#336: Gracefully exiting from conversations.

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.

174 thoughts on “#336: Gracefully exiting from conversations.

  1. 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? …due to my generally more blokey hobbies I’m often one of the only women.

    Bingo. LW, I think it’s very unlikely that you’re sending out “I enjoy being isolated from a group and then talked at for hours on end” signals, except maybe that you are concerned about being rude and thus aren’t cutting people off when they do corner you. Instead, I suspect the issue stems from you being one of the only women at activities that tend to be male-dominated. That makes you a go-to person for any guy who wants to a) hit on women or b) thinks that women are more likely to enjoy being talked at for extended periods of time.

    That is *definitely* not a reason for you to stop enjoying male-dominated hobbies, just some reassurance that you are probably not doing anything to attract these people aside from existing as a lady. The Captain’s scripts are awesome and are all good ways to end a conversation without actually being rude, so go forth and meet new people and don’t be afraid to cut off the ones who monopolize the conversations!

    1. “Bingo. LW, I think it’s very unlikely that you’re sending out “I enjoy being isolated from a group and then talked at for hours on end” signals, ”

      Why not? I’ve seen it happen. Watched interactions between two people, or listened to half of a phone conversation, where one person is talking a lot and the other seems very interested, and then when the conversation finally ends the person I’m standing with makes some comment about not wanting to talk to that person or wanting to leave or something, and I’m like ‘huh? You sounded so interested. I was watching and I was convinced you were trying to draw them out and get them to talk more’.

      Maybe trying so hard not so seem unfriendly that they overcompensated? Because they really were being great, interested sounded listeners, and not giving any real ‘wrap it up’ cues or really doing anything noticeable but continuing the conversation. I don’t know if it’s the case here or not, since there are so many possible scenarios, but certainly it happens.

  2. Oh! There’s also the Conversational-Ninja moves that get the blitherer to extricate you themselves:
    – “You seem to know all the people here and I could use some introductions. Who should I meet?”
    – “I was just talking to X about this! Have you met X? S/he’s right over there! X, remember when we talked about [thing]!”

    Also, don’t get so hung up on being polite. Blithering endlessly at you is not polite on THEIR part, so while you want to uphold the social contract, it is the blitherer who broke it in the first place. Interrupt them. Stop them. Like you’d stop someone who had spinach in their teeth. “No, you’re right, but I just need to be out by [time] and I wanted to talk to everyone here a little bit. Thank you! [you-shaped dustcloud]”

    Actually, as an excuse, I find “I promised myself I’d try to talk to as many people as I could!” is great and multi-purpose. Your blitherer may be many things, but s/he can never be more than one person, and so face is saved all around.

    If all else fails, you can tell him “Je ne parle pas anglais. Pardon, ma grandmere est en flambe.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUd1BhokZq4

    1. “Also, don’t get so hung up on being polite. Blithering endlessly at you is not polite on THEIR part, so while you want to uphold the social contract, it is the blitherer who broke it in the first place. Interrupt them.”

      Yep, this. I have a friend who I love dearly but hogs conversations like there’s no tomorrow. I plumb depths of rudeness that would otherwise make me cringe interrupting him often mid-sentence and firmly changing the subject, and doing that has made me much more confident about doing the same with strangers. In a way, you’re doing them a favour (and you’re certainly doing the rest of the group a favour.. Nobody likes a conversation hog.

      1. I have a friend with whom I’ve learned this… he externalizes everything, so you get a full-on stream of consciousness as he thinks about what you’re saying. It’s a delicate business to do this without sounding condescending but he was fine with various groupfriends interrupting his interruptions with “Hold that thought, I want to finish what I was saying.”

        1. The external stream of consciousness? That’s often me, and no, I don’t mind at all when others stall my inner-gone-outer monologue in order to get a word in edgewise. In fact, I appreciate it because I don’t *want* to be a conversation hog, it’s just that my social anxiety tends to give me two settings when I’m on my own in new and uncomfortable situations: on or off. When I’m off, I am usually the one who gets trapped by the overtalker. When I’m on, and someone cuts in to let me know that I’ve overrun my conversational boundaries, sure that’s awkward, but that also makes me feel like I have permission to disengage from my anxiety and I will then actively attempt to engage my listening skills rather than my brain-to-mouth-make-words-now skills. Which are monumental. Sometimes I don’t know that I’m doing it until I get that external clue-by-four, other times I can stop myself on my own, still other times I realise what I’ve done later (much later) and marinate in the embarrassment.

    2. “Blithering endlessly at you is not polite on THEIR part, so while you want to uphold the social contract, it is the blitherer who broke it in the first place. Interrupt them.”

      BRB getting this tattooed on … I’m not sure. My face? My wrist? The insides of my eyelids so that I can never stop seeing it?

      1. As a Reformed Former Conversation Hog, I am grateful to the kind friends who said things to me like “Hey take a breath wouldja, I have a comment!”

        1. When my mother gets this way, I find interrupting with “Hey, did you know a conversation involves two people? Talking? TO each other?”

          But my family tends to the sarcastic.

    3. But what do you do if the person who’s cornered you is the president of Burundi?

      (Incidentally, my family’s traditional “bizarre excuse” comes from my previously-mentioned-here Awesome Grandma — “Sorry, I have a bone in my foot.” Said sweetly and politely, as if it’s a perfectly good reason that you wouldn’t be able to do whatever, which you would otherwise like to do.)

  3. It don’t matter what you say, most won’t hear it, anyway. Just smile and wave bye-bye as you step away.

    1. I don’t know, I tend to have good luck with “I’m going to mingle now and meet other people. See you on the other side!” and walk away. I always think people can understand wanting to have lots of conversations, and it doesn’t include lying or rejecting the first conversation partner.

  4. When I’m nervous or awkward, I talk. I am a talker. I hate when I feel like I’m monopolizing the conversation and the other person is just nodding and smiling and OH GOD WHY DON’T THEY JUST SAY SOMETHING, HOW CAN I AVOID THIS CONVERSATIONAL PIT OF DESPAIR? I SHOULD SAY I WANT ANOTHER DRINK. OH GOD NO, DON’T COME WITH ME. I SHOULD’VE SAID I NEEDED TO PEE.

    If the people monopolizing your conversations are well-intentioned, then ending your conversation might well be as much of a relief for them as for you.

    1. Yes! I’m sure some conversation monopolizers are just oblivious and happy to monopolize the conversation, but many people (myself included) talk when they’re nervous. When I’m not getting much of a response, I find myself just talking and talking out of nervousness. The end of one of those conversations is definitely a relief to both people.

    2. Yes, this exactly! I also talk when I am nervous. I try to ask questions and generally try to avoid being a conversation hog, but when meeting new people I often feel like I’m unintentionally putting on the “Tea & Strumpets” show. And I just-can’t-make-it-stop.

      I think that’s why Captain Awkward’s advice is always so great: everyone is awkward, so we should all feel comfortable being direct and assertive. It’s the only way to tackle the huge looming awkwardness that is everywhere.

    3. Yes, exactly! I can feel the inane grin stretching my face and I feel like they must see the panic in my eyes even as I’m babbling away and while I am totally relieved when the other person finally interrupts me, I spend the rest of the time feeling flushed and extra awkward, afraid to talk to someone new for fear of initiating a new stream of panicked over-sharing.

    4. Fellow nervous talker reporting for duty. I work very, very hard on reading body language and social cues, and often fail at this, so I am relieved when the other person can put the brakes on sometimes.

      1. Ditto, me. The worst is being highly attuned to body language/social cues in a given situation and STILL not being able to shaddup already. The come down from that can take me weeks; I think about how badly that other person seemed to want to get away from me and live the whole awful anxiety of the moment all over again.

        I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an introverted person approach me for conversation because I was also sitting off to the side quietly observing, only for them to discover the hard way I am Not Their People after all.

  5. I’m looking forward to hearing the suggestions people have –this is a problem I have, too.

    I’m also wondering, did the story of that guy on the bike trip sound creepy to anyone else or is it just me?

    1. Nope, not just you – I found myself thinking “Uh oh, we got a creeper” as I read it.

      1. Ditto. I didn’t want to make this another All About Creepers post, since we’ve already had some very great and thorough ones, but – yeah, setting off major alarm bells.

    2. Really creepy. And I think it’s useful to distinguish between more usual “how do I get out of long and awkward conversations at a party so I can meet people/hang out with friends/pee,” and seriously red flaggy behavior. LW, do not go on any bike rides with this guy where it’s just the two of you!

    3. Yeah, sounded like that to me too. Especially the “blocking other people from talking to the LW” thing.

    4. Super creepy. I may be a cold-hearted dalek, but isolating her from the group and refusing to respect attempts to join the group strikes me as really, really not okay, not just socially awkward.

    5. In context, he was only very slightly creepy. My gut feeling is oblivious – he was talk-over-man to everyone else he spoke to, so while I ended up feeling targeted, I suspect it’s because I was making more attempt to be polite to him than anyone else, and possibly the female-ness of me. I’m not planning to be alone with the guy any time soon (or ever), but I think he’s mainly just very socially clueless.

  6. This is EXTREMELY relevant to my interests. I’m another lady who’s always being lectured in the corner seemingly inescapably, and I think it’s because my midwestern parents taught me a bit too well to be “polite” to people who monopolize conversations. I have this weird bone-deep belief that if I do anything other than listen endlessly and act interested the whole time, I’m being rude.

    This question is a great reality-check for me that direct != impolite. If anyone said any of these example lines to me to exit a conversation I was having with them, I wouldn’t feel slighted in the slightest. And that’s because… absolutely zero of these scripts are rude. [Insert here the sound of the Oklahoman socially indoctrinated part of my brain imploding.] Realizing that makes me feel a lot more empowered to actually use these them and get out of that situation the next time it happens.

