The first time I heard the term I was confused. My friend seemed to be using it solely in a business context.
“Would you care to be my plus one at dinner Friday? My company is hosting this ritzy affair,” he asked an attractive female mutual friend. I was overhearing the dialogue, so I did not pay it much mind.
Not having heard of “plus one,” I assumed by the context that it was a sales term. I figured it meant something like this translated into non-drummer, non-sales-quota jargon (which had briefly been my world in the Eighties), “Would you please, please pose as my Number One sales prospect worth $23,500 in potential weekly revenue at dinner Friday? Because most of my prospects in real life are minus one, or minus one to the tenth, but don’t tell my sales manager.”
That explains why my sales career was of brief duration. If the company enforced the draw against advance they claimed I owed, I’d be a shackled indentured servant to this day, decades later.
I took it as code for elite. Like “A Team And Then Some.”
For those of you among the cultural cognoscenti, you already know plus one refers to a friend, date, companion, or, um, escort, that one brings to an event if you are the invited guest. Some sources say it dates to 2004. Don’t upbraid me for living under a cultural rock. I don’t get out all that much.
It comes from the format that guest lists or invitations employ: Jane Doe + 1. It serves a number of social purposes, some of them awkward. It allows a host to invite exactly one half of a couple. Why? Who knows. Reasons abound. The couple may be openly on the verge of fracturing, or in an open relationship. One member of the couple might be serving time in the big house or in rehab or undergoing a transition that is still unacknowledged. In plain English, maybe the inviter(s) just don’t like one member of the couple and never did. This affords an excellent opportunity to prevent the drunken, wild boor from wrecking the event.
Then, of course, there’s the lonelyhearts angle. This demographic would bristle at being a plus one. For them, it would be an embarrassing admission of authenticity, independence, self-gratification, and the inexplicable absence of co-dependent misery, signified by a scarlet letter “S,” for solitude. The shame! Alternatively, others would jump at the chance to be a plus one, roaming socially unfettered at the event in question. Besides, being a guest of a guest might hold the promise of the tables being turned at the next social event requiring invitations.
From a purely monetary or practical standpoint, the role of plus one offers the chance to enjoy a free meal — and more! (as direct-mail advertisements vaguely enthuse). The “and more!” might mean anything from new friends to life partners — or new chances at co-dependence or relationship failure. Seen in this light, the decision to be a plus one, or not, is laden with limitless permutations, a cosmic rolling of the social dice.
One side of you might say: “Go for it!” while your other self says: “Are you freaking crazy?”
Devil or angel.
So now I know. Plus one does not refer to sales tactics, clothing size, fertility methods, supersized drinks, erectile dysfunction solutions, threesomes, or unexplored spiritual dimensions. (Disclaimer: Any reference to any real product, trademark, entity, or proprietary method is purely unintentional and coincidental.)