The Irish goodbye, the shamrock shuffle, ghosting (in the sense of leaving a party without saying bye; not cutting off someone you’re dating), or what I like to call the secret bail, is nothing new. Essays have abounded on the internet for the last few years both defending and deriding the practice. It’s the best thing ever, some argue. It’s the worst thing you can do to people, say others. Both arguments miss the point: Sometimes Irish goodbyes are the perfect and only exit from a drinking situation. Other times they’re terrible form. Trouble is, how do you know which is which?
If you’re intellectually sophisticated (read: callous) enough to sideline the ethical or moral question of whether it’s rude or not in the first place, you can safely skip to the next part: When and how to do it. But first, the why.
You’ve accepted an invitation to a party or date or night out drinking with friends. Perhaps it’s a show or a stand-up comedy night. The night’s winding down, or perhaps it’s ratcheting up, and either way, you’re not feeling it. It’s going badly; these people are lame; the conversation is stilted and awkward; you can no longer hang.
You’re unequivocally ready to go, but you don’t want to work the crowd, telling everyone goodbye/thanks or have to go through five or 10 different versions of “But the night’s still young!” or “Just have one more drink!” or “So and so is picking me up in 20 minutes; we’ll give you a ride!”
You don’t want to get roped into a conversation even for a few more minutes as the room starts to spin. The pressure to stay and keep drinking is on, and you can only imagine one fantasy exit: Getting the hell out of there to get drive through and fall asleep watching Murder She Wrote, with nachos.
So when does your personal well-being and pressing, diarrhea-like need to bail trump social etiquette, which typically dictates that we all stick around until it’s appropriate to leave, or at least say goodbye to everyone and thank the host? Ask yourself these critical, soul-searching questions before embarking on your own Irish goodbye.
Are You Drunk?
If you’re drunk, and especially if the room is spinning or you feel like you could puke, you may exit with Irishness at will. If you are drunk and you just need to get home to eat something to prevent the room from spinning or you from puking, you’re absolutely entitled to hail a rideshare and get yourself home.
Are There 7 to 10 Other People in Your Group?
In order to secret bail, keep it secret. You need to be bailing on a big enough party that coming and going without letting anyone know is not going to be noticed so immediately. Otherwise, you’ve got some splainin’ to do. A night out with one friend at a bar, no matter how torturous, can’t end with you pretending to go to the bathroom and slipping out the back emergency exit. Someone will think you’ve been kidnapped or died. This can potentially wreck any actually concerned friend’s night. Even hightailing it out of there on a group of five coworkers is going to result in someone putting out a search party if you vanish into the night without so much as a peace out.
Are You a Man?
Men seem to be able to secret bail with less animus, at least anecdotally. Though I’ve been secret bailing for easily 20 years and I’m a woman. A coworker told me that her mother, who is coincidentally actually Irish, is the most masterful Irish Goodbye-r she knows. But there is a gendered consideration here that matters somewhat: Decent folks are more inclined to be genuinely worried when a woman leaves unannounced, whereas men seem to have greater latitude to bail and be presumed to be fine.
For instance, once I got messed up at a party, and at the point when I could no longer engage in actual conversation with people, I secret-bailed hard. It was the right call, but a few of my male friends began calling frantically thinking something bad had happened to me. I was actually safely at home, curled up on my bed, talking to my cat Romeo about my life and stuff.
Contrast this with what a male coworker tells me: When he’s out with friends and a dude among them vanishes, they just figure he was too drunk or had someone to go hook up with or had to take a dump. It never occurs to them he might not be okay or might be in need of assistance. While this reeks of a certain paternalistic view that women aren’t okay on their own stumbling into the night, statistics show that often they are not.
This, to be clear, is absolutely not a reason women should not secret-bail. It’s only a consideration that, as with everything in life, women always risk a little more nonsense trying to do things men do all the time without the least bit of blowback, even when the blowback is well-intentioned.
Are You the Guest of Honor?
This is a tough one — perhaps the toughest situation to secret-bail on. The event itself is happening to celebrate you, and you can’t stick around. Arguably, though, the pressure of a social event catering entirely to you is actually the best reason of all to ghost a scene, if or no other reason than that guests of honor are usually indulged beyond all logic in the first place. It’s your party, and you’ll ghost if you want to.
Is It Necessary for Your Mental Health?
In spite of the many naysaying takes on Irish goodbyes, the practice has cut through, and is now being pitched as both a mark of high moral characterand a way to deal with literally any event that makes you unhappy.
Writing at Thrillist, Wil Fulton correctly notes:
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.
As we noted above, though, some people will and do care — if you’re a woman, their date, the guest of honor, and so on. But this is no reason not to ghost.
Do You Have All Your Stuff on You?
If someone else has your keys, you’re screwed. If you haven’t paid the bar tab yet and you have to stand there waiting around, clearly closing the bar tab, you’ll probably be busted (P.S. Don’t stick someone else with your bar tab). Is your coat in someone’s car? Did you leave so much as an iPhone charger in someone’s purse? An Irish goodbye is thought of as an in-the-moment drunk choice, but the best exits require a modicum of planning. Keep your stuff tight all night so you can bail with the least amount of effort or detection possible.
Do You Have an Obvious Exit Route?
The two best ways to Irish Goodbye: going to the bathroom, then leaving, or going to smoke, then leaving. Alternate: heading to the bar for another drink, except leave. Pretend to take a phone call outside; only go.
Can You At Least Text Someone After You’re Gone?
We’ve established when it’s okay to Irish Goodbye and how to do it — with swiftness and stealth, leaving no traces or items behind. But one key element in the Irish goodbye is establishing that although you’re precisely the sort of rude butt-sandwich who would pull this stunt, you were at least raised with the good sense to let someone in your party know that you’re okay.
In a defense of the Irish Goodbye at Slate, Seth Stevenson suggests that you could always send a heartfelt email the next day if you can’t muster an awkward goodbye at night’s end. In these hyper-abbreviated days, you can do this one better without resorting to composing a digital letter. Just text a simple, straightforward “had to bail” to whomever is most likely to care about your ditch. No explanation needed. It’s the least you can do.