Q. I’m invited to a big party and have mixed feelings about attending. Part of me wants to attend, but I’m also afraid I won’t fit in. My husband died four months ago and this is my first big social event that isn’t strictly family. I’m worried about what to say and whether to mention that I’m a widow. Any suggestions?
You’re facing a new social situation as a woman alone, and it’s natural to feel like a fish out of water. Yet it sounds like the party does appeal to you. A little preparation in advance can ease the transition and can give you a sense of control.
First realize that you probably won’t be the only unattached person there. It’s very likely that divorced guests, both men and women, have been invited. You can also ask the host/hostess about the guest list. Some of your friends or acquaintances may be attending, too, as well as people you don’t know who might be congenial or interesting to you. Perhaps someone works in your field or shares your passion for music or movies.
Next, arm yourself with conversation openers. If you meet someone you know casually, you might ask, “What’s been going on in your life lately?” I happen to live in the area hit by Hurricane Sandy and have gotten lots of mileage from “How were you affected by the storm?”
You can also walk up to a stranger you’ve heard about and say, “We haven’t met, but Mary has told me so much about you.” The person will feel flattered and tell you more, hopefully eventually asking about you. You might also try “I hear you’re an authority on fish ponds. I have one and herons are eating all the koi. What can I do?” People love to give advice.
The point is to ask an open ended question rather than one that elicits a yes or no answer. If all else fails, try the most basic opener: “How do you know Mary (or Bob or the Smiths)?” The responder regales you with the background as you listen. Then explain your own connection to the host(s). Instantly you’ve made an acquaintance. When conversation starts to flag, move on to someone else with the same line. As for mentioning you’re a widow, that depends on whether it’s relevant to the conversation or not.
Just remember it’s normal to be nervous. You’re taking a risk. But it’s a healthy step forward.
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author—and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.