#705: How do I wrestle family visits and conversations back from Uncle Pundit?

Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?

185 thoughts on “#705: How do I wrestle family visits and conversations back from Uncle Pundit?

  1. The quiet side conversation is a life saver! I cannot recommend it highly enough. I started doing it after Racist Joke Grandpa didn’t get the hint (and stated fact) that he was making the whole room uncomfortable. Topic changes didn’t work. Arguing his points obviously didn’t work. Outright asking to stop didn’t work. Staying away from the house didn’t work, because I wanted to see everyone else there. Side conversations worked like a charm! It saves my sanity, it allows other people an out, and while it’s still grating as hell when it does come up, it does allow for a smooth fade into other topics without an explosion of hurtfeels and righter-than-thou huffiness. I’m not saying this will always work in all circumstances, but it does wonders for me. I recommend giving it a try, with a contingency plan for if huffiness does occur. And if you can scope out potential allies before it comes up (maybe your mother?) all the better.

    1. Sorry to reply to my own post, but I forgot to address something: it might indeed feel rude as hell, and it might be interpreted that way. But the thing is, it’s not. If you look for it and pay attention, you see people doing it all the time in group conversations. When they get bored, when they feel they have nothing to contribute, when one person hijacks the conversation, when a more interesting side conversation comes up, people peel off from conversations very naturally all the time. It’s not automatically rude and dismissive. If following this advice feels confrontational and rude to you, it may help to keep in mind that it really isn’t, and that you have the option of acting surprised and confused in the event that someone accuses you of rudeness. “I’m so sorry, I don’t understand, how was I rude?” can sometimes stop people dead in their tracks, if forced to explain their thinking. But unless this is a real deep-seated problem that goes further than just conversational hijacking, my guess is that you won’t be called out for it.

      1. It does happen all the time! I’ve had lots of conversations where there are, say, four people, and two of them are enthusiastically talking about one thing and the other two listen for a while and then drift off to have their own conversation, because that first topic isn’t something they’re interested/involved in. I think the difference is between when it happens naturally (like that) and when you do it deliberately. It’s still not rude, but it feels like it.

        1. Blue Maple, I actually think that doing it deliberately sends a subtle, but strong message. “Your line of talking is so out of line that I no longer want to listen to it so I’m am now going to turn away from you and start a conversation with someone else.”

          Technically rude, I suppose. But it’s subtle and far less rude than trying to yell over Uncle and far less rude than up and walking away or leaving the gathering early in a huff.

          1. I don’t think it necessarily implies out of line. I’ve done this when some people were having a perfectly acceptable conversation on a topic I just didn’t care about. I found someone else in the group who also wasn’t interested in it, and we discussed something else. It doesn’t need to be a judgement on whether the other conversation is socially acceptable. It’s okay to just have different interests.

          2. Jlll, I agree with wordiest, it doesn’t necessarily imply out of line at all. I’ve had this happen when I’ve gotten together with friends and two of us are very interested in one topic and the rest aren’t. They listen for a while, then start talking about something else. Or, standing around with D, R, and W, and D and R talk about work (they work in similar fields) and after a few minutes W and I step aside and have our own conversation.

            There’s nothing rude happening. The difference between those situations and what LW talks about is that a conversation is taking place, rather than one person holding forth, and none of the topics are actively offensive, either.

          3. My apologies. I did not intend to diagnose (thus the caveats) nor increase stigma. I would do precisely this because of attention issues myself, but personally only like to look like I have issues I actually have. Not because other issues are bad, but simply because of the desire to be correctly understood. But I can see how this can backfire.

        2. Good point that there’s a distinction between naturally and deliberately. I think that distinction can be made obvious with body language (like the difference between slipping out of a lecture to use the bathroom on apologetic tiptoe, and Walking Out with an angry stride down the aisle.) Thus the LW can choose the confrontation level she wants in the moment: make it look like she just got distracted by the amazing pumpkin she had to find out about and forgot Uncle Pundit was talking, or make it clear with her very-turned-away shoulder that she is Walking Out Of This Lecture spiritually, so to speak.

        1. Same here. My husband is always amazed that we can all be having 3 different conversations at a time, or that we’ll be having one conversation, something will come up that we want to mention, and then we go back to the original conversation.
          Also – my husband has “That Uncle” so I’ll have to keep this in mind for his next rant.

        2. It works when everyone can hear well. I’m deaf in one ear, and my mother in law has hearing aids too. My nan in law is really quite deaf even with her aids. Add to that two young girls running around and occasionally shrieking, and more than one voice in a room at a time can be impossible to hear.

          Just sayin’.

      2. Whenever I’m at a sufficiently large gathering, there are always multiple conversations happening at once. The only time it’s “awkward” is when you’re in the middle of the table (or whatever) and you’re not quite sure which of the conversations is the one you’ve currently in, or if you’re kind of in both at the same time. When everyone is in the same conversation within a big group, I find that almost more difficult, since it can be hard to hear other people at the other end of the table, and some people get left out when one or two louder people dominate the entire conversation. Several, smaller conversations seems to keep everyone involved and makes it much easier to change subjects at will.

      3. Oh yeah. I mean, I’ve personally had this happen to me a lot, when I get really involved in geeking out about something with maybe one or two other people out of a group. Usually my dear fiancée is the first to turn very pointedly away from me and say to the person next to her, “So, how do you feel about something which Is Not Bugs/Fandom/The Bio Dept?” 😀

        (If anything, it’s giving me and similarly geeking friends permission to go on and on now without worrying that we’re boring the rest of the group!)

      4. agreed, not rude at all. especially if it’s a gathering of a lot of family. 15 people required to be in one convo at the same time? that sounds more like a family meeting than a fun get-together. small groups of conversation is totally normal.

      5. Once upon a time company manners _required_ one to have side conversations rather than everyone listening to one person hogging the speaking conch. Goodness knows why such a useful custom was dropped.

  2. LW, I have a similar problem with my dad. He has a tendency to hijack any conversation and turn it into a lecture about politics/society/etc. and it can be really alienating for other people. Captain’s approach really does work. Just start talking with other people in the group about something else or divert the conversation by focusing on an aspect he’s ignoring, ex:

    “[political stuff] is frustrating. I’m glad that we can improve the world on a smaller scale at home! How’s your charity going, Aunt Sue?”
    “[thing] is a tragedy. It’s good so see some many people concerned about it and trying to help others.”
    “[happy thing] was on the news last night. It’s nice when they cover happy human interest things!”

    Immediately following this ask another person about themselves so they can talk for a while. The earlier diversion tactics are applied the easier it is to prevent the lectures. Be the TSA (talking security administrator) to this conversation hijacker!

  3. That Guy is my brother, who turns everything into anti-gun-control, pro-Ferguson/Baltimore-police, and pro-white-dude-libertarianism. (He’s just an awful person in general.) Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years:

    1. Visibly pick up your phone and start messing with it. Fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole of foreign politics or clothing styles or manufacturing processes or something else you’re interested in but have never looked up. Text a friend to be like, “OMG Uncle Pundit is at it again pls talk with me for a little while.” (Clear it with them first, or just send a “Hey, how are you? What’s going on?” If they agree beforehand, have them call when they get that text so you have an excuse to leave for a little while. Claim it’s the doctor’s office, since it’s more acceptable socially to leave for that than to take a call from a friend.

    2. Excuse yourself for the bathroom. Take a book and spend no less than twenty minutes. When you get back, family will probably be like, “Hey, you were gone for a while, you okay?” to which you can answer “Yeah, sorry, I got distracted by my book. It’s about ____.” or “Yeah, I’m fine, it’s just that political conversations make me feel a bit sick.” Or, if you’re feeling particularly fed up and want an argument, “Yes, I just got tired of having my opinions spit on by a man very few of us actually agree with.”

    3. Look around the table. Decide that this is a good time to refill the salt/pepper shakers/grinders, bring out condiments, or otherwise disrupt the flow of conversation by moving things around.

    4. Non-sequitur everything he says. “Obama is an asshole!” “Hey, did you see Show X last night?” “Atheists are Satan in disguise!” “Aunt Carol, I love your dress!” “Poor people need to stop getting handouts!” “Mom/Dad/whoever did the cooking, I love the green beans!” The more positive you are, the more people will want to talk to you instead of listen to him.

    5. “Hey, is there a kids’ table? I’d rather play with mashed potatoes than listen to this much longer.” Alternatively (and less confrontationally), if there IS a kids’ table since this seems to happen most often at large gatherings, go over and sit/play with them.

    6. Close your eyes and do a breathing exercise. (I’m fond of in-seven-out-eleven, but that’s just me.) It may or may not attract attention, but either way, you’re focused on something that’s NOT HIM.

    All of this is going to be weird. All of it is going to feel like you’ve got a weight crushing your chest and it’s hard to breathe, particularly if you have anxiety issues. Remind yourself that you have to take care of yourself first, and getting angry is bad for your blood pressure. If he’s physically violent, take care and choose your battles wisely. Work behind-the-scenes like Captain suggested – institute a no-politics rule, ask your parents/extended family beforehand to help either distract him or start side conversations (if they’re allowed; they’re not at our house), ask if it’s possible to tell Uncle Pundit that the gathering starts 2-3 hours after you tell everyone else. Do whatever is safe to do. YOU come first, not some asshole man who knows people disagree and goes on ranting anyway.

    (Personal anecdote of one of the few times my dad backed me up: My brother was ranting about how I need to get a ‘real job’ [I work as a tutor and love it], leave college [I was a junior who already had an associate’s degree] and stop living at home [I was 20, he was 25, we both lived with my parents]. He also went at me for having medical problems and made fun of me for losing the genetic lottery. Ten minutes in, Dad looked at him and said, “You just quit the job you hated, you’re living at home, and you flunked out of community college. Leave her alone.”

    He sulked for a day and a half. I cried tears of joy that night. It IS possible to win against them, especially if you have backup!)

