Friday, April 30, 2010

Throwing a Singles Mixer, Part Four

Here’s a sample plan for throwing a party for the anal retentive among you.

Three Weeks Ahead.

*Draft a guest list and gather together the email addresses.

*Send out the invitation. Using Evite is an easy way and it will automatically send a reminder a few days before your event.

A Few Days Ahead.

*Plan your menu and make a grocery list.

*Grocery shop for the items that don’t need to be fresh.

*Pick up extra chairs, if needed.

The Day Before.


*Pick up grocery items that need to be fresh (bread, berries, etc.).

*Prep food that can be done beforehand.

*Dress tables and re-arrange furniture if necessary. Not that you’re necessarily the kind of guy that has throw pillows, but if you do (have them), get rid of the pillows for the duration of the party to allow for more seating.

*Set out an extra roll of toilet paper and clean hand towels.

*Stash valuables, prescriptions, firearms.

Half an Hour Before Party Time.

*Turn on the porch light if your party will extend into hours of darkness.

*Put on music. Set the volume so that someone sitting in the chair nearest a speaker won’t be distracted from the conversation.

*Set out food, and put ice in an ice bucket.

*Chill white wine in the fridge. Take out when the first guests arrive.

*Pre-mix a pitcher of martinis or other mixed drink.

*Set out any refrigerated alcoholic mixers or garnishes: grenadine, lime juice, lemons and limes (with a knife and cutting board), etc.

*Set out a book for mixing drinks if there's no bartender.

*Set out “conversation starters”: “The Book of Questions,” runes/tarot cards (you don’t have to believe any of that crap for it to be fun--get the stick out of your ass), board games, photos.

*Light candles, and turn on any indoor lights that are needed.

When Guests Arrive.

*Take their coats, and tell them where their coats will be located.

*Offer to make them a drink, and show them the lay of the land (where the food/bar is).

*Introduce them to the people who are there (when it’s a small group); if the group has gotten larger, tell the new guest about other attendees that she would be interested to know are there, such as a friend of hers or someone you think she would find interesting.

*Talk to everyone. As the host you have a good excuse to talk to everyone. As a shy person myself, I find hosting a party much easier than attending a party. It isn’t weird/rude for a host to join in (interrupt) any conversation (it *is* your house), and you can easily extricate yourself from dull conversations or dull people with your other host-ly duties. So introduce yourself to the people you don’t know. Ask how they know whomever they came with. An easy default is to talk about the food or drinks. And everyone likes flattery. For more advice on mingling see the blog posts called Moi? Boring? earlier this month as well as the blog posts called What to Say in December 2009 and January 2010.

And that’s all there is to it!

Up next week: Woman-to-Geek Dictionary, Part One

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Throwing a Singles Mixer, Part Three

The Dos and Don’ts of Party Throwing


*If you decide to go for a theme (retro cocktail party, Hawaiian), don’t insist people dress for it. They’ll never do it unless your acquaintances tend to be especially ovine in their willingness to follow potentially embarrassing instructions (or you live in the Midwest).

*Don’t enforce board-game playing. Leave the games out on a table and let it evolve naturally.

*Don’t put out all the food at once with a long party. Don’t invite children to any party, much less a singles mixer!

*Don’t talk work with co-workers at your party.

*Don’t ignore anyone just because they are not a possible. You’re the host!


*Do have a place for coats.

*Do entertain with a friend or two to increase attendance, spread cost and allow you time off from hosting duty so you can flirt.

*Do ask guests to bring a dish to share.

*Do hire a bartender if you can afford it.

*Do let the hours of your party cross over times of day. For example, start in the afternoon and go into the evening. Your party is more likely to be attended. It allows people to drop in when they can around other social obligations they might have.

*Do have activities available: board games, group video games. This will keep people there longer, and allows you to get to know people in a way you can’t through conversation.

*Do ask friends to ask friends to ask friends and do invite family (cousins, siblings).

Next time: Planning Your Party

Friday, April 23, 2010

Throwing a Singles Mixer, Part Two

I covered drinks (of the alcoholic variety) on Tuesday, so on to the food!

