Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

We met as eight strangers, brought together for a single evening as part of one woman’s odd, personal challenge. We left each other as old friends.

Funny, how life—when you choose to put yourself out there—is full of the warmest of surprises.

Once upon a time, I was a skilled party host. In fact, much to my mother’s bewilderment, my high school senior class voted me Best Party Giver. Upon reading this news in the school paper, she asked, “When did you have parties?” “Well,” I answered with a shrug, “every time you were gone.”

Still, my party skills nose-dived through the years. Most of the parties I hosted after my 20s included juice boxes, pin the tail on the donkey, and little boys peeing their pants while waiting in line for the piñata.

I assumed hosting a “party of strangers,” a new experience on the list for my 52/52 Project, would prove to be a somewhat awkward venture, at the very best punctuated by a few moments of levity and laughter. I was fairly nervous about entertaining a group of adults I’d never met.

To form my guest list, I asked several friends and co-workers to invite someone they thought could be convinced to attend. The rules were: We couldn’t have ever met (not even online); the guests couldn’t know each other (although two inadvertently did); and they had to attend alone (oh, these were brave souls, indeed).

The next challenge was, how does one plan a party, knowing virtually nothing about the guests? I figured, unlike high school, a couple bottles of MD 20/20 and a bag of Doritos wouldn’t suffice. I bought an assortment of beverages and tried to prepare a feast of hors d'oeuvres that would offer something for everyone, whether their diet was vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, or Kosher.

My mother forgave my high school misdeeds and helped me clean my condo more thoroughly than I’d done in the seven months since I’d moved in, and I planned a few games to break the ice.

As prepared as possible, I awaited my guests. And then the Hellacious Winter That Would Never End threw more snow showers our way. And soon after, the phone calls began, from lost guests trying to meander their way into the boonies of Waterville, Ohio. Two of the guests got lost, one for over an hour.

Still, all seven persevered and eventually arrived. That alone proved this would be a remarkable group of women.

Yes, we were all women. Although I had suggested to my friends that they invite guests of either gender, any age, and all backgrounds, all the takers ended up being female. Yet other than our gender, we shared few other similarities.

We ranged in age from 23 to 73. We included an eclectic assortment of careers. We were divorced, married, and single. Some had young children, some had grandchildren, and one was young enough to still live at home with her parents.

These were the kind of details that came out early in the evening, during small talk. But the small talk segued quickly—amazingly fast—into much more.

Perhaps the pool of guests was already narrowed to our advantage. After all, who else but a fairly fun, outgoing, and courageous individual attends a party with total strangers, alone? And, maybe, we felt we had nothing to lose by sharing so much of ourselves with a small group of people we figured we’d never see again.

Within an hour, we segued into deeper, more philosophical topics. Moral, religious, political: We shared all our thoughts, with few serious quarrels. And then, our most personally embarrassing and hilarious stories: like one woman’s anecdote about a horrific “burning crotch” and another’s tale about the huge “spit bubble” she produced while talking to a prospective date.

We laughed and nodded in empathy. We conversed like we’d known each other forever.

I’d never been at a party quite like it, never met people quite like these.

No one held back much. And no one seemed embarrassed by much. Well, no one except the hostess, who was suddenly blindsided when she hit a brick wall of inebriation.

The short remainder of the evening—somewhere between my guests taking the challenge of dining in the dark, eating worms and crickets, and then the plan of belly dancing—was a bit blurry. Let's just say I wouldn't be drinking wine again until my trip to Italy in the spring.

I sent off an email to all of them, thanking them, apologizing for being "over-served," and hoping we still shared the love.

The heart-warming thread of emails flew for two days.

“I had more fun with you ‘strange’ ladies than I have had at any other party I have attended.”

“I can honestly say I’ve not enjoyed myself like that in quite some time.”

“We did agree that ‘What happens at the Stranger Party, stays at the Stranger Party, right?” (I breathed a sigh of relief and agreed.)

And this one: “Each one of you is so unique and has so much to contribute to this group, which I suggest we call ‘The 52 Club,’” she wrote. She suggested this single experience should become a book in itself for me to write: “Our story of eight ladies of diverse backgrounds and ages, and the developing friendships that ensued.”

Because she was right: We are already planning our next get-together, maybe yet this month. We have the feeling it will be the second of many. I’m pretty certain The 52 Club will have much to discuss when we see each other again.

Strange how the most random experiences of our lives sometimes end up among the most significant.

And sometimes strangers aren’t nearly so strange after all.

Extrovert or introvert?  Tell us about the best party you ever attended. Any embarrassing stories you care to share?

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