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August 2, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

The Rules of Engagement

Welcome, dear readers, to The Rules of Engagement: a ‘how to’ guide for life and social graces. All the answers will be revealed. Sort of. This week I investigate an age-old dilemma: How to Attend a Semi-Acquaintance’s 21st Birthday Party and Retain a Sense of Dignity.

I had a strange and disconcerting experience at work, which is not unusual. I noticed an acquaintance of mine walk into the store. Eye contact was made. I said “Hey” and she smiled and walked past without stopping. While sometimes excusable with semi-acquaintances, I was feeling more sensitive than usual due to a particularly awkward party hosted by the aforementioned semi-acquaintance (SA) that I recently attended.

It was the kind of party with no alcohol to numb the growing urge to jump out the window and make a run for it. The kind where the hostess sees you and says, “Oh hey, you made it,” in a slightly disappointed manner. It usually transpires that they quickly add “Sorry, must circulate,” in a way implying that there are more important and interesting people to talk to.

It was the kind of party where tight-knit circles of partygoers immediately form. In a mild state of panic resulting from your failure to bring a wingman, you attempt to join in a conversation, but instead end up just standing near people having conversations. Your previous master plan of saying something funny and joining in conversation is thwarted by the growing realisation that conversation is strictly “insiders only,” in the manner of “Remember that time when we… Oh, wasn’t that hilarious.” Thus, my night was spent between the non-alcoholic punch table and the salt and vinegar chip-free snacks table. I cursed my lack of resolve to avoid all social gatherings in which DVDs and bed were not involved (formed at age 13 in a perhaps not irrational fear of society).

So, I’m at work. SA walks past. I’m sure she can sense how my feelings of self-deprecation have now turned to resentment of her; her semi-snob only cements her social superiority. Am left wondering what goes below ‘acquaintance’ on friendship scale. Realise there is time lapse of at least two years before can pretend not to know her. Realise that Wellington is small city. Logically then, must avoid all main streets—and place of work—for next two years. Fuck. Oh well. Dignity is overrated.

You can check out the next installment of The Rule of Engagement online at


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  1. Elle says:

    I enjoy this new column. keep up the good work

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