Face blind people sometimes have difficulty ending a social encounter. There is actually a graceful way to do that, but for those who can't always read the expressions of others well, we may miss when people are taking their leave, or we may have never learned how to do that ourselves.

We all know of the house visitor who we literally have to push out the door, or the afternoon companion who is tougher to get rid of than a wad of gum on the bottom of our shoe. This situation arises because one or both of the people do not know how people take their leave. The lack of this knowledge can bring one to a point where one shuns social contact altogether, because ending each encounter is so frustrating.

It takes two to tango, as they say, and a social encounter is a matter which is mutual. It's often easier to start one than end one. Here we address the question: How does one member indicate that the mutuality has come to an end? What does he do to take his leave? Although we may not understand body language or facial expressions that indicate leave-taking, there are actually three words that people use for this purpose. One should learn them:

When a person takes his leave, the other party is entitled to a short sentence or two to acknowledge the leave-taking, and then the leave-taker to acknowledge that he is in fact taking his leave will utter an even shorter reply:

Tom: I am going to work on my e-mail now.
Joe: Okay, cool. I think I'll go watch TV.
Tom: Catch you later.

Forestalling leave

If a companion is taking his leave, you may forestall it if you state a brief reason to do so. For example:

Tom: I am going home to dinner now.
Joe: Oh, before you go, what time do you want to meet tomorrow?
Tom: Noon would be cool.
Joe: Okay, see you then.
Tom: See ya.

Note that the forestalling (1) acknowledges that leave is being taken ("Oh, before you go") and (2) states the reason briefly immediately thereafter. Note also that forestalling a person's leave a second time is inappropriate. All reasons to do so should be stated the first time.

Note that the word "now" is also used to postpone the initiation of social contact, when it is combined with a designation of a later time for the contact to occur:

Tom: I am trying to get this report out now; let's talk after lunch.
Joe: Okay, see you then.

Leave taking is not an invitation

One should be aware that leave-taking is not an invitation to follow the person taking leave. Don't even ask. If it is an invitation, they will negate the impression that it is leave-taking by including the invitation in the statement:

Tom: I am going home to dinner now.
Joe: I'm hungry too. Can I come along?

Tom: I am going home to dinner now, would you like to join me?
Joe: Sure!

Note that leave-taking can occur in groups of more than two people:

Tom: Joe, you want to go work on that project with me now?
Joe: Sure!
Bob: See you guys later.
(Tom, by using the word "now", was taking leave. By addressing Joe, he was only taking leave of Bob. Bob should not take this as an invitation to join them.)

Others actually have this problem

Although face blindness can be at the root of one not having learned how people take their leave, leave-taking is actually learned in childhood by absorption of how other people do it. It takes good skills at subtly reading people to pick it up, and face blindness, autism, or Asperger's syndrome can get in the way of this. Actually, any communications impairment or isolation during the period in childhood when leave-taking skills are learned, can cause one to reach adulthood without these skills.

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