“Do you have any tips for mixing and mingling if you are only half Jewish?”
—Question from the submission box at The Debrief’s column launch party

created at: 2013-04-08In my last post, I opened a discussion about the challenges of feeling “not Jewish enough” as you get ready to go to a Jewish community event. Countless other anxieties come up for me around these events too. Here are some strategies to try as you focus on engaging in conversation, connecting with others, and perhaps sparking a sexual or romantic relationship.

As you prepare to go out, ask yourself:

  • What are you looking for tonight? What different kinds of people would excite you? What different kinds of connections are you hoping to make?
  • What do you want to ask other people? What are you curious about? It could be something timely or related to the theme of the event, or maybe just something that’s on your mind.
  • What do you want to share about yourself? What have you been doing or thinking about that would be fun, interesting, or useful to discuss tonight? Maybe you have a story from your week you’re eager to tell, or maybe you’re working on an idea and want to see how other people respond to it.
  • What do you not want to discuss? What questions are you dreading, and how can you deflect them? Prepare some lines that can help you “pass” on questions you’re not ready to answer. It could be as clear as, “Oh my goodness, don’t ask about grad school right now!” Or a diversion, like, “Ask me about my garden instead,” or a casual shrug and swift change of conversation topic.

During the event, try to:

  • Introduce yourself. Assume the person you’re talking to is more shy and nervous than you are.
  • Ask questions. Then be a good listener! Ask follow-up questions and appreciate what someone is sharing with you.
  • Share things about yourself that are meaningful. Tell someone what you’ve been doing, reading, or thinking about lately that really excites you. Tell him or her what you’re looking forward to in the coming week or month. Communicate what you’re about and what’s important to you.
  • Be picky. Someone who makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason, is simply not worth it. It’s always OK to walk away if you’re not feeling good about the other person.
  • Leave the conversation eventually. You’re all here to mingle, and you don’t need to stay with one person forever. Even if you really, really like them. Say: “It was so great to meet you. I’m excited to see you again in the future,” or simply say,  “Excuse me.”
  • If you do really, really like someone, get contact info. Just ask for it! Maybe it’s a follow-up from something in your conversation: “I would love to invite you to this event I’m going to next week. Can I get your email address?” Or go the simple route: “I would really love to keep talking. Let’s exchange info!” It’s not necessarily flirting to get someone’s contact information. It’s just about making genuine connections.
  • Take breaks. You don’t have to be constantly talking to other people in order for it to be a successful social event. You can listen to other people’s conversations, get a drink, go to the bathroom, or even stand alone for a minute. Breathe!

Afterward:

  • Contact at least one person you met. You’re there to connect with people and build relationships. Mixing and mingling is only the first step. You might send the person an email with an article and an idea related to something you discussed. Or you might directly ask them to go out to dinner with you next Saturday night. Whatever it is, that follow-up is the first step to showing someone that your enthusiasm for meeting them was genuine, and that you want to see them again.

Mixing and mingling is just one part of the process of building authentic relationships and sharing yourself with other people. It’s challenging no matter what, and sometimes it seems like it would be easier if we were someone else, if we fit in more easily, if we had a cleaner or clearer background story. But it’s only worth doing as yourself, with all the mess that entails.