    1. Thanks for these tips! I’m sorry that it sounds like these are struggles around the daily dinner table, too. Have you thought of the curative power of watching TV over dinner? The Simpsons reruns over dinner sustain family harmony, IMHO.

      1. Yep! We do that now, and it helps, but that didn’t happen until my sister and I went to college and our parents no longer felt the need to set good examples. (Their words.) Many a night was spent with three kids in bored silence while my parents talked about real estate values and how that would affect clientele, or one of the guys ranting about how Bush/Obama/[insert politician here] was going to ruin the country while the other three of us put on the Face of Polite Disinterest and tuned out. The only reason I didn’t suggest that is because Uncle Pundit sounds like he only appears at family gatherings, where TV during the big sit-down meal would be beyond reasonable to have going.

        Figured out a Tip Seven, too – the Face of Polite Disinterest works wonders while you’re imagining painful retribution toward the speaker. Or picturing puppies, whatever works at the time.

    2. I sit at the “kids table” every chance I get! It’s evolved into an adults-not-putting-up-with-annoying-uncle table.

    3. Wow, is your brother also secretly my brother??

      My brother still lives with my parents, so unfortunately I can’t not see him, but after him making some really hurtful comments along the lines of what your brother said, I dealt with it this way:

      1. Stopped talking entirely to him for about a year. I let it be awkward. This included not speaking to him at holiday gatherings and at a wedding where we were seated at the same table. I was always superficially polite but just wouldn’t engage. Fortunately he made enough rude/hurtful comments in front of other people that everyone else kind of went, wow, what’s happening here, and ignored him too.
      2. He now tentatively talks to me when I’m around, and I usually respond with a giant-smile-blinking-eyes combination, then sort of vaguely respond and turn back to whatever parent I’m talking to at the moment.

      Honestly, with people like that, I really think the only thing you can do is disengage. You’re never going to make them See The Light.

    4. Sitting at the kids table is the BEST. You get to talk about dinosaurs!

      (and in my family’s case, spiders. Apparently non-immediate family members aren’t as fascinated by them as me and my Mum and my nephew. Who knew?)

      1. Yes, kids table is my strategy in this situation, too. My “uncle pundit” is actually my best friend’s husband, and whenever I’m at their house and he starts getting all Fox News-y, I take that as my hint to go find their 5 year old and ask him to show me those new Star Wars toys he was telling me about. And then we have pretend light saber battles for a bit while, in the other room, the pundit energy fades away since it no longer has a target.

  4. I don’t have a strategy to suggest. I have a strategy to NOT suggest if you’re intent on remaining polite… I have a bigoted uncle who is also loud and dominates conversations. He went off on a rant about Muslims and immigrants at my cousin’s birthday once. My mom is an immigrant, so I can get a little emotional on the topic… I ended up telling him outright that he was being racist and that he should pull his head out of his ass. He had a shit-fit. He literally stood up and started yelling at me, all red in the face, and my cousins had to physically force him to sit down.

    I’m going to be honest; I enjoyed it tremendously. Not only did he give himself away as an irrational, blubbering idiot, but the entire family was upset at his behaviour and really not so much at mine. Thankfully that was the only outburst that came out of it, and we now mostly politely ignore each other at family gatherings. I can’t complain 🙂

    There’s something to be said for not taking people’s shit.

    1. I would never recommend a family fight, but sometimes good things come out of them, don’t they? I wasn’t around for it, but there was some big kerfuffle between my uncle and my cousin’s husband awhile back and ever since, my uncle (who was always kind of a superior, classist ass) has been way nicer. It’s been years, and he’s still a nicer person than has ever been before. Wacky.

        1. I don’t think he would’ve paid attention to anyone calling him out, sorry. My cousin’s husband was just like him and the argument was about family stuff, I think.

      1. Family fight is how we finally got my cousin’s asshole husband to be officially de-invited by my grandmother (the Hostess and Ruler of Everything) to all family gatherings. This was after he ruined two year’s worth of holidays because of his shitty behavior… took a huge blowup to finally make my mother and grandmother put their foots down, but it was worth it.

      2. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a fight, just a calm, but firm asserting of We’re Done With This Now by a person with the right mix of authority and surprise.

        At a recent family event my uber-evangelical cousin and her husband kept going on and on about how our nation was going to hell in gay Satan’s liberal handbasket, with a side of let’s-imply-the-reading-teacher-hurts-children. (“I don’t know how parents can let a child read The Lightning Thief, don’t they care about their SOUL? You know what I mean, RIGHT MARGO?” Fun times.)

        My parents and I were finally, blessedly leaving and my mom went out to the crowded back deck to say goodbye to my aunt just as my cousin’s husband was winding up a big chorus of “I don’t know ANYONE who voted for Obama. What sort of awful, ignorant person DOES that? I mean, who could even do that once, much less twice?” My mild-mannered, nonpolitical mother raises her hand and says loudly and firmly, “Me.”

        Five full seconds of silence.

        Cousin’s husband sputters. Mom turns to leave. Cousin’s husband: “Wait, now, we need to talk about this!” Mom: “Actually, no. I’ve had enough of this bullshit.” Turns. Leaves.

        You probably had to be there and know my mom to fully grasp what a mike-drop this was, but rest assured; it was glorious. And here I didn’t think it was possible to love that woman more. Also glorious: haven’t heard my cousin’s bullshit since.

    2. I admit a weakness for letting someone annoying/racist/etc embarrass the fuck out of themselves among people they respect. It’s delicious karma. You can only really do this, though, if the family is going to throw themselves behind you and not call you an asshole for riling up the guy and disturbing the peace. If your family is a conflict-averse type, then the person saying “knock it off” is going to be dogpiled for “starting a fight” even though it was Uncle Asshole who really started it.

    3. Hah! Good for you for standing up to racist dirtbag uncle!

      I have a story similar to that. My mother didn’t speak to me for two months after I finally called her out on her racism. Her: “Blah blah all Asian women are stuck up bitches. I hate Asian women so much blah blah.” Me: “Mom, you do realize your daughters are all Asian women right? When you say all Asian women are stuck up bitches, that really hurts my feelings, because I’m an Asian woman too.” Her: “No you’re not! You’re white like me!” Me: “Uh, you do realize your dad is Latino right? And that, like, white people don’t think you’re really white?” Her: “That doesn’t count! You’re white! Like me!” Me: “Look, you’re the one who got knocked up by an Asian dude, and then gave your sprog a distinctive Asian name. And I’m the one who gets asked all the time if I even speak english, and get the super duper extra special security screening whenever I fly, and have been stopped by police and demanded to show my papers proving I’m in this country legally. So I think I get to say whether I’m Asian or not, and I think I definitely am.” Her: *stomps away in a huff and doesn’t talk to me for months*

      I try not to let my temper get the best of me, and to remember that holy god does Mom have serious issues and that she must be miserable pretty much all the time, but I really could not take one more round of ranting about how much women like me suck.

      1. I would hardly describe the way you responded as “letting [your] temper get the best of [you].”

        I think your response was completely reasonable and completely understandable. Your mother should be the one questioning whether she let her temper get the best of her.

    4. i would be so tempted to just start taking photos/video of him like that. of course, that might incite physical violence.

    5. If we’re telling awful/awesome stories of how a big confrontation brought things to a head… My racist grandfather was giving my sister an earful about her marrying a “darkie” on the night before her wedding. She was supposed to stay at Dad’s house that night (my father had moved his father in with him rather than put him in full-time care) and my poor sister was in tears. My father stood up, literally **threw a bible** at my grandfather, and shouted at him that it was time that he read about what Jesus had said about loving your brother rather than preaching out of his ass, and swooped my sister away to stay at a 4-star hotel instead. It was incredible, and my grandfather didn’t make one nasty comment to anyone at the wedding the next day, and didn’t say one. single. word. about my brother-in-law’s skin color after that.

  5. You say that leaving the room would mean you don’t get to spend time with the family members you do enjoy, but look at it this way: When you’re all playing audience for Uncle Asshat, you’re not spending time with them anyway. I recommend leaving the room and taking someone with you. The first time, make some effort at being polite about it. Come up with an excuse along the lines of “Cousin Beneficent, come keep me company while I get some air.” But if that doesn’t work, go ahead and say “I’m not enjoying this, Grandma Patience, shall we go outside where we can talk about something else.” There’s a very reasonable chance that you’ll be labeled rude, but there’s an equally reasonable chance that you’ll be labeled a hero. If no one wants to come with you, you can leave by yourself, or put in earphones. If someone tells you that’s rude, you can say that you didn’t want to continue to hear Uncle Asshat expound on asshattery. What’s being young for if not being a rebel? Also, one of the very best early lessons in life is that the world doesn’t fall apart if you’re rude. Or rather, if you run around scared of being rude, you’re handing people like Uncle Asshat the means to you manipulate you in gift wrapping. Stand up to him a little, and you may find that he crumbles (after some last tries at ridiculing you which you won’t hear because of the earphones).

    1. I have done a variant of this: leave the room but go to a different explicitly social space. My grandparents have a living room, a den, and a kitchen, so if granddaddy is being racist in the living room, I’ll go to the den or the kitchen (kitchen helps because you can ostensibly be getting a snack or some water). Most of the time somebody else is itching to escape too and follows not long after, or actually wants a snack, or whatever.

      I’ve also employed the side conversations thing that the Captain suggests, although more with the tedious, multi-hour arguments over things as riveting as whether they still farm chickens in rhode island than with the offensive shit. Anyway I can endorse it as a tactic.

  6. A note about side conversations: if you’re at a table of more that six or so people, it’s kind of expected that you’ll talk to your neighbors. So multiple conversations are the rule not the exception.

    1. If everyone’s conservative, it wont unexpected for men and women to gently segregate or gravitate towards separate discussions. Dudes might talk about gun politics while the women talk about school politics for example.

