Ending Early

The afterlife of the party.


I love parties. Crowded, sweaty, floor-sticky-with-beer ragers. Intimate early dinner parties that swerve pleasantly off the rails and last long into the night. I love throwing them. Going to them. Reliving them the next morning. And yet, I would argue that the best part of any party is leaving it.

My friends and I have a fairly regular upstate weekend tradition. Every few months or so we descend in a steady stream upon a Hudson Valley home on a Friday evening, having ducked out a little bit early from work to beat the traffic or catch a quieter train. We swarm into the kitchen, pour white wine, light menthol cigarettes (I know, I know), and play catch up while the volume of the music increases slowly over the course of the night. We switch to bourbon, sometimes tequila, start talking less and dancing more, interrupting only to shout about how much we love a particular song, taking turns “deejaying”—so to speak—singing louder and swaying harder.

There’s a moment at every party in which you realize you’re done, that continuing on—to drink, to dance, to talk—is an investment of diminishing returns. I almost always make sure to duck out before then, even if every fiber of my being is screaming with FOMO and the acute awareness that I’m only getting older, knowing the chances to make these late night memories are fewer and further between. On my upstate nights, that means sneaking upstairs and getting in bed, usually with a 99-cent microwaveable snack of some sort, a little bit of weed, and the dregs of my last drink.

The standard inclination in this situation—when you’re the first to bed and the party is still very, very much going—is to close the door and cover your head with your pillow. Toss and turn and fume silently until you trudge downstairs and ask your friends to turn the music down, please, just a touch?

But I live for the noise: the small shouts and voices floating above the muffled melody of whatever song is playing. I leave the party early not because I want it to end but because I want it to keep going—just without me.

People who live in New York often say they love the city because it encourages a certain public solitude: you’re on your own but never alone. Removing yourself ever so slightly from a party—by going to bed, or leaving a few minutes early to wait for your Lyft in the hallway, or even just standing outside on a balcony, beyond the glow of light through the window, watching mouths move—is an even more intimate (and voyeuristic) way of recreating that experience.

It’s freeing. It allows you to be present in a way that’s often hindered by actual participation. By taking away the minute calculations of interpersonal interactions, my mind is free to sink into the music and the comfort of knowing that people I care about are just downstairs, or inside, and having the time of their lives.

In some ways, listening to life at a remove is not unlike a memory itself: muted and fuzzy, rich with texture but a little bit soft. (This is probably why those recently popularized YouTube recordings of musicplaying in another room, or an empty mall, are so soothing: they sound like our memory of the way a song feels.) The stifled soundtrack of parties I’ve just left gives me a kind of anticipatory nostalgia, though it’s not quite a longing for the past—or, in my case, the party—so much as it is a way of experiencing the future in the present.

Upstairs, and in bed, surrounded by the sounds of my friends and their music, I look forward to the feeling of remembering that moment.

Verena von Pfetten is the co-founder of Gossamer. You should definitely invite her to your next party.