The holidays bring us together, but that’s not always a good thing. There’s something about the combination of end-of-year sentiments with groups of people indulging in large quantities of eggnog and pigs-in-a-blanket that encourages a certain fearlessness. This fearlessness helps with the onslaught of strangers, allowing us to drop some of our everyday insecurities. This could be where you meet your next fling, even if most of your time is spent in polite conversation that goes nowhere. But there’s also a high probability of talking to someone who just offends you to your core.
I can’t predict exactly what they will tell you, because there are so many odious things that people are willing to let loose from their lips in society. Perhaps you catch a whiff of fascism in something offhand, or a glib resentment for poor people, or they’ll tell you about their inclination towards eugenics. Anything is possible. Many people will use this as an opportunity to nod away and leave them for the next stranger, but if you are like me, you will push the point further and further until you figure out whether their thoughts are born of malice or ignorance, and then you have a decision to make.
For me, this is when I know it is time to leave. But unlike those who choose to evaporate into the night without a trace, aka the Irish Goodbye, I want people to know I’m going. I want everyone to know I’m leaving specifically because of this asshole who has ruined the party beyond my ability to enjoy it, which they will once I loudly tell this offender to fuck off forever because they don’t think England has an obligation to return the art they stole from Africa, or whatever.
The thing about this maneuver is that it is rarely necessitated at the beginning of an event when people are still catching up with acquaintances and attendance is sparse. These conversations happen when the room is at peak frequency, that sliver of time when the early birds have left for their next event but the appetizers are not yet depleted. This is the height of a party, which means the denouement is on its way. So if you haven’t found the bubbly conversation you crave by this point, there’s no need to dig your heels in further. Storm out of the event!
Sticking around is a testament to your desperation for something good to happen, when you should just look elsewhere or call it a night. A party is a microcosm of so many different forces, and you should never put your mind on a certain outcome unless you are the host, in which case I am sorry, but also I am not afraid to get into an argument about the definition of white supremacy and walk out on you either.
This person isn’t always going to be a stranger. It is very common for family members to blatantly and publicly offend their kin during the holidays, and I always wonder why people put up with it. This is probably why I am not married, but if entering a commitment with someone necessitates contact with racists, homophobes, sex pests, or a jealous parent deep in the trenches of emotional incest, it is not worth trying to remain in the good graces of a group that will support it. When people show you they suck, you should tell them that, and then leave.
Don’t be surprised when the universe (or living in New York) puts this person back in your life in some dumb coincidence and they are forced to relive the social disgrace while you (hopefully) remain on the right side of justice.
The holidays are often reduced to gift giving, but don’t forget that your presence is the greatest present of all, one that you are always allowed to take back.
Tammie Teclemariam is the Underground Gourmet columnist at New York Magazine.