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If I am bringing my significant other (SO) to a party where they do not know anyone, and also, the people in attendance all have something in common and are gathering for a common reason - in this case, everyone at the party attends the same post-secondary school (university) in the same program. How can I make sure my SO is comfortable in this situation?

My SO does want to attend, but is a bit apprehensive as to how the evening will go given that they do not know anyone there besides me and do not share the common connection everyone else in attendance does. I do not want them to feel uncomfortable or out of place but it would still be nice for them to attend with me. Some other people may bring their SO as well.

This gathering is more young people (approximately 20-25 years old), and in Canada.

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1.) Introduce your significant other (SO) to some guests, in particular to those who might share an interest with them. Say something like,

Hi Amie, this is Tony. Tony, meet Amie. We know each other from [our kid's kindergarden]. Amie is really good at [competitive boat programming]. Didn't you tell me you just [won a boat programming contest]?

This already introduces three possible conversation topics, and by ending with a question you hand over the floor to your SO. Stick around for a while to keep the conversation afloat, if need be.

2.) Check in with your SO regularly. If you notice they are bored or uncomfortable, offer your company, introduce them to someone else, or find a gentle way to leave the party (together or just for your SO).

3.) You may also want to arrange beforehand ways to leave the party, so as to alleviate the pressure on your SO. This could be a set time after which you will go home, unless your SO likes to stay; or it could be a (secret) "help me, I'm bored/uncomfortable" sign at which you are going to take a time-out together and consider leaving.

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    +1 for Check In. I was at a party recently as the role of OP's SO and got abandoned for a couple hours. If you want to feel walls of nervous tension close in on you...that is how you feel walls of nervous tension close in on you. – Nilerian Oct 24 '17 at 15:32
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    +1 for Boat Programming Contest.....sounds legit where do I enter? I'm sure you know something about someone that your SO may have something in common with - that you know will be there - and target that person first for introduction. – PhasedOut Oct 24 '17 at 18:28
  • @PhasedOut Boat Programming is actually an in-joke to people coming here from StackOverflow... – Mr Lister Oct 25 '17 at 17:23
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    @PhasedOut meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14470/… – Tom Oct 26 '17 at 10:51
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I've been the spouse in this situation.

My husband and I recently attended the wedding of one of his best friends growing up. I only had ever met the friend and his wife before (at our own wedding) and everyone else was unknown to me. This is maybe a bit more extreme than a regular meeting of friends but it's a starting place.

What I found in that situation was a couple of things:

If they don't know anyone, how well your SO is able to react/interact with these people will depend on your SO.

I'm not a joiner, really. I wanted to go to be with my husband but I left some of the festivities early when it seemed like things were devolving into walks down memory lane and boozing (I'm not a fan of drunk people). But I did enjoy some of the chatter early on when they were each telling their partners about the stuff they got into together. The more interested your SO is in getting to know these people and what interests you, the more able they will be to integrate to some degree.

Some people love being involved... so if your SO is more extroverted and willing to wade in and get to know people, they will likely have more fun than if they're introverted and tend to stick with you. If there are other SOs there, that will help. They can commiserate about feeling unsure what to do with themselves at the party. Or they can talk about things they actually enjoy.

If they don't know anyone, how much the other people want to include your SO will affect their experience.

At the wedding's rehearsal dinner I mostly got introduced to old friends and chatted about them, their families, what they were doing now... passive "catching up" sorts of things, as you might expect from people who haven't seen each other for the better part of a decade. But at the wedding, one of my husband's old friends really wanted to talk to me and include me and get to know me and that made me feel welcome and wanted and interesting. It was so nice for a change. But I don't know if this personality type is common. I was able to open up and share and laugh and not feel on the outside.


So, know your SO and know your cohort.

Your first step is to ask your SO this question... find out what they'd like... set a game plan. If your SO is quiet and reserved, they may prefer that you stick with them until they feel comfortable. If they're more likely to be one to be able to fend for themselves, see how they'd like to get introduced and where to go from there. But we can't tell you which of these your SO wants... only they can.

If you have a member of your cohort who you think might have something in common with your SO, match them up. I studied film and one of my spouse's friends did voiceover work and photography... we had a common interest to start from.

Stay in contact and be respectful if they want to leave.

The last thing you want is to force your SO to be somewhere they don't want to be. Check in with them regularly (hourly?) and consider options for leaving either separately or together. If the party is near your home, consider dropping them off at home if they get tired before you're ready to leave and going back yourself... if it's far away, maybe take two vehicles (if you have them) or consider seeing if there's an alternate way home for them. If this is a regular event, maybe you just decide that this first one will be a test and if your SO isn't clicking, you both go home.

If you sense that they want to head out, don't ignore them and keep chatting for another 30 minutes... find a solution.

