There are about as many methods for avoiding someone at a party as there are reasons for doing so. If you don’t like the person and you know they don’t like you, simply maintain as great a distance as possible and size them up every 30 minutes from across the room. If you like them but you’re not sure they like you or even remember who you are, try clumsily to catch their eye, join their circle of companions, and stare at their shoes, or employ the French exit at long last. If they like you but you don’t like them, make the requisite chitchat and then develop a bladder infection and get lost on the way to the bathroom. But what if you find someone only slightly irritating? And what if they happen to be deeply embedded in your network of professional and/or personal relationships, as inextricable from your routine as coffee in the morning? What then? My friends (well, some of you), this is where you employ the Big Good-bye.
I learned of this technique while watching the season-ten premiere of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm earlier this week, and I’ve been dying to take it for a spin ever since. In the episode, Larry David is at a friend’s party and informs his friend Richard Lewis that he will be using the Big Good-bye on Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal, whose inane chatter about his ongoing TV projects Larry finds intolerable. Our curmudgeonly teacher goes on to explain his method: “You avoid a person all night and then at the end, when you’re about to leave, you give them a Big Good-bye. Then they feel good, they’re very happy that you spent this time with them at the end of the night — then you slip out.” In this instance, the ploy doesn’t work but only because Phil already knows about the Big Good-bye, likely having been on the receiving end of such faux magnanimity for some time. But in the real world, I suspect more people already use this method than are consciously aware of its existence.
Watching the episode, I was struck by my familiarity with the Big Good-bye strategy without having ever really identified it for what it is. While people may have used it on me, I’m also not liable to notice. (I’m not a mind reader.) I am, however, often eager to leave a party, and I know well the taut bit of drama that occurs when you glimpse out of the corner of your eye a person you’d like to avoid but not piss off or even dismay. My poor, defenseless brain, longing only to be put to bed, panics and instantly forgets that I saw them, or else I bargain to myself that I’ll catch them later. Surely. And then as I’m leaving, my brain relaxes and registers them again just long enough so I can hear about that thing they’ve been working on and say “Great!” Yes, a more gracious person might gleefully greet that acquaintance without immediately leaving. I myself am sometimes this person, but for the times when I am not, the Big Good-bye has served me well.
We are not always the person we wish we were — but neither is the person we run into at the party necessarily the person we wish them to be. Just because a fellow guest has all the charm and ability to pour beer into a glass as the Dos Equis guy doesn’t mean I want to carry on a full-blown conversation with them. Maybe it’s shameful, but who cares. I’ll take my Big Good-byes where I can get them.