    1. if the person is so talk-overy that they don’t end the conversation for any of these scripts, they are either so unable to notice others that they won’t notice if you are rude, or they are deliberately overbearing.

      There is a very nice person in my family who cannot be interrupted by verbal or nonverbal communications. I spent 2 years of family gatherings being the LAST PERSON in the room with this person before I sucked it up and used the incredibly rude solution of just walking away while this person is still talking to me. This is what ever other member of the family said to do, but it was just so incredibly hurtful seeming, I couldn’t do it until I was about to fake an injury to skip a family gathering instead.

      They were right though; this person does not find this behavior rude as far as I can tell. My presence was actually not at all necessary to the monologues, person can continue to talk to me through the wall or the bathroom door or just switch audiences and tell the dog without even pausing.

      1. I think this is an important point! We should all aim to avoid rudeness, certainly, but that no longer applies when someone else has been rude. The other person has then broken the social contract, and it’s important and acceptable to stand up for yourself at that point.

      2. I used to work with a woman who would not stop talking for any reason, including when I had to leave so I wouldn’t be late for things like work meetings where I was the chair. I finally started saying “Hey, I simply must leave, or I will be late. BYE!” and then backing out the door and shutting the door pretty much in her face AS SHE WAS STILL TALKING. Sometimes I would here her talking to me from the other side of the door as I made my escape. She didn’t seem to think I was being rude–at the time, I almost wished she would think I was rude so she would stop seeking me out to talk to me. Didn’t work.

      3. I have a friend who is like this! I spent years on the phone going “No, I have to go now. No really. No, please, I have to go” and eventually developed a rule of “tell her once, then hang up as soon as she ignores it.” I was SURE I was going to get an immediate hurt callback, or something — but no! I’ve now been doing it for 15 years and as near as I can tell not only does it not bother her, but she has never noticed that I do it.

  7. I had someone (truthfully) say “actually, I just want to make sure I catch all of this conversation over here” to me the other day. This isn’t necessarily a severing of the interaction between the two of you, depending on the other conversation it might be open for both of you to join the circle.

    On the other end, I’ve also played around with open body language to try and signal to other people that you aren’t in a just-the-two-of-us-thanks conversation: opening out my feet so that they’re not just pointing at the person I’m talking with, angling my body to point slightly to the side of them to indicate a potential third space in the conversation, smiling at anyone who appears to be lurking nearby without their own conversational partners. Moving away from body language you can also just turn to such lurkers and say “hey, we’re talking about , oh and by the way my name is Suzy and this is Brian.” But this of course only works if you fundamentally want the conversation to continue, just with more participants. It seems like the LW more wants active escapes (especially from monologue cornering dude, eugh, I don’t think a third person would help there!) but including extra people in a conversation is sometimes useful too.

    1. Speaking of body language – I find that eye contact is incredibly powerful, too, in derailing a monologue (or continuing it). I have a rather… interrupty… group of friends, and I’ve noticed several times when there are two people talking to me, the one with whom I make eye contact is the one who continues talking. It works nearly every time.

      It *almost* feels rude, because you have to essentially ignore one person in favor of the other – but it was more rude to interrupt or monopolize the conversation in the first place, so it’s not really my job to be polite to the interrupter. Or the monopolizer. Especially if someone else has something more interesting to say.

  8. A sometimes coworker of mine is amazing at extricating himself from conversations. He has this move I am trying to emulate when I get stuck where he starts wrapping it up while moving away. I don’t know why that works so well, but it does. It’s sort of, “So busy, stuff to do, wish I could talk but I can’t” without words. I suggest you try that- moving physically while employing one of the Captain’s scripts. Not even just necessarily to the bathroom, but just away- even a few feet. Then immediately start talking to someone else.

    If the person follows, as both Captain Awkward and Commander Logic have said, they are most definitely crossing the channel from the Land of the Harmlessly Clueless to Rude Meadows. At this point, you would not be amiss to respond to their next statement with a curt, “I see,” before turning back to your potential new friend.

    P.S. Not to make assumptions, but it sounds like that guy at least was trying to Claim You As His Own in a date-y way, which makes him extra churlish since you were clearly not interested.

    1. P.S. Not to make assumptions, but it sounds like that guy at least was trying to Claim You As His Own in a date-y way, which makes him extra churlish since you were clearly not interested.

      I was thinking the same thing, especially since LW said that she is often one of the only women participating in her chosen hobbies. He may be a terrible flirt who’s trying to hard to draw her attention, but that still does not excuse his behavior!

    2. This is SUCH an important skill.

      My mom is one of those people who always gets drawn into conversations with Talkers who Want To Talk, for a long time. She’s going for a walk on the street and a neighbor is driving by and stops to say hi and then there’s a five minute conversation (at least) in the middle of the street!

      It has been my goal for a while to get her to understand the “oh hi so nice to see you!” with the continued walking, including the patented “Oh Hi” While Walking Backwards To Face You But Still Walking Away.

      Stopping to talk to someone signals that you want to stop and talk to them! If you do not desire a conversation, keep moving. There’s no guarantee here, but generally stopping is interpreted as “I’d like to talk to you!” and moving signals “hey I like you but gotta go!”

      It’s definitely harder when you’re on a group bike ride and the guy apparently stops to talk to you every time, but in such a case I’d suggest actually dismounting your bike (not just straddling it) and walking it to somewhere else. Creating actual distance is a very useful tool in signaling “I’m not interested in an intimate conversation right now thanks!” without actually saying so in words. Obviously some people actually need words for real (see the Cap’n’s advice) but most people will understand the creation of space as a way of exiting a conversation gracefully and not even make a deal about it.

  9. THANK YOU for asking this great question, LW, and for offering such great and specific advice, Captain!

    At social minglers, I find that a quiet but firm “Excuse me”, said with a smile, often works just fine. Sometimes I’ll follow with “I need a glass of water” or “I need to use the restroom”, but often just those two words are enough to end a conversation that I’m no longer interested in.

    If I’m at a more activity-focused event (I am a member of a few rock climbing Meetup groups, for instance), where “Excuse me” is sometimes not quite as feasible, I find that redirecting my attention to cheer on a fellow climber can help break up a conversation, or even just drifting off into silence and breaking eye contact to admire the scenery.

  10. Some peeps are prone to approach a conversation more as taking turns exchanging stories/rants/anecdotes rather than a constant back-and-forth. Being one myself, I’m don’t really mind someone brusquely interrupting me if I lose myself relegating something.

    For the boundary-breaking buttheads, “do you know that awkward feeling when you’re the last one exiting a conversation?” followed by simply walking away is a pretty good method to get rid off ’em.

  11. Definitely don’t be afraid to be direct! People who are nice people you want to be around will be horrified or embarrassed they have made you uncomfortable or made a social gaffe, and they will correct their behaviour. People you don’t want to be around will get defensive or nasty or ignore your expressed wishes not to be spat upon by an over-excited elocutioner.
    Anecdote time! My sister’s partner is a very nice gentleman, but he is also a very brainy chap who likes to explain things to people. Sometimes, therefore, he becomes a Man Who Explains Things At Ladies. And he finds me baffling and challenging because I do not take well at being Explained At. But! I say “If we are going to continue to discuss the Julian Assange rape charges, I need you to take two large steps backwards so you are not boxing me into a corner and towering over me, and stop interrupting me with your assumptions about the behaviour of rape victims, and also be less shouty.” And he goes, “Shit, sorry,” backs up, sits down, and conducts a conversation instead of a lecture.

    1. ❤ !

      I wish I had the on-the-spot confident articulateness to say something like that. I'm thinking about making this C.A. post & the comments into flashcards to memorize.

  12. Great advice! There’s a borderline-Creepy Dude in one of my friend groups that is terrible about dominating conversations. He once managed to literally corner me – at my own party, even! – for a good 2 hours. So when I’m not just plain avoiding him, I’ve been trying out lines like these to see which work. One that works well for me (just used it the other night) is “Okay, I’m going to let you go now so you can catch up with some of the other folks. See ya! ::walk away before zie can follow you::”, said in an upbeat and friendly tone. It turns it around a bit by making it sound like you’re the one who’s obliging hir by giving hir a way out. It kind of indirectly acknowledges the talking-too-much dynamic, but takes the blame instead of placing it, and so avoids being impolite.

    Good luck!

    1. I was going to offer variants of the same: “I shouldn’t monopolize your time!” or “I should probably mingle,” (making it sound like you regret this social obligation to interact with people other than him).

      Also, for when you’ve tried a couple of the softer evasions, I think it’s legit to say “I’m sorry, but I’m feeling a little talked at here. I think I’d like to take a break.”

      1. Most definitely: “Nice talking to you, but I really need to force myself to mingle” has gotten me out of some trickier ones.

      1. I get that this is a generally accepted polite way to end conversations, but it drives me crazy! My husband used to say this all the time and finally I was like “dude, you’re not ‘letting’ me do anything. I would have already ended the convo if I wanted out. Just say you need to leave/get off the phone/whatever”. That could just be my weirdness, though.

        I usually just say, “ok, I’m going to go now” if the “I’m ready to wrap this conversation up” tone of voice thing doesn’t work.

        1. I’d say it depends very much on your relationship with the Talking Too Much. I suppose you feel comfortable to be honest with your husband and vice versa. But when you’ve got a case of the creepy dude, I don’t think you have to take into account if it’s either honest or nice…

          1. I absolutely agree that if you’re in a creepy situation, just do whatever you gotta do to gtfo out of there, for sure. And maybe protecting their feelings might be best for your personal safety in the moment, so do what your instincts tell you.

            BUT, in my own experience, saying “well, I should really let you go” rarely works with clueless OR creepy people! They just come back with “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m enjoying the conversation. So, as I was saying…” And I never know if they’re being creepy boundary-pushers or just clueless over-talkers, having been on the receiving end of a “I don’t want to monopolize your time!” type comment or two that have been said sincerely by people who were concerned about their own potential rambling rather than people trying to end a conversation.