Fire extinguisher
Candles and wood for the fireplace if you have one, in case of a power outage
Quickly accessible cleaning supplies for spills
Serving dishes
Napkins, forks, knives, spoons, plates

Keep it simple. Fancy is not necessary! Avoid foods that will distract you from hosting and mingling--i.e., foods that need to be served hot from the oven. If you must have hot food, invest in a crock pot. Do foods that can be made the day before. And remember: these days, with our crowd, it actually isn’t tacky to suggest that invitees bring something to share.

Do have at least one interesting or fun appetizer, like cupcakes, caramel apples or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese.

With a larger party like this one, and especially when guests are being encouraged to bring others with them, you don’t want to get caught short on food. Keep a reserve of hors d’oeuvres in the freezer, and keep extra crackers and jarred spreads of various kinds (hummus, tapenade, fig spread) that can be pulled out if need be at the last minute.

Simple Sample Menu.
*Chips (2 bags) and salsa/sour cream dip/guacamole or six layer dip (in a 9x13 baking dish, spread a layer of refried beans, a layer of guacamole--preferably homemade, a layer of a pint of sour cream mixed with chili powder and diced chilies (optional), and top with shredded mozzarella, diced tomatoes and sliced black olives)
*Cupcakes (at least a dozen)
*Cheeses and rosemary flat bread/baguette/water crackers. Select three cheeses: a blue cheese or Stilton with fig spread or marmalade; a soft cheese like brie or triple cream; and an innocuous cheese for the less adventuresome, like Fontina, Gouda or Havarti
*Vegetables, cut up (broccoli, bell pepper, baby carrots, etc.)
*Fresh berries or apples with caramel dipping sauce, or melon wrapped in prosciutto--whatever fruit is in season

If you feel the need to provide more savory items, try cold cuts with condiments and buns, or a fancy salami with crackers, or deviled eggs--everyone likes a deviled egg.

Up on Tuesday: Dos and donts of party throwing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Throwing a Singles Mixer, Part One

Hopefully you took my advice on Friday and had a selfless weekend. This post is about another kind of weekend. You can meet women at parties, so why not throw one of your own?

Even better than a plain old party is the Singles Mixer.

Not on the invite list: any one who is part of a couple. This party is strictly for single people. But, you say, all (or most of ) the single people you know are your friends. Male friends. First, don’t limit yourself to inviting friends. You’ll want at least 30 people on your invite list to make it a successful party, so invite co-workers, cousins, acquaintances, classmates you rarely talk to. Oh, and the rule for each invitee is that they have to bring at least one single person of the opposite gender.

Stocking the Bar

Liquor. The basic types of alcohol that you’ll need are: vodka for martinis--preferably a good vodka like Stoli, lemon vodka (you’re using this for mixing, so a cheap vodka is fine), bourbon (I suggest Maker’s Mark), gin for martinis (preferably a good gin like Bombay Sapphire), and a cheap gin for mixed drinks (not Beefeater cheap--Seagram’s cheap). If you want to add another spirit, vanilla vodka is a good mixing alcohol. Keep the vodka in the freezer.

If your group of friends are wine drinkers, have a bottle of white wine and a bottle of red wine on hand, but there is probably no need to have more than that. Guests love to bring bottles of wine so you’ll not want for wine. Chardonnay is a good standby white wine. I hate it, but most people who drink white wine seem to like it. I prefer a Reisling. A Shiraz or Cabernet is a good standby red wine. I’m not huge on buying expensive wines for parties. Intimate dinner parties, yes. Large mixer parties, no.

You’ll want some basic liqueurs like Triple Sec (or Cointreau if you want to spend a little more), dry vermouth and sweet vermouth.

You’ll also need non-alcoholic mixers: tonic water, club soda (best purchased in the short six packs so it doesn’t go flat like it does in a liter bottle), grenadine, Rose’s lime juice, bitters, lemon juice and orange juice (if you’ll be making screwdrivers or tequila sunrises) and/or cranberry juice (if you’ll be making cosmopolitans). All of these non-alcoholic mixers are available at most grocery stores.

