Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

Why the Irish Exit Is a Mark of High Moral Character

The person who leaves the party without telling his friends is an asshole, right?

Well, not necessarily.

And it took me a while to realize this. Personally, the Irish exit didn't flash its brilliance until I experienced my first post-college networking event -- that distinct void where bleak reality meets stark desperation. Young men wore ill-fitting navy suits instead of jeans to look older. Old men wore scrotum-hugging skinny jeans instead of suits to look younger. Obviously, I wanted to leave as soon as I arrived. As I waded over to our glad-handing host, in an effort to say a brief farewell, I was stopped by an outstretched arm. And a wizened voice hit my ear.

"It'll take you forever to get to him," the woman said, her sharply manicured hand on my shoulder. "You have his card, right? Just take off." Before I could object, her hand moved to my back, physically compelling me out the door. I didn't fight it. "There's nothing wrong with the Irish exit," she yelled after me, as the doors closed, cutting me off from the party. "No one cares if you leave."

"No one cares if you leave."

That stuck into me, like acrylic nails on the shoulder of an ill-fitting navy suit.

Exit sign
Evan Lockhart/Thrillist

A few weeks later at my own birthday party -- where I was the glad-handing host -- the most draining part of the night (aside from the heavy rotation of Jameson and tallboys) was the endless parade of well-wishers, grimly informing me they were going... like they were telling me my brother died. I appreciated their presence, but I also resented spending half the night slapping palms and making plans I never intended to keep (part of the sacred goodbye dance is the promise that you'll do something else soon, right?). That old woman might have just been blotto... or potentially just one of the hotel's custodians... but shit, good advice is good advice. I honestly didn't care if and when they went. They should have just gone.

It boils down to this: People really don't care if you leave. You aren't Prince William making a grand exit out of cotillion. You are nobody. Nothing, in the cosmic sense. In the grand scheme of world politics and astrophysics and Golden Girl reruns you are strikingly insignificant. When you leave, the party will continue. The sun will rise and the Uber drivers will be parked outside tomorrow night and the same frat bros will puke on the sidewalk in front of them. Look, I'm sure you have lots of friends and family and admirers who consider you the apple of their respective eyes. But if you are leaving a bar or a party, saying goodbyes is usually a big ol' waste of time. My time. Your time. His time. Her time. It's wasting your unborn children's time because if you weren't here telling me how much fun you had sipping on overpriced drinks and being cornered by my cousin Randy who talked about his pet sugar glider (also named Randy) for 45 minutes, you could be home making one.

The Irish exit is not rude. It's a sign of emotional intelligence -- of candor, of self-assuredness. It means you know where you stand with everyone else, that you have some semblance of awareness. It's the rare burst of succinctness and selfless subtlety so uncommon in modern human interaction. You are choosing not to hold everyone back, by abandoning your own self-serving goodbyes. That's a good thing.

But the term has a loaded, negative connotation. It's basically saying Irish people get so intoxicated, they forget to say goodbye -- which is not wholly untrue, given my experience with Boston, Ireland, St, Patrick's Day, and my own family. In some variations, it's a reference to Potato Famine refugees who left Ireland without warning… admittedly a little bit darker. But the term's common variations (the French farewell, the Dutch goodbye, etc.) are pretty much not-so-vague cultural slander, too. Any way you verbalize it, you're saying, "Hey, that's a dick move!" and nothing else. Which doesn't really nail the point.

Oh, and let's just get this out of the way: The Irish exit is not "ghosting," as that word almost exclusively pertains to dating now. Ghosting has become a ubiquitous term for unceremoniously signing out of a relationship, a millennialized "going out for a pack of smokes and never coming back," fit for a 140-character-limited world. This is not what we are talking about. This isn't about leaving your SO and/or family and never speaking to them again to escape the mortal coil you brought on yourself. It's about leaving a bar/party/box social without exchanging frivolities. Way different.

But like any social construct, the etiquette of properly landing a goodbye via Irish exit has "ground rules" that make all the difference...

  • Alcohol should be involved, almost without exception: Hence the name. This makes it far easier to both dismiss your dipping and justify your silence.
  • There should be no one that could possibly die before you see them again: So I know we all could die at any given minute, but I'm talking about those whose odds are a little higher (sorry, grandpa…).
  • If someone texts you, answer: If you ignore people's texts asking if you left, then you yo-yo from "Irish" to "douchebag" all over again.
  • Don't do it if you really think it will hurt someone's feelings: If you truly think someone would get offended by you leaving without saying goodbye (ex-girlfriends, friends who live far away, estranged children from misguided sperm donations from the '90s when you needed to make payments on your Camaro, etc.), re-think your exit.
  • Close all tabs before you leave: Don't stick someone else with the bill. This should be obvious.
  • Tell at least one person you **might** be leaving: At least 20 minutes in advance
  • Use discretion if leaving a group smaller than seven: When underneath the seven-person line (including you), take care when Irish exiting. In such intimate gatherings, this is potentially asshole behavior. Read the room.
  • Optional: Text the host/focal point of the party the day after -- which, in retrospect, is probably more meaningful anyway.

I started doing this. All of it. And my social life sayonaras have never been more cleanly lubricated. And it even seems like people like me more. Or at the very least, they definitely don't like me less.

I'm sliding out of situations whenever I want. I'm nixing the bye-byes that only left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm going out in my prime, like Barry freakin' Sanders. The world is my suddenly abandoned oyster.

And the beauty is, that the first "Peace!" is the deepest. Once you pop that cherry, you develop a reputation, a persona and aura as an Irish exit-er. People expect it. And even admire you for it. It's just a little nuance of character that becomes part of your personality. You become the person who keeps the party going, sans interruptions, by sneaking out. You never get convinced to "stay for one more" and then end up regrettably having five. You're never stuck with an awkward half-hug, or a straggler that wants to come with you, or second thoughts that give in to FOMO-induced fears.

It has nothing to do with being an introvert. Or an apathetic jerk-off. Or the kind of guy who lacks moral fiber. It's the opposite, really.

Goodbyes are a bummer. To paraphrase the great Ella Fitzgerald, "Everytime we say goodbye, everyone at the bar dies a little," and no one wants to infect a casual, supposedly fun get-together with a microdose of death.

And that's why I don't say them.

In fact, I'm leaving right now.


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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. Follow him @wilfulton. Or don't, it's cool.