            I think making it about your own issues (even made up ones, like having to pee or needing to talk to that guy WAAAY over there) gives the clueless a clear sign that you want to end the conversation and clearly identifies the creepers for who they are. Which I find useful information, especially in a new group.

          2. That’s a good point, so to get around it I say some variation on “I’ll let you go now” while actually walking away. So by the time zie says “oh, don’t worry about it!,” you’re already 5 feet away and “didn’t hear”.

            Also, I agree that overtalking borderline-Creepy Dudes don’t always deserve politeness. But in this case, this Overtalking Borderline Creepy Dude is also a colleague. We work together in a rather small office, and he’s higher ranked than me. So…yeah. I try to stay polite most of the time, saving my direct / rude comments for when I catch him doing something actually creepy. Which, I hope, also has the added bonus of giving my rare rude comments more power when they’re actually needed, as he might actually listen.

            So, to clarify, this method is not right for every Overtalker Encounter, especially Creepy Overtalker Encounters, but I find it works well for encounters where politeness is necessary, for Reasons.

    2. Good point that while not all overtalkers and blitherers are creepy, a lot of creepy guys also do the corner-and-don’t-stop-talking-plus-overtalk-and-interrupt thing, which totally gives you even more ammunition to turn around and walk away, imho.

    3. If you are the host of an event, you have the responsibility to tend to all your guests, so borderline-Creepy Dude was WAY out of line. Dang! I know I’ve been at parties and been catching up with my good friend the host and then I’ve stopped myself and said, “But don’t let me keep you from your cousins…I know your time with them is limited/just point me toward the kitchen, and I’ll be fine/did you need me to check on the bouncy castle for you?”

      As the hostess, I say things like, “Well, great! I just wanted to check in and see if you needed anything! So you’re having fun? Everyone has enough food and drink? Can I get anyone anything? OK, then, I know you’ll excuse me while I tend to my other guests/check on the barbeque/make sure none of the kids have fallen out of the tree house!”

      I think having an air of cheerful determination can assist in extricating yourself from conversations.

    4. ” It turns it around a bit by making it sound like you’re the one who’s obliging hir by giving hir a way out. It kind of indirectly acknowledges the talking-too-much dynamic, but takes the blame instead of placing it, and so avoids being impolite. ”

      Perhaps I am about to place myself in the camp of the Terminally Clueless, but you don’t learn if you don’t ask.

      Why, pray tell, is it rude to politely point out someone else’s rudeness?
      Someone is rude (but not crude) to me, and I want it to stop, buy I am somehow not allowed to politely say, I don’t like what you’re doing. Huh?
      Crude and rude is more of a danger sign and seems to give me permission to be as rude as I would like.

      1. I’m with you on this. I actually kind of dislike the premise of this question, that it is necessarily desirable to exit unwanted conversations “gracefully.” I mean, yes — if someone is just a little clueless or rambling, one doesn’t want to go all rude and shut-uppy on them, one just wants to extricate oneself. And this thread does give plenty of good suggestions for exit-lines, which is great.

        At the same time, “gracefully” is such a girl-word. It makes me think of how women are trained to be polite, to not make a fuss, to worry about offending people all the time, to the point that we fail to challenge people who touch us without permission, don’t call guys on staring at our boobs instead of our faces, second-guess the creep’s scary intentions until he does something that is incontrovertibly creepy — like following us out to the car and assaulting us. Et cetera.

        I’m all for men and women alike being tactful and considerate as a default setting; it’s certainly mine. But when someone crosses the line, like the guy on the bike trip, to hell with being polite, much less “graceful.” The only things holding you back from telling a guy like that to leave you the fuck alone should be considerations of personal safety. Get yourself a posse or the trip leader and THEN tell him leave you the fuck alone.

        And I think that in the in-between zone, between the clearly nice but clueless person who deserves your courtesy and gentle handling (and presumably will go along with your attempt to extricate), and the creeps, there should be gradations of increasing directness depending on how far outside social norms their attempts to commandeer your attention have been and *why* the subtler attempt to extricate yourself haven’t been working

        Especially if your gender/vulnerability and/or the other person’s attitude of entitlement to your attention is at play, or if the other person makes you feel like you are literally trapped in conversation with them, I’m all in favor of blunt and scene-making and calling in reinforcements as needed.

        1. I can be a clueless talker with poor face/body language reading skills if we’re talking about something I really like. I have accidentally cornered people to talk at them. I’ve had them be rude to get away from me. It doesn’t hurt my feelings once I work out what happened. I was crowding, and if I didn’t pick up on cues to let the other person go, they are TOTALLY RIGHT to be rude! Sometimes politeness doesn’t work, because I am a dumb dumb at body language and tone and SO ENTHUSED I forget to check in with the other person. Plus I always feel like a jerk after.

          People who are genuinely not assholes will feel bad when they realise they’ve been crowding someone. They will not hold a grudge because you, the crowd-ee, were not the paragon of politeness in your attempts to get away. I just really like to talk about Doctor Who.

        2. I’m coming round to the problem with “gracefully” actually. I think I really knew already that the answer is sometimes, just be blunt, but I’m so habituated to try to uphold social harmony that when other people basically give me a choice between doing something I don’t want, and being disharmonious I often choose doing the thing I don’t want for way too long (conversationally anyway).

          In the example I gave the problem-guy was not anywhere near so bad that I actually felt unsafe or in real need of assistance to get rid of him – he never tried to actually physically get me alone, he was blocking me socially by standing between me and other people. He didn’t touch me, or ask me for anything (except my listening of course). Didn’t ask for my contact details or propose meeting separately. Annoying, yes. Borderline creepy, such that I am wary of him, yes. Leap to defcon 1 and summon the cavalry, no. If I had bluntly told him to go away, rather than just implied it vaguely with body language, then yes, cavalry.

          1. The thing is, the problem guy may not have made you frightened for your physical safety. But he ruined that day for you by persistently encroaching. To some extent, you are doing the victim-blaming thing, saying it was your own fault for not being blunt enough about your desire that he go away. But the guy had to keep moving to stay between you and other people, because you kept moving away! It wasn’t that he didn’t know you wished he would go away and stop monopolizing you, it was that he didn’t care.

            On another thread, on the body language issue, someone said that when she reacted to unwanted attention by cringing into herself, making herself small and putting out “you’re making me uncomfortable” vibes, guys were “bad at reading body language” (i.e., they kept hitting on her). But when she started putting out more of a (slightly belligerent) “don’t mess with me ’cause I’m perfectly willing to make a scene” vibe, they miraculously acquired some skill — because the consequence of ignoring her request-by-body-language was no longer just that the woman would be miserable, but that *they* would be embarrassed.

            I’m not blaming you for putting out the wrong vibe — I’m saying don’t make the “he probably didn’t know how much I wanted him to leave me alone” excuse on his behalf, because it’s bullshit.

            And I *am* suggesting you may want to change the vibe you put out — not because “please leave me alone you’re making me uncomfortable” *shouldn’t* be effective, but because it too often isn’t.

            In Tae Kwon Do (not my thing, but a friend’s thing), they specifically want you to grunt while you punch, kick, whatever — and I gather for women especially, it can be strangely freeing to make an angry noise. I can’t help thinking that if you embrace disharmony — decide that no one you want to be friends with, anyway, is going to have a problem with you standing up for yourself, so you may as well find out who’s who by raising your voice and telling the guy to back off, and seeing what happens — you will find it similarly empowering.

            Though — sigh — you should only do that when you’d be safe from backlash. You’ve gotta use your judgment on that. No victim blaming when that doesn’t feel like the way to go, either.

        3. I actually kind of dislike the premise of this question, that it is necessarily desirable to exit unwanted conversations “gracefully.” … At the same time, “gracefully” is such a girl-word. It makes me think of how women are trained to be polite…

          Alpha Kitty, you said this this so much better than I did. Have some virtual Kitty treats, on me 🙂

      2. The problem is “politely”–it is nearly impossible to politely say, “You’re being rude” to someone who isn’t your minor child. It’s a public rebuke. I wouldn’t shout, “Yo, buddy, your fly’s unzipped,” across a room, or announce to the table at a dinner party, “Look, Sharon’s got spinach in her teeth.” This is in the same category–briefly personally humiliating for the talker. If we were acquaintances chatting at a party and you said, “You’ve been talking for twenty minutes. When do I get a turn to talk?” (as in your example below) you’re calling me out in public as a boor. Whether or not it’s true, it’s going to leave me feeling either sad or angry, and I will either slink away as quietly as possible and avoid you for the remainder of my natural life, or I’ll turn bright red and fail to think of something cutting to say, upon which I will slink away as quietly as possible and avoid you for the rest of my natural life.

        Of course, if you’re my close friend or my partner, that sort of calling-out is probably going to make me laugh and say, “Okay, I’m shutting up. What do you want to tell me?”

        The problem is that most people are prone to be boors (and/or bores) when caught up in enthusiasm for something. When you offer the fig-leaf of “Must let you go to mingle!”, it’s a gesture of good will. You’re saying, “This was awkward, but hey, it’s still nice to have met you, and I don’t think you’re socially irredeemable.” I will still be kicking myself for nervous chattering, but now I don’t have to duck into the nearest closet every time I see you coming.

        People who don’t get the polite brush-off are the ones to speak to bluntly, or people who are deliberately violating social codes in order to put you in a spot. (LW’s guy is in one of these two categories.)

        1. Yeah, I agree with this. There a lot of different ways to tell someone nicely that you want to end a conversation (or that you don’t want to end it but want them to stop talking so you can tell them story or something). But I do think 99% of the time it’s well worth trying to find a way to do it that somehow sends a reassuring friendly message at the same time. Because it is SO incredibly humiliating to be publicly ‘corrected’ for something, and it’s very rarely appropriate to actually ‘correct’ other people who aren’t small children you’re in charge of (one big exception is if they’re making someone feel unsafe).