For garnishes, have sugar, maraschino cherries, limes, lemons and large green cocktail olives.


Measuring glass or a shot glass to use for measuring

Ice bucket and tongs

Cocktail glasses. These can be had for cheap at Pier One Imports (or even a thrift store). Martini glasses. Short and tall tumblers. Wine glasses. Please use glass, not plastic. If you must, use plastic for drinks that would go in a tumbler. You must use glass for drinks that go in a martini glass!

Cocktail shaker and a sturdy glass that fits over the top for shaking. The metal tops that come with cocktail shakers are impossible to remove. To see what kind of sturdy glass I’m talking about, watch the bartender at your local bar.

Toothpicks (for the olive garnish)


Martini pitcher

Cocktail recipe book

The successful host will know how to mix a martini, Manhattan, Lemon Drop, Cosmopolitan, Gin and Tonic, and a Tequila (or Vodka) Sunrise. Surprised by the Tequila Sunrise? They’re really cool looking and I’m trying to bring them back in vogue.

Up on Friday: Feeding the Crowd

Friday, April 16, 2010

Enough About Me. What Do You Think About Me?

I’m going to assume you don’t have a Narcissistic or Schizoid Personality Disorder nor that you lie somewhere on the Autistic spectrum of disorders (I may be assuming too much). If you do, in fact, suffer from one of these disorders, seek psychiatric help (look up DSM IV codes online to check yourself out).

For those of you with ordinary (but annoying) self-centeredness, read on.

I received an email from a loyal reader complaining about her geek friends and acquaintances who have dating problems. Her assessment? “No matter how much they think they are thinking about the girl, 99% of the time, they are still just obsessing about themselves. Is she going to give me her phone number… what does she think about my look… why won‘t she call me… I deserve a post-mortem of why I was rejected.” And further she writes “they never talk about whether the girl had any fun [on a date].”

I’ve written a bit about this before--jestingly (but, actually, seriously) suggesting that you be yourself only less narcissistic. But this bears repeating.

Let’s pause and make everything you do this weekend not about you--your self-esteem, your comfort, your conversation, your impression on others, your impression of others, your faults, your fabulousness. How do you do that? How do you become less narcissistic, and more empathetic, caring and compassionate?

Fundamentally you start seeing other people actually as people--not as answers to your needs.

If you want to start at the beginning, start with your parents. Do you see them in terms of what they can do for you--give you gifts, money, emotional support, a place to go on holidays? And if they can’t do anything for you, do you not talk to them? You need to see them as individual persons with fears, anxieties, dreams. This is a long term goal but you need to relate to your parents as people and not as providers for you. This will help you to see everyone else in your life as individual people as well.

Okay, but what practically do I mean? What can you do this weekend to start being less of an ass?

Stop judging others. When you start to make a negative judgment (“she’s rude,” “she’s too fat”), stop yourself. Use the old rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself. Making judgments is about you, not her. So cut it out.

Engage in active listening: listen well enough that you can summarize back to her what she said; focus on the feelings of the story not the facts; mirror the other’s body language, gestures and turns of phrase. If you don’t know about active listening, look it up on the Web--it’s pretty basic stuff. Active listening also means that you will remember what others say so that next time you see them you can follow-up: “How’s your mom doing after her accident?” “How’s the job search going?” “Did you have fun in Borneo?” Right now you should be able to think of a follow-up question that you could ask every one of your friends and acquaintances. If you can’t think of a question, you haven’t been listening. Make it a goal this weekend to listen well enough so you will have follow-up questions for next time.

Identify your annoying habits and quit doing them. What are your annoying habits? Anything that would be considered rude--performing grooming tasks in public (combing your hair, picking your nose/ears/face/teeth, flossing), interrupting, answering your cell/checking your cell, being late (I don’t care what your excuses are, don’t do it!), being tedious (telling stories about you traffic woes, parking woes, household chores, third hand anecdotes or stories about friends/family that we don’t know--and further do not care about), talking too loud or too soft or mumbling, being too blunt/offensive/insulting.