      1. They don’t have to be conservative. My family is loony left. So are most of our friends. We’ve still had the boys in one convo and the girls in another.

        1. True enough! My favorite example of this is after Thanksgiving dinner with my friends (who also tend toward the far left) – the men are in the kitchen cleaning up, and the women are in the den drinking.

          1. Oh! That reminds me of a little miss Morley story.

            I was 13. It was Thanksgiving. My father’s cousin and her husband and her 5 kids (15,13,12,10,8) were all there. Food was done and her husband and her son (the 12 year old) wandered into the living room to turn on the tv for whatever people watch on thanksgiving. (NB my parents, grandparents, sib, uncle etc never did that, they/we always cleared and then ate and drank more). Female cousins followed my mother and me into kitchen, my brother hemmed and hawed my father started for the living room.

            I stomped into the living room and announced “No tv till the table is cleared. All children are helping to clear. That means you Boy-cousin. ”

            His sisters were delighted. I actually liked him, but that may have been because I thought his attempts to boss me around were funny

    2. Absolutely! I once judged a science fair project that looked at this exact phenomenon. It was not really surprising that they came to the conclusion that yes, all groups of 4 or more break into different conversations for periods of time. If someone tries to claim you are rude, I think you can fairly claim Nope! and not feel bad.

  7. For me, one backup strategy is to start playing some soft music in the background. Not loud to drown the person out, but quiet to be “Hey, other sounds can be going on right now besides lecturing! Check it out, everybody!” I’ve noticed it can seem to subconsciously give people a sense of permission to start their own conversations, get up and get something to drink, look at the interesting books, etc.

    If it’s my house then I put it on myself. If it’s someone else’s house, I ask them to put it on. That can be a side conversation in itself.

  8. I’m curious if your family has a matriarch/patriarch who you might be able to get on your side. My grandmother is AMAZING at shutting this type of thing down (sometimes just with a pointed look!). In our case, also an uncle, and while his general views are actually reasonably in line with everyone else’s, he’s just so…SHOUTY. And no one wants Christmas dinner to be shouty, even if the person is shouting things you might agree with in another setting. (“Global warming! It’s going to destroy the planet! I can’t believe those [expletive] Republicans!” Um, fine, but maybe we can do this another time when we’re not trying to enjoy a candlelit meal that has been lovingly prepared??) Now, I totally get why YOU are not comfortable being the one to tell your uncle to STFU. But, maybe there is an older relative who you could talk to, and say something to the effect of “Hey, what do you think about making a no-politics-and-religion at the table rule? Uncle’s comments make me uncomfortable and also make it really hard for me to enjoy what should be fun family time. Do you think you could talk to him?” Such a message might come off better and be more effective if transmitted through a respected elder. Obviously this won’t work in every family, but might be something to consider.

  9. As someone with Strong Opinions on a few key political topics, I am often thisclose to becoming the Annoying Ranty Political Person in a discussion. I’ve also had the experience of being stuck with the Ranty Political Person who seems to want to have a shouty argument about [insert intensely controvertial topic here] during dessert whilst everyone else at the table wants to run for cover. IMO, a blanket ‘no politics at dinner’ (or ‘no religious discussions’ or whatever it is that sets the Ranty People off) is optimal, because no one feels singled out. The one caveat is that the group needs to enforce it both consistantly (ie, every time someone brings up politics, even if it’s not a rant), and fairly (ie, without regard to the political views being expressed) or it won’t take.

    1. Yeah, this. One deflection I’ve used is,

      “Wow, that’s a really complex topic. I don’t know if I can articulate my opinion over dinner.” And maybe, “how about we discuss it over coffee/drinks/this weekend”.

      Only use the second half if you actually want to or are confidential in your ability to indefinitely delay seeing this person again.

  10. I love the Captain’s answer and want to emphasize that the content of the politics need not be horrendous to be inappropriate at a family dinner. The pundit annoys me even when we agree, but more so when I know that there are different views around the table.

    Talking politics is at its worst when entirely theoretical/ideological, esp. if it is an issue viscerally connected to others at the table. But politics may be a valuable topic when someone has a personal story about it:
    “I care and so I have been writing letters/picketing/volunteering at X.”(convo redirect, if needed: “Do you meet interesting people that way?” Or “That reminds me of what Auntie Y used to do…”)
    Or “I’m so sad to hear about Freddie Gray. I hadn’t realized this was such a deeply felt, widespread problem.” (If genuinely processing it.) (Redirect: “hearing about that affected me too. But I can’t bear to talk about this now. Can we discuss something happier, like Z?”)
    Or (especially from a usually non-political person) “I’m so glad to hear that Obamacare will end the pre-existing condition nightmare. Do you all remember when my insurance refused to cover my surgery because they claimed it was pre-existing?” (Redirect: “that was a nightmare what happened to you! That shouldn’t happen to anyone. Has everything finally been resolved on your lingering health issue?”)
    NOT “I read in the newspaper/Internet (tv/talk radio) that…” (Redirect: “how about them newspapers? You might like the new comic strip the local paper has…”)

    In short, the personal IS political, but the political WITHOUT a personal element generally is inappropriate at the table. And after key political point is made, feel free to redirect to the personal part of that story. (I think a similar rule applies when someone is monologuing about anything–bring it back to the personal, how they spend their time, etc.)

    But that’s all if you’re trying to redirect the group convo. Sidebars are a great way to go, and they usually occur naturally during a meal. Like another commenter suggested, get up for more water and ask those around you if they need anything. Then start a local convo when you return.

    Your local conversation may even take over if you get someone to start telling a family story (bonus points if the teller or subject is a matriarch or patriarch, and thus higher status than the monologuer).

    Finally, as the youngest, you can also play to stereotypes about short attention spans (they remember when you were 12 and may still think of you that way anyway) and start your side convo with someone else young about technology or pop culture.

    1. I also have developed this technique of reacting to -ist stuff by pretending not to pick up the -ist subtext. I don’t know if this is clever or cowardly, but it often works. So if an Uncle Pundit regales us all with the tale of how some (disenfranchised group) person did a dumb thing and implies that just goes to show you what Those People are really like, I pretend not to have noticed the implication, and launch into a similar story of, say, myself doing the same dumb thing, or someone else they know of who isn’t in (disenfranchised group) doing the same dumb thing, or a random dumb customer from one of my old jobs, etc. It usually gets the conversation more onto the thread of Dumb Crap We’ve All Done, and away from Those People generalizations, and I think it frustrates the Pundit who wanted to wallow in the subtext some more.

      1. I like that tactic. I think often refusing to acknowledge nasty subtext is a good tactic. It lets people who actually accidentally fell into a nasty subtext gracefully save face (although potentially at the price of not realizing and making the same mistake later), while frustrating those with bad intentions. It’s a lot like taking people at their word. It works fantastically with honest people, and it is so frustrating to people who are dishonest or passive aggressive. I love tactics that reward good behavior. And if somebody is really dedicated to being nasty in some way, it can drive them to be explicit enough that it causes problems for them.

        1. Reminds me (somewhat tangentially) of the tactic of replying to -ist jokes with “I don’t get it. Could you explain it?”

      2. Yes, this is great. I sometimes think I was oddly lucky to grow up in a very white area because whenever anyone tries to get onto the subject of Those People And Their Cultural Pathologies, I can come back with an example of whites doing exactly the same stuff, while taking that tack of pretending not to notice the implication.

    2. To boil this down further, for my family, the trump transition phrase (to change subject or start a side conversation) is “that reminds me of…” And tie it to something successfully discussed in the past.

      E.g. “That reminds me of how Thelma used to make cough medicine. Do you still do that, Thelma?” Or “that reminds me of the Boylans. Grandma, do you know how they’re doing?”

      And if the pundit dares question, “why did abolishing the income tax remind you of Thelma’s cough medicine?” then you could just answer, “you know, I don’t recall now, but I do remember how funny Thelma’s story was!” But usually “oh, that reminds me…!” goes unquestioned if it transitions into a classic family topic.

    3. Politics w/o personal anecdotes isn’t inappropriate 100% of the time. Family dinners for me became pointless affairs when my grandpa died and my dad remarried (not that the two are related), so instead of him and grandpa arguing about politics (respectfully of course), dinner became about…. Well, I don’t really know, since my step family all speak a different language when they are together so as far as I’m concerned family dinner is about sitting and starting into space until we eat, and then getting the fuck out. But the point is, my memories of political discussion at family dinners are my favorite memories of family dinners, or family events in general. Even better when more extended family came, then everyone would get into it. If someone tried to tell us it was inappropriate and we should stick to polite topics, one of us would probably reply “you’re supposed to stick to polite topics in polite company. We’re family. We’re who you’re supposed to save this stuff for.”

      None of this has anything to do with LW, who has a very different dynamic going on, but I’m seeing a lot of hating on politics at the dinner table in general, which is completely at odds with my experience and that of my dad’s side of the family, at least. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive and no one means it that strongly, but the whole attitude seems weird to me.

      1. I get your point, and I love to discuss political news, society, political philosophy, etc. Religion, too. But it has to be the within the right group of people and the right context or else the conversation may not be civil and may not even be a true conversation!

        Subsets of my family members can get this right. But frankly, since my dad retired, he has had way too much exposure to talk radio and ranty Internet and it has lobotomized his conversational norms. (He used to monolog about other topics before, but not as one-sidedly. An ongoing family concern is how to keep him constructively engaged with real human beings.) I’m truly happy for you that your family can discuss politics, and I’d love to hang out at your dinner table sometime.

      2. I love your description of the times before your dad and grandpa passed on. I can relate, and also to the part about the step family speaking a different language.

      3. Hm, I think there’s a big difference between people who basically share the same values debating how best to achieve them, and people who do not share the same values debating each others’ essential worth. For instance, I’ve had some enjoyable debates with my more economically-conservative friends about how to address poverty or reduce housing costs. We both want the same thing, for fewer people to be poor, but we disagree on how to achieve it. But I can’t imagine an “enjoyable” debate with someone who thought all my queer friends were doing something evil just by existing, or who thought all poor people deserve to be poor.

