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Thank You For Coming, Now Get Out

Douse the Yule log, shelve the champagne flutes and schlep that dried-out pine tree to the curb. The party’s over.

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 fétes, 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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