And it works. BYOS evenings, which I’ve attended twice, provide a dazzling level of mental stimulation. No one looks at their phone. Everyone asks preternaturally good questions. And you find yourself freely talking about things that you’d never normally bring up.

A Swedish non-profit has a version of the concept specifically for men in the wake of the #MeToo reckoning around sexual harassment and inequality. Make Equal conceived of its #Guytalk dinners as a way to facilitate “starting conversations about what it’s like to be a man”—exploring concepts such as love, friendship, ego, avoidance, fragility, and sex. They’re now being held in cities throughout northern Europe, and the organization offers a slew of tip sheets and accompanying materials for free online. Whether your dinner party is for just one gender or not, these offer a useful template to facilitate openness and thoughtful conversation.

Of course, an elevated intellectual discourse isn’t the only kind of great dinner party; there’s also a value to getting together a group of friends for a good catch-up—and even a bit of gossip. But when done with intention and care, the stranger dinner party invites you to more fully be yourself—which is exhilarating even if it’s somewhat daunting.

There is, of course, an art to executing one of these. As Garvie said, ”It’s true that the best dinner parties are where nobody knows each other‚ but some of the worst can be that way too.” For one thing, not everyone will be thrilled to turn up at a party where they have to do the extra emotional labor of meeting new people. Because of that, he notes that it helps to have some kind of structure and opt-in.

In BYOS’s case, guests sign up and get an email letting them know how the night will go, and there’s a host who moderates the exchange of stories. At my less formal version, it was simply mentioning to my guests when I invited them that the dinner would be a collection of people who didn’t know one another—but whom I suspected might get along.

The number of guests matters, too. BYOS evenings feature anywhere from six to eight people; anything more becomes less intimate and harder to make sure everyone can participate in the same conversation.

The night I hosted recently felt unique and lovely—even more so because it will never happen again. It’s unlikely the five of us will come back together to continue the conversation, but that wasn’t the point. For one night only, we all felt connected. The cheese plate helped, too.

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