I had already been out to dinner and a play that evening, so by the time I got to the party, it was past 11 and I was tired. After greeting the host, I wandered out to a small terrace. I spotted an inviting empty chair and, without thinking, I sat down in it. It was one of those super slouchy chairs that seem to envelop you. I’ll just sit for a few minutes, I thought.
Almost instantly, I realized my mistake. The only other chair on the
terrace was occupied by a blowsy woman who immediately began talking
nonstop about her Lhasa apso puppies. Where she got them, where she
walked them, what she fed them, how much she loved them. Even how she
dressed them. All attempts at subject changing—or at a back-and-forth
conversation—failed. With a sinking heart, I realized I had fallen right into the clutches
of a human Venus flytrap. I was stuck. Now that I was already seated
and the woman was talking to me so intently, it was going to be nearly
impossible to get back up.
There are several good reasons for sitting down at a party where most
people are standing up. You may simply be physically too tired to
stand; you may be having trouble managing a plate of food while
standing; or you and a friend may be eager to have a tête-à-tête without
being interrupted. But be aware there is always a danger to sitting. Even if it’s next to someone you feel you’d love to talk to, once you
are sitting down, you may lose your mingling momentum. You may find
yourself thinking, “This is such a comfortable chair; maybe I’ll just
observe from here for the rest of the night. What’s so great about
talking to a lot of people I don’t know anyway?” Don’t give in to this
feeling! You can sit when you get home.
Mainly, sitting is to be avoided because it’s extremely hard to
get free of someone who is really talking at you and not to you. At most
cocktail parties, it’s fairly easy to move away from someone you don’t
want to talk to—and toward someone you do—without being rude. You simply
say you need to get a drink or use the restroom or you just fade away
into the general melee. But when you are sitting down, escape becomes
much more problematic; you are committed. You have, in fact, made a
statement of non-movement by the very act of sitting.
There are a couple techniques that I have found work pretty well in
this situation. The first is Follow the Leader. Ask Ms. Flytrap if she
would like to come inside with you to get a drink or something to eat.
If she says no thank you, you’re scot-free; if she says yes, then once
you have her on her feet and amidst a crowd of people, you can use any
number of other cocktail party escape tactics to gently extricate
One of my most popular and controversial mingling maneuvers is
something I call the Human Sacrifice, wherein you basically palm the
person off on someone else. (This sounds cruel, but is an extremely
common ploy.) This is easier if you are on your feet but it can also be
done from a sitting down position, in the following way: Locate someone
nearby and get his attention. (Wave him over if you must.) Lure him into
the conversation by tossing a comments up at him—for example, you can
ask him if he has any preconceptions about Lhasa apsos, as if you are
playfully taking a poll.
The minute the new person even smiles at you or at the flytrap, get
up, indicating your place, and say, “Would you care for a seat?” Or
even, more aggressively, “Would you save my seat for a second?” This
latter gambit is a bit wicked, because it’s almost impossible for the
new person to refuse. But after all, all’s fair in love and mingling.
(Of course, you won’t come back. You will be unavoidably waylaid.)
So what did I do to escape from being totally Lhasa apsoed? I
employed the blunt but effective “note from my doctor” excuse. I
interrupted the woman right in the middle of her recitation of possible
names for her puppies with: “I’m so sorry, but this chair is terrible
for my back, I realize. I’m going find some other place to sit inside.
But it’s been so lovely meeting you.”