Is there really an acceptable way, a polite and appropriate way to let guests know it’s time to go? I mean, no one wants to be rude to friends and visitors. It’s not as if we didn’t enjoy them or didn’t want them to visit in the first place. Even so on occasion, we want our guests to go home.
Maybe our schedule the next day begins early. Maybe we’ve been running too fast and are just exhausted. Or maybe we tend to be early-to-bed people and are ready to call it quits.
Can we say express that? What do you think? Have you ever suggested gracefully, or even awkwardly for that matter, to your guests that the night is over?
In situations like these most of us watch the clock. We say nothing. Some of us dance around and drop small hints, hoping our guests will get it. Sometimes we go so far as to begin the cleaning up as a signal it’s time.
Most of us don’t know what to do. We just wait. Few people actually tell the truth.
Let’s start with one of the easier, more clear-cut situations to see what we might actually say.
When Illness Is Involved:
At the moment a dear friend of mine is home recovering from a serious, life-threatening infection. Everyone in her circle wants to help and stop in to wish her well. That support is a huge part of recovery, but it can also be a bit much. For her, some boundary-setting requests would help her preserve her limited energy and let guests know “it’s time to go.”
Here are some of “the ways to say it” that I recommend:
“I’m so appreciative of your coming by to see me. Now unless I want my doctor, and my husband to yell at me, I have to get some rest. I hope you will visit again .”
“This has been such a gift having you visit. It really makes me feel great. Unfortunately, if I don’t keep my visits short, I really pay for it the next day. I get so tired! I’m planning on heading to bed in about 15 minutes.”
“You know, I hate for you to leave, but if I don’t get lots of naps and rests each day, it really wears me out. I hope you understand I need to cut our visit short now. It’s time for me to rest.”
“Oh, this has been a great visit. Now, if I am to get well I’m going to have to boot you guys out and go take a rest. Hope you understand! Thanks.”
Another skilled way to handle these communication challenges is before the fact. Instead of having an awkward moment trying to bring the visit to a close, set your time limits up front. When guests arrive, thank them and give them a head’s up of how long your visit can last. Say something like:
“Oh it’s great to see you. I love visits but they do drain me so can we plan on about a ____ long visit?”
Or a bit stronger,
“Thanks for coming to see me. Let me give you a head’s up….I turn into a pumpkin after about an hour and just completely run out of energy. Let’s keep our visit within that time frame.”
Most people would agree sickness is a justifiable reason to limit our guests. That doesn’t mean we must have such a dramatic reason to set boundaries on our time. The question remains, what about other situations?
When It’s a Normal Get Together:
Here are some ideas to try out in your personal life:
- Communicate in Advance: If you know you have friends who tend to stay long, or an early commitment, or some reason you need to limit your time together, communicate that up front. We have great friends who told us they wake at 4:30 most mornings and are in bed early. This helps us respect their preferences. We tend to meet early and depart early as a result. No awkward moments.
- Make Your Invite Specific: When you are a host you get to call the shots. When inviting, communicate clearly a beginning time and an ending time! There’s much less chance of needing to say anything more.
- Work Your Needs into the Conversation: At some time in the visit, talk about your early commitment the next day and what time you need to be up. Or share how little sleep you have gotten and that you plan on an early night tonight. Whatever your need is, find a casual comfortable way to share it over the course of the night long before it’s actually time to leave.
- Be Open, Be Yourself: Develop friendships that allow you to be yourself, that support honest communication. Get in the habit of using a casual, kidding, light tone of voice to share your preferences and habits. The more your friends know you, the more they will respect your needs and preferences, as well as express their own.
Taking these steps and having these kinds of conversations will take some practice. It won’t necessarily be smooth and easy the first few times. But we can work up to the more difficult conversations and start small.
My commitment is to honest, open conversations, even when it’s difficult. That may not be your choice. It’s really a personal decision each of us make. Just know if you don’t choose to communicate your boundaries and limits on your time and get-together, you will occasionally have some friends who overstay their welcome. And given that you won’t have stated your needs, you’ll be part of the problem. Why not try speaking up instead?