Winter is upon us, and that means one thing: an influx of socializing opportunities that you can screw up by taking someone you’re dating, and then proceeding to ditch them for three hours while you talk it up with all your pals, get hammered, and ignore them. Don’t do it.
You would think this is an obvious consideration, and yet, the internet is littered with stories of women whose boyfriends rudely ignore them at social outings and make them feel bad. Why? Sure, you’re there to talk to other people or you wouldn’t be going, but you also took them because ostensibly you want to talk to them with those other people. How much do you talk to them, and also other people? It’s not that hard.
Of course, not ditching doesn’t mean being velcroed at the hip for the entire evening. You’re an adult, not a babysitter. And there’s a reason you paused that documentary to leave the house tonight: to have conversations with other humans who have different faces to look at, and literally any other story than your current partner’s same three.
So the degree of attentiveness you’ll employ toward your partner will have something to do with how serious you are about this person, how long you’ve been together and how comfortable you are in a group setting, as well as the purpose of the outing. But for the purposes of this article and also basic common sense, we will assume that outside of a romantic comedy where you’ve been hired by someone to pretend to be their fiancé, you wouldn’t be taking someone to an outing if you didn’t actually like them and want to interact with others and them at the same time. Otherwise, you’d go alone, no?
The good news is that acting right in a couple is shockingly easy in most all situations and involves two things: respect and well-managed expectations. And like most situations, it’s often easier to figure out what to do by understanding what not to do.
So really, just don’t do this one thing: never take someone to a party or accompany them to theirs and then throw them to the wolves by ditching them. At least, not without an explanation first.
A few other tips:
Figure Out the Point of the Party
This is the most important, crucial step. Is the party a way to introduce your partner for the first time to your friends, family or coworkers? Is this your birthday party and you’re the guest of honor or the host? Is this a company holiday party where you need to schmooze hard, make the rounds and press the flesh? Is this your high school reunion where you both attended, or a gathering where you’re literally the only person your partner knows? They all require a different degree of attentiveness, but the most important thing is to manage this person’s expectations based on the point of the event.
“Hey, I have to do this work thing and would love for you to come, however, it will be incredibly boring and also confusing for you because I will have to morph into an obsequious suck-up who laughs like a hyena” is a very important disclosure to make up front. If you’re taking your new partner to your high school reunion, is your high school girlfriend going to be there? Are you going to spend an hour in a corner “catching up” with her while you abandon your partner to mingle with the chess team?
Don’t be a jerk. Let your person know what to expect.
Give Them a Briefing on Who Will Be There
Another part of managing expectations is not just what you’ll be doing at this party while they make small talk, but who they’ll be forced to make small talk with. If you screwed someone at the party and they’re going to act like you guys used to screw, have the decency to warn your partner. If so-and-so is a horrible gossip, or always goes into detail about his hemorrhoids, a heads-up is crucial. It’s your job to paint a picture of what to expect as best you can so the person in question isn’t blindsided by some awkward social interactions or left cornered by a weird ex, or a handsy boss, or some such. If it’s a family event and, for instance, the men and women always split up and do their own thing and don’t interact at all, definitely let them know.
Introduce Them Correctly
If it’s your girlfriend, introduce her as your girlfriend. Don’t screw this up. Don’t introduce her as your friend, and if you do, expect a super fun conversation afterwards. I’ll always think fondly about being at a big party with my boyfriend of two years, whom I already lived with, and running into his ex-girlfriend, wherein he reflexively introduced me as his friend. Very cool ride home.
Pay Some Attention to Them, but Not All the Attention
Parties require a balance of being able to interact with your partner, and also with others you know and some new people, too. You can do this by including them to some degree, but also nonverbally by simply looking back to where your girlfriend is and making some eye contact to check in. Look around at the other people while they are talking, but then also look back to your girlfriend sometimes. This seems idiotically obvious, and yet, it needs to be mentioned.
Pay Attention to Their Drink, Food, and Basic Well-Being
Dragging someone to a party puts some responsibility on you to make sure they’re having a good time. Not all the responsibility! Obviously, they should be able to get their own drink, meet new people and engage in conversations that range from really fascinating to excruciatingly awkward. But you can help by making sure they have enough social lubricant or food to keep that going, or rescuing them from Pam, the office close talker.
No one expects you to only engage in deep, immersive conversations with just your partner in the middle of a work function. That would be weird, and you could just take care of that at home. But you should still stay relatively close to your partner, even if you can get into conversations separately within the same group. That means you include your partner in your conversations, and don’t actively only discuss things they can’t contribute to in any way.
You can help them start conversations with others by introducing them to people they might have something in common with. “Hey, this is my girlfriend, she’s a big fan of dog racing, too!” Alternately, don’t start up super inside jokey conversations with coworkers, friends or family members that your partner has no idea about without at least tipping them off. It’s awkward and excludes them. If that comes up, then take the two seconds to say, “So, Joe is talking about the time we accidentally faxed our butts off the photocopier to HR after drinking too many margaritas.”
If you’re going to talk shop for an extended period of time, the same rule applies — either keep it brief, or find a way to relate the experience to something they know so they can join in.
Obviously, there are some party situations where dividing and conquering makes sense, but it’s usually clear up front. The more shared connections you have in common at any event, the more it’s probably okay to separate and make your way back together at the evening’s end, or check in throughout. The only other situation where it’s okay to do this is if you’ve simply agreed to approach it this way.
If it helps, try imagining the situation is reversed and you’re the other person in the couple who doesn’t know anyone. On Reddit, a woman writes that her boyfriend goes so far as to actively exclude her when they are in social situations with other people, leaving her to always feel like a third wheel. “He will talk with them, if we get up to go somewhere, he makes sure to stand with them (side effect being they’re standing in a group and I can’t join without making it awkward), follows them so that I get left behind,” she writes.
It gives the person little choice but to entertain themselves the entire evening. Which, again, is fine if they understand that from the outset. Some commenters on the Reddit thread in a similar situation said that they’ve taken to just leaving the party and going home until their partner figured it out, which sometimes took a half hour. That is, of course, a really passive aggressive move that could’ve easily been prevented with some basic consideration and planning. But then again, so is taking someone to a party and ignoring them.