Feeling Awkward About Fill-in-the-Blank Social Obligation? Time to Get a Party Coach

Photograph: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

When Evan Cudworth became a professional party coach in 2020, he confronted what might be the shiest generation in recorded history. Well before the pandemic hit, young people were spending more time socializing via screens—texting, Instagram, Snapchat—and less time doing so in person. According to research, less than half of Americans now see a friend face-to-face on either a daily or weekly basis, and the share of time Americans spent alone, data suggests, rose from 285 minutes in 2003 per day to 333 minutes per day in 2020, a sixteen percent increase. Meanwhile, members of Gen Z are drinking less than any previous generation, and over sixty percent of Gen Z experience some form of anxiety.

Parties, it seems, are in decline, but Cudworth has made it his goal to bring them back. Calling himself, “The Party Coach” on Instagram and TikTok, he offers advice on what may have once seemed intrinsic, but which now feels like a learned skill. “It's not really about partying per se. I think it's more about building the kind of inner confidence and skills that we all want: to be able to go into social settings, connect with people, and feel like ourselves.”

Why do you suppose most people decide to seek you as The Party Coach?

The typical client is either burned out socially or chasing nostalgia that doesn’t fit their current lifestyle; whatever they’re doing to have fun, the therapy they’ve done, the personal development work, the wellness mantras—none of it seems to be working. I hear from so many different types of people, including dads, who need to find new ways to let loose. DJs who have cut back on substances and realize they don’t have the same social battery that they used to.

These clients don't really come to me because I act like an expert or guru. It's because I'm offering a shame-free space to explore different ways to “party.” Does the world really need a party coach? I have these doubts all the time, but I also know that people are sick of being told to “optimize” their life while feeling angry or insane, like they're just not having fun.

When did you first decide you enjoyed being responsible for other people's good times?

My idols were always people who went out of their way to help others feel understood or like they belonged. But I guess feeling responsible for a “good time” really started in high school—I loved being able to entertain and perform as a cellist and actor. In my college fraternity, I’d play songs from Rent and invite my theater friends to dance on tables or get the athletes to try out for the Shakespeare productions I was directing.

These days, I feel more responsible for helping people escape the over-emphasis on positivity that seems to pervade the wellness scene and our social lives. I honestly can't control if someone has fun. What I can do, though, is guide people through some new doors, and we'll see what happens.

How do you approach individual coaching?

I’ll meet with clients one-on-one every week and have them develop a daily journal with questions focused on their emotional inventory. The goal is to have clients talk freely about their feelings and the actions that we believe will elicit them in a given social situation. I’m not available twenty-four hours a day, but I often lend extra support before a wedding or office holiday party; before a big event, we’ll talk about how the client is feeling and their intentions.

We also try to set expectations: if you’re trying to grow, then about a third of the time, you should feel great; a third of the time, it will be mediocre; and a third of the time, it should be uncomfortable. Simply resetting these expectations—we sometimes call it the “rule of thirds”—can free clients to take risks and be honest with themselves so that fun happens more naturally.

How do you approach seminars or group tutorials? What are they like?

With groups, my core work right now is facilitating “mindset challenges”—three-to-five-week programs designed to break down clients' preconceptions about what fun really feels like. I'll give them daily journal prompts to answer, along with real-life “missions” that get them out of their comfort zones, and then we come together on group calls twice a week to debrief about how it affects their mood.

Many events focus on redefining what the word “party” actually means. What if it simply means “take part in?”  For clients who are exploring a social life beyond substances, I've hosted “anti-anxiety pre-games,” where we rip shots of ginger or hot sauce. This gets cringe, but it fundamentally changes how we view FOMO. What are we really missing out on? What happens when we start to party differently?

Where do you suppose you draw the line between coaching and the kind of work that licensed therapists and counselors do?

I make it very clear that The Party Coach is not here to help anyone get or stay sober. I'm also not equipped to help you heal anxiety or process trauma—please, please, do that work with professionals first. But when people need to expand what’s possible when it comes to fun, partying, and social life and want to do so alongside other humans doing this work simultaneously, then they come to me.

From a personal standpoint, though, these boundaries have been one of the most difficult parts of my work. There’s been plenty of vagueness around how and when I’m a “party coach.” I’ve made some mistakes and annoyed so many of my friends along the way.

What are The Party Coach's attitudes toward technology?

A main principle I follow is respecting digital spaces and communities while prioritizing live events and face-to-face interactions. Many of us are struggling with boundaries around these things, and during the first week of our group program, I put clients through a “dopamine detox” where we all take twenty-four or forty-eight hours away from social media—which, like mind-altering substances, are profoundly connected to how our brains manage gratification, consumption, cravings, and rewards. I've also had clients try “no phone Fridays” with their friends and report how it felt; they typically come back with epic memories.

Having said all that, I do depend on tech to deliver my message, and I literally do ninety percent of coaching virtually. I've heard plenty of boomers say, “Just put down your phone!” and thought, “Ah, if only it were that simple.” Obviously, it's hard to be fully present in a given space if we're partying with phones in our hands, which is why more and more nightclubs, for example, are putting stickers over people’s cameras, which I fully support. But I don't think the cure is to go back to 1995. Instead, I try to ask: What does a fun future feel like? What’s actually realistic? We're all still figuring that out together.

Originally Appeared on GQ