July 29, 2021

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Awkward Encounters: It was nice not meeting you

The party was for the opening of a 1910 Grosvenor Atterbury mansion in Southampton that developer David Walentas hopes to sell for $ 35 million. But the sprawling property didn’t stretch enough for two guests in particular.

Jesse Warren, 38, mayor of the city, and his opponent, Michael Irving, 67, had been at war for weeks in what Newsday called “probably Long Island’s most controversial race for mayor this year.”

During the pandemic, they had been able to avoid each other in social settings. Not anymore.

“I haven’t said goodbye yet,” said Mr. Warren as the two stood in hearing distance, their backs turned. “But I’ll try to be nice.”

Ah, the dangers of socializing again in real life and running into people you’d rather not see. This wasn’t a problem until recently when events were deleted or moved online. Although socialization has slowly returned in the form of alfresco dining and the occasional garden party, face covers and social distancing made it easy to avoid intimate contact.

But now the snake pit moments in the social aquarium are back with a vengeance – whether it’s running into a bitter ex-spouse, a business partner who didn’t answer a call, a tabloid reporter who threw you under. the bus or a socialite wearing the same designer dress.

“All of these guests are going out for the first time in over a year for a nice party, and they have no idea they are entering World War III on the lawn,” said Peggy Siegal, the high-profile event planner who hosted the Southampton party. Ms. Siegal was throwing her first event in nearly two years after being shunned by customers for including Jeffrey Epstein on her guest list, and she hoped no awkward encounters would follow.

The embarrassing social riots aren’t limited to the Hamptons, of course. “Everyone’s afraid of running into everyone right now,” said R. Couri Hay, a press secretary who serves as a guest list consultant for the company’s events. “And it doesn’t help when the parties are smaller.”

Heaven help you, for example, if you end up at the same cocktail party as a former boss you despise, or a socialite who took you off their list, or a famous friend in a sex scandal.

“Hosts right now are asserting more control over guest lists to avoid embarrassment,” Hay added, noting that nameless pluses and summer guests in tow can be problematic. “It’s partly driven by social media and the overriding of culture, but it’s also driven by hosts who don’t want ex-husbands to show up with girlfriends half their age they met during the lockout.”

Some highly social types are also adopting a secular approach.

“Instead of yelling ‘Hi!’ when you see people you know in La Goulue, you pass in silence if you are not a close friend, ”said Frederick Anderson, the high society stylist. “The past year has been so isolated and has pitted so many people against each other that it will take a few minutes to feel comfortable and inclusive again.”

Others have to turn a blind eye on a regular basis. Alvin Valley, the designer, keeps bumping into a client who borrowed and didn’t pay for a mink coat. “I see her suddenly at all parties in New York and the Hamptons,” she said, “and I have to avoid her so she doesn’t get ugly.”

For Rosie Perez, who is terrible at faking her feelings, life in isolation has kept her isolated enough to avoid the most uncomfortable encounters. But she recently saw a friend who had gained weight during the pandemic and her blunt reaction got her into trouble. “My eyebrows always go up when I lie to be polite,” she said, “that’s how you can tell I don’t use Botox.”

For some, the risk of an uncomfortable meeting is so great that it prevents them from accepting invitations.

Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post columnist and author of “A Field Guide to Awkward Silences,” spends too much time writing her responses to imaginary encounters with all the people she hasn’t answered. “I think I’ll probably throw myself at the person’s feet,” he said. “That’s why I tried to avoid the holidays.”

Embarrassment can be especially difficult for those facing social ostracism.

Kristina Kovalyuk, a political consultant who had worked on the campaign for Eric Adams’ mayor, began to be shunned by customers and old friends after the New York Post ran an article in May about her previously accused of shoplifting and selling. of a fake Chanel bag.

“I ran into someone at the Soho Butterfly that I had written to twice to get together,” she said. “He started stammering that he didn’t know I was back in town from the winter in Palm Beach.”

She also recalled meeting a potential client of Nello, who told her he was in hiding, but that they should have lunch. “Which means never,” Ms. Kovalyuk said. “People still use Covid as an excuse even when the Iron Curtain has risen.”

How to handle all of this? The most obvious way is to simply be pleasant or so radiant that it burns away the mischief.

And while some may still secretly swap place cards before sitting down to dinner or stay laser-focused in conversations as a protective shield from unwanted intrusion, the kindest among us will tackle the thorny issues head-on and rise to the occasion.

“When you’ve done something that upsets someone – no matter who’s right – always start the conversation by recognizing how your actions have affected the other person,” said Peter Bregman, host of the “Bregman Leadership Podcast” and Harvard Business contributor. Review. “Save the discussions about your intentions for later.”

But breaking the ice doesn’t have to be heavy. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying “hello”.

“When I know people are fighting and showing up at the same party, I put them together and get them talking,” said Patrick McMullan, the company photographer.

That’s what he did at the Southampton party, when he shook hands with the two mayoral candidates for a photograph. (Mr. Warren won a second term a week later, although Mr. Irving claimed there were election irregularities.)

Ms. Siegal, who sailed through the party without an awkward moment, seemed satisfied. The mayors had behaved. “They didn’t even fight or fight over food on the lawn,” the event organizer said.

It was hard to tell if she looked relieved or disappointed.

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