I will be attending my 50th high school reunion on September 28 with my husband. I am anticipating about one hour of fun, and torture for anything longer than that. What is the proper way to excuse yourself from a party when you want to leave early without hurting anyone’s feelings?
First off, Etiquetteer has to confess to a weakness for reunions, so much so that That Mr. Dimmick Who Thinks He Knows So Much enjoys the distinction of being the only member of his high school class to have attended all its reunions. The purpose of any reunion worth its salt is to see old friends and make new ones, and so often the passage of time obscures earlier differences (much in the same way moss covers a disagreeable birth date on a tombstone.)* Shucks, Civil War veterans of both sides came together for reunions after 75 years! So Etiquetteer is very glad to hear that you are going to yours.
Your anxiety about going, though, is not uncommon. You can help assure yourself of a good time by calling some Friends of Bygone Days (in advance - start now!) to find out if they, too, are planning to come. Knowing in advance that people you know will also be there will help make you feel more comfortable. And if none of them can come, accept that a) you will have to talk to people you may not know well, and b) have some pleasant, non-confrontational topics at hand to start conversations. As at any dinner party, stay away from politics and religion (though if you went to a religious school, that might end up being the centerpiece of the night, including any fireworks).
The kind of event your school planned will influence an exit strategy. If it’s just a big general party, like a cocktail party, you should be able to duck out with a simple “We have to go on to something else tonight, but it was great to see you!” (The “something else” could be the safety of your recliner, but they don’t need to know that.) But if there’s a meal involved, especially if it’s a seated, somewhat formal dinner, it’s rude to leave before dessert. So if you’re already feeling antsy when dinner is announced, make your farewells then. But should you stay, as soon as you’ve bolted down your chocolate mousse, you can run for the door. Etiquetteer has witnessed a lot of college 50th reunions, and about one third of formal dinner attendees start leaving as soon as dessert is served. Etiquetteer is not a fan of feigning illness, but if worse comes to worst, you can put a pleading look in your eyes, turn to your husband, and say “Honey, I’m really not feeling very well. Please take me home.” The urgency of your illness will prevent any lengthy farewells.
Your husband is going to be an important part of your evening; be sure he is on board with your exit strategy in advance. You should also help him enjoy the evening by making introductions to old friends and classmates (and their spouses) who end up talking to you. One of the more awkward aspects of attending someone’s class reunion (when you aren’t also in the class) is having to stand watching your beloved having an animated conversation with someone who’s a total stranger to you - and you don’t even know their name! Everyone who goes to a class reunion - whether they graduated in the class (or didn’t!), married into it, were brought forth by it, or serve as caregivers to it - gets to have a seat at the table, so to speak.
Etiquetteer hopes and expects that you’ll end up having a much better time at your reunion than you anticipate. Please write back and let Etiquetteer know how it went.
*Read Dorothy Parker’s poem “The Actress” from Tombstones in the Starlight for more information.