Social Skills Win

The other day, I wrote about my trepidation in the face of attending a scientist party with my scientist spouse.

So many people have contacted me both online and in person to ask how that event went that I thought I’d post an update.

I am happy to report that the party went quite well. I talked with several people, didn’t say anything too outlandish, and actually enjoyed myself. I attribute this success to three factors:

1) Outlook. I went into the party focused on listening to other people’s stories. I had no plans to tell my own anecdotes nor did I have any any particular hope that I’d seem witty or even particularly intelligent. I simply asked questions and then asked follow-up questions so that I could hear others’ stories. It was something I’d not tried before, and it was pretty cool. Gretchen Rubin’s article provided some helpful inspiration. My favorite was a variation on one of her questions in which I asked a man from the UK how Boston compares to where he went to university. That yielded a great answer, and the person I was speaking to seemed pleased to get to talk about it. Score!

2) Preparation. Knowing that I start to fade by about 9:00 p.m., I took a nap in the afternoon. Well, I lay down for thirty minutes. I couldn’t fall asleep, but I did a body scan meditation, and I think that put me in a calm frame of mind. It also helped that my spouse and I had a 40-minute, kid-free drive to the party venue. The time in the car was like a date in itself.

3) Audience. I’d forgotten that scientists are, by and large, more scared of me than I am of them. Most of them are friendly and eager to talk about what they’re doing, which makes listening pretty easy. Add to this the connection that most of the scientists at the party are recent transplants to Massachusetts—many from North Carolina, where I lived for six years—and there was plenty of common ground.

I made a point of not mentioning homeschooling because I’m not always up for a debate about the choices I make in raising my children, but my spouse was very enthusiastic about telling people about that aspect of our lives, so he brought it up at least three times that evening. In his defense, the conversation had strayed to how much it costs to have kids in daycare and whether our son was in pre-K this year, so he didn’t know what else to say in response to people’s direct questions but to talk about homeschooling. The homeschooling conversations were a little uncomfortable, but they were interesting and respectful, so it all worked out.

This reminds me of another thing that helped make the experience a positive one: my spouse never left my side. If I foundered—like when someone began talking about endocytosis or assay development—he picked up the slack. We made a great team.

After a recovery period, I think I might even be ready for another party. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

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