  11. A suggestion that’s worked for me: ‘My goodness, how awful/amazing/strange. What are you going to do about it?’ and then, while he or she splutters, turn to another member of the group and ask him or her a question on another topic.

  12. From your description, it sounds like your uncle is derailing conversations–turning them into political rants when they started as normal, pleasant conversations. When you see that start to happen, can you try to politely get things back on topic? If it works, yay, and even if it doesn’t, it draws attention to the fact that he is the asshole who’s changing other people’s stories/conversations into rant time.

    For example, your grandmother is talking about her upcoming surgery and your uncle starts to rant about Obamacare; interject as soon as you can and say something like, “I’m sorry, Grandma, what is it you were saying about your doctor/medication/recovery plan?” Stress your interest in hearing from the original speaker about the original topic. If you’re right about other people being uncomfortable, this gives them a change to jump in and express interest in grandma’s story, or whatever, without coming into direct conflict with him.

    Emphasize, as politely but pointedly as you can, that he’s the one changing the subject and hijacking things. He is being an asshole, and he should pay a social price for it. Make it awkward for him. Politeness can be used as a weapon, and it’s one of the few social weapons women can sometimes wield without extreme judgment.

    1. I like this idea. Try to follow up with whomever’s topic Uncle just steamrolled over. And if you can’t interrupt to the whole group, this is a convenient, and natural way to start a side conversation, vs the complete non-sequitur to your neighbor.

    2. This is the method I’ve found most effective.
      Starting side conversations sends my grandad into an absolute pouty rage as he feels slighted.

  13. I’ve done the silent, pointedly I’M NOT ENGAGING tactic with hobby group members that went off on a rant about Obama/immigrants/gun control/the right wing kitchen sink. I browsed the internet on my phone and ignored the conversation, and they picked up on it pretty quickly. It did lead to “Revolver’s not saying anything, she must not agree.” To which I said “Yup. I really don’t want to talk politics. How about [subject change]?” so your Uncle Pundit may still confront you about it.

    My dad used to be really bad at talk-yelling (you know, that tone of voice that is not quite a yell but not far from it) his political beliefs or whatever issue he has taken a stance on (aka everything)…he would talk-yell even if you agreed with him. Luckily he has two outspokenly-liberal daughters who refused to engage with him like that, and he decided that he’d rather have a civil conversation with us than continue talk-yelling since it obviously wasn’t working to change our minds. And lo and behold, he found out that we have some good points and are perfectly willing to listen to his points even if we don’t agree.

  14. I’m a huge fan of “uhuh”, “OK!”, “Really?” and “I’m sure you’re right” said as one would say them to a five year old.

    My husband is a master of “Be that as it maaaaaay” whilst raising one eyebrow and then changing the subject.

    Bonus points if you can put them at completely inappropriate points in the conversation. “And just WHY are Britain in the EU!?!?!” “I’m sure you’re right!” The trick is to confuse them just enough that you get a two second window to change the subject or just straight up walk away.

    Something else that works occasionally (but takes a lot of energy) is to just start talking about something else as if it were a natural progression in the conversation. For example, “Labour let in too many imigrants!” “And at the same time we had a fabulous holiday in America!”.

    Monopolising the conversation is rude and you aren’t being that rude by getting out of it.

    1. I am putting this weapon in my conversational arsenal, thank you! I’ll need it, since that topic (and so much right-inflected political material) is going to be coming up a LOT in Britain in the next five years.

      My conservative homeland can be a bit of a test of manners for my socialist sister and moderate me. This tactic is going to work really well for manipulating the power dynamic of a (more mature?) speaker to someone they expect to defer (younger/female/student/liberal, all of which I am). Exploiting the rudeness, or even just their expectation that you will have to prolong the discussion our of deference, is the way forward!

  15. My situation wasn’t about politics specifically but does involve disengaging from conversations; I belong to a group and one member is very angry. About everything. He is one of those “I hate everything” people who can’t seem to enjoy something without ranting about it, which to some degree is fine but his rants can get *really* angry, and he is also prone to angrily ranting about people that I am actually friends with (and me not agreeing with his rants). What I have done is get a couple other people on my side who are also uncomfortable with this. Usually I will get up to use the washroom (not really obvious, I have a tiny bladder and drink a ton of water so…) and when I get back turn to one of my allies and say something kinda-related to what he’s saying, but not as ranty, and get all of us to essentially turn the conversation around. Often we can’t fully stop him from ranting but can direct the rant towards something more acceptable (we’d rather him angry about a new movie he just saw than our friend..)

  16. All hail the quiet side conversation! That’s how I do it. It sends the message of purposeful ignoring, while not looking like a small child just turning up their chin and going “Hmph.” Because you clearly have something you want to discuss, with this person over here, which is totally legit to your relatives, except the annoying one, who correctly sees it as “please shut up because you’re bothering me.” Even if he thinks you’re wrong to be bothered, fuck his opinion, you want to talk to Grandma about her gorgeous new hybrid tea roses, and who’s going to fault you for that but him? 😛

  17. Of course there’s always the tried and true “Well, bless your heart,” and “Aren’t you precious.” Or after a particularly long-winded rant, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, could you repeat it?” More snarky: “Did you think of that all by yourself?” Or you could just look slightly alarmed and say “omigosh, your face got so red! Are you alright?” It derails and distracts.

    1. Especially with Yelling Dudes, the line “I’m sorry, I can’t discuss this if you’re going to be so emotional about it” can buy you the few seconds you need to change the subject.

      1. That line (and the picture that came with it) made me so happy today after dealing with lots of those Dudes! Thank you!

      1. One of my favorites, stolen from Drew Campbell’s book “The Bride Wore Black Leather: Etiquette for the Rest of Us,” proceeds as follows:

        “You sit up very straight and hold your napkin in front of you with both hands as if you were about to rise from the table, and say, ‘Now, Uncle, I’m sure you didn’t mean that the way it sounded!’ This sentence should be said firmly and should be accompanied by a look coupling outrage and expectation, rather like the look that teachers give students who really should know the right answer by now.”

        Campbell points out that Uncle will respond either by recognizing a warning when he hears one and apologizing / changing the subject, or by saying something even more unconscionable, at which case leaving is a socially appropriate action to take. This has worked for me, whereas requests for empathy (e.g., “So, I’m in the group you’re insulting, and what you said was really hurtful”) have not been successful. It’s a pity, because I’d *rather* use an appeal to empathy than the threat of embarrassment with my own Uncle Pundit. I don’t like letting loose the specter of social shame as a motivator! But if I’m going to communicate with him, I need to do it in terms he understands.

        “I’m sure you didn’t mean that the way it sounded” has also worked surprisingly well for me in internet fights– it’s really efficient at helping me distinguish a careless statement from a malicious one, before I get engaged enough to ruin the entire [time period].

  18. The Captain’s advice is great!

    That said, I have to admit that as a fellow social justice activist liberal myself, I am salivating at the thought of the delicious irony of you Ronald Reaganing him.

    “This is why we need to make sure our next president was born IN THE UNITED STATES, like Ted Cruz–”

    “There you go again…”

    It may not be the best idea in terms of minimizing friction (read — it is DEFINITELY NOT), but oh man, if your uncle possesses any self-awareness, his reaction will be amazing.

  19. I have had success with saying, “No thank you!” as though they have offered me pie and I am full. Usually they get confused, because you have said No, but you also said Thank You, and have a nice tone of voice. And they haven’t really asked a question. While their mental machinery spins and smokes and tries to work this one out, I move off as though everything has been resolved.

    1. I like this a lot. Like, no, I won’t pay that price to be admitted to this conversation, thank you for inviting me.

      Bonus points for a floaty scarf that you can swirl around your shoulders as you drift elsewhere to another conversation.

  20. I have relatives who watch Negative News exclusively and so when we get together they are full of story after story about how we’re all going to die, crime is up, and everyday stuff can kill you. The solution there lay in the fact that I Internet waaaaay better than them so can counter each story with something related but positive.

    For example, “did you know that not doing these 100 things increases your chance of a home invasion??” Me: “Did you know that in the event of a home invasion a plucky dog can save the day? Here’s a video!” Them: “Look at this! An everyday object can kill you!” Me: “Look at this! That same object can be crafted creatively!” The underlying message (we hear you but are much more positive about life) comes through loud and clear and conversations are much nicer as a result.

  21. In my experience a lot of political discussion is straw manning. Did you know that some person who has views you don’t agree with acted unintelligently or hypocritically? This reflects on ALL those people! They are all unintelligent and hypocritical! Lol they suck.

    Does your uncle know that you hold polar opposite views? One thing you might consider is acting as if every thing he says is a reflection on you personally. So you could say “uncle, you really think that about me?” in a really quiet and hurt voice. If he responds “no, no… But you have to admit that THOSE people…” You respond “that’s really hurtful…. Why would you say that about me?”

    Your family might not have a policy about politics but I bet they absolutely have a policy about adults protecting (and not bullying) the youth. He’ll probably just categorize it as “liberals get offended so easily” but who cares what he thinks as long as he stops.

    1. I’ve tried that. It didn’t work 😦

      The rant was that “all those people on benefits don’t work and yet they have satellite TV…” and when I said “er, you know you’re talking about my family when you say that” I was told “no, not them, obviously that’s different. But ALL those people on benefits who…”

      I tried explaining that if you generalise and say ALL those people, you ARE including my family, and that’s offensive to me. But she couldn’t see that – and kept on generalising. If she’d said “some” I could have detached or dismissed it more easily. Instead I said “fine” and abruptly asked for the bill, and declared the evening over, going home now.

      Anyway, the “you know that includes me / that’s hurtful” tactic doesn’t always work, sadly 😦 worth a try, of course, but not to be relied upon.