          It’s nearly always better to give the message that you simply want to go now, rather than the message that another person is ‘obviously’ being boorish. It might be more round-about (I’ll let you go) it might be more casual and direct (so great talking to you, now I see someone I haven’t talked to in a bit so I’m going go over talk to them, bye), but it does make such a difference.

          “You’re saying, “This was awkward, but hey, it’s still nice to have met you, and I don’t think you’re socially irredeemable.” I will still be kicking myself for nervous chattering, but now I don’t have to duck into the nearest closet every time I see you coming.”

          1. Ah, I see our disconnect! By the time I get to a direct statement of ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘Do you realize you’ve been doing X’ I’ve already done the indirect hints a few times. It didn’t take, or I wouldn’t need to be so direct!
            But it seemed that a lot of people were advocating indirect, indirect, indirect, oops, gotta go, which also sidesteps a resolution, and just sets one up for another round of aggravation. again and again and again and oops, gotta go!

          2. Personally I think you can be very direct without making it about them. ‘I’m going to go speak to some other people now’ is pretty direct; so is ‘Nice talking to you, bye now!’, and either can be said with a friendly smile and immediately followed by walking purposefully away. But they keep the focus on what YOU want rather than on the other person.

      3. Um… Because Miss Manners says so? I guess? I mean, she does say so, and I it seems right to me, but I don’t know if that’s just because I grew up reading her books.

        I think part of it is about not putting someone on the defensive, and also the Captain’s excellent theme that you can’t change people, you can just change what they do AROUND YOU. So if you say “don’t let me keep you” you aren’t challenging their identity or even their behaviour, you’re just ending that interaction in a way that lets them save face.

        Part of it is also about the fact that rules _are_ context-dependent, and something that’s rude in one situation might be fine in another.

        If you have a friend who has a tendency to try to stick their spoon in your nose every time you have dessert together, you can say, “Hey, dude, what’s wrong with you?!? Sticking spoons up people’s noses is gross and rude and weird! Don’t do that!” but what if it turns out that where they’re from, spoon-up-nose is just a normal way to show affection? And then you’ve a) surprised and upset them by having an entirely unexpected response to their affection, b) made what they believe to be blatantly false statements, and c) insulted a part of their identity that they hadn’t even thought about before. They will probably not react well. But if you say, “Hey, dude, I really don’t like when people stick spoons up my nose. Can you please not do that to me?” Then you’re only talking about the thing you’re undeniably an expert on (your own preferences) and not making any sweeping statements or assumptions about their culture, intentions, or whatever.

        1. Haha, love your example! With no offense intended to those who use ‘spoons’ as a symbol of energy levels. Here’s my extension of your example.

          friend: *Sticks spoon in my nose*
          me: ‘Hey, friend, do you realize you’ve just stuck your spoon in my nose, for the n-th time?’
          friend: ‘Yes, it’s the Lovecraftian friendship ritual! Fun, huh?’
          me: ‘Not so much. Could we not do that anymore?’
          friend: ‘But it’s all in friendship!’
          me: ‘But I really don’t like it. / It makes me uncomfortable / It hurts. / It gave me a nosebleed and the stains don’t come out of my shirt. Can we stop?
          (repeat if necessary, staying calm and polite)

          All polite, and the unpleasant behavior stops. I do assume we’re talking about ‘unpleasant’ and not threatening behavior, yes?

          As opposed to the friend getting really really angry that you don’t appreciate zir friendly gesture. Then maybe I don’t want to be a spoon-related situation with this person, and if there are other anger or aggression issues, maybe zie will become a former friend.

      4. It’s not necessarily rude to politely point out someone else’s rudeness. It’s just very hard to do, since, according to the rules of politeness:

        * Being rude is bad (duh).
        * Making people feel embarrassed is rude, thus bad.
        * Pointing out someone’s rudeness means pointing out they did something bad, which will (or should) embarrass them, making it rude, thus bad.

        (Or maybe these are more like the rules of niceness? Same things going on, in any case.)

        So the most polite thing to do is usually to pretend the rudeness didn’t happen and assume no ill intentions (which ties into what Jake said). After all, politeness exists to keep us from fighting all the time. Assuming ill intentions is an insult, although it may of course be true.

        This makes things difficult for people who don’t realize they are being rude to clue in on the fact that they ARE rude, of course, since nobody will tell them. The more clue-gifted will take a hint in the form of a gentle compromise such as the one above (-“I’m going to let you go now.” -“But I wasn’t going anywh- Oh, right.”), but the genuinely clueless-but-well-meaning probably won’t. Those have to be informed directly, but it’s still more face-saving to tell them discreetly.

        And then there are those who may or may not get it, but don’t care. They take advantage of other people’s polite assumptions of good intentions, so you HAVE to be rude to get away from them. Or exceptional at politeness judo, I suppose.

      5. Of course you’re allowed to indicate that you don’t like what someone is doing, but you can do it without telling someone they’re being rude (thinking it is totally fine, of course!) Jake’s got a really good example of the difference in methods.

        I don’t remember if Miss Manners has said this explicitly or if I’m inferring it, but I believe the main reason to not tell others their behavior is rude is that that’s something adults have the right to do with children under their charge, as part of the process of raising them to be adults. To do it to another adult thus implies that you’re not equals, but an adult and a child, so is a rude response to rudeness. Miss Manners is all about the polite smackdown instead.

        So, it’s really not the fact of ending the conversation that may or may not be rude, it’s the method.

      6. Sylvia, I think it depends on the context. In the LWs case I think a direct response is perfectly warranted. But in my case, I was dealing with a higher-ranked colleague from a small office. Plus, my strategy with him is to save my direct/rude responses for when I catch him being actually creepy, which (hopefully) gives those call-outs more weight.

        I’m not saying you have to be polite every time, but there are some times where it’s a better route.

      7. One problem with not being “graceful” about it is that the people who aren’t just socially clueless are often really aggro when you extract yourself from being their audience/fake date/silent pedestaled love interest.

        it’s like the dude who tells you “Smile beautiful!” on the bus and then if you don’t respond with a smile is all “Fuck you!” only usually there’s a more gradual ramp-up.

      8. “Someone is rude (but not crude) to me, and I want it to stop, buy I am somehow not allowed to politely say, I don’t like what you’re doing. Huh?”

        IMO, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing’ and ‘what you’re doing is rude’ are two entirely and completely different statements.

    5. “I’m going to let you go now, I’ve got [thing] to tend to,” is my mom’s go to phrase when trying to get rid of her chatty sister during a too long phone convo. Sadly, it often leads to another 15 minutes of talking, but it at least heralds the beginning of the end.

  13. I work regularly on set with a crew member who has a blithering problem and another crew member grabbed me a few weeks ago and asked me how I managed to never get caught in conversations with her. For me, on set, it’s easy – I’m always carrying something or moving something or checking something, so whenever she starts up, I’m generally in the middle of a job and will hold up the object or indicate the direction I’m heading, smile politely and walk away while she’s in the middle of a sentence.

    I’ve found that most blitherers, as well as not understanding/not wanting to understand the right times for speaking and listening in conversation, don’t really take offence if you don’t obey those rules either and it’s more a matter of getting over your own ‘I have to be polite and a good listener at all times’ urge rather than getting them to change their behaviour.

    It’s very possible that as you’re joining new groups, everyone else in the group has already passed this point with the blitherer and you’re the target because no one else will put up with it. Our crew member blitherer has dropped back on catching me because she knows on some level there’s no audience for her there anymore. So if other people see you walking away mid sentence or cutting across the blitherer to talk to someone else, it’s likely they won’t think you a rude bitch because they’ve done it themselves.

    1. “It’s very possible that as you’re joining new groups, everyone else in the group has already passed this point with the blitherer and you’re the target because no one else will put up with it.”

      Exactly, LW may be the target because she is new and the blitherer knows that LW doesn’t know him very well yet. Maybe he can charm her now (of course, not realizing that he’s doing the exact opposite), so that she will be the one new person in the group who likes him.

      After doing all of the above suggetions, LW will get to know more people in the group and it will be much easier to be already engaged in a conversation when the blitherer walks up. Also, chances are more new people will join the group eventually, giving blitherer a new audience. Then LW just has to ask herself if she wants to warn the newcomers.

  14. Oh, and of course there’s enlisting aid. On something like that biking trip, where he was repeatedly cornering you every time you weren’t actually making the wheels go ’round and ’round, I would suggest letting someone know that “that guy” is driving you crazy, and could they please help you seem unavailable for conversation and/or rescue with a “would you show me the___?” kind of line if he traps you again. It could even be an ice-breaker with someone else. Because when it’s that egregious, you’re not the only one it has happened to.

  15. And sometimes, you don’t have a choice but to be rude.

    Anecdote: I was at a conference last year, the major conference in my subject area (big deal for academics) and I’ve gone enough times I have a few “conference buddies” who are people I only get to see in person at these events. So I’m chatting happily with my one friend I haven’t seen in over a year and this woman walks up to us and begins speaking loudly at us, insisting that we respond to her and then asking really point blank questions, totally disrupting our conversation. We tried several times to do the polite-but-vague answer and shift away, and she freakin followed us. My friend managed to slip away and I got caught for a couple minutes and I finally said “Well, I should go make the rounds” and the blitherer got mad at me and told me I was totally rude and then continued muttering at my back as I walked away.

    Talk about not upholding the social contract. Sheesh.

    Obviously many blitherers are not like this, but when they are? You’re allowed to walk away and hope by pissing them off you don’t have to endure them any more.

    1. Wow. That person. Wow.

      Learning that the reward you get for pissing off people whose company you don’t want is that they stop wanting your company too was one of the most liberating things for me. Yes, you may think I’m a bitch. That is fine. As long as you do it somewhere that’s AWAY.

