Pure Sex, Pure Love

The Handbag Problem A.K.A. Advice on How To Be a Great "Date"

John was attending a work cocktail party with his girlfriend Angie when they had a fight. Angie attends receptions for her job all the time, but this was the first time she’d been to a business function of John’s. He introduced her to his colleagues as “my date” or “my girlfriend”—but she felt like people were looking right past her. “I was a decorative accessory or an unnecessary appendage,” she said.

After a few drinks to compensate for the awkwardness, she started to introduce herself to people as “John’s handbag”—the accessory. People laughed nervously. By the third time she’d told one of John’s colleagues that she was “his handbag for the evening,” Angie and John had a heated “discussion” in the corner.

John was trying to impress his boss and colleagues by talking about work and using insider lingo, and Angie felt ignored and uninvolved in the conversations around her. It’s the classic problem: It’s hard to be “the date” at a party where you don’t know anyone—and where it’s not your time to shine. It’s also hard to be the escort at one of these parties. How do you make sure that your date is comfortable—and that you are fulfilling your role both to your hosts and to your significant other?

I laughed when I heard the story of the Handbag Problem because I sympathized with them both. BustedHalo readers can relate to Angie and John’s Handbag Problem as well.

Forty-two percent of women and 33% of men said they attend parties as “the date” at least once a month—and it’s not always fun. Liz, 21, said that the hardest part about being “the date” is that the topic of conversation revolves totally around the other person, and Kate, 34 said she found it hard to “not have an identity other than the role I’m playing” for the evening. Kevin, 25, bemoans the “forced conversation” and RPB confesses that he’s “terrible with names.”

To prevent a Handbag Problem like Angie and John, here are some tips from etiquette experts—and BustedHalo readers—about how to survive the cocktail-party circuit.

According to Emily Post’s Etiquette guide, it’s “inexcusably rude” not to introduce your date—and BustedHalo readers agree. But how should those introductions be made? The basic rules are that you always introduce a man to a woman. So, you’d say: Ellen, I’d like you to meet Joe. You also always introduce a younger person to an older person. (It’s a sign of respect.)

This is the most common cause of the Handbag Problem. John was talking shop and wasn’t including Angie in the jokes he was making with his colleagues.

Seventy-four percent of women and 46% of men who responded to our poll said they would like to be introduced as “This is my wife, Jane” or “This is my boyfriend, Curtis”—just a simple introduction and leave it at that.

But I vote with the 21% of women and 38% of men who like a full introduction—to be introduced by name, with a interesting tidbit to spark conversation. “This is my husband, Robert. He’s a scientist and working on a new project that I think you might be interested in…”

This way you can try to avoid the Handbag Problem: By introducing your date and bringing them into the conversation with a nugget about why they are more than just your evening accessory, everyone feels included.

Can a guy and a girl be “just friends?”

To Answer the Questionnaire, click here

1. First Name (or fake name — it’s anonymous!)

2. Age

3. Male/Female

4. Are you married (yes/no)

5. Do you have a close friend of the opposite sex? (yes/no)

6. If you are in a serious relationship or married, which of the following behaviors do you think IS APPROPRIATE with a friend of the OPPOSITE SEX:

(Check all that apply)

Do you think it is OK to…

— Going out to dinner alone

— Sleeping over at his/her apartment (without your husband/wife)

— Having drinks in a group (but without your significant other)

— Going out for lunch alone

— Watching a movie on the couch alone

— Going as a “just friends” date to an event

— Talking on the phone regularly

— Emailng regularly

— Sharing personal facts about your current relationship

… with a friend of the opposite sex?

7. Are you close friends with anyone you have perviously been romantically involved with? (Yes/No)

8. Have you ever started dating someone who you’d previously insisted was “just a friend”? (yes/no)

9. Have you become estranged or fallen out of touch with a friend of the opposite sex after you–or they–got into a serious relationship? (yes/no)

10. If yes, please share your story. (short answer)

11. What are the biggest challenges of having a friend of the opposite sex? (Short answer)

12. What are the benefits of having a friend of the opposite sex? (Short answer)

13. “A guy and a girl can’t be friends; the sex always gets in the way.” Do you agree? (yes/no)

14. Have you ever gotten jealous about your husband/wife/girlfriend/

boyfriend’s friendship with someone of the opposite sex? (yes/no)

15. If yes, please share your story (short answer)

Eat, drink and make friends with the other “handbags”
To compensate for the fact that I don’t know many people at the party, I’ll get drinks for people—and take my time at the bar. Waiting in line at the bar (or the bathroom) is a great place to meet other people who don’t know too many folks at the event. And then presto, you’ve made a friend.

Apparently the female “dates” who responded to our BustedHalo survey are more outgoing than the men at parties: Some 64% of readers said they would make friends with the other “dates” at a party where they didn’t know many people, compared to 46% of the male respondents.

If you’re not going to be friendly, there’s always the free food: Nearly half of men confessed that they do a beeline to the munchies when they are in a room full of strangers. And one-third of women make themselves another cocktail.

But be careful of those drinks. Part of being a good date is not drawing too much attention to yourself, not saying silly things and not embarrassing your other half in front of their friends and colleagues. (Angie had a few too many cocktails before she compared herself to a handbag in front of John’s friends.)

Getting Too “Inside Baseball”
Cocktail parties—even work events—are supposed to be social. But since we often don’t have personal friendships with all of our work colleagues (especially the boss), it might be easier to talk shop than to have a more general conversation.

This is the most common cause of the Handbag Problem. John was talking shop and wasn’t including Angie in the jokes he was making with his colleagues. Details about the new project you just brought into the firm, or inside jokes about your field of expertise don’t make guests and dates feel involved in the conversation.

Read the newspaper or skim some magazines before heading out to a cocktail party so you are armed with interesting topics to bring up for discussion. “Did you see that piece in the paper today about…” is a great way to get discussion going. Everyone can express an opinion and ask questions about current events.

For my next column, I’m going to wrestle with the tricky subject of male-female friendships. Can you be close friends with someone of the opposite sex? How does—and should—that friendship change when either of you starts a romantic relationship with someone else? Share your thoughts in the anonymous survey above. It’s your thoughts and opinions that make this column special so let you voice be heard!



“A guy and a girl can’t be friends; the sex always gets in the way.” So goes the famous line from When Harry Met Sally: Do you agree? Have you become estranged or fallen out of touch with a friend of the opposite sex after you—or they—got into a serious relationship?

Click here to share your thoughts–and personal stories—ANONYMOUSLY for the next Pure Sex, Pure Love column.