This Halloween, Can We All Just Ghost?

Is it really an unforgivable social faux pas to leave a party without saying goodbye?


I committed a grievous etiquette sin last weekend. I pulled a Halloween ghost.

Let me explain, and see if you wouldn’t have been tempted to, too.

We were invited to the wedding of a friend of our daughter Marcy. Marcy was in the wedding party, so I had gone to the wedding shower as well. I’d dutifully bought gifts for both occasions. My husband Doug and I got dressed up on a Saturday and got to the venue on time. We’ve had the happy couple over to our house for a couple of parties. We’re not close, exactly, but we like them and wish them the best.

We enjoyed the ceremony (I cried), and chatted with acquaintances and strangers at the hour-plus cocktail hour. Then we found our seats for dinner, introduced ourselves to our table-mates, and made quite enjoyable conversation with them for a couple of hours while the meal was served. It was lengthy because it was interspersed with speeches and first dances. By the time the floor was opened to general dancing, we’d been there for four-plus hours, and frankly, we were beat.

So we left. Without saying goodbye. I didn’t feel good about it, exactly. But the joint was jumping, all the young folk were dancing, the music was loud, I was the designated driver, it was 9:30 at night, and I wasn’t sure what staying any longer would have accomplished besides robbing me of sleep. Doug was more than willing to book; if it had been up to him, we would have bolted earlier than that. We explained to our daughter and her husband that we were out of there. We could have interrupted the bride and groom to make our goodbyes, but that didn’t feel right, either. This was their big day; how would they understand why we were going to cut out before all the excitement was over — even before the cake?

There were a couple hundred people at the wedding, and we never thought our absence would be noticed. But wouldn’t you know it — the next day, Marcy informed us that the bride had mentioned that we hadn’t said goodbye. Now I felt like a schmuck. Marcy said she’d told the bride we’d looked for her but couldn’t find her, which came off totally bogus because Marcy’s a terrible liar and also because how could you not find the bride and groom at their own wedding, ya know?

So here’s what I’m asking: How much of a social sin was this, on a scale of one to 10?

I felt a little better when I read an article in which I learned from author Seth Stevenson that what we’d done has a name: It’s called ghosting. And he advocates it strongly for all social events. Greeting people, saying hello to them, he argues, is joyous; but not farewells:

Goodbyes are, by their very nature, at least a mild bummer. They represent the waning of an evening or event. By the time we get to them, we’re often tired, drunk, or both. … These sorts of goodbyes inevitably devolve into awkward small talk that lasts too long and then peters out. We vow vaguely to meet again, then linger for a moment, thinking of something else we might say before the whole exchange fizzles and we shuffle apart.

Exactly! I’m socially awkward in my best moments; these little poised tableaux in which I catch the attention of the hosts, they pause in what they’re doing, and we both utter platitudinous inanities are excruciating. And I know, I know; it’s not all about me. But it’s a little bit about me, isn’t it? I’m with Stevenson. Let’s revel in the joy of hello and forget all about saying goodbye from here on out. What do you say?

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