      1. I so agree! All the efforts at politely-but-directly getting away from blitherers/monopolisers/overbearing types are fine if you don’t mind encountering them again … but what LW’s letter and the replies had me thinking was, “I wouldn’t WANT this bloke in my vicinity, ever again, he sounds borderline creeper”. All that hanging around and physically cutting her off or dominating her had my alarm bells going.

        Whoot! My kitty gravatar has migrated! 🙂

  16. Not that I would ever do something nefarious and sneaky like this, but I have heard that one way out of such a conversation is to go, “Oh! Hey, I just saw someone you really have to meet [who is a fucken douche just like you]!”, drag the person over, make the introductions, and then be all like, “While you two get to know one another, I’m gonna go freshen my drink!”

    1. Actually, a great way to escape when there is an overtalker who you know pretty well (such as a coworker) is to get them to tell a story to someone else. As in, “Oh hey, there’s Laura! Laura, have you heard Fred’s story about having breakfast with a sasquatch? Fred, you wouldn’t mind telling Laura, would you?” It’s kind of evil but I have used it successfully. Plus, you know all of Fred’s stories by this point because he is always talking at you. 🙂

      1. Something to do to enemies only, lol! I did that to a friend in college once. She made me pay! 😀

      2. Oh man, my Grampa was a One Subject Kind of Dude and would completely talk over everyone, plus he was SO GODDAMN OLD that you felt mean and rude interrupting him, so we would always foist him on the New Guy. “Hello, shiny new grandson-in-law, Grampa has the best story for you! I’m going to get some pie.

        I’m taking my Gentleman Caller home to meet the family this fall and am feeling sad I won’t be able to play “Hi Grampa. Look, A New Guy!” game anymore.

        1. Urgh urgh urgh

          Had a phone customer calling me DARLING every sentence just before … and doing the wounded “I”m seventy years old” thing when I said, “Sir, please don’t call me that.”

          Sorry. Venting derail.

        2. I’m assuming this was the same Grampa with the sparkly gifs and cranky old-man-internet ranting, yeah?

          Aw, now you’re making me miss MY Grandpa, with his loud off-key dinner table renditions of “Clementine” at inappropriate times.

        3. My grandfather was a cantankerous old Greek man who dressed like Nucky Thompson in winter and summer, and delivered the same series of lectures to every new (younger) person he met: Drink your milk! Don’t smoke cigarettes or do those drugs like the people of today! Go to church! When you grow up, you should be a doctor AND a lawyer!

          So of course, whenever someone new came to a family event, one of my cousins or I would ask the newcomer whether they were having milk, smoked or what they were studying in school within Grandpa’s earshot, and then we’d sit back and giggle. It was like a family hazing ritual.

    2. This is a good way to extract yourself from conversations even with someone who isn’t douchey but just not getting the hint. Sometimes people who are socially anxious keep talking to the same person because when that conversation ends, they’ll be back to standing by themselves feeling awkward & self-conscious while trying to figure out how to break into one of the other conversations in the room (um, I read that somewhere). They might actually appreciate if you end the conversation by introducing them to someone else.

      1. +1 YES, this is part of the reason why I sometimes won’t approach people at social gatherings at all. I’m afraid they’re going to bob and weave out of there and I’ll be left standing in the middle of the room mid-sentence with a virtual “This Person Is Weird – Avoid Eye Contact and Keep Moving” sign on my forehead. Social anxiety sucks, ya’ll.

        This is not to say that anyone should be forced to talk to someone who makes them uncomfortable, though, even me!

        1. Me too. Combined with the knowledge that I am Not Good at small talk and can accidentally be a crowder–though, actually, the more I read this thread the more I’m questioning if I’m terrible after all. I am not even ranking compared to some of these horror stories.

  17. Oh wow, I wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago. I used to live in a house with a resident, fairly elderly landlady who was a total blitherer. I’d get trapped for like at least twenty minutes every time I paid the rent. Weekly.

    I moved. Not solely for that reason but man, it was AWESOME not to have to have to dread getting trapped in conversation on the stairs.

    I didn’t know I was allowed to say “It was lovely chatting, I’m tired now, goodnight!” It would have just felt rude.

    *exhale* God, she was awful. You know how you sometimes can’t admit how awful people are at the time? I was trying really hard to Be Responsible For My Own Feelings of total irritation and Acknowledge It’s Her Washing Machine, She Has Every Right to Dictate the Load Sizes, and be all Hey I Genuinely Am Quite Untidy, I Should Take Responsibility For That and She Is Basically Quite Well-Meaning and other mature shit and just wasn’t letting myself think Jesus Christ, This Woman is Completely Unbearable, I Hope She Dies in a Fire (Which Will Be Her Own Damn Fault Because Her Control Freak Door Locking System is a Fire Hazard.)

    Anyway. Sorry for the tangent. I liked this post a lot.

  18. Sometimes you DO have to be rude. I’ve run into a few people (former landlord, some people at work) where you have no choice but to shut the door/walk away while they are in the MIDDLE of a sentence, because there is no end to the sentence.

    So the part where you said, “Actually I don’t want to be rude or nasty at all…” well, you never have to be nasty, but you do have to do stuff that will FEEL rude at the time (but is actually just direct and having good boundaries once you get used to it.) Body language doesn’t always work; sometimes to shut people down you just have to shut the door in their face. (Thinking of former landlord here. Also the co-worker who would follow me to my car, talking all the while, and I had to just interrupt him with “Bye!”, shut the car door, and drive off.) Sad but true.

    At a party I have been known to use “I’m sorry, but I have to have a private conversation with X for a minute about private Z topic. I’ll talk to you later.”

    1. It gets like that at work. I’m in a bookshop where there is other work involved (I mean, not selling books) as well, and sometimes we get blitherers/wheel kickers who go on and on and on … it really gets to the point where one has to say “I”m sorry, but I have work to do.” Easier for me because I work in the back office, but trickier for my colleague who’s more front-of-house (not to mention younger and not at all good at asserting himself with customers).

  19. Do you have a friend you can role play and practice your exits with? This will allow you to get comfortable with some phrases which won’t be as hard to put into practice when the time comes!

    1. Such a good idea! Hard to believe how truly useful this is until you’ve tried it. 🙂

    2. In order to exit, you will have to create your own opportunity, rather than wait for an opportunity. This means you will probably need to interrupt. So go into your practice session specifically working on interrupting. The good thing about interrupting, is that every moment is an opportune moment, so you don’t have to worry about timing! 🙂

      It will get easier!

    3. I third this. Sometimes you don’t even need a friend to practice with, if you feel awkward asking. For some reason when I’m washing the dishes is the time when I replay conversations and practice what I’ll say next time. (Maybe the running water makes me feel less weird about not only talking to myself, but repeating the same thing over and over?)

      I have an offensive coworker/higher-position-not-technically-my-boss-but-still-can-ask-me-to-do-stuff who makes offensive jokes, and this past Friday I said “Wow, that’s not funny,” like a champ due to practicing ahead of time.

        1. I think I might feel awesome? It was actually terrifying to stand up to an authority figure (dude is twice my age, tall, bald) and since it happened as I was leaving on a Friday I was freaking out all weekend and preparing my “right to a non-hostile work environment” speech to casserole dishes with enchilada sauce and cheese caked onto them. Which I didn’t need because Monday morning he acted like nothing happened.

          The practicing really helped a lot though. That and the fact I wasn’t defending myself but my husband’s demographic. It came out sounding calm and matter of fact, even though my hands were shaking on the ride home.

          1. Glad it went well in the end! Hope the next time is easier.

            Also I’m very happy it’s not just me who runs/practices difficult conversations while washing up. I think it’s something to do with keeping your hands busy?

  20. I have nothing useful to add to the advice on how to deal with someone overtalking you personally, but I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people who already know an overtalker to call them on it (as politely as you like, although personally I come down firmly on the side of it being reasonable to be rude to someone who’s being rude to others) when they’re overtalking other people in a group.

    A community center I’m sometimes involved with has a monthly Women’s Welcoming Committee. I used to go sometimes. There’s a woman who shows up to it regularly who’s a notorious overtalker. I could always hold my own with her in one-on-one or small group conversation, so I didn’t worry about it personally, but in a group that’s specifically set up to welcome new people it becomes a problem. At one WWC meetup, though, I watched her talk over two or three people several times each, pretty much any time they opened their mouths. (One of them was my girlfriend.) Finally, I cut her off with, “X, Y was talking. That’s the third time you’ve cut her off. Could you please let her talk?” She huffed about it — but she stopped.

    1. Good advice. If the overtalker is a friend, they will (hopefully) understand your good intentions. It helps when you like them and see that they have other good qualities.

      Back in college I had a friend who monologued and talked over me all the time. I went with it until I went through a rough patch and my tolerance for such things plummeted. When I started pushing back, she made an effort to reform. I feel a little chagrinned now about being harsh in some of my responses, because she was genuinely awful at reading social cues. If I’d known about mindblindness back then, I might have been more gentle. On the other hand, I was one of the only people who told her directly that specific things she did bugged me — most everyone else just learned to avoid her — so I think she appreciated my efforts.

  21. Because it sounds like you’re in new communities, I’m going to add the phrase, “Excuse me, I really wanted to talk to Angela about aluminum bike frames [or whatever]” Especially in an activity-orientated community, it’s a great excuse both to leave and start a conversation. You can also try “Do you know anyone who likes X? I’d love to discuss it/have some questions. Thanks! I’m gonna go find them/talk to them. It was nice talking to you [as you walk away]!”

    Just listen to people introduce themselves and note anything relevant to the meetup that you would have a question about/be interested in talking about and tuck that in the back of your mind – that way if you don’t know anyone to catch up with just yet, you still have an out.

