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Some weeks ago my girlfriend and I invited another couple to our home, which is about 15 minutes away from theirs. I hadn't seen them in years and my girlfriend didn't know them at all. So they got to know each other. We had a nice conversation and everything.

Around 6 PM (they arrived at 1 PM) I was starting to get nervous because I had an important meeting with a friend at 7 PM I could not postpone. I made a mistake by not telling the other couple in advance that I had to do things at 7 PM, because I didn't expect them to stay that long in the first place. They enjoyed our company and didn't seem to want to leave soon.

Finally (and luckily) somewhere around 6.45 PM they decided to leave. I kind of supported them in their intent by not saying things like "Oh, what a pity. You could have stayed a little longer." but rather "Okay, it's getting late, we have to prepare for tomorrow's work day." in order to make them leave immediately.

The whole time I was wondering how to tell them to leave without making them feel bad. I was thinking about how bad my excuse would sound, although it was true. How can one handle such a situation properly?

Please don't tell me to avoid such situations by informing people in advance about my plans. I know I made a mistake there. The question is about how to handle such situations when you missed the opportunity to tell them about your plans in advance.

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There's nothing wrong with the truth in these cases. You could say something like:

Oh my goodness, I can't believe it's 6:30! The time has flown by hasn't it? I actually have a 7 o'clock thing I need to get ready for.

You can, if you genuinely had a great time and kind of wish it wasn't ending, immediately try to schedule the next get together:

This has been so fun, let's do it again next weekend. Are you free Friday?

They may agree to a time and date on the spot, or may say they need to check their calendars at home, which most people would have to. Since they live close by and you had a great time, you can see them pretty often if you want to.

You don't need to say "I never thought we would be able to talk for so long" or anything else that implies you weren't expecting to have a great time. Just focus on the fact that you have really enjoyed this time and talking to them. After all, they have things to do too and aren't going to move in and live with you, so they have to leave eventually.

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    Any other way to approach this (by not being truthful) can backfire. Regardless of his good intentions, if OP doesn't sell his untruthful argument, then the friends may feel like he's hiding something from them (e.g. they may infer that OP didn't really enjoy himself). Honesty precludes that from happening. – Flater Oct 30 '17 at 9:09
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    And for some reason you have to mention doing this again sometime, even if you have no intention of ever doing it again sometime, because if you don't it's rude. At least, that's what I've found since moving to Canada... – corsiKa Oct 30 '17 at 20:22
  • Wanting to do it again "sometime" is a generic way of saying you enjoyed it. It carries little meaning. Specifically trying to set up next Friday shows you actually truly want to do it again some time. – Kate Gregory Oct 30 '17 at 20:39
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    @corsiKa: Cultural differences can be minor yet important :) In Belgium, the following conversation takes place: "Do you want another cookie? // No, it's fine, thanks. // Are you sure? // Yeah OK I'll have another". In the Netherlands, the following happens: "Do you want another cookie? // No, it's fine, thanks. // Okay (closes box and puts it away)". Being a Belgian child visiting in the Netherlands was hell because Belgian kids were generally taught that immediately saying "yes" is rude, but the Dutch tend to not ask the same question twice. – Flater Oct 31 '17 at 9:18
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When a friend of mine needs to do something or is simply tired, he just explains so. It is also a good idea to not to tell them when you want them to leave immediately, but to tell them a bit earlier (1/2 hour is early enough).

This way, if your guests are having fun they can mentally prepare better to leave, and it doesn't come as something abrupt.

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If they're friends, they'll understand your predicament anyway.

"Excuse me, but I have X in Y hours. I wish I could entertain you much longer. I will invite you again - soon!"

It's important to inform them early, so your announcement does not come as a surprise.

7

The most natural way to wrap up a conversation is to do what people normally do when a conversation has run its course:

  1. talk less (don't inject new topics into the conversation and allowing longer periods of silence),
  2. ask the other person what they are planning to do with the rest of their day, and/or
  3. tell people how much you've enjoyed spending time with them.

This will trigger most people to end the conversation (by giving the same types of signals back to you) without causing offence.

If this doesn't work, it may be that the people you are are speaking with are less sensitive to social cues so you'll need to be more direct. The good news, however, is that people who are less sensitive to social cues are less likely to be offended by a direct approach.

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    Only if you push it too far. I'm not suggesting that you sit in silence until they leave - that would be rude. But if you want the other person to leave with needing to be asked (i.e. of their own volition) then they must decide that the conversation has run its course. Leaving slightly longer delays and no longer introducing new and interesting topics to the conversation will achieve this without offending the other party. – Andrew Mackie Oct 31 '17 at 3:21
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If I have something specific to do at 7pm I would just explain it, but if I have no special reason I always say something like:

What subway line do you use do go back?

That's for cities with many subway lines, but you could adapt to places where several routes are available. Or with a big smile:

Let's check the illumination on the way back!

It can also be a shed you built in the alley, or a bird's nest, or anything that could be possibly conceived by someone as mildly interesting.

Depending on how close you are with them:

At what time do you wake up tomorrow?

In Tokyo you can be bet they have to wake up earlier than they would like, and that the conversation will switch to the topic of how they should sleep more.

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Ok, welcome to the club of awkward situations...

So yes as it was pointed out above, start doing this beforehand like 0.5-1 hours before you have to "leave".

Try putting on agenda the idea that there is another activity that follows your party, even if it's imaginary or half-imaginary.

You can appeal to phrases like "Okay guys, sorry but I have to visit X, I have to complete task X or my employer/boss/client will be angry" Basically any "I have to X" will do fine where X relates to family activities, work activities and other duties. And do be ashamed to push a little bit accompanying this with phrases like "okay, I will be washing cups and cleaning the table, but I'm with you, you want anything else?"

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I was thinking about how bad my excuse would sound, although it was true. How can one handle such a situation properly?

About 15 minutes when you would have needed to leave your home, you should have matter-of-factly told them that you made plans to meet up with someone at X PM and ask them if they wanted to go grab a coffee. The point is that you are walking them out of your home while also setting out to your destination.

The whole time I was wondering how to tell them to leave without making them feel bad.

You do that by luring them out of your home first. The coffee is a good way to part ways after completing a short, social activity with a clearly defined beginning and end.

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    Is the intention here to actually take them for coffee before going to the next appointment? That sounds a little weird, since they're at your home and you can probably give them coffee there. – Erik Oct 29 '17 at 6:45
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If/when you have a good rapport with someone (and can assume they won't be offended) you can simply tell them to leave. Among my circle of friends "go home" is fairly common ("ahhh... that was fun. Okay go home :)" ) along with "K, bye. Its my bed time".

In your situation (having something else to do) I'd probably say something like "sorry about this, but I actually have to be __ (elsewhere) at xx time. Can we plan to get together again soon?" Or "... at xx time. Thanks for coming. I don't mean to kick you out but I've gotta get going smile".

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