I used to dread going to Phil’s work party.  Maybe because after 7 years of marriage, I am still not exactly sure what Phil actually DOES.  I tend to freeze up at the question: “Oh, what does your husband do?” I just string together some key words like “engineering…validation….pharmaceutical…software…services” until the person’s eyes glaze over enough to move on to another topic.

So imagine my comfort level in a room FULL of people who do something relating to engineering…validation services….FDA…pharmaceutical….software….sales….services. I haven’t worked in an office since 1999. I am a stay at home mom; some days I don’t put a bra on until 3:00. While Phil is at work having conversations about “driving risk based endpoints based on ASTM 2500 while ensuring quality of traditional system integration deliverables,” I am chasing a stinky 2 year old around the kitchen asking “Did you go poopies? Did you go poopies?” To say I have nothing in common with Phil’s co-workers is an understatement. 

Or so I thought….

At this year’s party, something shifted in me when I realized that I was not alone in my social clumsiness.  EVERYONE at the holiday party is uncomfortable; it seems that the majority of office workers struggle with making the “day to evening” transition.  I have seen Phil’s company take a variety of approaches to the Holiday Party: spouses, no spouses, a luncheon, a theme party, a bowling party, a casino party…..before settling on a more traditional Friday night affair at a country club. This format seems to work, but it wouldn’t be an office party without some awkward elements:

The Dress Code

The invite noted the dress code as “Dressy Casual.”  What is that?  That’s like saying something is “Prickly Soft” or that you are feeling “Sleepy Alert.”  I thought I was alone in my confusion due to years of wearing nothing but yoga pants, but scanning the dance floor I realized I was not alone.  You had everything from sequined cocktail dresses to Old Navy cargo pants, plus a few misguided young women for whom “Dressy Casual” reads “Slutty Clubbing Clothes.”

The Desperate DJ

Walking into a room of sober engineers is the kiss of death for a DJ. Before the cocktails get flowing, the Desperate DJ recognizes that the Holiday Office Party shares the social climate of a middle school dance, and true commitment is required to get people out on the dance floor.  Strobe lights, glow stick necklaces, oversized sunglasses, The Electric Slide, Sir Mix A Lot….whatever it takes, the Desperate DJ is not afraid to bring out the big guns early.

The Drunk Rookie

The Drunk Rookie is the 22 year old new hire who still thinks every party involves a beer bong and tequila shots.   The DR smokes cigarettes when he drinks, starts doing impersonations of upper management and often develops a lazy eye by 10 PM.  At the end of the evening, the DR can be found puking over the balcony or passed out in a locked stall in the men’s room.

The Train Wreck

This is the single/divorced woman in her 30’s or 40’s who used all her Weight Watcher Points for five glasses of Chardonnay in lieu of actual food.  She can be found shoeless on the dance floor bumping and grinding some guy named Joe from Contracts.  After making out with him in his Prius, she spends the next six months at work devising strategies to NEVER have to go to Contracts.

The Party Darkhorse

This is the 6 year employee that no one has any idea who he is or what he does.  But now that he has escaped the dark basement laboratory in an off-site location, he is primed to party.  The Party Darkhorse can be found leading line dances while wearing a sombrero and a disco ball necklace.  On Monday in the cafeteria, employees can be heard saying, “Hey, what was that guy’s name…the one with the glow sticks who did the funny hobbit dance?   Was it Steve…or maybe Rick?  He was awesome!”

The Party Darkhorse actually has the winning approach to the Holiday Party – he is not afraid to let his freak flag fly, but knows how to do it in a way that does not include vomiting , excessive profanity or lap dancing.  He doesn’t get caught up in what he thinks he “should” do or say or wear….he just shows up ready to have a good time while maintaining some semblance of intelligence and decorum.   He’s not afraid to do the Chicken Dance, but he has the sense to do it with his pants on.

So this year I dropped the “shoulds” and the expectations and just tried to be myself – and I actually had a really good time.  Once I stopped trying to make shit up talk shop with Phil’s boss about validation….systems…engineering….services, it opened up the space to show him some of my sweet dance moves. 

Happy Holiday to all MOB readers!  See you in 2012….

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