Friday, 28 December 2012

Four Parties in a Row...

Goodness me. I found myself crawling into bed after 2:30 AM yet again. It's a Christmas Party Marathon. Christmas Eve. Christmas. Feast of St. Stephen. Feast of St. John. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, but I don't think B.A. and I are going to any parties. I'm going instead to my favourite cocktail bar for a Girl Drink.

Squinting back into the past, I am absolutely sure my parents did not go to many parties (or any cocktail bars), so I think all this partying--at least at my age--is an offshoot of being childless. (I'm mentioning childlessness again as it is something most of my Single readers and I still share and, indeed, something that you do risk if you wait past the age of 35 for The One--although how much worse if you marry The Zero at 25 and still don't have kids?)

Christmas is apparently a time of great gloom for many, so I think the best things anyone can do are to (A) plan ahead to ensure oneself and those under one's influence a happy, emotionally supported Christmas and (B) concentrate on what you have instead of on what you lack.

I have a lot of parties.

Not to be a Smug Scot, but parties are more fun here than they were in North America. I think this is because they have structure. The usual, North American stuff-everyone-in-the-same-room-and-pour-drink-into-them model just didn't work for me. What really work are dinner parties. Dinner parties involve a clear plan, easy rituals, procession, recession, a three part structure.

For example, dinner parties at the Historical House involve aperatifs in the sitting-room, then a procession to the dining-room for supper, and finally a recession back to the sitting-room, sometimes in two parts: if dinner conversation has been terrifically male-dominated, the ladies leave first, to be joined by the gentlemen when they have finally grown tired of what it was they were talking about and are curious to know what the ladies are talking about. Otherwise, we all leave for the sitting-room together.

Personally, I like to end a dinner party with a film, which breaks up the very long after-dinner drink fest, and adds something to think about.

Another wonderful after-dinner activity is to sing around the piano. There was singing around the piano after a dinner party I went to yesterday, and as we sang Christmas carols, this was particularly enjoyable, for us, if not for the neighbours.

I hasten to mention that life in North America and, indeed, Single Life, is perfectly suited to dinner parties. I had occasional dinner parties when I was in my early and mid-twenties, living with Mum and Dad: all I had to do to secure permission was say, "May I have a dinner party, Mum and Dad?" and make sure dining-room and kitchen were left cleaner than I found them. These dinner parties started at a later hour (say 8), which gave my family a chance to eat their own dinner.

As I had a large family, family dinners were arguably dinner parties in themselves. And this in itself is an incentive to those, like me, who grew up with a lot of people and now find themselves living with only one or two. It's a return to the normal life of childhood, with a lot more drink.

Update: The research on gender differences in conversation is incredibly interesting. The more women there are in a group, the more comfortable women feel speaking, apparently, and one Harvard study revealed that women students at Harvard were more likely to speak up in class if their lecturer was a woman.

What this suggests to me is that at work and school, women should do our best to assert ourselves in conversations and classroom discussions, but in private life to take more of a conversational back seat and become famous good listeners. It strikes me that the centuries-old libel that women talk too much is bandied about by some of the men who want to talk even more than they do and feel frustrated and hurt when they don't feel sufficiently listened to. Bless their little hearts.

Incidentally, we already know how useless it is to talk to 90% of the men of the world about their feelings, right? Just remember this is not because they don't have any; it's just that male feelings are not that connected to male knowledge and male speech, especially when the males are young.

Non-Reader: But how do you FEEL?

Honest Young Male: I don't know.

Non-Reader: What do you mean you don't know? How can you not know?

Honest Young Male: I don't know.

Non-Reader: But that's crazy! Meanwhile I NEED to KNOW how you FEEL!!!

Honest Young Male (extremely uncomfortable): I'm leaving.

Very often, the least helpful way to figure out how young men feel is to ask them.* It's a better idea to pay attention to both their body language and then what they do. I remember one young man getting dead drunk at a wedding while punching his male pals boisterously and glaring at the pretty girls and yelling "I'll never put my head in a noose!" Dear, dear, dear. What a lonely soul.

