There are people who are always referred to as the party animals. While others try to avoid invitations and plea with party givers to knock them off the guest list for this dinner or that cocktail hour, the party animals are born to boogie. Let them hear of an event and their ears prick forward and they hunker near the phone, ready with a happy acceptance the minute the telephone bell brings an invitation. The party animals are much loved by their friends because, unlike the rest of us, they approach life as a triumph of the possible over the probable.
While the rest of us prepare for another boring evening, another banker who blathers endlessly about interest rates and whose only point is how many points are being offered on home loans, or another elliptical arms control expert who speaks in throw weights, the party animals dance into view convinced that this evening will contain the perfect mate, the secret of life, the best chocolate cake ever baked, a chance at the ideal job.
The party animals are a reminder that parties should be a pleasure and that something has gone wrong in a city where so many people view the evening out as an ordeal that must be endured. This may be unavoidable in a city so riddled with official entertaining, but even when the party is a penance, it is no excuse for bad manners. With the fall party season upon us, it is time for reluctant guests to return to the rules their mothers taught them -- and to try, if at all possible, to recapture the pleasures of the party animal.
If you don't want to go somewhere, don't go. Trekking obediently to too many bad parties will spoil the good ones you might enjoy. And never ever accept invitations when you have no intention of showing up. Some people do this because they think that saying yes and then contracting a last-minute flu makes the host/ess think that they really wanted to come. Perhaps they are fearful that an outright no would be bad for them professionally, or that they might hurt a friend's feelings by confessing a preference for the company of Marcel Proust.
This party-specific, absolutely genuine, true-blue flu leaves the host/ess with an unbalanced table and, after the reluctant guest has offered the excuse for the third or fourth time, a childish desire to chant, "Liar Liar Pants On Fire!"
Sometimes reluctant guests make a partial appearance; having decided they must do this dastardly deed, they arrive late and leave early so that dinner is first delayed and then disrupted.
Worst, and unfortunately all too common in this city of endless entertaining, is the guest who'd rather not come but is driven to it by a determined mate. Or perhaps it is simply the failure of a better invitation. Produce the wrong brand of vodka and the put-upon party goer will receive the drink with a raised eyebrow and an irritated sigh; if dinner is not to his liking, or if she finds your other guests too frivolous, you will know.
Guests who think they are doing the host a favor by their reluctant presence are not.
As we enter the fall party season, the host/ess must prepare to fight off the ghastly guests. Unfortunately, the social conventions are such that this must be guerrilla warfare. There is probably no getting around the social-climbing guest who, when you attempt to introduce him to someone new and unknown, lets his eyes slide off into the distance. Sometimes, at large parties, people simply can't help themselves. There is too much going on and it's hard to focus on anyone or anything. But at a smaller gathering, edge the grass-is-greener guest into a corner and hem him in place with your stodgiest friends.
When what is obviously a case of phony flu is offered as a last-minute excuse, commiserate and then, just before you hang up, say, "Damn, now I have to figure out who else I should put next to Paul Newman" (or Meryl Streep, depending on the sex of the offender). If the dropout knows your parties do not extend to Paul Newman, try the name of someone extremely desirable yet plausible.
When guests are snippy about not getting the best brand of liquor, exclaim, "You mean you haven't read the reports on what they're putting in Brand X?"
One of the underlying reasons for the reluctant-guest syndrome is marriage. People who love to go to parties are fatally drawn to people who do not. It is push and pull as one tries to go out and the other tries to stay home and the host/ess is invariably the loser. Married people have a social obligation not to inflict their differences on people who give dinner parties. They can solve the social problem by remembering that before they were a couple, they were a him and a her with separate social lives and walk those paths again. If the stay-at-home partner fears that such frivolous solo flights will lead to infidelity, the couple can opt for a gambler's solution and accept every second or third invitation, regardless of what it is for and what they turn down in the meantime.
Whatever they decide, they should do it with a sense of adventure and a determination to add pleasure to the party instead of taking it away.