Seán Moncrieff: It’s office Christmas party time, and we’re all a bundle of nerves

You start to wonder if you shouldn’t go, or make an appearance and go home early. Enjoying yourself is exhausting

While she was banging and yelling around the house preparing to go to the work Christmas party, Herself had a small epiphany. The banging and yelling are an integral part of the preparation process, one that can last for several weeks.

In advance of any event, various outfits will arrive by post. I never get to see them, nor will I, at this stage, be asked for an opinion. Herself will steal up to the bedroom, try it on, possibly yell: “I’m so fat!” Then repack it and send it back. This will be repeated several times until something arrives that she likes. At this stage I will be asked for an opinion, but only to reassure her that she’s made the correct choice. So far, I’ve never had to lie about it.

But on the day of the event, there is invariably a small crisis of faith and a rerun of the outfit selection process. Suddenly, the chosen one doesn’t look so good. She starts pulling alternatives out of the wardrobe, does some more yelling about being fat and usually returns to the original choice. It’s exhausting to listen to. It’s exhausting to do, which she is well aware of and was what brought her to the epiphany.

When you’re a woman in your 20s, she said, getting ready for the Christmas party meant bringing a sparkly top into work, maybe even packing a condom. In your 30s, you squeeze into spanks before you go in. In your 40s, you take Dioralyte and double up on the anti-anxiety meds.


Of course, the dressing process is easier for men. You put on a shirt, or a slightly cleaner jumper. Yet no matter what your gender, there is something nervy about going out with work colleagues. The context is different. You’re showing your personal rather than your professional face. They may discover that you’re a stinking bore or a terrible person. You may discover the same thing about them.

You start to wonder if you shouldn’t go. Or make an appearance and go home early.

After her epiphany, Herself went through all those stages. But she went out anyway. She always does. Most people do. To cover their nervousness, they drink more than usual so all those office party clichés can be unleashed.

But if there’s anxiety for the person going out, it’s also there for the person left at home. We both do this: on the baby slopes of the evening, the person at home will send a text, How’s it going there? or What’s the restaurant like? There’s usually a reply at that stage, but later on, when the fun becomes a bit more frenetic, you know you won’t hear back from them. That’s when the niggle of worry starts.

Herself always assumes that I’m dead; that I’ve been hit by a car or got into a knife fight in McDonald’s. My funeral is mostly planned by the time I wander in the door. Similarly, I assume she’s dead, or she’s been kidnapped and human traffickers are bundling her into a cargo container.

On the night of her Christmas party, I woke up at 3.30am, realised that she wasn’t home yet and was just getting ready to drive to the docks to search for her when the front door opened. When she’s had a Babycham or two, Herself’s posture is extra-straight. She’s like a member of the aristocracy, determined to project dignity before facing the guillotine. She strode into the kitchen, ate some cheese and retired to bed. She loves cheese.

We’re very different people on the morning after. I tend to be a bit spaced, but swathed in an odd feeling of optimism. Because she’s a mixture of Catholic guilt and a Protestant work ethic, Herself gets up as early as she can and scrubs the house from top to bottom before collapsing back into bed. Enjoying yourself is really exhausting.