Does anyone actually, enthusiastically, genuinely enjoy a party? Are there any true, honest-to-goodness extroverts out there who thrive in places buzzing with small talk? I have my suspicions that these people don’t exist – or, that they are the extreme minority – and we’re all just milling about get-togethers trying to drink our dread away. It’s a dread that stems from the anticipation of having to answer the only question that gets asked over and over again in Hell:
Hi, ok, here is the thing: “What’s new” is a terrible question. It immediately puts you on the spot to identify something that is not only new in your life, but new for the person speaking with you. Suddenly there is math involved – when was the last time you saw this person subtracted from the timeline of your life – and no one wants to do math at a party (unless it’s a math-themed party - then I guess all bets are off). And what do you say if there is nothing new in your life that you want to share? Nobody wants to kill the conversation by answering, “Literally nothing,” but what else are you supposed to do when literally nothing new is happening in your life and you are smacking in the face with this strangely pervasive question.
Listen, I’m not above saying, “Literally nothing.” Indeed, I have said it in the past. Last winter a friend came back from an epic cross-country road trip and was telling me about his adventures and his new job and his decision to move and when he ended his monologue with, “So what’s new with you?” I could not think of anything to say but, “Literally nothing.” It was awkward and uncomfortable.
I don’t want you beautiful flowers to trudge through the same awkwardness that I did, so here is a How-To Guide for Gracefully Addressing the Question, “What’s New?”
Tactic A: Your habitat
Mentioning a new aspect of your physical living space is a great neutral ball to throw into the What's New court. Most people who ask you the question will themselves have a living space, so there is immediate recognition of what you are talking about. There are different levels habitat-related newness, and any level is worthy of being your response
Level 1: new interior design project: it's always sort of fun to hear about someone's new spring tablescape or the color they painted their accent wall. Did you just install a new chandelier and almost crush yourself underneath it? Let's hear about it! Were you getting wild with crown molding? This is the time to open up about it. The great thing about Level 1 is that there is little to no emotional baggage that comes with talking about your new area rug.
Level 2: new construction project: You are building an addition! You are redoing the patio! You are living in a hotel because your kitchen and bathroom are not usable! Be careful not to mix necessary upgrades into a Level 2 answer. Very few people are going to be interested in your new HVAC system or your new windows. That said, unnecessary upgrades are completely on the table. An array of solar panels and historically accurate windows are fair game.
Level 3: new habitat altogether: Did you move? Talk about that. This is jackpot "what's new." Extra points if you moved to a new city that people are interested in hearing about. Take this advice with a grain of salt, though, because I am of the opinion that all conversation should be able urban theory and vernacular architecture.
Tactic B: Your Hobbies
If you do anything extraneous after work, people will eat that shit up. Have you taken up pottery? Are you starting language lessons? How about tap class? You will immediately seem intriguing for the sheer fact that you don't just go home and binge watch Netflix after work (though if you do go home and binge watch Netflix, please see Tactic C).
It doesn't have to be an institutionalized hobby. Maybe you are writing a novel in your spare time or you started gardening. Are you journaling for the first time in your life? Neat! That's new!
It doesn't even have to be a new thing that you are doing - reduce, reuse, recycle, bbs. Just keep talking about that soccer league you've been playing with for 4 years. Every game is a new beginning.
Tactic C: Your cultural endeavors
When you use this tactic, you avoid any truly personal revelations while also sounding smart and/or interesting! This tactic has multiple sub-tactics:
Books: Have you read anything you enjoyed? Have you read anything you hated? Please give us a feminist literary critique of the work and we'll add it to our reading lists.
Movies and TV: Ok, this sub-tactic can get a little emotional because people get INTO their Netflix. Don't shy away from it, though, it's a surefire way to make new friends at a party when a lonely someone across the room hears you say that you really identify with [insert TV villain here]. Pro-tip: this sub-tactic is also very useful around Oscar season.
Museum visits: Any museum, anywhere in the world. Just mention either the most famous artwork housed there or the name of the temporary exhibit and you'll score pretention points that will discourage anyone else in the room from asking you what is new.
Long-form essays: Just mention "the article you read in the most recent New Yorker." This is a great strategy because you don't have to have actually read the article - you just need to remember the title and general gist. You see, no one has finished any of the long-form essays in the most recent New Yorker, but no one wants to admit it. Just start talking about what you didn't read and watch your interlocutor's head nod along with false accordance.
Tactic D: Your Self-care Routines
Ok, hear me out. I realize this sounds strange, but if someone is audacious enough to ask a question as personal as, "What's new?" then let's give them personal, you know?
Are you about to try a new bob hairstyle? That's super exciting and we want to know about it. Maybe you'll bring up the new tattoo you just got or how you just got your first pedicure and it tickled so much. Then you can have a whole conversation about how the fuck you are supposed to not laugh when your pedicure technician is going to town on that soft part of your foot no one is ever supposed to touch and maybe, yes, the conversation just got a little too intimate, but this is real life and this is what is new dammit.
You can also test the waters with new health decisions you are making - are you going raw for a month because you ate exclusively Christmas cookies for the entire month of December? Talk about that, but make sure to make fun of yourself while you do because no one wants to hang out with someone who is taking a raw diet seriously. I'm going to casually say that you shouldn't put the words "yoga" and "practice" near each other, either.
If you have an exciting vacation coming up, we're going to consider that self-care and you should talk about it.
Tactic E: Someone else's life entirely
JUST DEFLECT. You know what, sometime you are just not in the space to talk about your own shitty life and it is much more satisfying for everyone involved to talk about someone else's shitty life. Throw your cousin under the "What's New" bus! Let's hear just how inappropriately dressed your colleague was on Monday. Go hard and talk about a stranger you heard interviewed on NPR! Any response to "What's new?" that begins with "Well Terri Gross just reminded me how much I really love Bon Jovi," is a good response, indeed.
Ok, I hear what you are saying. "Isn't this just gossiping?" No, don't be silly. You see, the key here is to make someone else's life seem like it is tangentially related to your own. This is easier than it may seem. Begin your response with, "Well, I was so intrigued to hear that Kelsey just started breeding Great Danes in her studio apartment!" You see, this isn't about Kelsey news - this is about your new feeling of intrigue.
Important distinction: this is not an invitation to talk about your children. We're talking someone else's life entirely. The power of this tactic is bringing people together via the conduit of someone completely unrelated to the people conversing. Forget what I said, it's totally gossip, but gossip is the basis of community, right?
As we enter into the new year, some things will change and pretty much everything else will stay the same or, you know, get worse. No matter what ends up being new with you, I wish you good luck in 2019.