      1. Oof.

        That smarts.

        I suppose in such a circumstance you could say, a tad argumentatively, “if I and my family are not included in ‘all those people’, who are they?” in an attempt to get them to say the bigoted crap they mean.

        You can also say, where appropriate, (and this makes people splutter) “yeah, you have a mortgage right? And you take the interest off your income right? So YOU live in federally subsidized housing. Got cable you welfare cheat?”

        1. Yeah, any time my uncle (stepdad’s brother, who now lives in the States) goes off about “immigrants”, I turn to my mother (with her permission) and loudly say, “GOD, Mom, why don’t you just go back to England???” (I was born in Canada, but both my bio parents were immigrants)

          And of course he starts mumbling about that’s not what he means and when I play dumb and am like “so who DO you mean?” and USUALLY he has enough grace to not say “Mexicans”, which is what he actually means.

          (Although it occurs to me that to change it up, maybe I should try, “God, I KNOW. So when are you moving back to Canada?” …not that I want that)

          1. I kind of want people to say what they mean. Because then it’s out there but yeah, in this case I can totally understand why you DON’T want him coming back 🙂

            When the immigrant thing is about Mexicans coming into the USA I often think, but have never managed to phrase well: “but many Mexican immigrants are Indios, their ancestors were in the Americas long before mine! (Or those of my interlocutor)

  22. Side conversations are great and naturally happen all the time in a group of more than 3 people and are basically a given with 6+. Highly recommend and if there is a family member you can work it out with ahead of time of the next family event, even better! It may feel a bit rude to deliberately do this, but trust me, it’s not! Uncle is the one being rude by monopolizing, you’re just taking some space back.

    Taking one or two or more people to go do something else that needs to be done, would be pleasant, etc. when Uncle Pundit starts on his rants is a great idea too. I’ve personally employed this tactic at family gatherings.

    Another tactic that works in my family is offloading people of the ranty persuasion off on each other in a room hopefully away from where everyone else wants to be. Let 2 or 3 of them rant at each other and give everyone else a f-ing break. Only works if you have 2+ people who tend toward this.

    And a cruel thing to do to family is to walk into a room with a ranty person, get them going on one of their rants and then smoothly exit leaving all the other people in the room to listen. One of my Uncle’s gleefully does this quite often at family gatherings, don’t be that guy either!

    And I agree that no politics/religion/etc. rule does not work for all families, I wouldn’t want that rule for mine, but for this situation it may be a good idea as it sounds like no one talking about those topics would be better than everyone having to listen to a rant/lecture from Uncle Pundit.

    Escaping briefly by yourself is valid as well, I know you want to spend time with your other family members, but give yourself the ok to have twice as many bathroom breaks or whatever when you need a break and no other outs are working, maybe you can again coordinate with another family member or two and they can also leave and you can happen to get distracted on your way back talking to each other about something and where did the time go?

  23. Not as useful at the dinner table, but in other family gathering contexts I find that having some handwork along is a big help. If someone goes off on a subject I don’t want to engage about, I can just tend to my knitting (or crocheting, or beading, or needlepoint, whatevs.) until the subject changes. It gives me something to look at and think about other than how much I wish ranty redface would drop it already. It also gives others who would like to change the subject a very easy conversational lifeline to climb out and away! Many a rant has turned into a discussion of warm socks thanks to the knitting bag.

    1. Yes! Pre-babies I always brought needlework to gatherings (and once they’re old enough to be less supervised I’m going rightback to it). Looots of people would bail on conversations using me as an escape. So much so that I really made me rethink my understanding of everyone’s opinions. The quietly-listening people were, in fact, NOT the quietly-agreeing people.

  24. Also key to this strategy – as everyone does the slow fade around Uncle Pundit in two different conversations, he will surely latch onto one poor soul who gets left behind as he realizes his audience is diminishing. Please, please, please, give this person a conversational lifeline after a few minutes! By that point side conversations will be well under way and it won’t seem particularly rude to ask – “Auntie TooNice? Oh, I’m sorry to interrupt, Uncle Pundit. Auntie, we were just talking about that basket you weaved underwater, could you come show it to us?”

  25. I haven’t got so much of a strategy but an add-on question, Captain. My mother is a master in the art of pulling attention away from the one who’s speaking. We are usually only three or four at the table, she’ll ask me “and how is life going fore you, dear?” and I am not halfway through the first sentence when she turns to my father or my husband and says “would you like some more wine? It’s a good vintage you know. I got it from….blablabla.” I’ve confronted her time and again about that and she keeps saying “I’m just a polite host!”

    My only strategy so far is that I’ve stopped telling her whatever I started to tell at the very moment she talks over me and not pick up the thread ever again. She knows I do that. I told her if she does that she will never again get the information she was asking for, but it hasn’t changed anything. Except that she complains I never tell her anything.

    Any idea for fighting the very strategy you are proposing above? 😉

    1. I guess I suggest “Mom, I’d be happy to tell you things! What would you like to know?” If she asks about things that she previously asked about and switched subjects, you could say “oh, you don’t want to hear about that! last time we talked about that you got so bored you didn’t even wait for me to finish the first sentence of my answer before you interrupted me to move on to something/someone more interesting. Anything else you’d like to know about?” Rinse, repeat.

      1. Maybe not say the “interrupted” part, depending on how you think she’ll take it

        1. Oh, I did tell her that. Usually she noticed that the background noise that is her daughter has suddenly fallen silent and then she turns back and asks again and I tell her one way or anther that she had her chance, new subject now. She’ll just huff and move on.
          My question is more if any of you have any more ideas how to stop her from doing it in the first place?

          1. Nope. You can’t control anyone else, only your responses. You could experiment with a variety of different responses and see if any result in her changing behavior, but if your mom knows she’s being rude and she’s still doing it, that’s pretty much how things are gonna be, barring luck on your part/work on hers. The best thing you could do is work on not caring.

            But for a real suggestion, another kind of response that you could try:

            Mom: “how’s x?”
            You: *no response*
            Mom: “uh, hello?”
            You: “if you want background noise, turn on the radio/oh, I’m sorry, did you actually want to know? It’s a miracle! I’m going to call all the family members and invite them over to witness the spectacle of you asking me a question and listening to the answer!/something else rude and hilarious and preferably sarcastic)”.

            Like I said, it probably won’t change her, but it might (after a while, wherein you have other conversations to explain what you meant), and it also might make you feel better so give it a shot if it sounds like fun

          2. Thank you nellodee! I guess it’s “live with it” then. My mother is the queen of passive-aggressive in our family and I decided long ago that I’m not going there. I can’t win that one 🙂 and besides I don’t want to be her *ever*.

            But acceptance is a way to deal with it too I guess.

          3. This may be another good time to enlist allies. I would hope that your husband would be on board with helping for sure, and maybe also your father. Maybe when she does it, they can say, “Sorry, [Jae’s Mom], I was listening to what Jae was saying. Go on, Jae,” and totally ignore her interrupting question/comment. Then you can finish what you were saying, directed to them, and she is starved of the attention she’s trying to get with that trick.

          4. Thank you rowan. My father is too coward to say anything against my mother. He’s got to live with her after. I may be able to enroll my husband, though I doubt it. He shuns conflict with my parents (which up to a point I can understand). But I’ll give it a try. He can’t do more than decline 🙂 Thanks!

          5. tell her outrageous fake stuff instead? maybe part of her brain will notice. anyone else in the room certainly will.

          6. You could express concern for her symptoms of an attention disorder. If she doesn’t have one, she might be upset to look like she does, and be less inclined to do this. And if she does have one, she might actually look into it and get treatment for it. So, kind of win-win. Unless she just declares she doesn’t have one or doesn’t need to do anything about it and keeps doing it. But I feel like expressing concern is generally considered polite, and it’s not hard to spin an inability to stay focused for more than a minute as a potential problem. It could even legitimately be one; I have no idea, since there’s not nearly enough info about your mother to say.

          7. I like pazzzia’s suggestion of saying outrageously fake things the moment she starts talking to someone else:
            “How is life going for you, dear?”
            “We finally finished decorating the bedroom and-”
            *Mom turns away and starts talking to someone else*
            “-and it turns out there was a secret passageway behind the wardrobe, which led to a room filled with gold. Well, obviously, we were very pleased about that and bought a few nice new things for the house, but then it turned out the gold was cursed and it unleashed a terrifying malevolent force into the house, so now our nights are broken by constant wailing and clanking of chains and the bedroom has walls that weep blood. Which is definitely a change from the magnolia paint, but wasn’t really the look we were going for. So now I’m on a quest to find a lost amulet containing the Tear of Offler the Crocodile God, which is apparently the only thing that can get rid of our terrifying entity. How are things with you?”
            By this point, I imagine she’ll be staring out you with her mouth open.

            It probably wouldn’t work to stop her, but at least you’d get some amusement out of it and it would probably entertain everyone else!

          8. Nesting limit reached, responding to wordiest –

            It seems rather harsh to both Jae’s mom and people with mental health diagnoses to use the prevalent stigma against mental health issues (including attention disorders) in order to shame Mom into behaving. “If she doesn’t have one, she might be upset to look like she does” because…it’s embarrassing/shameful to have an attention disorder? And this horrible shame would be enough to curb her behavior? Surely there’s a better way to address the behavior without wondering if she has an undiagnosed mental health problem and playing into this stigma.

            If this is the only time Jae’s mom has displayed this sort of interrupting/lack of attentive behavior, there is no cause for real concern about attention issues – she is simply being rude while trying to be “polite.” If Jae is noticing this behavior across multiple settings, then perhaps there is cause for concern, but I would hope it wouldn’t be brought up just as a reaction to (and punishment of?) a hurtful behavior.

          9. How about really short answers?

            “How is life going for you dear?”

            “How about the renovations? What are you working on lately?”
            “Going well. Painting walls.”

            “But what colours have you chosen? Are you coordinating with your furniture? Do you have a theme?”
            “Mostly greens.”