    (I actually leave conversations a lot in dance class with this – excuse me, So-and-so’s free and I want to practice dips with them – because some people are just a lot easier for me to learn with but they’re hard to catch so you have to grab them as soon as you see they’re free. It has yet to ruffle any feathers.)

  22. In the movie Speed Sandra Bullock’s character encounters this scenario on the bus. Her tactic in exiting the interaction: “There is gum on my seat… Gum.” (gets up and walks away)

    Loved it! Good luck,


  23. Hey, LW. If you’re a bit of an introvert, or a bit shy, or a bit reserved, it could be that that demeanour reads like, “THIS PERSON IS AN AWESOME LISTENER! I MUST GIVE THEM MANY THINGS TO LISTEN TO FOR THE NEXT 12 HOURS.”*

    Because I have this happen to me all the time. I do the bathroom trick, the freshen drink trick, pretty much the majority of the things suggested above.

    They all work for the garden variety conversation dominator. Your “friend” on the bike ride does not sounds garden variety. It sounds like he was doing the metaphorical version of pissing on something/someone and declaring it his. Maybe he’s abused the goodwill of everyone else in the group and so now he tries to latch onto newbies before the non-awful people can make friends with them…

    *I have been on the receiving end of this sort of verbal offensive, but at least my bad habit in this regard is with funny, charismatic people who talk at me way too much, so even if they’re eating all of my time, at least, to a certain point, I’m getting something out of it because they’re amusing. This gentleman seems to have no fine points…

  24. I think everyone has great practical advice on how to get out of those unwanted conversations. I also was handicapped in my youth by an overly-polite education, and I can’t encourage you enough to try to remember at all times that politeness is above-all a mode of interaction designed to work mutually between reasonable adults. Any step past that, and directness has to take over, and if that doesn’t work outright bitchiness is totally justified (and really more self-defense than real bitchiness).

    But I wanted to get back to why it’s happening to YOU. I’ve definitely spent a lot of time as a nut-magnet myself :-). I’ve finally figured out that less initial eye contact does protect you to some extent from being approached at all, you might give it a shot. Some of it in your case may also be that you arrive in those gatherings being a bit too open to experiences? I mean, if you take a bit more of a hand in looking around you right off, and initiating conversations with whoever looks more interesting to you, chances are the loonies won’t be so encouraged to jump in and try to take over totally. It’s a variation on walking very purposefully on the street to discourage the garden-variety harasser, whose politics can be discussed but which does work reasonably.

    If you think you’re a bit too shy for picking someone like that, or not practiced enough, you can also think of something that was discussed in another thread here (sorry I totally forget which): you find a quiet person, a bit aside from the group, and talk to them. Maybe they’ll be on the edge because they’re a creep that everyone else is avoiding :-). But chances are they’ll just be new too, or just a bit introverted, and grateful to you for talking to them. Don’t make the mistake of confusing quiet with interesting, some people are quiet because they truly don’t have anything to say, you might have to dump them quickly. But at least if you initiate a conversation it gives you an edge of control in ending it, using any of the many good ways suggested. It can also give you some time to check out who else you might want to screw up your courage to talk to, as well as lead naturally into conversation with nearby people. And it could make you seem less passive in conversation, so less of a potential mark for the blabbing creeps.

    You know I’m not saying at all it’s your fault you end up in these situations, don’t you? I just think that as women we have to both overcome our conditioning to act nice, and learn not to appear so nice right off, so we can have normal social lives. It can be hard when we’re not born bitches, but you too can learn to enjoy a bit of bitchiness when aimed at the right person :-).

  25. You’ve already gotten lots of great practical advice! I don’t really like conflict either, and I also have the magnetic aura that weird people lock onto. The homeless woman who gravitate towards me on public transportation to tell me their theories about pan-dimensional radio giraffes, who are even now riding the bus alongside us. The first person in Britain to spontaneously talk to me, who happened to be a strange beautiful screamingly-drunk red-haired woman, who cornered me in the women’s bathroom of a pub and desperately unloaded on me that she thought she was a lesbian and could I possibly help her process her feelings, when I frantically needed to pee. The strange Russian anatomy technician who slunk up to me at work, and, addressing himself to my breasts, proceeded to tell me the strange story of his life while eating raw cabbage from a Tupperware, wrapping up his lecture with “you are a very pretty… voman” and a remarkable, lopsided leer.* The elderly, stone-deaf dairy farmer with book-length opinions about mad cow disease, rendered incomprehensible by an antique West Country accent and a pair of wandering teeth. The poor ostracized Greek paleontologist, whom nobody would talk to in social situations because she was a world-class grab-you-by-the-collar blitherer, who furthermore had a strange tendency in the middle of conversations to suddenly shake her face free of her waist-length dreadlocks, stare at you with her burning mad eyes, elongate her neck, and scream the mating cry of an ostrich into your face.** And many, many men of a Certain Type who love to do the Corner The Woman And Bore Her Into Pleasant Sexual Submission routine. (Because women are supposed to listen. Especially young women with sweet faces. We are supposed to nod and gift smiles and pretend that the Blitherer knows more about our own damn passions than we do.)

    *His name was Igor. I cannot make these things up.
    ** You could identify it as the mating cry of an ostrich because she would say, after doing it, “That was the mating cry of an ostrich.”

    So what is a sweet-faced conflict-avoidant Weird Magnet to do? I channeled Luna Lovegood before she was published as a character. It fits into my character pretty well. People generally don’t look beyond the smile and the tone, and if you’re already gone there isn’t that much you can do. Interrupt. Seize the awkwardness. You are NOT the one making things awkward here – they are. Leave them to the awkward silence. Leave them baffled. You don’t owe explanations, especially not if giving them makes you nervous. For me, if it’s a game, then it’s not conflict.

    “Well! With this awkward pause, I am going to get some snacks!” Brilliant smile. Smoke bomb.

    Fascinating. Oh! But now I have to go over there.” Point vaguely. Smile warmly and vanish.

    Suddenly have a thought. “Eureka! Excuse me.”

    In a crowd, wave at someone. It doesn’t matter if they’re fictional. Leave.

    “I’m going now!”

    If you are regularly cornered by a blitherer at work, set a timer on your phone-pod thing of choice, and have it go off. Or pull it out and frown at it suddenly. “Hmm!” Also works surprisingly well on mothers, because mothers connect the sound of kitchen timers to freshly baked cakes.


    And, perfect for disentangling yourself from awkward situations in loud pubs when people are talking too close to your face: “Oh! my bear is here!”

    And exeunt, pursuing your bear.

      1. But but but… it’s amazing.

        A coworker and I are both awkward conversation enders. We’ll both realize at the same time that we’re done, probably both worry that we’re monopolizing the other’s time, then say something like, “OKAY! I’m going to go over there now!” It’s excellent practice for situations where extraction is actually necessary.

        I may have to expand my repertoire.

      2. My personal favorite is “I’ve gotta piss like a racehorse, so…bye.” It works especially well on Men of a Certain Type, who never seem to find my vulgarity charming.

        1. “Offended by women being vulgar” is right up there with “makes rape jokes” and “whines about misandry” as far as douche filters go.

      1. Oh, I’ll never catch him! He is my Questing Beast. Sometimes I pursue him, sometimes he pursues me. Mostly we get each other into – and out of – difficult social situations, which was a lot more awkward when we lived in Vermont. I highly recommend that all young ladies of good fortune and character acquire a Questing Bear for Exuenting Purposes.

    1. All excellent! I love having a cell phone in my pocket, which I can whip out at any moment, frown at, and declare “Oh! I’m so sorry, I absolutely have to take this call!”

      You could also say “Oops, it’s the sitter!” if you’re trying to project as less-date-able.

      Or “Oh no, the veterinarian!” if you want to be able to viciously bore your assailant later with imaginary tales of your dachsund’s mysterious GI complaints.

    2. Tears of laughter rolling down my face, tears.

      > If you are regularly cornered by a blitherer at work, set a timer on your phone-pod thing of choice, and have it go off. Or pull it out and frown at it suddenly. “Hmm!”

      My worst work blitherer has retired, thank heaven, but at one point I was seriously considering getting an egg timer and pointedly turning it over as soon as he sat down and started talking. The remaining work blitherer will go away if you’re assertive. But it’s tiresome to have to be assertive every single day, sometimes twice a day, sometimes after he has started to go down the stairs and had a thought and come back up to bore you some more.

    3. Here is the place where I will shamefacedly admit that I have exited conversations by going all wide-eyed and saying, “Excuse me, I have to go! I have to write a poem RIGHT NOW.”

    4. And, perfect for disentangling yourself from awkward situations in loud pubs when people are talking too close to your face: “Oh! my bear is here!”
      And exeunt, pursuing your bear.

      applause.gif FOR SERIOUS

    5. Wow, elodie, I am impressed with the thought you have put into your exit strategies. I was just thinking today that the next time the woman in line in front of me at the grocery store tries to tell me about her 30 lb ovarian cyst I would announce, “The dingo ate your baby!” But I have decided that may be a tad insensitive, and I will involve bears somehow instead.

      Why, why, why do people want to share intimate medical tales with me? Holy crap, I don’t tend to get trapped by blitherers but by TMIers. I can have very short conversations with complete strangers in which I learn all about their skin diseases or misplaced children or marital breakups or deceased pets.

      Oh, well, sometimes it has led to grand adventures and truly fascinating folks.

      1. I get TMI’ers as well. I’ve found “I’m sorry, but $medical_thing is way above my pay grade” to be a pretty good tactic with those ones 🙂

    6. Oh my god I love your stories. Even if they are terrifying. MATING CRY OF AN OSTRICH! OMG!

      I absolutely use, “I need to go over there now.” That way I don’t leave any dangling conversational leads for them to follow!

    7. > Because women are supposed to listen. Especially young women with sweet faces.

