pete rorabaugh

father | atlantan | cyclist | educator | scholar | union member

Wrapping up 2023: Parties as Social Experiments

I’ve been throwing parties at my house for years. It’s always seemed like an efficient way to combine my social pickiness, happiness to share space, preference not to go out, and enjoyment of hosting. Sometime in the early spring, I started noticing that, since the COVID pandemic, I was seeing fewer people and in smaller groups. I wanted to get move involved in building deeper and bigger communities.

In April of this year, I rolled out an ambitious series of three house parties through the summer, all about a month apart. The difference in these events from previous parties was that 1) they began with a couple hours of sober socializing (to be more welcoming to friends who have children and others who stay away from drinking); 2) they each had a structured “activity” built into the afternoon; 3) they all incorporated a group meal of some kind; and 4) the guestlist was broad and diverse, rather than targeted to specific groups like my earlier parties.

The parties (in May, July, and August) were successful experiments. One started with a one-off book club (we agreed to read The Adventures of Amina Al-Sarafi by RC); another involved a pot luck meal; at another we tried a crazy improv game called “Powerpoint Karaoke”. All in all, I got to see more of my friends than I usually do, people got to meet people that they don’t normally see, and the evening parts just kept getting more fun and more silly (usually ending with Monikers or my specially designed Spotify game). They fueled a fourth, larger pot luck Friendsgiving dinner in November. I’ve got another one coming on New Year’s Eve, but in the meantime . . .

Here are some things that I have learned:

A structured event brings specific people out

The earlier parts of the day were pockets of time for specific groups of friends to come out. I definitely have an organized group of passionate readers in my network. They jumped at the chance for a one-off book clubs. Starting a regular monthly book club always seems like SUCH a commitment (kind of like starting a new DnD game). But a one-off, one and done gathering was popular. And it involved nominations, voting, and campaigning for specific books! I was not amazed by the book we read, but I enjoyed it; I enjoyed the conversation about it way more.

People like bringing and sharing food

At my end-of-the-summer party and my recent Friendsgiving, I allowed for a large, organized pot-luck structure. Some people really like to show off their cooking skills. Also, it’s fun to watch people build a meal playing off the announcements of what other people are bringing. It takes some organizing chops to have everything “ready to go” at a specific time when the food starts showing up, but the preparation is worth it. The most fun is hearing someone talk about someone else’s _______ dish hours later when the dinner is put away and people are just hanging out. Something usually establishes itself as “the hit” of the night.

It’s better than social media

I stopped using corporate social media completely and finally last year when Elon Musk bought Twitter (I’m currently only using the open source application Mastodon; if you’re using it, connect with me here!) But I’d jumped off of Instagram years before that, and I have never had a Facebook account. I used to love social media — especially teaching and collaborating with it. Now, I think it’s become like poison. I am made regularly aware that most of my friends know way more about each other than I do because of status updates, discussion threads, and picture sharing. I’m ok with that, but I was missing out learning about what everyone is doing. These parties have been good opportunities for me to learn where people are at in their lives, even just for a snapshot moment, and hear everyone’s stories.

There is an art to building the best “RSVP form”

I hate the spamming people with lots of emails. I usually like to just send out two open invites to a party to a large group: one, months away (so planners can block the day) and and another one a week or two in advance. But I do want to have a good idea of who is coming. So each of those invites (that goes out to around 100 people) have a link to an RSVP form. I really want people to fill this out because it lets me build a separate email “attendee thread” full of folks who have opted-in to the information. In order to encourage people to fill these out quickly, I’ve learned to build unexpected questions into the form (“what are you looking forward to next year?” .. “how are you doing, really?”) and then sometimes share back, to the group, what I’m learning (obviously anonymized). I’ll be putting up a separate post on the collected wisdom and media curation that I’ve gathered from these forms this last year.

I enjoy connecting people

I didn’t really realize this until later in my life, but I take an exquisite joy in connecting people who don’t know each other over a specific shared interest. One of my favorite things to do after a party is call up some folks who came and ask them who did you like meeting the most? I am a fan of network analysis, crowdsourcing, and democratic processes. I like to see who people connect with each other, how they play games together, how they share music, how they build culture. These parties have been super rich opportunities to see that happen, and to watch how individual friendships that I’ve built can develop into community connections between groups of people. That was some good self discovery.

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