One recent evening, I celebrated my birthday in the outdoor courtyard of a bar. As the night wore on, and friends fell by the wayside, each departure occasioned a small ritual. A pal would sidle up to whichever conversational circle I was in; edge closer and closer, so as to make herself increasingly conspicuous; and finally smile, apologetically, when the conversation halted so I could turn to her and say goodbye.
Nothing but good intentions here. To some small extent, I appreciated the politeness of this parting gesture. It was not a major imposition to pause for a moment and thank folks for coming.
But there’s a better way. One that saves time and agita, acknowledges clear-eyed realities, and keeps the social machine humming.
Ghosting—aka the Irish goodbye, the French exit, and any number of other vaguely ethnophobic terms—refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells. One moment you’re at the bar, or the house party, or the Sunday morning wedding brunch. The next moment you’re gone. In the manner of a ghost. “Where’d he go?” your friends might wonder. But—and this is key—they probably won’t even notice that you’ve left.
Yes, I know. You’re going to tell me it’s rude to leave without saying goodbye. This moral judgment is implicit in the culturally derogatory nicknames ghosting has been burdened with over the centuries. The English have been calling it French leave since 1751, while the French have been referring to filer à l’anglaise since at least the late 1800s. As with other cross-Channel insults—depending on your side, a condom is either a French letter or la capote anglaise, syphilis the French disease or la maladie anglaise—the idea is to pin unsavory behavior on your foes.