How to Leave a Party Politely: The Art and Etiquette of the Exit
A.k.a. How to get out of Dodge without being rude.
My mom always told me, “It’s best to leave the party while everyone is still having fun.” As with her fine, straight hair and penchant for binging Lifetime movies on a Sunday afternoon, this mantra of hers has now also become mine. And it’s often how I justify scooting out of a party or exiting a conversation on the early side. She also taught me, though, that how you leave is just as important as when you leave. Here, some tips and tricks for leaving as graciously as you arrived.
Don’t leave without saying goodbye.
Tempting though this may be, especially when your hosts are surrounded on all sides, it’s essential to say thank you to your hosts on the way out the door. If they are speaking with other guests, wait until you see a pause in the conversation, and then say your farewells. Don’t breathe down their necks while waiting on said lull, either; rather, observe from a distance until the coast is clear. Weddings are the one exception to this: As long as you’ve spoken to the bride’s or groom’s family at some point during the reception, you do not have to say goodbye to them as you leave, especially if they’re dining or dancing. It would be ruder to interrupt their merriment than to forego the farewell.
Don’t leave too soon, even if you’re not having the time of your life.
This seems contrary to my abiding advice, but let me explain: You did not have to say yes to your host’s invitation, but you did. Therefore, you are required to be a good guest. If it’s a drop-in that lasts just two hours or so, a 30-45 minute pop-in is perfectly acceptable; it’s long enough to chat with the hosts and celebrate the occasion. If an event has a start and end time listed on the invitation, you should expect to stay for the whole thing. The hosts have likely planned out activities accordingly, and to leave early would be to snub their efforts. For a wedding, if you are unable to stay until the couple’s send-off, you should at least stay through the dances and the cutting of the cake; dashing immediately after dinner is never appropriate.
Don’t make a scene.
Unless you are leaving your own wedding reception, there is no reason everyone at the party should be made aware of your exit. Save the trumpets and tears for your own affairs. Please.
The only thing more difficult to politely excuse yourself from than a party is a conversation. Good conversationalists know how to keep a conversation alive. The best conversationalists know when to end it. Here are a few pointers to politely excuse yourself from a chat that’s gone on a little too long.
Even if you’ve been itching to get out of the corner you’ve been stuck in for the past twenty minutes, it’s rude to let your eyes dart around the room, searching out other people to talk to. Instead, while you’re having the conversation, be an engaged listener and an active participant.
Capitalize on the moment.
When you sense a lull in the conversation, take that moment to politely excuse yourself. A simple, "It’s been so nice catching up with you; I’m going to refresh my drink/thank the hostess/try one of those delicious-looking tomato tarts,” should suffice.
Make your move.
If that anticipated lull doesn’t seem to be coming and you’ve been backed in a corner for a far-too-lengthy amount of time, you can politely interrupt the Chatty Kathy or Talkative Ted with a gracious, but firm closing statement. “It’s been so lovely chatting with you, but I’ve just realized I have yet to say hello to the host. Please excuse me.” Or, if you’re on your way out the door, “I’m so sorry to stop you, but I’m afraid I’ve got to get home to the babysitter. I’ve so enjoyed catching up, and hope I’ll see you again soon.”
On the flip side, don’t hold people captive.
Unless someone is your very close friend and you know they’d prefer standing in the corner talking to you over anyone else, it’s unfair to hold fellow guests—or worse, your hosts—in a conversation for too long. If you feel like you’ve been chatting for a while, offer your listeners an exit: “I know you’ve got to make the rounds, but it’s been great talking with you.” They’ll be appreciative of your acknowledgement of their time, and if they’re not gifted with good social graces re: exiting a conversation, they’ll especially appreciate your generous invitation to make moves and mingle on.
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