Pasty white family-friendly comedian James Gaffigan has an old but timeless bit about the inherent awkwardness of having members of different friend groups interact with each other:
“There are so many weird situations in life anyway. You ever mix two different groups of friends? That can be stressful. You always have to feel like you have to prep ’em. ‘Hey, yeah, um, uh, these people over here don’t think I drink. And don’t be thrown by my British accent.”
It’s a universal anxiety, and one I’ve personally grappled with for more than 10 years now. In college, I was a member of both a fraternity and the student newspaper — one of maybe three people at the entire university who straddled those two worlds. And this dichotomy has stuck with me into adulthood. My college friends think of me as some insufferable coastal wannabe intellectual, while my friends who work in media assume I spend the majority of my weekends crushing empty beer cans against my forehead. (Both groups are correct.)
But occasionally these worlds collide, and those encounters fill me with dread. I always worry my media friends will consider my high school and college buddies dull and uncreative, and I worry my lifelong friends will view my creative colleagues as unbearably pretentious and self-absorbed. This probably says more about me, and my own insecurities than it does the people I congregate with, but nonetheless, the apprehension persists.
What’s comforting is that I’m not alone in this discomfort. The sole purpose of wedding table assignments is to ensure that attendees don’t have to spend dinner talking to total strangers. And on web forums such as Reddit’s r/AskMen, people protest to the unease they have when mixing friend groups. “If there is too much overlap, you don’t get to experience them all differently,” writes Reddit user OskeewowwowIL. “I love the fact that friends I’ve made from certain hobbies are restricted to those hobbies.”
Others have harrowing stories about having friend groups meet, only to have those friends become friends with each other, and then cut them out of the social circle.
There is a way to effectively manage clashing friend groups, though — and it doesn’t involve keeping them siloed from each other, or being displaced. Admittedly, it’s a delicate balance, but one that can be achieved with these steps.
Please, God, Introduce Them to Each Other
There’s nothing more awkward (and infuriating) than when you’re trying to acclimate a new social setting, and the person you know there doesn’t take the time to introduce you. C’mon, man! You see me standing awkwardly outside this conversation circle. That’s just poor manners. Introduce your friends to each other to make them feel comfortable.
This, of course, should go without saying, but I’m continually amazed by the number of people who fail to introduce me to their friend, cousin, significant other, housekeeper, whoever, when that person is standing right there, obviously waiting for someone to loop them into the conversation.
Take Your Introduction Game to the Next Level
Introductions should go beyond a mere, “Dave, meet Stacey. Stacey, meet Dave.” That’s the bare minimum. If you want to be a true master of social interactions, you should elevate your introduction game by including a brief bio for each person you introduce.
I first discovered this move at a destination wedding a few months ago. The couple getting married invited friends from all stages of their lives, and naturally, not everyone knew each other. Fortunately there was one particularly charismatic attendee who managed to bridge these divides with his smooth introduction skills.
Whenever introducing me to someone, for instance, he’d say: “Tim, this is John. John’s a writer. He used to write for the Chicago Tribune when he lived there. Now he lives in L.A., where he works for a magazine he helped found.” Then he’d do the same for the person he was introducing me to.
It was like watching a wizard do magic.
Those extra two to three sentences are all you need to spark a conversation between two strangers. You can even personalize the bios to make it even more effective. “Hey, Candice. I want you to meet Lenore. You both love artisan wheel throwing. What are the odds?!”
Your friends can handle things for themselves from that point, but they will be grateful you gave them something to cling to.
Lean on Your Significant Other
One of the unavoidable downsides to being in a serious relationship is having to suffer your significant other’s friends’ significant others.
Your girlfriend: Fabulous!
Her friends: Yeah, they’re cool.
Your girlfriend’s friends’ boyfriends, though: Total Chads.
For straight dudes, this is one of the few times in life outside a bachelor party when you’re forced to hang out with men you don’t really know (or want to know) for an extended period of time.
In these scenarios, it’s imperative your significant other give you the lowdown on who the jerks are long before the function starts, which topics to engage them on and which to avoid.
Normally, I’d suggest sticking to sports, but even that isn’t a safe haven anymore. So maybe just discuss… food? I’m not even sure if that’s harmless these days. Speaking of…
Weed Out Anyone Who Would Be Truly Disruptive
As the nucleus connecting several disjointed groups of friends, it’s incumbent upon you to ensure that everyone at the party is getting along decently well. In that vein, if you have an especially noxious friend — someone who can’t go a few hours without spouting his political rhetoric, who mistakes being offensive with being funny or who (through a mixture of drunkenness, creepiness and general douchebaggery) always manages to kill the vibe and overstay his welcome — just don’t invite them.
Have Fun Yourself and Your Guests Will, Too
I’m a firm believer that you need only three things to throw a great party:
- A killer sound system
- Sufficient booze
- A lively host
If you can provide those elements, the event usually takes care of itself. Do the best to help your friends acclimate to one another — introduce them to like-minded people they haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting, and keep them well lubricated with booze to keep the conversation going.
After all, every party takes after its host. So if you’re bringing multiple friend groups together, and you’re having a good time and engaging everyone, odds are everyone else will follow suit.