            If she wants background noise just refuse to provide it. Completely, quietly, politely refuse to elaborate on any topic. Brief answers in a pleasant voice.

    2. My mom does this, but mostly unconsciously. To be honest, I got her to stop by saying, “You’re interrupting me. Please don’t interrupt me.”

      . . . my mom is basically the only person in my life I have ever successfully set boundaries with. 😛

      1. You know what my mother said to that? “I checked when we last had a party and everyone is doing it…” I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say to that. Gotta laugh, right?

        1. Oh dear. I have no idea how I would deal with that. (I suppose, “Well, everyone is not me, and this upsets me.” Maybe?) Your mom sounds really frustrating. Many sympathies.

          1. Thank you! 🙂 The tips are very helpful though and I’ll try them all out in good time.

          2. Yes, this. I’ve had frustrating conversations with my wife where I interpret her words in ABC way, and she’s *astounded* because everyone absolutely everyone else understands it as XYZ. I finally figured out what I’ll say the next time it happens: “But I’m not everyone else, I’m me, your wife, and you’re supposed to care about hurting my feelings. Please don’t just tell me that they shouldn’t be hurt.” Of course, as with so many things, once I made that decision the opportunity hasn’t arisen. But I had to do some hard thinking to sort it out in my head, and that was useful.

        2. “Everyone is doing it” as in, “everyone is interrupting you”? Huh?

          It sounds like you’ve tried to have the conversation with her many times and she’s just not getting it, which I’m sorry to hear because that’s quite rude behavior and I’m sure feels icky. (It makes me a bit hot under the collar just reading about it!) In response to her “I’m just being a polite hostess!” I would be tempted to say “You may be trying to be polite to others, but what’s actually happening is that you’re hurting my feelings and making me not want to engage with you during dinner anymore.”

          If those talks aren’t working then I agree with others suggesting to deal with it in the moment, and maybe minimize dinners at Mom’s (or host dinners at your place, if you can swing it – then you are the host and can set the rules on “politeness”!). I like what the Captain has said in a previous letter about an interrupting friend. When she interrupts you, say “Mom, you just interrupted me, did you realize?” And then before she can splutter out a response, continue with what you were saying. Best of luck!


        3. I think you almost have to reply with, “So if everyone else were jumping off a bridge…” to that one.

    3. I have several family members who do this exact thing! It’s as if they think “asking a question that’s likely to have a long answer” = “switching the radio on for some nice background noise”. My only strategy is identical to yours: just stop talking as soon as they start up an alternative conversation. Because I feel weird and embarrassed pressing on with the answer. But they never seem to understand why I’ve stopped talking! “Go on, love, you were saying?…Oh, these crisps are nice. Do you like crisps? I like crisps.”

      1. I have a thought that might be a way to enlist Husband without him having to be confrontational to your parents. When Mother asks “Tell me about [thing that will take time to talk about] have Husband take over the thread of the conversation by saying: “Yes! Thing! This is really interesting/I’d like to hear that, too.” Then, when Mother goes off into other conversations, it doesn’t matter as much. She’s been relegated to the background preemptively.

        It doesn’t help with Mother, but it does allow you to continue your answer even if the original questioner has gone off onto some conversational tangent.

    4. What about a very straightforward, in the moment, “Mom, you just asked how I am doing and then ignored the answer. That really hurts my feelings.”

      I think Rowan’s suggestion of allies could be helpful.

      And I’m sorry your mom does that to you, that sucks. My family is full of equal opportunity interrupters and I am trying to be better about that, because my partner has pointed it out as harmful.

    5. Maybe, since she isn’t listening anyway you can amuse yourself by making things up. You know; “how are things at work?”

      “I’ve been promoted I am now head of the time machine squad, they pay me in extra marmalade sandwiches and I get a sparkly hat.”

      1. Yep. This is what I was thinking. “I’ve been teaching the cats to juggle! They’re getting pretty good with the flaming cholla balls!” (This was my strategy with my beloved but very senile grandmother when she’d ask me over and over again what exciting thing I’d been up to, but i think it would work for interupto-mom.

    6. Your mother has a one-word attention span, so give her one-word answers.

      “How is life going for you, dear?”
      “Fine.” (or “Great” or “Shitty” or whatever)

      “What’s new with you?”
      “Stuff.” (or “Nothing” or “Job” or, if you really want to be risky, “Cleaned the house”)

      “Don’t you even want to talk to your own mother?”
      Ninja move of giving no fucks: “Nope.”
      Samurai move of honorable engagement: “Only if you want to listen.”
      Stubborn move of radiant indescribability: “Sure.”

      1. As well as completely agreeing with your tactic, I like your categorisation 🙂

        Though the ’embroider a wild story’ technique mentioned by a couple of people has great charm too, and was one I indulged in when younger and more patient.

    7. My instinct would be to say “Ma, I can’t tell you while your attention is elsewhere. I know you can do two things at once, but I can’t.

      This can work because you’re not telling her she’s a shit, you’re asking for her help. For some people, that gives a chance to do the better thing.

    8. Sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. I am a terrible interrupter, and my partner has called me on it. I am working on it, but it’s a hard lifetime habit to break.

      But that’s not why I am replying. You said your mom’s response is “I’m just a polite host!”

      I guess I would interrogate that statement: “Polite host? I’m not seeing it–asking someone a question and then immediately turning away is rude. Please explain to me how you are being polite.” If you don’t live with your mother, then reinforce that in fact she’s being rude to a guest and not a polite host at all. That it’s also rude to treat guests blatantly differently. It might even be entertaining to bring a Miss Manners book with you next time, bookmarked to the appropriate section, and pull it out to her to read what is actually rude vs polite conversation.

      So definitely put the attention on her. Just not in the way she’s planning.

      1. (My) Shorter version:

        “I’m just being a polite host”
        “You’re not being a polite host to me”

        [My mother would then tell me that she doesn’t actually have to “host” me… because I’m “just her daughter”. Ah, yes.]


    9. It might not do anything to her behavior, but it might balance the dynamic and mitigate that “wind taken out of your sails” feeling if you let her work for every piece of info she gets from you–upfront, not by laying down consequences afterward, since she’s ignored those. By “making her work for it,” I mean making your sentences the length of her (apparent) attention span, and letting her drag each one out of you if she chooses.

      Mom: So how has life been for you lately?
      Jae: So-so. (Silence.)
      Mom (if still interested): Just so-so? Why? Is something wrong?
      Jae: Oh, just I was sick last week. (Silence.)
      Mom (if still interested): Sick? What did you have?
      Jae: Some kind of stomach bug. (Silence.)

      At least if your mom drops out at any point in this, it probably won’t be mid-sentence. AND people tend to value things more when they’re hard to get–though that’s no guarantee.

      1. I honestly think the “switching on the radio” question style is not always done with the intent to be rude or dismissive. I think what happens is the person knows they *should* ask about your new job, or your recent camping trip, or whatever, but they don’t actually want to hear about it. So they ask the question thinking that they can deal with the long, boring answer if they simultaneously carry on another conversation/top up the wine glasses/whatever. They think they’ve done the polite thing by asking and the listening-to-the-answer bit is optional. I mean, I would personally rather not be asked the question at all than be asked and then have them not listen to the answer, but I think that’s where a lot of this is coming from. (Does that make it a tiny bit less crazy-making?)

  26. “but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”


    1. That suggestion actually struck me as very odd. At least in my family, a reference to the impending death of a loved one, especially in a snarky way, would be considered in extreme poor taste and potentially offensive/hurtful to the person referred to. Each family is different, but think carefully before you throw out “shush I’m trying to spend time with X before they die.”

      1. In my family, we had these three very elderly relatives, the Names (sadly no longer with us, but they all lived to wonderful ages and were active and happy until the end). We used to say that we had to go and visit the Names before we died, reflecting both that we acknowledged that we were potentially short on time to see them, but also that since they all hung around for 25-30 years longer than anyone expected, that there was no telling who would actually go first… so in that situation in our family, we would have said “but then 30 minutes passed and I wanted to talk to people while I’m still around.”

      2. My family has a pretty dark sense of humor. Joking about people dying isn’t that odd to me. We also don’t get together all at once very often. Or ever, really. The only exception have been the “look, kids, I’m going to die. You’re all coming to see me on X holiday. No complaints, no fights. Bring the grandkids” get-togethers. They’re explicit about it because there’s no point in beating around the bush. I think we generally think of people who won’t talk about the obvious as… oblivious? Insensitive? I’m not sure, but when I thought I was going to die, I was pretty angry at the “everything will be FINE!” people.

  27. My father is very much the loud political rambler type, and while we don’t disagree on everything we do disagree on a lot. I solved the problem when he’s in my house (which is most of where we talk because I don’t go out much) by making a “Politics On the Porch” rule. You can have political discussions as much as you want…on the porch. This also applied when we had a big (30+ people) party in the house: politics on the porch.

    Being the quiet immovable force about it in my own home has slowly and gradually led to a decrease in politics everywhere else. Sometimes I do end up pulling out “So I was changing the subject the other day and how about that chocolate cake/other innocuous thing?” “So I was changing the subject the other day” is a family approved method of saying “No, this is over, I do not want to talk about it any more, moving on NOW.”

    I don’t know if that will help at all, but I hope that you can find something in there to use.

    1. “So I was changing the subject the other day”


      I’m going to be using this. THANK YOU.

      1. Add me to that list! I LOVE “So I was changing the subject the other day”. So passive aggressive, but polite!

        1. I have no idea what I was trying to say there. Autocorrect sometimes fools me.

          But please assume I meant something sweet natured and flattering.

          1. I read that as “sweet natured and filling” (but then you would have written “dessert”)

      1. Some comedian sometime was totally changing the subject of his jokes and said “So segues are weird.” One second pause, then straight into the new subject. It worked hilariously well.

