Dear Captain Awkward,
I’ve recently been going to social events where I don’t know anyone (such as MeetUp groups – thankyou for the suggestion BTW – I didn’t know about them until you mentioned them) in order to meet new people and perhaps rebuild some kind of social life, since the one I had kind of disappeared in bits and pieces for all the usual predictable reasons (moved cities, broke up with partner of more than a decade, got busy with work, cut back on a hobby most of my friends were in, never that sociable to begin with etc. etc.).
Anyway, I seem to have a real problem with meeting and then being cornered by conversation hogs. I have no idea if I particularly attract this kind of person, or if everyone else has some secret way of escaping them that I lack, but I often seem to find myself stuck in a one way conversation with someone, while I nod and smile and be polite, unable to get a word in edgewise.
For example, I recently went to a group bike ride with all new people I’d never met before, and when we were stopped for rest breaks, there was a man who would talk non-stop over everyone, to the point of asking me questions and then talking over my answer. When someone else tried to strike up a conversation with me, he talked over both their question and my answer. He stood between other people and me with his back to them, no matter how I moved around, and stood way too close (again no matter how much I moved away – he was a spitter too… ugh). Despite all this conversational overkill, he was really focused on me – he spent the whole time we weren’t actually riding blocking anyone else from speaking to me, or sometimes he was so loud no one could speak at all. Thankfully when we were riding he liked to go as fast as possible, so I could hang back a bit with various other people.
Saddly, this is a pretty common experience for me. At social events I often find myself stuck all night talking to someone like this, or more accurately listening and trying to get away politely.
My question is this – how does one extract oneself from conversations like this politely? I’m trying to meet new people, so I want to escape this type of guy without coming off like a rude bitch to everyone else who might be a potential friend. Actually I don’t want to be rude or nasty at all, since I’m guessing most of the time these people don’t realise what they’re doing, and are probably overcompensating for shyness. I used to talk too much myself, lecturing on some weird topic of interest to me oblivious to the interest level of my victims, so I do sympathise. I just don’t want to feel like I’m responsible for making their social experience a good one at the expense of my own.
Or, perhaps you or your commenters could suggest some things I might be doing wrong that attracts these people and makes me a target for their attentions in the first place? Can they smell my sympathy? It seriously happens a lot. And I’m thinking that social settings where people are all trying to make new friends and anyone can attend are going to have more than their fair share of the conversationally clueless. Doubly so because due to my generally more blokey hobbies I’m often one of the only women.
The woman trapped in the corner nodding and smiling
Dear Nodding and Smiling:
I feel like MANY people can relate to your question, so, thank you!
The classic exit strategy is a variation of “It’s been really nice talking to you” or “It was nice meeting you.”
If someone says that to you, you say: “Thanks, I enjoyed it too” and then you WRAP IT UP and MOVE AWAY because the conversation is OVER NOW.
You can combine that exit with a reason or a place you are going next. “You’ll have to excuse me, I spotted my friend across the room and I want to make sure I say hello/ask her a question/pass her the secret plans for our jewel-heist later. It’s been really nice talking with you, have a great night!“
Other reasons to leave:
- You need to feed the parking meter.
- You need to step outside to make a phone call.
- You need to get another drink.
- You need to visit the bathroom.
- You need to ask so-and-so a question.
- A blanket “I need to excuse myself for a moment” or “Please excuse me,” will do in a pinch. (People will assume you mean: “...to go to the bathroom,” but everyone poops so don’t worry about it.)
You can say “Maybe I’ll run into you later” or “Maybe we can pick up this discussion later” if you want to circle back to talk to them again.
Here are some more tips:
- Don’t worry if your reason is a white lie. You may not actually need to pee when you excuse yourself. That’s ok. Go to the rest room, wash your hands, collect yourself, and when you come out find yourself a new conversational partner.
- It’s not a question. You’re not asking permission to leave, you’re informing that you’re leaving. So state “So nice talking with you! I need to excuse myself. If I don’t talk to you later, enjoy the party” and then walk away.
- If the person doesn’t take the hint, you can escalate/interrupt. “I’m so sorry to cut you off, but I need to step away for a moment. Maybe we’ll pick this up later!” and then leave the area.
Should you run into your Close-talking Monopolizer again, you can be much more direct and assertive.
Start with: “I’m so sorry – I’ve enjoyed talking with you, but I also want to make sure I catch up with x, y, and z person. Please excuse me.” (Move away.)
If he follows you or talks over you once you’ve tried to end the conversation, he is giving you permission to be EXTREMELY direct.
“I’m sorry to cut you off, but I’m going to go talk to x & y now. I’ll see you next time, maybe.” (Move away).
“It’s great seeing you again, but I really want to circulate a bit and talk to some other people. Maybe catch you next time.” (Move away).
“______, did you realize that you’re talking over everyone? I really want to hear what X and Y were saying before you interrupted, thanks.”
“__________, did you mean to interrupt me? In answer to your question, _________.”
“__________, I’m sure you don’t realize it, but you’re standing a little too close for comfort. Why don’t you take a step back so that X and Y can join us.“
“_________, listen, I’ve tried several times to change the subject or gracefully end this conversation, but I feel like you’re not hearing or understanding me. I don’t want to be rude, but I’d like to bow out of this conversation now. Thank you.” (Move AWAY).
The other people in the group have very likely noticed how he behaves, so you won’t alienate everyone if you just say what you need nicely and directly. Treat the behavior like a well-intentioned mistake and ask him to correct it. If he doesn’t? If he keeps following/cornering/interrupting you? He’s not so well-intentioned and you don’t have to take care of his feelings. I don’t think it will come to that.