All year you're a professional, with your own domain, be it office or home. But for one night in December, you're obliged to assume the title of "partner" at a work Christmas party that isn't your own.
Is it possible to be the plus-one without anyone coming undone?
"I actually enjoy her Christmas work parties better than my own," says Brad Disher, a Melbourne sales executive married to a high-flying finance executive. "They're fairly well-funded affairs at nice places and I get on well with the people she works with. It's a bigger stress for her – she thinks I'll get drunk and say something stupid."
He hasn't yet. But drink, dress and demeanour are the potential demons of the well-meaning but socially obligated spouse. There's got to be a reason other than the GFC why partners are increasingly unwelcome at end-of-year celebrations. A slip of the tongue here, an indiscreet dance move there, and festivities can take on a different meaning. Brawls – or boredom – can ensue.
"It's better if partners aren't invited – then you can just be yourself and not worry about someone else and making small talk," says Mel Liu, a Sydney accountant married to a telco commercial manager. "These people spend five days a week together – more time at work than at home – and then you bring someone else in."
Alcohol is a social lubricant with as many negative effects as positive ones. "The only time we used to fight was at his work party," says the wife of a building industry leader.
And the big boss is not immune. "Her husband gets plastered – he does it every year," says Anna, a bank branch manager. Anna's plus-one is the offended party and he said no to this year's bank bash. "His tolerance is quite low because he was a policeman."
Opportunities for misunderstandings and misalignments abound, but there is the chance for good, rather than evil, to stem from the plus-one invitation.
The scientist wife of a senior bureaucrat reckons she saved him from a final performance warning by meeting – and observing – his boss at a Christmas gathering.
"I sussed out what she was like. I said 'wear a shirt and tie and look smart, no one else does it, and drop the family hours for normal hours'," she says. "His next report said his performance had improved outstandingly."
THE PARTNER'S PARTY PLAN
- Bland or bumptious: the choice is stark. If you value your marriage and your partner's income, stick to the former.
- Dress to blend. This is not your night to make a statement; leave that to the person who actually works there and has been gagging to do it for some time. Make a statement at your own do – if you must.
- Eat. Preferable to drink.
- Drink what you like – well, it is Christmas – just not as much as you'd like.