      I hate to break it to you elodie, but it can be even worse for older women. Especially with white hair. And worse of all if you limp a bit and they can tell you won’t be able to outsprint them :-). I’ve actually had a guy who just sent me flying 30′ across the street with his car try to tell me what a bad day he was having. I’ve had a band of drunk threatening hooligans attempting to suck dry my wallet scream to my retreating back “don’t you have grandchildren?!?”. Y’all need to practice saying no NOW, while you look like you can defend yourself easily, so you’re ready in the future..

    8. Waving excitedly at invisible friend (I first typed fiend, and almost let it stay) and making an enthusiastic exit, I have done that. It works most fabulously at crowded drinking and/or dancing establishments.

      “Oh wait, did you see that/them?” Then float away and disappear into the crowd. I have both done this and had it done to me, and it’s brilliant in both directions.

  26. I have occasionally interrupted people to say, ‘Do you realize you’ve been talking for twenty minutes straight? When do I get a turn to talk?”
    Either they stop with their mouths hanging open, or they get offended. This separates the clueless from the predators, for me. And I either get a turn to talk, or get out.

    I check my watch when I’m bored (at work or play, and play SHOULD NOT be so dreary for anyone) and can tell someone, yeah, 9.12-9.22 was your monologue time, good by.

  27. We have a social vampire right up the block from us — an elderly man who likes to ambush us whenever we walk past his house. This is a man who is a touch toxic; he likes spreading malicious gossip about others in the neighborhood. And he absolutely REFUSES to listen to a firm “We need to get going now/run errands/feed the cats”. The man had the audacity to say I should use hemorrhoid cream on my face and offered to apply it right then and there! To say I was severely creeped out was and understatement (not to mention the hit my self-esteem took).

    The husband thinks he’s obliviously harmless, but draining (due to differing politics between the two men, the husband bears the brunt of these “chats”). Me, I think he’s fully aware of his Old Man Privilege and likes to abuse it because he knows people are reluctant to say anything due to politeness and due to his age. And he “helps” around the neighborhood by taking it upon himself to shovel sidewalks and driveways in the winter — without asking. One one hand, who could complain about such generosity? But on the other, it feels like we’re being held hostage by it.

    1. Because it’s loan sharking (see Gift of Fear). You do someone a “favor” without being asked in order to make them feel like they owe you. That’s actually rude and predatory and you don’t have to be thankful.

    2. Ugh! You could absolutely complain about such generosity, when it comes at such a high price.

  28. All of the advice you’ve gotten is great! You should totally polish up a bunch of those mini-scripts and be prepared to use them.

    The thing I want to add to the conversation is this: you said you’ve moved recently. Has the “being blithered at” thing happened just in the new city? It’s possible that you’re dealing with both awkward people who blither and a culture of conversational style that is different from your place of origin.

    For example, I am from the New York area. When I moved to Chicago, I tended to talk at people who were *not* from the general Boston-DC corridor, because conversational culture in the Midwest requires longer pauses between each turn in the conversation than I was used to. Fortunately, a friend of mine who’d been through the same thing clued me in. I still struggle with the timing occasionally, but at least I’m aware of it and try to keep it in check.

    This may not be the case with your situation; I can’t diagnose it from afar! And the advice doesn’t really change: practice your scripts and be prepared to use them. But deploying them with good timing according to local conversational custom (i.e., what feels like interrupting to you may not be actually interrupting!) may get you better results than just the scripts alone.

    1. Yes! Regional conversational cultures can lead to confusion and bad conversations. As a person born in the Midwest, I have had many encounters with people from the East Coast who I found tremendously rude because they never would stop talking long enough for me to get a word in edgewise. At some point I discovered that they expected me to just butt in (which felt incredibly rude by my Midwestern standards) if I wanted to say something. So I do that now, but it still feels strange.

      1. I spend a lot of time volunteering with a Vancouver group that interacts a lot with a partner-group in Chicago. Due to regional differences, over phonecall or videoconference we all have to fight not to automatically assume the Chicago folk are being rude, angry, and dismissive. It’s just a Midwest/West Coast and Canada/America thing.

    2. Oh, yes! Don’t forget the regional differences! My mom is now at the age where we say, “It takes her 20 minutes to say goodbye.” We live in the South. I tend to indulge blitherers, but it doesn’t bother me that much. Your borderline creepy dude would get on my last nerve, however.

      I think the trick is not necessarily politeness, but graciousness. Have you ever met a super-famous person, like Bill Clinton (not someone I know, but you know what I mean)? Someone who is super busy but makes you feel valued and important, even while he/she is clearly keeping to an agenda/schedule? That’s what I strive for. I try to make people feel like the interaction they had with me was pleasant and productive. Sometimes that means moving things along, while allowing the person to retain their dignity.

      I think people are hungry to be listened to. I’ve spent a good bit of time with the elderly, and they LONG for someone to hear them. It’s such a simple gift to grant a person and one that I can give. The trick is not getting sucked into the quagmire that can be a lonely person’s life.

      I am not contradicting any of the advice you have received–just kind of thinking aloud. Def. cut Bicycle Dude off. He is monopolizing you and not allowing the others to get to know your awesome self!

      1. The thing about having really good boundaries, and being able to cut people off when you want, is that then you’re more committed and gracious when you do choose to stop and listen. 🙂 You’re not quietly resenting the person, and you don’t feel helpless, because you’re in control of how much time you give.

    3. You make a very valid point (I’ve experienced stuff like this when I travel, or interact with people from different places who I work with), but in this case this has been a problem for me forever, since well before I moved. Also, the move was between two major Australian cities, and body language and culture wise they’re pretty similar…

      Also, I should say, by recently, I mean several years ago… I may have let the dead social life lie there for rather a long time before attempting to move on. :-/

  29. Ha! I have been on both sides of this dilemma. First, I constantly forget that the social pleasantries are supposed to be superficial and succinct, not sincere, so when I do reply truthfully not politely to “How are you?” it isn’t always well received. And there are times I have watched the other person’s eyes glaze over as I am speaking on whatever topic. So I try to wrap up quickly and allow them to gracefully exit at the earliest opportunity. Then there are the times that I literally can think of nothing at all to say and struggle to come up with some conversational opener while sitting next to someone where some degree of talking is expected. Arrggh.

    I have sometimes been on the receiving end of the endless blather. But since I have a hard time sitting still doing nothing, it doesn’t happen often. I frequently employ the keep-moving and wrapping it up body language strategies. Or I may simply entirely ignore the person while working on a hand project like embroidery, which means that I am fine getting up without even acknowledging the person when I am ready to move on. Also, the same techniques for being a shy, awkward person at a party where everyone’s a stranger, or in a social setting where you want to minimize your interactions with others (funerals! obligatory events with toxic people!) can apply to getting rid of nuisances. Help out! Have a task that gives you permission to move along: “Oops, that tray is empty, I better take it into the kitchen!” “That person looks lost, I think I’ll ask if zie needs help!”

    Also, think about the oxygen mask. You need to take care of yourself first before you can help anyone else. It is not selfishness; it’s survival. If you are uncomfortable, having an unpleasant experience, feeling trapped, bored, dominated, the act of taking care of yourself is not rudeness. It really isn’t. You have the right to save your spoons so that you can use them how you choose, not because you’re being imposed upon or there’s some sort of expectation (and corollary lack of choice). And when you have more spoons in a social situation you are better able to pay attention to what’s going on, maybe notice someone else being creeped on, maybe notice your friend could use some attention, whatever. In other words, be more concerned about your needs being met and less concerned with how you might be perceived by someone who’s company you don’t enjoy.

    1. “be more concerned about your needs being met and less concerned with how you might be perceived by someone who’s company you don’t enjoy.”

      This ^^^^^^^^^^

  30. Personally I notice some people saying things like ‘it’s good to be polite if you can, but sometimes you can’t and have to be direct’, which find really perplexing. Since when is being indirect inherently polite and being direct inherently impolite? I can think of lots of situations when indirect hints come off as passive-aggressive or mean or patronizing, while a pleasant direct statement comes off as friendly and polite and respectful (only if you can genuinely be and feel friendly saying it, though — otherwise your tone of voice negates any friendliness in it and can make it come out quite harsh).

    E.g. in my family we often enjoy quite long conversations, and we often tell quite long anecdotes or think out loud to each other about things we’re processing. Often this is mutually enjoyable and is reciprocated later. If I was in this situation with a family member where I wanted to go, I would assume the polite thing to do is to cheerfully say ‘by the way, I have to go in a minute’ or ‘I can’t talk much longer, ‘kay?’ and after a moment give them a ‘bye’ hug (or with someone I didn’t know as well, start to turn my body away and smile and say bye) and say ‘I’m going to go talk to those people over there for a bit, I haven’t seen them in a while’ or something like that. And – very important – to do it before I became really impatient or became annoyed.

    Direct and friendly, like it’s not some sort of bad or shameful thing to be ready to talk to someone else, and doesn’t in some way mean there was something wrong with the person I was talking to.

    1. I don’t think that people are using the word direct the same way you are here, which might be some of the confusion. I think most people are saying it’s polite to do exactly as you suggest — tell someone that you have to leave, or need to speak to someone else, or just don’t have time to talk. But if the person doesn’t respond to those polite attempts to end the conversation, then the directness people were advocating was something a little more pointed, like “do you realize that you’ve been talking for twenty minutes straight and haven’t let me say a word” or “I need you to stop coming by my office to chat because it turns into a twenty or thirty minute thing each time and I have work I need to do.” Those are probably less “polite” but may be necessary with a persistent talker.

  31. This can also be a bit of a problem if you genuinely like talking to and listening to people, seeing as you can get caught with someone who’ll monopolize your time. For all eternity. With no chance of anyone else ever getting a word in edgewise.

