Friday, April 25, 2008

Hiding and other party games

Is it possible to enjoy a social event, such as a party? Often, the answer is “no.” This is also the response I usually give to party invitations: No. Not my idea of a good time. Over the years, I have developed a number of strategies for surviving those parties at which attendance has been mandatory. In general, these fall into the two broad categories of “hiding” and “helping.”

First, about hiding: There are more ways to do this than you may have imagined. As a child, I sometimes took refuge under a table or in a closet when overwhelmed. This sort of hiding is possible for adults, too, but requires more space. The basement of a house is a place you can often go without getting into too much trouble with the hosts. Going into bedrooms and other private areas is not a good idea, unless you have asked permission first. This makes people nervous, and they may even think you are planning to steal something. The bathroom is not a good place to hide. Sooner or later, someone else will want to use it.

One of my favorite ways of hiding is to wander off. To use this technique, wait until you have become invisible. Or, walking quickly, imagine that you are thinking hard about something you need to accomplish (with any luck, this will result in a universally recognized “busy face” allowing you to exit the room without being stopped). Then, just slip out the door, and take a walk until you are ready to return. I have even driven away from parties and returned later without anyone knowing. It goes without saying that you should bring your own car (if you drive) or have the number of a taxi handy, in case you need to leave for good. In this case, it is best to let someone know that you are leaving; if you can’t bring yourself to say goodbye, it is a good idea to call the host on the phone and say something like, “Thanks for inviting me; I have gone home now.”

“Helping” is another way of dealing with a social event. Helping is nearly always welcome; be the first to offer in order to get the best and most time consuming jobs. For me at least, having a practical role to play or a semi-complex task to complete makes being in a group much easier. I have sometimes responded to invitations by letting the hosts know that I could only come if I could cook and/or serve the food for the event. This technique allows me to stay in the kitchen for most of the party. By concentrating on recipes, presentation and refilling plates, I find that I can easily be seen as “too busy” to chat, rather than “unfriendly” which is the more common assumption people make when I am not able to converse with them.

The only problem with the kitchen work plan is that some parties tend to experience a kitchenward drift. Before you know it, there can be more people in the kitchen than anyone should have to deal with. Raising a large knife in the air while yelling, “Get out of my kitchen,” does not always go over well. Especially at someone else’s house (you will have to trust me on this). Instead, at this point, it is better to declare the job “finished,” and adopt one of the hiding strategies.

This week I attended a reception. I had a good time there, neither hiding nor helping to weather the event. I stayed for nearly an hour, talking with the others, relaxing and enjoying myself. The reception was for a group of autistic kids and young adults who had just put on a dramatic performance at a nearby university. I moved from one to the next, hearing about the perseverative interests, participating in various scripts. No one cared how long it took me to say things, no one tried to force eye-contact. No one asked vague or personal questions with complicated answers (“What do you do?”) There was some rocking and flapping, lots of laughing at things most people wouldn’t find funny. One person even squawked...I left there sorry it was over, and with the odd thought that maybe I’m not so anti-social after all.


  1. I use the same techniques for parties. Mostly I say, "Sorry, I don't do parties any more." You can also say, "oh, my I must leave I have a pressing need to be home..." I used to say I had to get home to my kids when they were teens. They didn't need me, but I needed to get home and it was a plausible excuse.

    I would have enjoyed the all autistic party you described. I think I would have been one of the last to leave.

  2. wow I ve never thought of an autistic party but i wish i could go!!!

  3. The reception sounds like it was actually enjoyable. neat.

  4. I've learned from my daughter that some people actually have a worse time at parties if you try to help them "open up" and have a good time.

    I've learned to let her come and go, even help her hide if she needs me to do that for her.

    She seems to do well when there are lots of geeky adults and very few children. Children are loud. I agree with her on that one.

  5. "The bathroom is not a good place to hide. Sooner or later, someone else will want to use it."

    great it ok with you if I use the above as a quote line on my emails?

  6. Ha ha -- I've definitely done the "busy face" one. Another technique of mine is to bogart the family pet, if there is one, and spend as much time as possible interacting with the critter in a somewhat conspicuous area. It helps me give an impression of being fun and sociable (while giving me something to do with my hands) and even helps me talk to folks who approach. Nobody seems to mind if you divert your eyes when you're talking to them if your eyes are fixed on scratching Pooch's belly. I remember a recent get-together of distant family members (like, many we'd never met) at which there were two lap dogs -- my husband and I commandeered one apiece, and my brother was like, "Hey, man, no fair!" It was sort of an amusing insight into the fact that my brother has developed the same party tactics.

  7. lol, brilliant advice :D

    I enjoy a lot of parties, in a way. It's hard to decide whether I love them or hate them. I think it is, as you imply with the autistic party, all about what people let you do at the party or gathering, rather than a problem with parties themselves.

    Last time I went to one, before we left I used the pet technique mentioned by one commenter, and then said I was tired and we had to go. I don't know what the hostess thought of that, but I was going to be reduced to withdrawal and staring only if we stayed longer, which would have been weirder than saying I was tired.

    I recently stumbled upon your blog hope to get time to read more of it soon - the few entries I've read so far have been great.

  8. I love this! I actually have a hard time and get overwhelmed at parties too. At the most recent party I attended, the hostess knew about this and showed me a private room in the attic where I could go hide if I needed to. I thought that was exceptionally wonderful of her.

  9. Interesting how you were able to relax, amongst others who are also autistic. Same here. It's like there's a mutual understanding and expectation and we're less judgemental with each other. And we feel less threatened too.

  10. That "busy face" and a fast walk has helped me at work when I need to walk through the hallways from one side of the building to the other side without being stopped for idle chit chat. lol


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