Monday, September 17, 2007

The Gathering

Every year about this time, my department has a fairly formal gathering. I just signed up to go despite some hesitance.

The thing is, this gathering is a very couples gathering. It's like a middle-aged prom without dancing (usually). (To be honest, it feels a lot like a holdover from the days of all male profs taking their wives out so that the men can be admired en masse.) Couples sit in pairs. Tables are organized as 4 or 6. If you're a single person, taking a single seat at a table is awkward. It's like you're supposed to pretend that you're actually coupled up with one of the other single people in the department, but obviously, you don't want to be coupled up with those folks or you would be for real.

Usually I'm pretty comfortable socializing with couples. One of my social dining groups includes a couple; most of my friends are parts of couples. I bike ride with a couple fairly regularly. (Yes, I'm sure this sounds like I'm doing that stereotypical thing about how some of my best friends are this or that. Sorry.)

But this gathering is always uncomfortable for me in being so couples dedicated.

I'm not sure that there's any way to have this sort of formal gathering without it being incredibly couples oriented. I'm not sure what could be done about it to make things comfortable for the few of us who aren't coupled up and for the majority who are.

Every year I've gone to this gathering, I've regretted going. And every year I've skipped going, I've regretted skipping.


  1. I'm sorry. I've been there, and it sucks.

  2. Do you think the organising people realise that the gathering feels so coupley and don't care, or do you think maybe they are just really blind to what it must be like for the singles? Maybe a quiet word in someone's ear might help? I have a horror of being coupley and making people feel bad, so I know if I was organising something like this, I'd want to hear that people thought there was a problem.

    We have a few department gatherings every year where people are semi-expected to bring family, but I think the organisers generally make it less coupley than it might otherwise be by doing things like having buffet-style food and random scattered chairs around instead of formal tables of 4, 6, 8, and maybe it also just works out to be not-so-intimidating since maybe only 60% of our dept is in couples, and not all of those bring their partners. (I know the one lesbian faculty member feels weird bringing her partner to these things though, and I don't know what, if anything, can be done to make them feel more comfortable and welcome.)

  3. At our university, the same event is made faculty only -- spouses aren't invited -- which doesn't work out much better, frankly, b/c then mr. delagar gets all sniffy about being excluded.

    I don't know what the solution is.

  4. It wasn't a faculty gig, but there's something similar every year at the rowing club. This year, I asked a friend who was also going on her own to be my "date" (She has a surgeon husband who was on call, and thus was flying solo; I wasn't at the point in my most recent, er, relationship to feel comfortable asking him ...). It was fun. She picked me up in her flash sports car. I told her how pretty she looked, she told me how pretty I looked. We bought each other drinks. We socialized together. We introduced each other as one another's "date" (you could hear the inverted commas in the way we said it) and then laughed. All in all we made light of it and had a good time. Is there someone you could ask to be your "date"?

  5. Do you have a good friend you could call on to go with you? Someone who might not be involved in the department, but who knows enough people (either having met them in the past or through your comments outside of work) so that he/she wouldn't feel completely awkward being there -- having someone to dish the dirt with (and gossip about who looks really old) makes the evening more fun, with the benefit that you don't regret missing the night. Good luck!

  6. Thanks for the advice and consolations, folks.

    One of the admin assistants will be attending without her partner, and we've decided to sit together and stuff. She's a wonderful person, so it will be a pleasure to have a chance to sit down and chat over dinner.

    We do have other gatherings on occasion which are potluck or otherwise more casual, and those are way more comfortable and less coupley.

  7. What a weird annual ritual. Makes me feel less lame for having organized no social activities for my department in my first year as chair (although I can't imagine myself planning an event that would be so unfriendly to singles--and we have a big enough dept that there is much diversity in family types and marital status anyway). But if I were organizing something that had this kind of effect, I would want someone to tell me.

    You have a good solution worked out, though.