Last night, I attended a small dinner party, hosted by a colleague and friend from school. She and her new significant other (do we still call them boyfriends and girlfriends when we're decades older than our students?) made a wonderful dinner for three current and former teachers from our school and their spouses. While the four teachers did inevitably engage in teacher talk, we also opened up the conversation to books and televisions shows, famous people we'd met in our lifetimes, and other topics that the non-teachers could have more to discuss. If you know teachers, you know how much we love to talk shop, so I counted the night as a win for our partners, who were no longer relegated to the sidelines of the discussion. Before I knew it, three hours had passed, and the party started to break up.
This was the second weekend in a row I've been at a friend's for food and conversation. Last weekend, two of our friends hosted their annual Chili Cookoff. This year was smaller than usual, with only 4 chilis in the competition and 15 or so people stopping by. As I moved from room to room, I had the chance to talk to most of those there, some I hadn't seen in several months. Conversations ranged from work to books to politics. Stories about practical jokes two friends played on one another at work, the various aspects of police work (two of our friends work for different law enforcement agencies--lots of stories there), dumb things we'd said or done under the influence of general anesthetic had us laughing. Discussions about books made some of us write down new titles. The night passed quickly and enjoyably; we left after 10, full of chili and happy to have reconnected with friends we've known for years.
Looking back on both nights, I realized I have distinct preferences for the number of people at these types of events and my preferences have not truly changed much over the years.
First, I have to admit I've never been a big party fan.
Sure, I grew up just outside of New Orleans, so I've been to my fair share of large gatherings. I went to Mardi Gras parades in the suburbs, which are exercises in large crowd control. But even at those, I would surround myself with a small group of friends and avoid the most crowded stretches of parade routes.
In college, I never went to large house parties. Most of the nights classified as "parties" consisted of 10-115 friends in someone's dorm room talking over pizza, gathering around someone's tv, and (a little later) having drinks together at an off-campus apartment.
In my 20s, I never felt the urge to crowd into fancy New Year's Eve bashes. I can remember only one very large dance club night; most of the bars and clubs I frequented were smaller venues.
Unsurprisingly, I find that the ideal number of people for me to feel comfortable and have a good time at dinner and parties remains the same. For dinner, it's 10-12. For a "party" where I can walk about, it's fewer than 20. More and I become overwhelmed by the number of conversations and the noise of so many talking at once. I lose track of those not in my immediate proximity at a table and don't make it around to talk to enough people at a party. In larger settings, I often leave feeling like I didn't get to say more than "hello" and "goodbye," and sometimes can't even remember who was there.
As I get older, I'm not willing to content myself with half-hearted, fleeting moments in proximity. I want connections. I want to talk to people. I want to share stories of our lives. I want to lose track of time and leave more refreshed than I arrived. So, last night's 9-person dinner and the weekend before's 15-or-so person party were just about perfect.