On behalf of a friend, sometimes she wants to invite people over but many members of her extended family don’t know when to leave, even when given big clues (not as harsh as ‘close the door when you leave’! - but missing cues like, “well, it was so nice to see you”) - and similarly there are times when stamina for social occasion can be stretched to only a couple of hours or so.

The question is - how to put limits on an invitation, without lying, such that the invitee is given a clear limit of how much time is being offered.

This may seem inhospitable - after all, such friends and family have had to travel, and may come with gifts - but in reality there are times and occasions where there is only so much energy available for them.

The question doesn’t concern formal invitations but is about maintaining social duties. The difficulties are compounded by a lack of social boundaries in some members of the extended family - to the point where ‘normal’ approaches eg ‘my! is that the time?’, ‘how do you get back?’ ‘It’s been lovely to see you’, ‘let’s do this again soon’ etc. are either ignored or not understood as “time to go home now”.

Due to the “extended family, not just friends” aspect, being blunt is likely to cause extensive ripples of ongoing trouble.

It is complex- hence the resort to this site. My friend believes that pre-emptive boundary setting / expectation setting is most likely the best way forward but has no idea over how best to phrase it in a manner that is inoffensive at worst.

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    related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/5967/… though I understand you want to put the length of the visit into the invitation Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 13:54
  • Thanks for the link - but we are talking invitations, as you point out. … and she will not lie.. I think the thing is that she wants to set expectations in advance, such that she doesn’t feel awkward when time is up.
    – Konchog
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 13:59
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    only one of those answers suggests lying. I certainly don't think that's how you handle it. Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 14:05
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    Or you talking a formal invitation (like on a card or in a mail) or just an informal "you should drop by some time" type invitation?
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 14:44
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    If you want to stay longer, there's a very nice hotel near our place.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 15:42

5 Answers 5


You can ask "Would you like to come for the weekend?" or "Would you like to stay on Saturday night?" or "Would you like to come for lunch?"

Suppose you want them to come for lunch but not tea. Then you can say "Would you like to come for lunch? We have X to do in the afternoon but it would be great to see you for lunch."

I find people often cue me to leave (or hang up) by asking "So what are you doing for the rest of the day / later / what are your plans?" Then I get it -- it's past time to leave. My great aunt was reputedly more blunt. She would say simply "How about a bit of goodbye?"


To my way of thinking, being much like your friend, the most important point is that social fatigue is a valid reason to end a get-together and there is no need to lie.

What's the reason for the social fatigue? It often helps to have a reasonable explanation. I'm a teacher and spend hours being "on" each day. When evening comes, I have only so much to give, even to people I really like spending time with. Perhaps your friend has a similar story. Also, needing to wake up early or pay overdue sleep debt is a valid reason.

The hardest reason is probably pure introversion, in that it requires the most empathy to understand on the part of the extrovert. If your friend simply always has a limit of a couple of hours, with no "extenuating circumstances", that's harder to express without risking being taken as disingenuous and causing offence. But even this can and should be cited if necessary -- just more tactfully.

The second most important point is that the family's behaviour suggests intentionally ignoring well-known social cues, and hence trampling on boundaries. This means the problem is unlikely to be solved by just changing the means of saying goodbye, but necessitates a meta-conversation about the relationship.

How that conversation is initiated is hard to advise without knowing the family. But when it happens, it should be done with a lot of grace, a lot of acknowledging that the limitation lies with your friend and not the company, but also firmness. For example, "I've noticed that after our longer get-togethers, I feel exhausted, even though I'm glad I got to see you. The truth is that I have a limited battery life for social activity and I've been pushing myself more than I'm comfortable with," or words to that effect.

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    As an extreme introvert I can attest that extraverts and even lesser introverts will not take kindly to using "ran out of social energy" as an excuse. This can create conflict which will lead to more social energy being depleted. I'd recommend having something scheduled right after, real or fake, that they know about ahead of time so they feel there's a "legitimate" reason to have to leave at the end with minimal overextension for you. Some people will even be upset by that, but you must protect your time.
    – ribs2spare
    Commented Apr 13, 2022 at 16:07

For people who do not recognise social cues, I have found positive and factual statements like these helpful...

Well, it's been so nice to catch up with you, but:

  • I have to get up early, so I need to go to bed soon
  • It's been a hard day and I need to go and lie down
  • I still have to do my washing
  • I have to do a bit of shopping before the shops close

...so you'll have to say goodbye now. Let's do this again soon!