    Now, the one thing I’ve found to be really wonderful at ending conversations that I’m not willing to have – that is, after trying to be polite and extricate myself by various measures – is to pull out the tiny journal I always carry, click the attendant pen and then attain focused eye contact. Occassionally, mutter “A-ha” or “Oh, so that’s that, well, then what then?” while scribbling. It’s a great chance to scribble random poetry or short story introductions or ideas for yourself and there’s something about people noticing that you seem to be taking notes that make them very careful about what they say.

    Admittedly it is fairly brutal and you can feel like quite an ass for quite a while afterwards.

    But ultimately, it’s an easy way out of a gnarly problem. You do owe basic pleasantry to other people, because, well, it’s nice. But you don’t owe anyone an ever wide eyed audience and you’re not required to listen for hours on end (Or even read this comment! Don’t! Hedoniiissiiiim!). It can just take a while to crack the mental code that says “Interupting = Rude, I =|= Rude, so I = Don’t Interupt”.

    I guess the important thing to keep in mind is the same that most others above here have said. You’re being NOT impolite or evil if you tell someone “You are taking a lot of my time, and I wanted to talk to more than one person tonight. Have a great evening, and I suggest you perhaps go introduce yourself to X”.

    Helpful mental trick that worked for me, curbing my own semi doormat tendencies was self talk along the lines of “A four hour lecture on the specifics of conventional liberalism and the short comings of Judeo-Christian thought in relation to ethical quandries is certainly interesting, but I want an ice cream and I can politely excuse myself. They will be okay. They will find someone else to talk to. I am exfiltrating in a friendly manner”.

    Besides, it just struck me at the tail end of this comment that your… issue? Might not be so much having difficulty moving away politely or even attracting talkers with your Listen-Pheromones. I mean, the entire fifth paragraph is full of reasonable reasons why these people are not actually nasty types. LW basically excusing their behaviour there, in the sense that going “Oh the reason talkers talk is probably because… and so I should not, I mean, I wouldn’t want to be impolite…”. Sorry if that’s diagnosing from a distance, in the comfort of my chair, eating a bowl of cereal.

    Uh, If you feel someone is unpleasant to listen to because they are encroaching on your personal space and time, you are allowed to tell them that they are encroaching on your space and time and that, by doing so, they are making you uncomfortable. You are not claimed by sheer volume of words and attempting to smugly grab a piece of you by talking everyone else into the dust is not okay.

  32. Just to encourage the LW and other people facing this problem – as someone who has been in groups where there is the seemingly obliviously rude person, it can be incredibly refreshing and charming to see someone new come in and present a way of handling the situation.

  33. I just love this blog…..

    LW, I am the “bitch” who never was taught we (females especially) are required to be as polite as possible no matter how annoying/skeevy/scary/abusive the other person is. But I’m not really a bitch, and neither is anyone who just doesn’t put the feelings of really inconsiderate or downright disturbing people ahead of their own. You are not required to; no-one is.

    So many of the above suggestions are really great, and if the Blathering Dolt is just clueless, they are also really apt. But in my experience many of those people are not clueless at all, but are what on the internet we recognize as trolls: they are taking advantage of peoples’ good natures to provoke and provoke until someone snaps and they can point their finger and be the Victim. They win! And sometimes they are somewhere between those two extremes and my own feeling is that sometimes all those kind, polite extrication methods are just enabling them to continue to take advantage of our good natures. I’m not fond of the term Attention Whore, but I think this applies to some of the Blathering Dolts out there.

    Do what makes you feel most comfortable, as long as that’s not being a doormat. Try the above suggestions once or twice. Stop feigning interest. If nothing else works, interrupt, smile, wave, say “See ya” and walk off. If you are a kind person, other kind people will know you are not being a bitch when you simply decide not to condone truly annoying or passive-aggressive behaviour by letting your interest go sincerely elsewhere.

  34. I stayed in a country town in the interior of BC for a week or so with a friend who lived there. It was wonderful at first, how, when we walked the main street, he would know just about everybody. Problem was, it would take us an hour to complete a simple errand. No problem for me–I was on holiday! But his spouse would be raging wondering where we were with her order for more groceries. So it came as a real surprise one day as we were lumbering down Main Street again and came across a familiar face we’d met days before; I was expecting another drawn out shootin’ of the breeze but no– the guy threw up his hands and said ‘The heat’s on!” and I learned that was the local way of avoiding these sort of time-sinks.
    I love this question and all the advice. I too have been on both side of the fence, have since limited my ‘bore’ tendencies and have been able to reign in the few friends I have who blither so that we can all get a “sword” in edgewise.
    But! None of this advice deals with the first situation I mentioned–that of being with a friend who blithers to others. I have several friends who are ‘known about town’ and a walk with them ought to be a pleasant experience, but it gets totally bogged down by their chance meetings with people they know, and I find myself standing aside, waiting for the promenade to begin again, often learning how the person we just bumped into is the most furthest of casual acquaintances not seen in years yet necessitated a 20 minute yak… OK OK it’s nice to meet all the people in the neighbourhood, but the only solution I’ve found for this is just to abandon them and say ”Hey, catch up to me, I’ll be at the [whereever we were originally going]”
    Worst ever was with my girlfriend on a visit to her parents 3 hours drive away in Quebec City. The entire weekend she left me isolated, spent most of the time in her room, ill. I was left to make conversation with all her relatives, in French, not my first language… then once we were about to leave she asks her mother a random question about Aunt Mildred or so and so… while her hand was on the door knob… and the two of them blither away for an hour and a half! With her hand on the door knob! They’ve had all weekend to chat. I’m too polite to tell her mother to shut up, and too polite to tell my girlfriend to shut up. Just as you think talk of Aunt Mildred’s cyst has faded, some other random cousin is mentioned and the marathon continues… I’ll never forget those two 45 minute segments of blither, and how we both still smoked cigarettes but she didn’t want her parents to know so we’d gone all weekend without smoking… Talk about a nic fit. So that’s where this advice falls short– what to do when you’re caught in between two blitherers.

    1. I think the talking-motion advice is the best here. Sometimes it can take me 45 mn to extricate myself from my street (and don’t get me wrong, I love my street). But I’ve learned to keep walking quickly, wave cheerfully, point at my watch and say “sorry, late again!”, or “gotta catch that bus!”. It’s perfectly right with people actually, as they can conclude that they’ll be able to brush you off occasionally as well, and it’s not like ignoring them or being sulky in conversation. To compensate for the many brushoffs, I plan on spending at least 2h making the rounds of the local farmer’s market, so I get a good chat in with everyone on a weekly basis :-).

    2. Why not talk to the blitherers? “Hey, I feel kind of excluded when we are out together and you are stopping to chat with several people I don’t know. Can you reschedule that somehow?” Same goes for your girlfriend, now that you know.
      When it’s unexpected, you already mentioned a great way.

  35. Thanks JenniferP and all the other commenters for the great advice. I was going to go through and jump into various threads individually, then realised that way lies madness… It’s been variously thought provoking, useful and awesome (I’m now desperately seeking a social situation where I can say “Oh! My bear is here!” and then flee). This site is great, and I’m glad I found it! 🙂

    I’m also, incidentally reading the Gift of Fear now, which is really shining some light on past interactions and ways of dealing with them. I wish I’d read it when I was 18, rather than now at 35 – not that anyone ever physically hurt me, just that there are so many situations where they *could have*, and others where I was endlessly manipulated for less horrifying reasons that none the less sucked emotionally.

    Anyway, I think when I wrote this, I really already knew that the answer was “be more direct”, but I think I was secretly hoping there was some Magical Ninja Eye Twitch I could use that would deflect all blitherers, over-talkers and bores without ever violating the social contract. Only that’s ridiculous. I’ve been so concerned with maintaining social harmony (thanks upbringing and also shyness) that I let other people trap me with it, by forcing me to choose between doing something I don’t want to do (stand there and listen to them) or breaking my role as pleasant female to get them to stop. Several people said something along the lines of once someone else is violating the social contract by not letting you talk/ignoring your rejection-via-body-language you’re well justified in breaking the social contract to make good your escape. And gosh does this make sense when I actually think about it. Why exactly do I feel obliged to do all the heavy social lifting? (*cough* gender socialization *cough*) If someone else isn’t holding up their end, I’m entirely justified in putting down mine as well, and walking away, mid-endless-sentence. (Some people apparently don’t breathe).

    And yeah – if the consequence of doing this is to make the person dislike you, you win. Because now they don’t like you and go away. Victory! You have no idea how much like a bolt of lightening that idea is to me. 🙂

    I definitely don’t think that all people who do this are dangerous or creepy (though some are) – I’ve been this person myself, talking endlessly without stopping, and failing to read body language cues. I really really have. But I’m realising that I don’t actually owe all total strangers the benefit of the doubt in that regard, or anything at all, especially at the expense of my own enjoyment.

    I will be keeping these scripts in mind for when I encounter this in future. Given that I’m currently engaging in all sorts of low stakes social interactions with total strangers who I never have to see again if I don’t want to, I think I have a good chance to practice some useful social skills. I just need to keep in mind that that includes making certain people go away, as well as convincing other people to like me and be my friend.

    Not everyone has to like me. I think I need to have this tattooed on the insides of my eyelids.

    1. Just make sure you skip the bits on intimate partner / domestic violence, it’s victim-blamey shite that’s out of character with the rest of the book.

  36. LW.. You poor darling, I hate that! This is what I suggest……

    “excuse me I have to go to the bathroom, I don’t mean to be rude & cut your (boring, ear bleeding) chat short, I’ll brb” & never return! If they approach you again at the party “So sry I got side tracked, we will pick this chat up another time” & quickly grab a drink…..

    Or if you were me “WTF are you on about? I don’t understand”?

    Sorry, but I’m a bit of a social arsehole & dont put up with people sucking the life outta me when there is someone else in the room that is far more interesting that has topics of interest I want to talk about. There is not enough time in life to spend on people that drain you & your bored with, if in 5 minutes a person is more boring than watching paint dry, then move on!!!

Comments are closed.