You arrive at the party alone, check the time and see that you're a few minutes early, so you linger outside. You wait for minutes to pass, staring at the screen of your phone, the windows of fancy stores, the blur of people and cars on a Tuesday evening in spring.
You go in. Someone checks your name off the list and you enter. A man carries a tray of champagne toward you, but you politely decline. You spot your friend, the author, and you say hello and give her a hug and congratulate her on the publication of her book. You are genuinely happy to be here, to support her.
You look around. At exquisite merchandise, at coiffed strangers. You don't know many people. You feel yourself quieting. A man with a tray of waters glides by. You take one and drink it down.
The place fills up. A few familiar faces, but mostly unfamiliar ones and you feel unsettled, quiet, out of place. You wander about. You wait by the door, check your phone. You eye the champagne and listen to the carefree laughter of other guests. People hug and schmooze. Speeches are given. You clap.
You talk to a few people. Nice people. People you enjoy. The conversations are small, but real, and buoy you. In the pauses, you see the champagne going by and you remember what it was like to drink it, how it made you feel on these nights, how it would cut the quiet, and bring you out. You long for smooth edges.
You've been here a while. The place is packed, humming, but you slip out. The world is still light and though you are wearing heels, you walk for several blocks before hailing a cab to head home. At home, you slip out of your animal-print dress and kick off your heels and change into sweats. The dinner you've ordered arrives. You eat it in front of the television.
You think about the party and you smile. You smile because you realize something, something you couldn't see even an hour ago: you were yourself, the quieter iteration of yourself, but yourself. You smile because once upon a time, you would have guzzled champagne in an abiding effort to feel different, to be different, to fit in. You are proud of yourself. You are embarrassed by your pride.
You post a picture of yourself on Instagram. You know this is silly, but it's also important. You tell the truth about your night, the party, the quiet, the discomfort. You hear from others who have felt this way. You are not alone.
Your husband comes home from his work dinner and asks how the party was. And you tell him the truth. That it was a fabulous and festive event, but that you felt, for some reason, quiet and small. Maybe I'm boring when I don't drink. Maybe I'm an introvert after all and I never knew it, you say.
He listens. And what he says is perfect, what you need him to say, but you suspect it's also true. You are the only one who thinks you are different and more fun when you drink. You are no more extroverted, no more inclined to talk to strangers.
You startle. Smile.
You sink back into the couch and spear the last of your roasted mushrooms, watch the last few minutes of your trashy television program. A wild wave of satisfaction and clarity pummels you as you realize something. That something? After thirty-six years of wandering and wondering, you are finally doing the work of embracing instead of escaping, and it's paying off. You are getting somewhere, somewhere meaningful and sparklingly good.
That somewhere is you.
Do you ever feel quiet and out of place at parties? Does drinking alcohol help or hurt on these occasions? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you think it's possible not to know?