Douse the Yule log, shelve the champagne
flutes, and schlep that dried-out pine tree to the curb. The
And now that Shindig Season has passed, let’s resolve to be
better party guests this year by learning when to set down our
snifters and say, “So long.” Too many promising soirées run aground
when guests — caught up in the evening’s convivial
climate — continue to gab and gargle long after their host has
started the dishwasher, thanked them for coming, and opened the
front door with optimism.
It’s a shame, really, because you can be the most diverting
guest ever to plop your rump in a patio chair. You can recount
details of the time you shared a smoky limo with Mick and Keith.
You can produce after-dinner truffles magically from behind your
left ear. But overstay your welcome by, say, 12 minutes and you’ve
turned “Wow, we should have him over more often” into “Good God,
don’t ever let him in again.” Now you’re Boring Cling-On Guy.
Since party invitations rarely come with end times, it’s
important to learn the subtle and not-so-subtle signals that it’s
time to bid the bash adieu. If you’re listening for them, you’ll
hear them. “It’s easy to be distracted if you’re having a great
conversation,” said Melissa Lee, co-owner of Events of Santa Barbara.
“But you’ve got to know when to say ‘when.’”
At a huge event, stragglers take the hint when the catering
staff begins breaking down tables and packing up decor, according
to the party planner. Exit points are harder to gauge at smaller
fêtes, where it’s the hosts’ job to set the pace. “If they’re
opening up another bottle of wine or engaging you in another
activity — playing a game or showing you another part of the
house — it’s okay to stay,” she said. But when they start taking
off their shoes, the evening’s over. And unequivocally, Lee added,
“It’s time to leave when someone has wet their pants.” I should
point out that she has three young children, although certainly the
same goes for adults.
One of my friends is exceedingly clever at chasing off clingy
house guests. First she dials down her speech to monosyllabic
responses. Then she leaves the room for several minutes at a time.
When that fails, she asks if they need directions to the
freeway — which you can literally see from her front yard.
Be creative. Conjure up a loud, open-mouth yawn, the kind that
makes your face and voice contort grotesquely. Or mention the odd
patch of toadstools growing in your front yard and offer to show
your guests on their way out.
I also like to slip a scapegoat into the conversation, real
smooth-like: “So work’s keeping me busy. In fact, I’ve got a
deadline first thing in the morning. Damn editors. They really know
how to bring a dinner party to a crashing halt, am I right? But do
take the rest of that cookie home with you. …”
I know a man who stood up from a dragging dinner party he and
his wife were throwing, changed into his pajamas, flipped off every
light in the house, opened the front door, and said, “I’m going to
bed, but don’t feel like you have to leave.” While I could never be
so frank, I would like to make a promise to friends who might be
reading this. The next time you’re at my home, and I’m ready for
our socializing to come to its natural conclusion, I won’t play any
childish games with you. I’ll simply tell you what a treat it is
for my family to get to spend so much time with you. And then I’ll
wet my pants.
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