    2. Oh! We have this rule with one of the groups I camp with. “If you are going to have drama, you have to go stand in the sun and have it. No coming back into the shade until you’re finished with whatever problem you are having.”

  28. I am very interested in this thread because my dad (and increasingly, my mom) is the political ranter in the family – the problem is, we mostly agree with his overall opinions, but not with the way he now treats wrong people as terrible people, lumps all people who disagree with him together, etc. So far my sister and I have been able to mostly agree without engaging and the subject will eventually peter out, but I’d love a better way to redirect and derail a bit earlier so we don’t all end up thinking about political/social things that make us sad, and also about how our dad is becoming a liberal pundit.

    Another, somewhat related annoyance in my family is that some people are impossible to interrupt, so it is really hard to change the subject. There is no break in the monologue and people don’t stop talking if someone else starts. This is sometimes so bad that I give up on participating and basically sulk.

    1. “Dad, I think we are violently in agreement here, and you know I don’t like shouting. How about that topic change?”

      I find “I think we are violently in agreement” to be very useful in that sort of circumstance–sometimes someone is so easily upset about a topic that they hit a keyword and don’t register that you’re saying “I really love my neighbor’s new pit bull, she’s the cleverest dog I know” because they’re already shouting “But pit bulls are wonderful! Why do people keep slandering them?”

      1. “Preaching to the choir” is also a good way to remind a pontificator that you get it. Though you need to follow it up with “Can we talk about something we don’t already know?” so he doesn’t take that as permission to continue the sermon.

    2. I really feel you on this. Some of the people posting are talking about people whose intent is to be cruel and control everyone there, but what do we do long-term if it is someone we care about deeply? I guess boundary-setting is appropriate either way, but the behavior probably stems from having a life where political news is the most interesting thing. Or a life that is increasingly lonely or devoid of other places the person feels respected and listened to. So redirects to caring about them as a person and giving them other things to talk about and truly listen to them (reminiscences? Questions about some non-vicarious things in their life now?) may help.

      If your mom is starting to do this too, then this may reflect the tenor of their daily life together. Perhaps you can help them both develop other interests and encourage healthy relationships with real people (rather than cable news, talk radio, op-Ed page, and Internet sources like the Borowitz Report or Drudge Report). (My dad has a one-sided relationship with the talk radio people, both liberal and conservative, and is filled with things he wants to talk back to them on–which usually become rants for the real people in his life.)

      (Actually, I feel like my dad was mellower when Jay Leno was still on TV. Maybe I need to introduce him to Jimmy Fallon or (come fall) Colbert on Late Night.)

  29. So. I’ve been shouty loud political person in the past. And I really enjoy a ‘engaged discussion’ with my nearest and dearest, and it wasn’t until my youngest sister, bravely, took the step of telling me, a good six months after an evening of wine and politics on holiday, how much that evening had upset her and how difficult she had found it to talk to me afterwards, that I had any idea of how much I was distressing other people. We both cried a bit, I apologised and have since made a concerted effort to back off, not just with her, but in other situations as well.
    Not saying that that’s necessarily going to be the right thing in this situation, and to my shame, I don’t think I would have reacted in the same way if she’d talked about that in the moment. But if you think shouty political uncle is otherwise a decent soul, might be worth having the conversation? I was very grateful to my sister for having the courage to bring it up.

    1. On a mailing list I’ve been a part of for over a decade, it became obvious long ago that one person’s rousing discussion was another person’s flame war was another person’s interminable boredom. I find it rather fascinating (from my safe corner) that people just don’t understand how others’ feelings can get hurt because of this (in any of the three ways). Oh, and I am all for code words that mean, okay, enough, let’s move on. We have one there, and it works much better than not having one did, even though a lot of the time it feels like we’re circling back because we didn’t keep moving on to get through to the other side.

    1. OOOH!!!! OOOH!!!! Sing “Let It Go!!”. The words are commonly familiar these days and as an added benefit, any kids in the area will immediately start scrambling to attention singing along and wanting to watch the movie!

  30. My husbands family has long used, “do you think the rain will hurt the rhubarb?”, with “no, it’s in cans” as a call and response message that will continue until even the hardest to get a clue person in the room gets the cue to change the subject. But I do love “So, I was changing the subject the other day and “.

    1. “So, I was changing the subject the other day and.. “.

      This is now my favourite, even more than “So, how about that local sports team?” 😀

    2. A friend and I discovered that, sometimes on long road trips, we get stuck in a loop of griping. Or, as is the nature of long road conversations, we’ll accidentally head down a path we didn’t want to take. We couldn’t say “how about that sportsteam,” though, because I have very strong opinions about local sports. 🙂

      For changing the subject to something nice, we just started non-sequituring into, “you know what I like? Unicorns. I like Unicorns a lot.”

      I’ve discovered that it works great as an uncomfortable conversation changer with other folks, too.

    3. OMG! My family uses “so, will the rain hurt the rhubarb” too. I’ve never run into anyone else online or IRL who uses it, too. I love it – it’s so odd to most people that invariably you head off on a tangent talking about the phrase.

  31. I come from a large (immediate) family and side conversations are the norm. Many dating partners have come and gone who are completely lost within two minutes of a group conversation. Maintaining 3 conversations at once is a true skill – even an art! So I second the notion that side conversations are not rude.

    My family also has a “safe phrase” that we use when somebody wants to change the subject of conversation. It’s usually when somebody gets carried away talking about something gross. One of us will turn to another and say, “So I went to the chocolate factory today…” Or something else about “the chocolate factory”. It works wonders 😉 If you want to use this tactic you may need to enlist an ally or two who will recognise the sign and join in.

  32. Is there a factory somewhere that makes these Uncles? I have one too and not only can he ruin a family dinner, he ruins my anticipation of them. It makes me sad.

    On the practical front, however, let me recommend becoming the resident dishwasher. I hate washing dishes in pretty much any other context, but whenever the dinner table convo starts to make my blood boil, I get up and start doing the dishes (once no more than a few minutes after we’d sat down). As other unhappy kin reach their limit, I acquire more and more helpers who dry and put things away and you know, hide.

    This strategy is most effective when the person you’re avoiding is not the type to help with “women’s work.” Thankfully(?), in my experience, the venn diagram of “That Uncle” and “Relatives least likely to help clean” is pretty much a single circle. It won’t work 100% of the time, but as avoidance tactics go, I’ve found it very successful.

    1. Yes, this was my strategy for dealing with my stepfather’s brother when he went off on one of his racist rants. “Mum, let me make a start on those dishes for you!” was a great way to excuse myself from the dinner table, and I’d usually quickly be joined by one or more family members equally keen to escape. And yes, he was definitely of the type never to help with the cleaning himself, so the kitchen stayed a lovely sanctuary for the length of his visit.

  33. LW here and this is great! Thank you all. I knew I could count on the Awkward Community to step up and help me out. I am actually looking forward to 4th of July/Thanksgiving/Christmas, thanks to you 😀

  34. My dad is That Guy at our family gatherings and I live on the opposite side of the country from most of my family, so I don’t make it home very often. I have managed to train him by saying in a firmly pleasant voice, “Dad, we’re never going to change each other’s minds on this issue and I’d rather not argue politics with you since I’m home for such a short time.” If he tries to bring it up again, I go with “Dad, can we please talk about something else? I really, really don’t want to spend the little time I have at home in an argument with you,” repeated ad nauseum.

    After doing that for a year or two at every family gathering, one diversion or incredibly obvious and pointed subject change is usually sufficient.

    I really love the “So I was changing the subject the other day” idea in the comments, btw. Will have to try that 😉

  35. I cannot tell you how frustrating it can be when someone tries to sidetrack conversations into ‘insert argument here’, usually religion or politics, especially when they’re views that disagree so badly with my own and I know if I pointed anything out, I’d get yelled at and if there is one thing I cannot take, it’s being yelled at.

    Quiet side conversations are a lifesaver. I’m sure everyone else is probably as tired of his bs as you are and will be gladly looking for a way out. Has anyone pointed out to the uncle how rude he’s being, or does everyone just kind of go along with it? Maybe if he starts in on one of those rants, someone can play it off like “haha, that’s uncle pundit for ya. Now howabout that sports team/weather/other subject that won’t result in a huge argument that makes people feel awkward?”

    He’s probably just looking for attention and sees his rants as the best way to make everyone pay attention to him and him alone, since no one else can get a word in edgewise. Do as you would with a toddler that is yelling for attention and being annoying, and ignore him. Send the signal that if he wants to be part of the conversation, he needs to shape up and not be such a brat.

  36. My technique is like your last point; I’ll ask someone to come do something with me. And others will go do things or more likely excuse themselves to “see where x has got to, they’ve been gone awhile”. And then That Person may still be going, but by now they are talking to themself.

  37. I don’t know how effective this would be, but how about some strategically deployed, weaponized silent treatment?

    Yes, I know it’s a tool abusers in relationships use to keep completely legitimate requests from being instituted, but isn’t the bigoted family conversation hijacker (BFCH) being abusive?

    BFCH: I think [bigoted talking point #1,045]!

    Rest of The Family: (*Silence*)

    BFCH: Why’s everyone being so sensitive?  Did I hurt your precious feelings?

    Rest of The Family: (*Silence*)

    BFCH: Well, screw you all anyway!  I think what I think and you can’t do anything to change my mind!

    Rest of The Family: (*Eats meal in silence and departs afterward.*)

    I can’t imagine the BFCH would want to be invited back after such an experience.

    1. I think this is potentially a good idea (not necessarily for the entire time, but for targeted “we’re all finished with this conversation” moments), but only if you can get the whole family on board. Not necessarily because other family members agree, but just because there’s probably at least one person in every family who would have a tough time pulling it off, even if they wanted to. It’s fairly well ingrained that you respond when someone is speaking to you, and that ignoring people trying to have a conversation with you is rude. And some folks struggle with the “well, we’ll return the awkward to sender”.