Engage in basic etiquette. At someone else’s house:
pick up after yourself (bring your dishes to the kitchen, help do the dishes)
Leave the toilet seat the way it was
Fill the Brita pitcher if you drink the last of the water
Take off your shoes in a shoeless house
Bring a hostess/host gift. And it should be something s/he will actually like. Don’t bring a bottle of red wine because it’s your favorite or because it shows up your extensive wine knowledge. Bring a pinot grigio because you remember her saying she likes it. Or bring yellow flowers because they match his cheerily painted front door. Right now you should be able to think of a personal host(ess) gift you could bring to each of your friends and acquaintances. Can you? If you can’t, you haven’t been listening.

Pay attention to the cues of others to figure out what they are feeling. Practice this weekend by attending to others and trying to guess what they are feeling even if not directly expressed--does she have a headache? Is he tired/stressed out? Is she annoyed/angry?

Quit focusing on your own discomfort, social awkwardness, etc. If you go to a party this weekend, look around the room. Find the person who seems most uncomfortable or is alone. Make it your job to make him comfortable and help him have a good time.

Do favors for others--asked or unasked. If you hear someone at a party mention he has to take the bus home, offer to give him a ride. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer. And, just for this weekend, don’t you ask others for favors.

Do what other people want--you don’t always have to get your way about what movie to see, what restaurant to go to, etc. For this weekend, only do what the other person wants.

Give compliments. And don’t make the compliment circle around back to you and your great taste or the print you have by the same artist, etc. And make the compliment about the other person and not just a thing--for example, don’t say “I like your earrings,” say “Those earrings look really good on you.”

Notice who/what’s around you: litter on the street, a lost or injured animal, a driver who needs to change lanes, a pedestrian trying to cross the street in pouring down rain, the homeless guy panhandling on the corner. Notice and do something to help.

Volunteer doing something for the less fortunate. There are all sorts of “fun” volunteer opportunities (the symphony, public radio, etc.) and that’s great but you need to help out at a soup kitchen or an animal shelter or Habitat for Humanity.

Okay, your weekend of selflessness has begun!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moi? Boring? Wrapup

When I encourage you to set out to be more interesting, am I asking you not to be yourself? Well, how has being you worked out for your dating life?

Actually, I’m not asking you to do things you don’t have any interest in. I’m saying don’t stop growing as an individual, keep being curious about new things. Don’t get in a rut. Being in a rut is not the same thing as being satisfied with your life. A rut is fear of the unknown. A rut is over-commitment to a self you were last year or ten years ago. You might have hated olives when you were eight. That doesn’t mean you’ll hate them now. Give them a try. Just because you’ve been reading sci-fi since you were eleven doesn’t mean that as an adult you like it to the exclusion of all other kinds of literature. Quit making assumptions about yourself! Stretch yourself!

The Least You Can Do

Start a new hobby. List the professions you wanted to grow up to do. List the professions you find interesting now. Use these lists as a springboard to choose new hobbies.

Select an item from your list of Things to Do Before You Die and check it off.

Honor Student

Take psychotropic drugs (as prescribed).

Do everything on your list of Things to Do Before You Die.

Say yes to everything new anyone asks you to do/be involved in for the next year. (Except for Thanksgiving dinner with the annoying extended family. You don’t have to do that.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Moi? Boring? Part Five

Wherein I continue writing about how to tell an interesting life story.

The two interesting components of a life story are feelings and interpretation--not the literal facts.

Feelings. Leave out your feelings and reactions to a situation and the listener can not relate. Tell the listener you had stage fright and suddenly she can empathize. She’s never played chess in front of hundreds of people, but she has sung in a choir. Talk more about your feelings and less about the particular facts.

