Laurence Tennant

Your Exit Index

Why do we often end up trying to escape from tedious conversations at social events, leaving us scrambling for excuses to get away? And when others suddenly exit conversations with us, is it because they are finding us terribly boring?

Shortly after being elected a student representative at my university, I was invited to show up at a networking session with other ‘student politicians’. Turning up in a tailored waistcoat, I armed myself with some mulled wine and swept into a conversation with an attractive girl.

I was on good form tonight, not detached with my mind elsewhere as usual. The conversation started heading in an interesting if somewhat weird direction.

We looked like we were enjoying ourselves, so two more guys wandered over. They hung around in the wings for a while before awkwardly introducing themselves. I tried my best to find some common topics, but dialogue stuttered and faltered. And it was too late.

The attractive girl suddenly excused herself from the circle, giving her an exit index of 1. Wait - what? In a blinding flash I visualised a simple equation - the exit index formula:

exit index formula

This formula originates from the fact that people who are higher up the unwritten social hierarchy seem to want to ‘exit me’ more than people lower down, who are happy to get into a discussion with anybody at all at parties. If you do a lot of exiting, it’s because your social status is higher than everybody else and you’ve always got more exciting acquaintances to talk to; your exit index grows high. Conversely, if you’re impossibly tiresome or you smell awful, then everybody flees from your presence, rendering your exit index fractional. I added the +1 to the denominator so that enticing socialites who never get ‘exited’ on don’t cause a division by zero.

In short, your exit index is a measure of how popular you are at a party. It’s to socialising what the kill:death ratio is to FPS games. There’s a strong negative correlation between the two ratios.

I was sipping my mulled wine and trying to work out how to deal with the problem that the formula failed to account for a gawky guy across the room who was wandering from group to group and who never appeared to successfully integrate. Right now my own exit index was fast approaching zero, since only 5% of my available brain power was being applied to my Broca’s area for speech. The girl who exited our circle continued to bump up her own index by zooming all over the room.

The exit index tends to stabilise when both you and your friends mutually love other’s company …interpolate beautiful memories of day-long reunions… Yet due to the limitations of our universe, somebody inevitably has to call a halt to things. This reveals a social imbalance. At some point, some external event or commitment becomes a higher priority for one of the conversationalists than continuing to talk.

This leads to the tragedy of parties, whereby a great deal of partygoers are left feeling isolated from the company they seek the most. As my old economics teacher might have said, the main cause of this phenomenon is the enormous asymmetry in people’s exit indexes. Based on preliminary observations, some extraordinarily trendy/charming/entertaining people have exit indexes of 10+, whilst others possess indexes lingering around rock bottom. If we drew a connected bubble chart of social relationships, we’d find that people with high exit ratios congregate in the centre, such that the bubble chart could accurately be mapped onto the spatial distribution of the party room:

look familiar?

I admit that I remain jealous of those who have the power to maintain high exit indexes by captivating whole audiences with their unquenchable charisma. I feel bitter when I’m overlooked and others get attention that they don’t seem to deserve. However, the recipe for becoming a party-piece is rather unclear, and I often discover that those who project auras of confidence are actually insecure about their position on the imagined social hierarchy.

Motivational speakers would like you to believe that socialising is simply a skill that requires practice - the more time invested, the better you become, experience is the best teacher. Yet thousands of hours later, figuring out what makes certain individuals tick remains incredibly hard work. It’s much easier to remain in the womb of social theories, echo chambers, and crass generalisations. And that’s a womb that the internet readily provides for you.