You reach for the unwrapped chocolate at the bottom of your purse, hoping its sentimental value is intact.
Then, with an outstretched arm, you utter the phase you’ve rehearsed so confidently in years past:
“Here’s what I got for you.”
The makeshift gift.
It’s one of the social pitfalls you’ll find at holiday parties — events that take place in a universe markedly different from the average Saturday night shindig.
The setup seems ideal. Free booze and food. A handy new gadget courtesy of the annual Secret Santa gift exchange.
Yet in an unfortunate twist of fate, the holiday party’s strengths ultimately become its weaknesses.
The cocktail surplus puts you on damage control duty for a year. The food buffet is only fun until you notice a chive between your teeth in the Facebook photos posted the next morning.
And that handy new gadget? It loses some of its appeal when the gift-giver brags about going under the $5 limit.
We’ve grown to expect some level of awkwardness from office parties, gatherings composed of many guests who come out of hibernation as often as their novelty sweaters.
However, the holidays can bring out buried party personalities even among the people you like.
Like that one friend who at December’s onset develops an insatiable appetite for all things red, green and miracle-worthy — flooding your inbox with a stream of “Touched by an Angel” recaps.
Or the opposite:
The friend who can’t even look at a candy cane without giving a lecture about the evil powers of consumerism.
The holiday party season sometimes interferes with even the strongest partnerships.
Increasingly, women are naming bad gifts as dealbreakers in romantic relationships.
The gift-giving process can have that effect on platonic ties, too.
Especially when your friend hands you a pair of pajamas and notes that they’re “from us” — referring to a spouse you’ve never met.
Behind the cool custom cocktails, holiday parties are often marred by the seasonal belief that one wrong conversation starter — one wrong gift — can destroy what’s supposed to be an overwhelming sense good cheer.
And on many occasions, they’ve transformed into something for which complaining is expected.
But if the gatherings have one saving grace — other than the high possibility for blackmail — it’s their underlying emphasis on togetherness.
Even in the “we’re only staying for 10 minutes” sense of the word.
Awkward moments and all, you’re sharing a night with people who have deemed you cool enough for their seasonal tablecloths and one-night-only snowmen napkins.
That makes getting rid of all that crud at the bottom of your purse just an added bonus.