Allison Howe

Leaving in Style


Illustration by Naomi Bardoff

We are a nation obsessed with entrances. Even though formality has faded from many aspects of our culture, we continue to repeat the ritual of ceremonial arrival. Football games begin with the traditional players’ charge into the stadium. Awards ceremonies would be nothing without lengthy red carpets. The president has an exclusive entrance song. Clearly we can’t get enough of people arriving at things. The obsession holds true in private life as well, in romantic notions such as the slow-motion descent down a staircase before the watchful eyes of our waiting date. And why not? The entrance is indeed the glorious announcement of our hopes for the event. In a proud walk, a simple smile, or a heroic charge, the participants set a tone for the evening and assert their inclusion in the affair. The entrance is a way to be seen and be counted. It is a moment of a sort of innocence, when dresses are unruffled by shifting in seats and brows are free of sweat. The entrance should be watched and celebrated. But what about the exit?

We see all the celebrities walking into the Kodak Theater, but not one of them coming out. Why aren’t the attendees required to provide an exit equaling the stature and entertainment of their entrance? If Lady Gaga goes into the Grammys in an egg, why doesn’t she leave as a chicken? Why do we have “Hail to the Chief” but no “Bye, Chiefy, See You Later?” By performing only the entrance and not the exit, we are missing out on literally half of our opportunities for pomp and glamour. In these forgotten farewell moments lie chances for fame and legend, for indeed what the audience remembers last, they remember longest. With just a little effort, we can grasp the glory of the curtain call, the thrilling getaway, and the last laugh.

Presumably we don’t watch awards show exits because they turn out to be as boring as our own party exits: disheveled or drunk versions of the attendees ducking into cars and going home. As a party ends, we may worry about wrinkled clothes, tired posture, or overindulgence in alcohol, and so we slink away in defeat. Instead of fearing our post-event appearance, however, we should embrace it, showing off that torn dress, smudged make-up, and inability to form a coherent sentence. In a loud and stumbling exit through the crowd, you could in fact gain the venerated title of the one who partied the hardest. In fact, any reputation you’re trying to develop can be supported by a proper exit. If you’re trying to build a reputation as the adventurous type, try exiting your next party with a stunt. You could follow the likes of John Wilkes Booth and leap from a balcony. A broken limb obtained in the course of leaving is something people will talk about for years to come. If you’d like to be the villainous type, the exit is an essential time for declaring your vow to get revenge. Simply shout out your feelings, such as “you’ll pay for the lack of Cool Ranch Doritos!”, as you back out the door.

When decisively executed and properly timed, the exit can be your chance to shape the event itself. Consider the business meeting exit technique of Seinfeld character George Costanza. George rarely has anything intelligent or funny to say, but the one time he has a hit joke, he stands up and says farewell with due haste. His general incompetence and lack of participation no longer matter because he has a charming and memorable exiting line. If only this technique were applied to foreign policy, maybe we wouldn’t be in so many damned wars. We could just wait for one really good battle and then regally wave goodbye.

Have you ever broken up with someone only to find that they still call you and try to follow you around? If your exit from the break-up moment is decisive and memorable, perhaps you won’t have to resort to screening your calls. Instead of that slow, sad walk away after the terminating conversation, try a gait that further emphasizes your reasons for leaving. If you’re ditching the romance because of cheating, lying, or other bad behavior, march away with righteousness, pumping your fist to punctuate your moral high ground. If you’re leaving because things were getting too serious, a nice skipping motion would not only show that you’re sure about your decision but also help your former partner realize that you’re clearly not a stable person and they should just steer clear. If you want to see other people because your love interest’s recent fascination with trepanation has started to creep you out, then simply run, run as fast as you can.

When we clearly mark the beginning of some event but negate the finish, we stagnate. The part of us that craves pageantry and ritual waits anxiously for the red carpet exit and isn’t satisfied with just going to bed after the credits roll. If we don’t create an ending, our life becomes a series of linked beginnings, bravado that never reaches culmination. The performance of exiting shows that we are moving on to something. We must boldly grasp these chances for self expression and no longer leave the audience hanging, no longer go gentle into that good night. Though we may not know where the next beginning lies, knowing that we’ve made an exit is at least a start.

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