Ah, summer. The time for warm days by the pool, crop tops, and large parties where everyone is forced to mix and mingle no matter how well they get along. Extroverts without anxiety disorders are often confused about my anxiety regarding mixing groups. They figure they can just go up and talk to anyone! They don’t need to be prepared for awkwardness! They just chat until they’re done chatting and then move on to the next chattee. Does this seem crazy to you, or is it just me?
To their credit, those extroverts become the most helpful people in these situations because they can help the host defuse tensions and make conversation with anyone. As little as I understand them, they’re super invaluable when you need someone to break the ice.
As someone who has mixed groups of people and had it gone horribly wrong in the past, I have a bit of PTSD when it comes to having more than one social group at a party. You mean my work friends are going to have to meet my middle school friends who just barely get along with my high school friends? Super. And if I suddenly need to make a run to the grocery store that lasts several hours and have them fend for themselves, that’s fine, right?
Mixing groups of people hardly ever goes seamlessly (unless they’re all those extroverts without social anxiety, which again, I ask “HOW?!”), but here are some ways for your summer barbecue to become more How I Met Your Mother and less Game of Thrones.
Before the party even starts, there’s some initial work that may have to be done. There’s a joke that Jim Gaffigan makes in one of his skits about prepping his friends by letting them know that another group of friends thinks that he doesn’t drink when he actually does. While this is (hopefully) just a comedic exaggeration, there might still be some prep work that needs to be done. Have you ever vented to your childhood friends about your gym friends? Do your party friends know your crazy side better than any coworker should? Kindly ask for their discretion, and even bribe them if you need to. After all, your reputation (and maybe even your relationships) is on the line!
Something else you can do in advance is to have some people from different groups meet ahead of time. Especially if you’re having a party at your house — a location where some of your friends know their way around and others are clueless — it can be easy for new groups to feel like fish out of water. Have some of the old friends and new friends meet up at an activity beforehand where there’s no stress of everyone getting along or the added stress of navigating someone’s home.
Once party day comes, there’s no turning back now! You could always escape to Timbuktu, but let’s go ahead and assume that you’re not going to do that. You could always give the entire group something to make fun of. You’re the person that they have in common after all, and, if you’re anything like me, you have done plenty of things that other people like to poke fun at. This has the potential to backfire, however, so beware. It’s possible that the harassment becomes relentless, and the power of all of those people harassing you combined could piss you off and send you spiraling into a major freak out leaving you with no friends at all. No, I’m not bitter. Why would you even ask that? On the bright side, having no friends means that you don’t have this problem in the future, so, you know, pick your poison.
Of course, the best thing that you can do when mixing groups of people is finding things that they have in common and can talk about. I have the very impressive skill of trying to connect people through common ground that I know they share, basically making it more awkward by implying that there needs to be some common ground. Or worse, making everyone uncomfortable by revealing too much about my friends in an attempt to provide said common ground. “Oh, Jeremy! You use that butt ointment for your rare condition, right? Clarissa uses that, too! You guys have so much to talk about!”
If talking about your guests’ weird ailments and treatments don’t work, playing games can always help to break the ice. There are always the group card-based games like Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity to get people interacting and laughing. Not only do they help people to connect during the game itself, but they also provide talking points for after the game dies down. Lawn games are good too. Everyone likes some healthy competition, and lawn games can start some good banter between your friends. But again, this teasing usually ends up directed at you for some arbitrary thing that you did that isn’t really all that weird but everyone seems to love to make fun of. Again, not bitter.
I also love a good group ice cream run. Sure, there are plenty of desserts that all of the other guests brought to the party, but sometimes getting away from the stressful party atmosphere and bringing your friend groups on an ice cream run can help forge a bond. Not to mention that, if you have to bring different cars, you can always race each other and flip each other off on the drive. Plus, on a group ice cream run, you can pick out exactly what you want instead of being at the mercy of those who brought their own choice of desserts for the party. It’s a win-win.
If none of these ideas work for you when mixing friend groups, there’s always one solution that works: just don’t. Choose to forego the stress of mixing different people and only invite one group of friends to the party. Sure, to keep feelings from being hurt you may need to try not to talk about the party around anyone else (or fake your own death), but, hey, in some cases, mixing friend groups is worse than all of those things! No judgement here!
Whichever method you choose, be safe, have fun, and I truly hope that you don’t lose any friends this summer! Do you have any strategies that you use when different groups of friends meet? I’d love to hear them!
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/