Your interpretation of the facts. What did you take it to mean when you won the game and everyone was cheering and you did not feel excited about it? How did you interpret your sister’s refusal to go to the competition? How is chess a metaphor for other things in life, or for life itself? Interpretations are speculations and even a listener who doesn’t know you at all can offer her own interpretation. This helps engage the listener. She has a way to enter the conversation. The flat relating of facts does not make room for a listener to contribute. After all, she wasn’t there, so what can she say about the facts of the situation? Nothing. She does, however, know something about life and has an opinion about whether a strategy game is a good metaphor for it or not. And she’ll probably have alternative ideas about why your sister didn’t show up.

If you think your life is boring, other people will too. If you tell your life story as a mere list of sequential facts, no one will listen. Not even your mom.

Exercise: Imagine running into a friend you haven’t seen in five years. Thinking purely in facts, write down what you would tell this friend to catch him up. Look back over what you just wrote and focus on one of the facts. Retell this one incident, but now include your feelings, reactions and interpretations of the event.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Moi? Boring?, Part Four

Wherein I begin the discussion of how to tell an interesting life story.

Take your life as it is right now. You haven’t done anything on your list of things to do before you die. You had a comfortable (read: boring) childhood--dad worked in a white collar job, mom stayed home, you had a dog and a sister, you went to college, you graduated, you got the job you’re in now, never been married, no kids, blah, blah, blah. Okay, so your life seems a little (a lot) boring. And maybe after you follow some of the advice from previous posts, your life won’t be so boring. Which is all to the good. It’s good to have an interesting life. But this section is not called ‘have an interesting life.’ It’s called ‘tell an interesting life story.’

I’m not (necessarily) suggesting you fictionalize your own life (read: lie). Although greater people than you have tried it before and succeeded. Take the story of Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver. (For those of you who refuse to read fiction, they are great writers of the twentieth century.) The two of them were friends and would often while away hours together telling each other secrets from their lives. Carver’s life, however, was much more interesting than Wolff’s, so one night he decided to tell his friend that he had been a heroin addict. Completely untrue but Carver bought it. Over the next few weeks, for some reason, heroin kept coming up in conversations Wolff had with mutual friends and, finally, one night, Carver admitted to Wolff that he had revealed Wolff’s secret addiction to other people. Now Wolff had to decide whether he wanted to keep up the lie that he felt made him a more interesting character or reveal the truth. Wolff admitted to Carver that he’d made the whole thing up.

Making stuff up is quite tempting. Maybe less to you than it is to me, a thwarted short story writer. But the truth is you don’t have to make stuff up to make the telling of your life interesting. We all know the person who can tell about their weekend trip to the dump and make it interesting. And we all know the person who can tell the story of how they came to be junior chess champion and bore you to tears. What’s going on there?

Stories are made up of several components. One is the facts. This is the component of storytelling that most geeks cling to, often in excruciating detail, and it is the part of a story that is the least interesting and, surprisingly (to you anyway), the least informative. Yes, I said the least informative. That you were the chess champion tells me less about who you are as a person than how you felt about doing well at a game you had come to hate and that you haven’t played since eighth grade. Now that’s interesting.

In the next post I’ll write about feelings and interpretation--the two components of telling an interesting life story.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Moi? Boring? Part Three

Do Interesting Things. I’m not talking about hobbies here but one-time adventures like taking a road trip or a vacation to an exotic locale, going to see an avant-garde play, or trying new foods. If you have a new adventure to share each time you see someone at a party, she will love talking to you to find out what cool thing you’ve been up to.

Exercise: For the next year, say yes to everything new that you are invited to do or see (that isn’t illegal or immoral). If you see an ad for a performance artist who needs volunteers at his next exhibition, say yes. If a friend wants to see a band you’ve never heard of, say yes. If your mom wants to fix you up with an ugly, fat girl you went to church with as a kid, say yes.

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you want to do before you die. Don’t stop until you have at least twenty-five--or fifty--items on your list. Make a commitment to do something from your list by the end of the month, and then keep picking an item each month to accomplish. Figuring out how to do each item could be an adventure in itself. Want to ride fast on a motorcycle, but you don’t know how to drive one and don’t know anyone who owns one? Put the word out there to your friends and you’ll soon find someone to help you out.