Eat, drink and be very careful


Natasha Hughes

Drink, dress and demeanour ... the three D's that can trip up a plus-one at their partner's Christmas work party.

Drink, dress and demeanour ... the three D's that can trip up a plus-one at their partner's Christmas work party. Photo: iStock

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."


- 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.

28 comments so far

  • I was on a work trip with my ex-girlfriend when I was about 25. We were staying at a very plush hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland. My ex was writing travel articles in London at this time for some lifestyle magazine, and our trip had been funded my the magazine obviously with support from this Swiss Hotel.

    The managing director of the hotel had organised a lovely dinner and drinks in the extremely fancy restaurant of the hotel.

    I proceeded to drink far too much red wine at dinner, followed by vodkas with desert I subsequently left the gathering to sit at the hotel bar for further lubrication quite a bit too early - the rest of the party, including my girlfriend, was still sitting around in a lovely little group chatting away.

    This did not go down well. As the evening progressed I became even more loose, and the evening resulted in me leaving the hotel bar with a beautiful Brazilian woman. I later found out this woman was a prostitute who wanted money after we had sex on her lounge. I cannot remember if I had enough money to pay her.

    Moral of the story - you are only young once. Live it up. However, I have since toned it down and yes I believe that if you are going to attend your partner's christmas party it is only fair to remain in control. Try telling that to me when I was 25 though.

    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 7:04AM
    • this story doesn't pass my bull s&%t detector test

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 5:53AM
    • I feel bad for you Gaz. By not believing my tale of true adventures it only makes me conclude that you have not experienced such looseness in your life. Now I am sorry to hear that.

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 1:49PM
  • Haha spot on.. I find the bring a partner along thing to work christmas parties a bit contrived. You don't know these people, you don't spends hundreds of hours with them each year, why throw them into the mix for a few hours each year and play 'happy families'. Just awkward.

    partner i won't
    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 7:09AM
    • I introduced my new boyfriend to my entire office (my first job as a lawyer) by the name of my previous boyfriend of 3 years, "Everyone, this is AAA". Unfortunately, I did not even realise, until he said "Err, actually my name is XXX". Excruciating.

      Even worse because my ex (who really was by now just a friend, and had been for about 18 months) was coming to visit me from interstate the following week. Awkward... Ha ha. I still go red thinking about it, no-one knew where to look. Got funnier when AAA came into my office the next week to meet me for lunch, everyone clearly thought I was dating both. Now happily married for 20 years to AAA's friend whom I met at his house some years later.

      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 10:48AM
    • @Blush - haha that is an awesome story! Maybe not so awesome at the time but at least there was a happy ending meeting your husband :)

      partner i won't
      Date and time
      December 07, 2012, 1:09PM
  • I reckon it's much easier for a man to be the +1 than a woman. We are generally more open to outsiders joining a group and can just chat about sports, cars or whatever tickles your fancy. Women tend to have their circles and are often closed off to outsiders joining. Can be a stress for the guy bringing the +1 and result in arguments later for leaving her standing alone. The caveat with guys is we do have that tendency to have one or 5 too many and can make a fool of both parties.

    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 7:23AM
    • 1-5 what? girls or drinks? no wonder you're in trouble if its the former lol

      Date and time
      December 08, 2012, 5:06PM
    • Try being a guy who isn't particularly interested in sports, small talk killer right there!

      Date and time
      December 11, 2012, 11:33AM
  • I don't like going to my own office Christmas do, so there's no chance of going as a +1,

    Date and time
    December 07, 2012, 10:24AM

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