*I suspect this is much more true in dating relationships than in friendships. Although men are usually reluctant to tell you exactly how they feel about you, they often have no problem telling you how they feel about other girls, at least if they have no reason to believe you will get mad at them for it.


Sarah said...

I was thinking about the conversation thing the other day.

The other night, I went on a long walk with my friends-- a married/pregnant couple, a long-term couple, and then a single male friend. We started out together at first, and then ended up breaking into two rows: Three girls walking side by side, talking about pregnancy, and three men a few yards behind talking about.... I don't even know. Orcs, probably. And this went on for a good hour. One girl suggested we maybe rejoin the boys to say the rosary together, and the other replied that "They're talking and leaving us alone for now. Let's wait."

It just made me think about how, when you're a teenager (or maybe older) male company is SO fascinating and desirable... and then you get to marrying age and all you want to do is talk to your girlfriends about jobs and school and babies and feel annoyed when the men intrude.

Seraphic said...

If the men intrude with conversation about orcs, I agree. If, however, they are saying something interesting, I disagree.

And if the men are really good-looking, it doesn't much matter what they talk about, although keep in mind I am 39++, which is an age when women, if all has gone well, start getting really shallow about such things, and say "Yeah, whatever" to the idea of a conversation with a balding CEO their own age and instead exchanging pleasantries with handsome music students. The next stage, I believe, is Daily Mass with all the other old ladies in surgical socks, sigh sigh sigh.

Of course, that could be the coffee talking.

Shiraz said...

Having been a university instructor, I found that study really interesting -- thanks for posting it!

In my experience it is true that male students tend to talk more (this was also true in the seminars I took as a graduate student). I would say that as well as speaking more, the MODE of talking of men in classes I have been in and taught was also different. That is, the male students tended to make more absolute, argumentative statements, whereas the women used many more qualifiers.

I have to say that as an instructor almost every class I taught had more male than female students, so this may have contributed to the 'quiet girl' effect, but in the classes I was a student in, women dominated but men definitely spoke a lot more. Most of these classes had male instructors though so I wonder. Also, as a female instructor, I was very aware of what it was like being drowned out as a student, so I made a particular effort to make sure the quieter students were able to speak. Of course many of these students were female, so I suppose this equated to getting the girls to talk.

Another interesting thing is classroom dynamic -- around a seminar table in a class I taught that was 80% male, the female students all chose seats close to me. Was it protection from all that testosterone? I wonder.

Seraphic said...

It IS very interesting. And I think it adds weight to my belief in the importance of all-girls schools and even women's colleges.

Obviously men and women have to compete against each other in the free market, but I don't see why they should have to compete against other in academia and other training. If there are participation grades, this puts most women in mixed groups at a serious disadvantage.

It goes without saying that the solution is not screaming at men for their male conversational dynamics or trying to get them to behave more like women. I suppose, though, that I have indeed proposed that women try to speak more like men in class and at work. But as university and work were founded for men, that makes sense to me. I wonder what solution St. Edith Stein would propose?

Urszula said...

I like your suggestion to concentrate on what we have, instead of what we lack. This is the first Christmas when I've felt slightly out of place with my family - maybe because I'm still single with no kids, while various siblings are the opposite - and I was sharing my feelings of discomfort with my cousin. She, while married, is struggling with childlessness, and she quoted your exact words about appreciating what we have.

On the male conversational dynamic, I've actually had numerous conversations with my boss, who has attempted to uproot my tendency to frontload whatever I say with "I feel, I think" etc. He claims I need to be more forceful and sure of myself. What I've tried to explain is that I am sure of myself, I just don't feel the need to start off every conversation imposing my opinion as an objective truth. In the wake of several successful conference calls I've led using a method of 'directed consensus', he seems to be more convinced gentle, behind-the-scenes can work. I know it can - I've worked in extremely male-dominated workplaces.

Seraphic said...

I think St. Edith Stein would really like that, Urszula!