I’m Almost 21 And Still Don’t Know How to Party

Two girls walk into a party. The first makes a beeline for the bar. She leans coolly against the polished wood counter, casually flips her auburn layers over her shoulder and begins making herself a drink—that is, if one of the brothers of XYZ fraternity doesn’t beat her to it. She’s wearing a new sundress, wedges, and Ray Bans and has been waiting all week for this.

That girl isn’t me.

I’m the other girl. The one hesitating at the end of the sidewalk, frantically checking her phone, hoping to be alerted of some low-key emergency that would justify making an equally rapid beeline for home, my bed, and the first eight or ten episodes of Fuller House. Is my basement flooding? Damn, I don’t have one. How about a family emergency? My roommate is sick, my cat’s stuck in a tree, my boss called, my brother fell down a well. Anything? Alas, no. So here I am.

That first girl could be my friend, a stranger, someone I’ve always admired from afar. She’s a cool girl and she’s done this before. I have too. But you’d never guess this shindig wasn’t my first rodeo by the way I approach the entrance like someone nearing their hanging and the way I regard the table of half-empty handles of Aristocrat and off-brand soft drinks with whatever look just barely disguises my not-so-subtle attempt to swallow the acid reflux already building in my throat. I can taste the hangover already.

I mentally repeat my personal mantra—“Hydration is key. Hydration is key.”—as I near the weathered sofa and two guys who tell me, much to my chagrin, that I am indeed on the list. My hand is stamped and I’m gestured inside. Damn it.

They say that college is equal parts education and socialization. I get the education part—hell, I’m even pretty good at it. I know how to be stressed, overcommit myself, meet deadlines, stress a little more, sleep a little less, and somehow convince my parents and my peers that I’ve got my sh*t together. School? Yeah I get that. Socialization? Not so much.

My problem? I’m almost 21 and I don’t know how to party.

Oh, trust me, I know it sounds lame and I guess it kind of is. I get the same anxiety walking into a casual house party that most students get as they approach their final exams. I click “Going” on every Facebook invite to parties and socials in order to convince everyone on my newsfeed that I have more of a life than that of someone watching revived ‘90s sitcoms on a bed covered in stuffed animals. I’ve even mastered the “What do you mean ‘Do I have a fake??’ Duh!” while repressing my secret wonderings of what pita chips would taste like dipped in peanut butter and whether or not that concoction would result in a crumb-covered duvet.

But in my defense, my abhorrence of parties is not for a lack of trying to like them—I really do try. Take last weekend for example. After noticing a guy I liked had also replied “Going” to a house party (and unwilling to believe he was so devious as to resort to my own insincere RSVPs… although, as it turns out, he was), I decided I’d give college partying yet another try.

I began with my wardrobe. I’ve always struggled to find appropriate party attire in a closet filled with peasant blouses, floral prints, and more matching pajama sets than underwear. I’ve also always struggled to decide which shoes I care the least about when it comes to spilled beer and stray vomit. It was after I forewent two grandma sweaters, a bright yellow scarf, my “I <3 Chipotle” t-shirt, and the blouse I stole from my mom that I settled on something edgy and hip: a black shirt and blue jeans. I was halfway down the street when I realized I should have given the shirt a quick once-over with my roommate’s steamer.

Less than an hour later I was mid-conversation with some guy whose first name I never caught. He was talking about his St. Patrick’s Day evening, claiming to remember little of it, while I nodded intently, offering the occasional “Hmm…Yeah I know… Tell me about it!” when appropriate. Turns out the two of us had been at the exact same party that night, but miraculously hadn’t run into each other. That was probably because I was sitting at home in my Chipotle shirt at 9:00pm on March 17th.

And just when I was about to ask if he, too, had stumbled into class the next morning with shamrocks still tattooed to his cheeks, my thoughts were interrupted by a failed attempt at bladder control. No, not mine, that of a guy standing only a few yards away who had unzipped his pants and was urinating all over the one redeeming quality of this ramshackle house: the shrubs covering the cracked foundation and a certain four-lettered word spray-painted just below the windowsill. He turned and winked; I gagged.

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But cheap drinks and urine aren’t the only deterring factors of the college party scene. No, the lateness factor of these social events is equally as daunting. In my ideal world, parties would start at approximately 8:00pm. None of this “pregame starts at 10:00, but don’t show up til 11:30” crap. My parties would be punctual and be in full swing no later than 8:15. Everyone would have a great time socializing with the other party-goers until roughly 11:30. From 11:30 until 11:45, all party-goers would exit the premises (not before thanking their host for a delightful evening as is only proper etiquette), get home at a reasonable hour, and wake up refreshed and well-hydrated and ready to face the day ahead.

Sounds perfect, right?

So why is it common to stay out too late, drink too much, remember too little, and do it all over the next night? Call me old fashioned, a goodie two-shoes, team mom, or downright lame, but I just don’t get it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to unwind and let loose after a long week, but by the same token there’s nothing wrong with wanting to check in with the Tanner family after 20 years and a full eight hours of sleep.

When it comes down to it, I’m just not a party girl. In these over-populated and under-sanitized environments, the extroverted part of my personality shrivels up and crawls under a bench like Lord Voldemort at the end of the Harry Potter series. I don’t like to compete for people’s attention; I don’t like straining my voice to be heard over outdated Ke$ha songs; I don’t like slurred pick-up lines; and I don’t like not knowing if the sweat on my arm is my own or that of a stranger! I’d rather get to know someone one-on-one over coffee, tea, an impromptu brunch, or even a casual match of badminton.

So stop looking for me at the punch bowl. Chances are I’m at home, under the covers, or three bites into a Chipotle burrito bowl. After all, I’ve got the perfect outfit for that.

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