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  1. Never leave S.O. alone,
  2. When making introductions clearly say other persons name first followed by an introduction of S.O.
  3. Slip suitable conversation that S.O. Can have real input in that is in the realm of your S.O.'s taste
  4. Give your S.O. A rundown of compatible company of people your s.o. can comingle with beforehand
  5. Make it fun for your s.o. Oh and give some juicy gossip to s.o. when they seem bored
  6. This event isn't a you thing even if it is your invite and your classmates or colleagues it's about both of you having a good evening so be decently attentive to your s.o.'s needs. And no ditching. Everything is pretty much done together.
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    Never? Why? Can you explain what these points do and why they're a good solution? – Catija Oct 25 '17 at 16:14
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My wife worries about this, and it will always be a mystery to me because she can hold her own in a conversation and is well liked by everybody she knows!

'A bit apprehensive' sounds relatively normal. She wants to go, possibly to support you, but that is a good thing.

You can't really anticipate how it will go - there's a good chance there will be people there in the same position as her, brought by their partner but don't know anyone. She might make new friends, she might not. She might be stuck to your arm all night and be miserable, or she might go off mingling and have a great time.

I always go to any party with open expectations and try to remember that it is good to put ourselves into new situations because that is what being alive is all about!

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Is it possible for you to arrange a meeting before the party with some of the people that will be there? I mean, a small get-together, with 2-3 other couples where you and your SO could meet some of the attendees, perhaps also other SO's that intend to go the party? That surely will make him/her more comfortable to go to the party.

If your SO can't meet any of the attendees beforehand and is feeling awkward in the party I suggest him/her to look for people in the same situation, much probably other SO's. They have something in common, they are feeling kind of lost in somebody else's party, so probably it's easier to start a conversation.

Lastly, I've been to the same situation as your SO and honestly, I'd rather stay at home. You won't enjoy your party as much, because much probably you'll have to give some attention to him/her and he won't also. Is this a possibility? Could you talk him not to go to avoid him feeling bad for spoiling your party?

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Unless your SO is there to make sure you don't indulge in some kind of a sentimental, re-live the past hook-up, don't bring your SO to the event.

They will completely feel like an outsider. All the conversations will be about things your SO will not be a part of. The only possible redemption is if SO latches onto a group of other SOs who are also not part of the group.

Then, annoyed at being an outsider, you will feel pressured to force-include, or to leave early, or to not participate in continued social activities, which torpedoes the entire reason why you are going to this thing in the first place.

My ex- and I went to each others' 10 year class reunions, and the non-member felt like an outsider and the other felt obligated to not have as much fun and to cut the night short. After that, we agreed to not tag along or drag the other along, and we both greatly enjoyed our 15 and 20 years, a lot, and a lot more. And many of the people at my ex-'s reunions were people I knew, got along with, visited and interacted well with. It wasn't about whether I had anything in common or could find friendly people in the group. However, in that setting, they were there to reconnect and share remembrances of their high school days, and I had nothing to offer, in that regard. It seemed like, for that first pair of reunions, we were doing an obligatory service to some assumed, unwritten rule, for no other reason than it seemed to us that this was what loving couples were supposed to do.

You're going to be seeing people where the shared context is something very specific to the people in your program. If it's a more generalized social gathering, I'd say differently, but if everyone is going to be making shop-related talk, that's not a good atmosphere to bring the SO into.

  • The question says everyone at the party attends the same post-secondary school Current... "attends"... they're in their 20s. This isn't some reunion, it's a party of current peers. There's no catching up going on here. – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 19:37
  • Doesn't fundamentally change my answer, though I will edit it a bit. The point being is there is a very specific common shared bond that is specific to this event, and SO does not share that bond. If the theme is bond-specific, then subject matter for conversations will relate to that, as well. If it's a more general social gathering, then this question doesn't get asked in that context. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 19:43
  • I find that surprising. My husband has been invited to workplace social events - game nights, holiday parties, etc... and even I (as described in my own answer to this) have enjoyed them. I'm sorry that you have had such a negative experience but I don't know that it's universal. – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 19:44
  • @Catija - a game night, holiday party, etc, is less a college program-specific event, and is absolutely the "more general social gathering" that I'm talking about, so I don't think we're that far apart. I guess the difference is more in what we interpret the event, itself, to be. And deciding it's probably better to go to an event, alone, is not a negative thing, at all. It was more a realization of "what is it that we're trying to prove, and to whom?" Let's say that was a decision we were able to make from a place where we felt secure enough in our relationship to do so. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 19:46
  • Yes, and maybe that's something we should ask the OP to clarify. If it's just a mixer for the people in his cohort, that's different than, say, a lecture with a party afterwards. – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 19:47

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