I give plenty of warning. If it's just a short visit I'll start easing them out of the door 5 minutes before I want them to go. If it's a long, pre-announced visit I'll start by saying, Don't let me forget, I have to do X at N o'clock, so we need to finish by then.

This way I can get all the polite visit-ending procedure out of the way and end it without anyone being offended. I have had one guest not taking even these hints, but that guy I took by the arm and said, Now I really have to rush, so you'll just have to go. He wasn't offended.

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    You say you've found these helpful, but can you include a bit more about how you use them (How do you time them, for example?) and how exactly are they 'helpful': Do the people that leave look happy or are they annoyed? Also, the question already mentions people not responding to cues like 'well it was nice to see you', 'look at the time'... Is there something specific that makes you say they will listen when you include a 'but' in a similar statement?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 9:39

Reading other replies, I noticed that no one suggested turning the attention to the guests. And by that, I mean making them feel that they need to leave because they have other things to do. The question ‘how do you get back?’ can be interpreted as a general one. That question also can be thrown around to see if some guests can offer a lift to others if they are heading in the same direction. But what about making the guests’ plans a priority?

If guests have pets, it’s never a good idea to leave them for too long. Asking questions about – how the pets are doing, what they are doing when they are left alone, and if they are okay being left – can switch attention to what is going on at home and urge the guests to go and check on their cats, dogs, etc. Also, they need to be fed, so pet owners either have limited time to go out (but sometimes forget about it) or need to hire/ask someone to look for their pets. In both scenarios the sooner the guests come home the better.

Almost the same if the guests have small children that are not visiting your friend. Directing attention to their kids could make the parents think about how they are doing at that very moment and make them want to go home. If small children aren’t good with their parents leaving for too long, it’s easier to prevent a disaster than to deal with it for at least a day later. Your friend could make those parents remember that there’s someone waiting for them to come home.

If your friend has a dog that needs to be walked at a certain time, that’s a good excuse to make people leave. They need to understand that your friend has responsibilities outside these (family) gatherings.

Those were simple general examples of topics. I assume your friend knows specific occasions that can make every individual think about going home to do their important thing. It can be: getting some rest before the beginning of a hard week, getting ready for a vacation, doing chores, going to the store before it closes, going to watch a primera or a live event that can’t be postponed, getting on a road before it gets too dark or crowdy, etc.

It's totally another thing with pre-set boundaries or expectations. Sometimes it’s even easier with family members because well, they are family. They probably love and support you. Especially if they want to spend so much time together. It’s not blunt when you’re sharing your feelings. But I would suggest finding a few family members who would like the idea of shorter visits, so they could jump on it in time to support any changes.

I would probably phrase it somehow like that during one of the meetings, “I love you all and I’m glad that all of you could come to visit me. I’m looking forward to the next (family) gathering a lot and I really hope it happens soon, not just on another holiday xd. I hope you get back home quickly and safely because I cannot imagine myself surviving a road trip right now. No matter how much I love these, I feel totally spent. So please, if you have plans or feel like leaving feel free to do that. And to not shatter the mood, I wanted to suggest meeting more frequently but make it shorter. I know we all have schedules and busy lives so maybe escaping from it all for a couple of hours once in 2 weeks would be better than spending a whole day once a month or during holidays. Like friendly catch-ups, we might as well go to some places together. Picnics, for example? Or bowling.” Depending on people’s reactions your friend can organize the next invitation. There always will be people who won’t like the change, but I’m sure someone doesn’t like how it goes right now either (not to mention your friend herself). I hope she realizes that she doesn’t need to be present during those gatherings all the time. Everyone needs moments for themselves, so going to a quiet room/place during the meeting is important to remain sane. People can easily entertain themselves. Provide them a bit of food and drinks and they are set.

I hope it was at least a bit hopeful. Good luck to your friend! If I think about some other suggestions, I will add them.


Don't invite people if you only want them a flat 2 hours. I have a friend who does this and I hate it. It feels like the hourglass is flipped over when i walk in the door and i am bringing the food and drink. I feel like I am at an appointment. I will now just go out to lunch with that person. I don't want to go to her house any more. I either have to go home to other plans mid evening or watch her fall asleep before 8 pm. So don't unvite people to your house. Meet them out for lunch.

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