This Saturday night, I was at a fundraising dinner at the Beverly Hilton for my graduate school. As a screenwriter who writes often about teenagers, you should trust me when I tell you just about every movie about teenagers culminates with a prom. Prom is a big deal in high school partly because you’re told that this is the one chance to go to your prom and you’re not supposed to miss it. This is one of the huge lies adults tell teenagers and we’re just naive enough at the time to buy into it. If you’re a social person, especially in the middle-upper class world of college-educated professionals, you’re going to be going to proms the rest of your life.
Nobody told me in high school that two years later in college, I’d be getting bussed to my sorority formals at some fancy hotel downtown in a poofy dress. If you were lucky, you got asked to the fraternity formals of a Delt or Lodge kid. If you were socially rejected by the Greek system, you could always go to your dorm formals. Then there are grad school formals – barrister’s ball or law school proms or business school dinners. There are fundraisers where your company has purchased a table, there are fundraisers where you get set up on dates. Then there are alumni formals and bar association dinners and military dinners.
You get my point. I’ve been doing these for a while now and really they’re pretty much the same as high school prom – minus the breathalyzer test we had to take to get into my prom (gotta love rich suburbs). Mostly everyone looks nice and holds their liquor or drug of choice. But the most exciting and memorable parts of the evening comes from the people who don’t.
But in addition to seeing whose dress will be shorter than mine and what girl has just discovered Long Islands, I love watching the coupling off that always occurs at these things. There’s a predictable social choreography that is unfolding at every one of these events. Here’s essentially who is usually attending these things:
These are to be distinguished from the majority of couples who by and large are delightful to be with. Three-legged couples are obsessed with being a couple – they do everything together and the whole evening is about how into each other they both are. They act like they are physically attached, going to the bar together and insisting that they never engage in separate conversations. We’re all a little guilty of this right at that part of a relationship when you’re falling in love with someone. But for the most part, these couples are just annoying and often rude. My best advice is to stay away from them. They can be unusually hard to get away from because once they found someone who will converse with both of them, they’ll try to keep you all night so they don’t have to pretend to care about finding someone else to talk to.
There’s a girl that you’ve thought was the prettiest in your class all year or since you started at this job. You’ve never really hung out outside of the office or school though, so finally you get to be around her with alcohol in the evening. These goal-getters have one person they want to hook up with and making a connection with her is his one and only goal. I love watching these guys operate because it’s like watching a hunter pursue its prey but I hate being someone’s goal. The problem is if you’re not into him, you realize you essentially have a sidekick all evening because the guy is following you around everywhere and joining every conversation you strike up. A girlfriend of mine last Saturday couldn’t wait to hook up with this German exchange and was hoping he’d be at our dinner. He was and so she knew where he was and whom he was talking to at all times. When they weren’t together she was trying to figure out how to get back over and talk to him. The good thing about these guys is that sometimes the goal can be accomplished without ever hooking up. If the two of you end up in a great conversation for hours but part at the end of the evening, it’s a great basis to continue a relationship from.
Prowlers are like walking male libidos (even the plentiful female prowlers too). Prowlers want to hook up with someone – anyone. They have one goal which is not going home alone. So they are pretty much just looking for opportunities and usually drinking heavily to get up the courage to be a prowler. There are some men and women who are like this all the time but the trouble comes with the dayplayers – the people who don’t usually hook up like this but put them in a suit or a cocktail dress and suddenly they’re ready to rumble. The good thing about these guys is that you can get rid of them fairly easily. If you make any excuse to get away from them during the conversation, this is usually a sign that you’re not interested.
(It’s amazing how subtle some of these signs can be but it’s true. If you let one guy monopolize your time, as in you spend the entire evening talking with him and you never try to leave or talk with other people, you’re definitely sending out some vibes. So be wary – I once thought I was just grossed in one of the best debates I had ever had arguing strenuously with someone who thought that Nikola Tesla was more responsible for discovering electricity than Thomas Edison. Two hours into the debate, the boy thinks he’s taking me home. I was in a relationship at the time and rather shocked I had given him the wrong idea. But my point is, giving someone all your time at these sorts of things can be misconstrued.)
You’ve been flirting with him for months. You’ve been out with groups together and you’ve spent a lot of time at work on the same projects. You’re shocked by how much the two of you get along. You know he’s going to the dinner and he asked if you were but you’re just not sure if it’s going to be another great time with a friend or if it might turn into something. Flirting consummators are the most satisfying coupling off because the relationship has been building for a while.
Although, this blew up in my face once. I’m a bit of a flirtatious person by nature – less in the sultry sexpot kind of way and more in the Bill Clinton kind of working a room way – or at least I tell myself so. Two years ago at this same dinner, I found myself in this situation. So Ian showed up late to the dinner and I saw him but I was having fun talking with a whole slew of people I don’t normally talk to. Plus, I tend to revert to playground rules: to keep a boy interested flirt with as many other boys as possible in front of him (I strongly do not recommend this). So by the time the dance floor was out and people were grooving with the Dj, I had barely talked to Ian. I’ll never forget, I saw him look like he might be leaving and chased after him on the balcony overlooking the pool asking him where he was going. He said he was leaving. I pouted and asked him not to. He said he had come mainly to talk to me and hang out with me but he wasn’t having fun and now he just wanted to leave. I think we ended up going out on our first date the following week so it ended up ok but I really regretted my behavior that night.
These are my favorite hook-ups to watch for. These are the couplings no one can plan for. Usually, both parties are drunk and random circumstances have pushed these two fated people together - usually because friends have ditched them or they were too drunk to follow their friends or they were just completely lost. I can’t say, I’ve ever really been a party to this, but I know some people who have ended up in long-term relationships from these sorts of events.
PS – Male/Female roles in the above blatantly stereotypical overgeneralizations are interchangeable.