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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

InternetJuly 30, 2023

How to politely leave the group chat

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Stuck in a tedious parenting group? Tired of your extended family’s bad taste in memes? Here’s what to do.

It’s a classic modern dilemma: you hear your phone ding and your eyes light up at the prospect of a nice, juicy text message. Your heart sinks once you open your phone. It’s yet another dispatch from the Neurotic Mums Endlessly Dissecting Their Babies’ Poo group chat, or a flurry of activity in Remarkably Stale Memes From Your Cousins On Dad’s Side. “I should really just leave this chat,” you think, listlessly heart-reacting pictures of infant faeces and Success Kid, “but that would be really rude.” 

If you want to leave a group chat, you have two main options: you can write a little farewell message and then leave, or you can simply ghost, leaving an ominous “Maddie left” message in your wake. But what’s the correct etiquette? Is it admirably straightforward to say, “I’m not getting a lot out of this Third Eye Blind fan club any more, but all the very best” before exiting, or is it grandiose and annoying? Is ghosting more hurtful than being blunt? It’s tricky! No wonder so many of us just grit our teeth and put up with the tedium. (It’s worth noting a lot of the mute options are woefully inadequate, too.) 

Your intuitions on the “ghost or post” question will depend in part on your level of comfort with direct communication; mapping closely onto the Asker vs Guesser divide. And New Zealand is a proud nation of Guessers. We pay pretty much any price for a lack of social friction. We respond to crushingly bad news with bath bomb slogans. For most of us, the prospect of announcing an exit from a group chat will be cringe, cringe, cringe. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s the right thing to do.

Listen. I’m a Guesser down to the marrow in my bones. I once Irish Goodbyed a party I was throwing at my own house, so I am not what you would call a straight shooter. But even though it’s a common behaviour in our world of low-stakes digital communication, ghosting is categorically not polite. Etiquette requires the little farewell, even if it makes your insides squirm.

Let me get some qualifications out of the way. Context really matters here. If a group chat has been set up for a specific event Mum’s Birthday 🎂❤️ or Queenstown Weekend 🏔🏂 and it’s been dormant since it ended, it’s fine to simply leave. (In fact, exiting any other way would be actively weird.) Your obligation to craft a farewell is inversely related to the number of people in the group, especially if you don’t know them well and were added without an intro, so you probably don’t need to announce your exit from, say, the New World St. Martins Unofficial Fan Page (500 members).

But for the rock climbing club you never seem to make time for or the baby shower admin chat that turned into an intermittent link dump, it’s right and honourable to say goodbye before you leave. And it’s likely this won’t go down as badly as you think. I asked my colleagues and friends if they’d witnessed a farewell of this nature and how it struck them –  the Guesser in me assuming I’d hear things like “over the top”, “embarrassing”, “annoying”, “unnecessary” – and the consensus was that it was actually admirable. I heard about a man in his 20s leaving his rugby team’s group chat (and club) because he needed to take some time to work on himself, a message my friend thought “took guts,” and a student leaving a chat set up by the tutor because he wasn’t interested in hearing about uni outside of class, which my colleague “respected – [I] love when people are upfront about these things.”

The phrasing, of course, matters. You can go overboard, like a renter I heard about who left a group chat for a bunch of neighbouring flats with a paragraphs-long screed full of crying emojis, which struck my colleague as “pretty funny and unnecessarily dramatic”. But a pleasant one-liner seems to go down well. I heard about an exit from a tedious suburban parents group along the lines of, “I’m doing an audit of groups, so saying farewell to you all!” which seems like a tidy solution for most awkward group chat situations. My colleague described it as ”a delicate way of escaping hell”.

So there you have it. You don’t need to keep awkwardly re-muting the family Whatsapp group or eyes-emoji-reacting the daily dispatches from Stevie Wonder ISN’T Blind!!!!. You can simply leave, with a brief, pleasant and confident farewell. You go first.

Keep going!