small talk with those of them you don’t manage to avoid. But don’t worry, there’s good news too. Because I can guarantee that everyone you meet has also become A Full Weirdo. We are all bricking it. That head rush of adrenaline — a sort of fully conscious blackout — as you try to make a conversation ‘happen’? Whoever you’re talking to is having it too. Watch them —blinking, pupils glassy and terrified, fiddling with the label on their T-shirt. As Sartre almost put it, hell is other people — but you’re their hell too. The best news is that realising this will help you relax — and better at small talk. Laugh about it, be forgiving, lean into awkwardness. You got this.
Now there are technically ‘no rules’, people will have drawn their own red lines (e.g ABSOLUTELY NO HUGS). Respect them. The easiest way to work out someone’s boundaries is just to ask: this is a brave new world and we’re all muddling through it together. If someone is still fistbumping, distancing or only hanging outside in the garden, then let them do their thing - and if you’re feeling cautious, say so.
On the other hand, once you’ve established your boundaries, please (please) leave the Covid chat out. ‘So, how was your pandemic?’ is - repeat after me - not a good opener.
There is a chance that, after over a year of this nonsense, your competency with basic human skills has taken a knock. If in doubt, remember hands (stop waving them around!), face (make eye contact), (personal) space. Even pre-Covid, it was weird to stand too close to people.
Everyone’s encountered a jellyfish — one of those people who leaves a sting. “Oh you look so...different!” they coo. (Different?!) “Don’t worry — I put on weight in lockdown too!” “But you’ve always been a little eccentric!” Avoid these people. Also do not be one - think before you speak: one person’s throwaway comment is another’s “moment-that-they-will-replay-on-a-loop-in-the-dark-insomniac-hours-for-the-next-three-months”.
Advantages of dancing are manifest. Exercise! Endorphins! Sweating out the hangover (a non-scientific theory to which I cling to)! Also: you don’t have to talk, except perhaps to scream “I love this song” every few tracks. Dancing is animalistic, ritualistic - and therefore it’s less likely you’ve forgotten how to do it over the last year. Tear up that floor.
The thing about your limits is they’ve probably changed. If you can’t remember the last house party you went to, then start slow. Yes, it’s been a while but being that person who ends up locking themselves in the (only) bathroom to dry/wet heave over the loo while a slightly-less-pissed friend rubs your back with a loo brush? It’s still a bad look. Channel your mum/that one friend at uni who’d line you up before a club night and force-feed you all pesto pasta. In other words: eat. Maybe even drink some water. And keep an eye out for other people who might need a time out: we need to have each other’s backs in the first few strange weeks.
Obviously, you will spend the three hours before you leave strewing the contents of your wardrobe across the floor, despairing you have nothing that fits your chosen vibe (“perfect combination of sexy and cool”; “smart caj”; “NOT cheugy”, etc). Typically, the corrective to this is to go OTT. “No one ever feels bad looking TOO good,” you coo into the mirror, slugging a third pre-game Martini (be careful!) and hoisting yourself into a dress you last wore to your chicest friend’s Tulum wedding. Newsflash: house parties are still grimy (even if you turned 30 over pandemic and they’re now taking place in a house someone actually owns). Stick on something you can dance in, machine wash on a simple setting, and which doesn’t require knickers that risk thrush. The latter doubles as a broader rule for life in general.
Still never a good idea.
Phoebe Luckhurst’s book 'The Lock In' is out now, which you can order here.