      But this is once again a situation when one person is behaving badly, and everyone else is having to navigate and feel the consequences of that behavior. This would be one way to say “nope, we’re not going to pave the way for you to behave poorly anymore”.

  38. My script is always:

    “We’ll agree to disagree. Now, who’s seen The Avengers?”

    It doesn’t how much they blow smoke or fume or spittle their arguments at me, I just nod and say, “We’ll agree to disagree. Continuing subject change…”

    On that note, I didn’t have a political debate per se, but politics came up and my uncle was making his usual conservative regurgitated Fox News rhetoric known. He said something to the effect of, “Everyone gets more conservative as they get older because wisdom comes with age.”

    I laughed and said, “Well, I’m more liberal now than I ever was as a teenager, so that’s not always the case!”

    He then tried to argue with me that I would somehow grow out of my political idealogy. I was so taken aback that I attempted to argue, saying, “No, I’m pretty sure I won’t” and he kept going on about how I would change my mind.

    I simply said, “Well, right now I’m a queer feminist with socialist leanings and am very happy where I am! We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

  39. Thanks for everyone who is sharing their experiences and strategies! I would like to ask for suggestions and strategies when side conversations aren’t possible.

    I used to (key word is used to) spend time in a social circle where in order to see friend A, you had to go to the house they shared with B and C, because the relationship was such that A had an incredibly hard time getting out of the house to do activities because reasons.

    That was fine, because I enjoyed visiting with A and was willing to travel to their house to see them. B was a delightful person and was not always there during our hang outs, because B had a lot of projects, chores, things to do. C – C, was where it got challenging.

    C had the amazing ability to make everything about C, and to redirect any attempt to make anything else about anyone. It would play out like this. C, hanging out downstairs watching TV, while A and I are in the kitchen cooking dinner for everyone and talking about random thing, “I can’t concentrate on my TV show if you two are talking….”

    We would offer – ok, how about you watch TV upstairs? how about you watch TV downstairs, with earphones? we would offer all sorts of things, but magically, NOTHING would work, except for us to not talk about anything except what C was interested in (sorry, but I can’t talk about Harry Potter fan fic for hours on end with nothing else, even if I got paid for it), and nothing but that.

    C would do this when they knew A and I could not go elsewhere. A house might have two TVs but few houses have two kitchens.
    If we said, fine, we can’t cook dinner if you want silence while we do it, then they’d pout about us not cooking dinner for them.
    If we said, hey, lets get a pizza, that would just move the problem forward in time, the same absolute domination of the conversational space would happen, just over the pizza.

    It would start as… I can’t focus on X if you do Y, but magically, any and all solutions that were something other than sitting and listening in rapt attention to C’s latest thing would not work. From what I could see, C was never going to be willing to allow any conversation to happen that wasn’t about… C. They’d use every tool to manipulate things back that I can imagine, and it was impossible to communicate the ideas of taking turns, or working together on things that need fixing.

    I eventually realized that the stress of trying to have a relationship of any kind with A was more than I could bear and just faded far away.

    Has anyone ever experienced this level of energizer bunny, unstoppable it must be all about me or I will shut it down?
    Is there anything that will get through, or do you just have to walk away from it?

    1. I have, and I don’t think so. I think Walk Away is it. I’m sorry.

      It sounds like A’s reasons for leaving the housr are ones they just could not change, or would not, change. For your purposes, would not is the same as could not. That’s tough, and I am sorry for them. But unless A was willing or able to manage that situation, you’re left with limited options.

      Well, I suppose you could take direct action. You can say “I am sorry, but you cannot dictate the use of public space in this way. Either find a way to do your thing while we talk in the kitchen, or don’t do your thing.”

      However, the results might not be worth it for A. If they would have been worth it, they’d have had that conversation already.

      So yeah. I just disengaged. It was a relief.

      1. Hi Mamacita and thank you for your reply. If A had changed their behavior, and left the house so we could spend time together without C, C would have imposed consequences. That’s icky to say, but it’s what -did- happen the few times A tried to assert themselves.

        That put me in precisely the position you laid out – I know darn well how to take direct action, but when doing so means there will be a fountain of consequences shot at my friend, because of doing so, I can’t bring myself to do it.

        So I left. Damm. I was hoping there was some other way to handle the situation, but not really. Thank you for helping me see that actually, I did do everything I could.

        1. It sounds like letting A manage the risk of displeasing the Roommate of Evil was the right decision at the time.

          Unfortunately, sometimes it’s time to check out, however much you like a friend, and however much you don’t want to let someone else’s manipulating ways impact your friendships. But, in this situation, where you’re a friend and a visitor, the only thing you can really insist on is what price of admission you are willing to pay. “Listen to a selfish person talk while witnessing them be really terrible and controlling” is is a high price. It’s okay to let it go.

          Also, you don’t *have* to do everything you can to salvage a relationship or change a third party’s mind. If you think A is an abuse victim, being safe person to be around is a good yourself is critical. Not doing things you know endanger A is, too. If you feel like it’s a good idea, pointing out resources to get out of that sitch is, a good thing. Making it clear you don’t like how A is treated, also. But after that, well. You can’t conduct a black ops extraction. After that, you have to take care of yourself. A has to be in charge of their own agency and relationship with Roommate.

          If it’s just awful, not abusive, really, when the price of admission gets to be too much, you can step out of the box office line at your own discretion.

    2. I think your options are either walking away or saying to C. “I’m trying to talk to A. Without you. I’m not actually here to see you, like, at all. Could you leave us alone please? I’m not interested in fanfic and I’m tired of you interrupting us.” I don’t know if that fixes it, and it’s really A’s place to do that, as the housemate, but when polite redirects have stopped working, try total bluntness.

      1. If I were several years younger, I’d suggest closing the door (if there was one) between the living room (where I suppose C and the TV were) and the kitchen. Except, once I did just that. I was working on my school things at the only place where internet (necessary for what I was doing) was available to me (yes, the “to me” part is significant – I wasn’t allowed to use the office upstairs just because my parents said so) – in the living room, next to my parents watching TV. My sister was in the kitchen, putting dishes in place with a lot of loud clashing. So, in order to lower the noise at least a bit, I dared the unspeakable and closed the door. As I was walking back to the computer, my sister stormed out of the kitchen and kicked me in the shin from behind. I fell on the floor and… couldn’t get up. And ever since, my knee has never been good again. (It probably didn’t help very much that I lay on the floor almost 24 hours before my parents admitted the possibility that I might actually need medical help. And I was so conditioned about being subhuman that it didn’t occcur to me that I could crawl to the phone and call myself an ambulance. Or the police.)
        Sorry. This has nothing to do with anything. It just brought back some painful memories.

        1. Holy cow. I hate your parents a lot. Are you getting some therapy (physical therapy, too)? Are you the hell out of there?

          1. Yes, (no), and yes. I’m safe and way better (mentally, I mean) but still far from well.
            (By the way, I sort of pity my sister. I mean, she was trained, throughout her childhood, to bully me.)

          2. I also hate your parents, Divizna, and am glad you are not there any more. Yikes. 😡

        2. Divzina, I’m so sorry your family chose to treat you that way. I am so happy to hear that you are out of there. Jedi hugs if you want em.

      2. Thank you! That approach got met with tantrums and screaming, literal screaming.

        I think what I’m understanding is that if the blunt doesn’t work, and the polite doesn’t work, it’s OK to walk away.

        I’m having some very big feelings reading through this thread and realizing that wow – many people have had experience where side conversations are a very good answer for all involved, and my experience with this situation was an outlier.

        I think some of the feelings are tremendous sadness that yes, things really did suck that badly, and also happiness that I can go and find other situations that are more likely to not suck that much. This whole thread is full of experiences from people who managed side conversation, and that gives me an idea that if I try it in other places it might work better than it did in the house of the ABCs. Let me see if I can focus on that, because that is actually super useful. Thank you!

  40. As a native Washingtonian who tends to forget that other people don’t consider political debates an entertaining diversion, I think there’s a lot to be said for the direct approach. And if your efforts to tell Uncle you’d like to talk about something else now are brushed off because you’re young, ask what that has to do with not wanting to sit through a one-sided political lecture.

  41. The way I have solved dealing with people who are opposite to me in politics (and who, indeed, gave my politics as one of the many reasons my husband should not marry me) is not to visit them. It has been four years since I have visited my husband’s super tolerant parents. My life is nicer not hearing the complaints about the stupid stupid people who think the way I do.

    My relatives, on the other hand, even though they know they do not agree with my husband, welcome him and have cordial conversations with him about hot topics, such as abortion, as they are sincerely interested in understanding his point of view.

    Interesting to me that my husband’s father, the PhD who is The Smartest Man In The World, cannot have a cordial conversation with someone who does not see things his way, but my aunts and uncles, many of whom never went to college, can be gracious in disagreement.

    (Not sure if this is a factor, but my family is not alcoholics.)

    (Except for one cousin, who licked my husband the first time she met him.)

    (I have 26 cousins, so it’s easy to avoid her.)

  42. Oh my goodness my dad sounds like this Uncle, although he realizes he focuses too much on stuff like that. I’m autistic and we suspect he is too and was never diagnosed, so we both have hyperfocus problems. Between the two of us, tho, there’s an understanding of we will either yell at each other until we’re done yelling (we get loud), we’ll discuss it calmly (depending on our moods), or one of us will repeat several times “NO I DUN WANNA SHHHH” more or less until the subject is dropped. But we’re argumentative by nature and are okay with that, so that might not work for others.

  43. If you employ the Quiet SIde Conversation tactic and he gets pissy because you’re ignoring him, one thing you could try saying is “Oh, I didn’t realize you were personally addressing me. The topic you’re on makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to discuss it with you. I’m going to catch up with Grandma now, I’ll catch you later.” If he tries to poke holes in what you’ve just said, try repeating word for word, “I really don’t want to talk with you right now. I’m going to catch up with Grandma instead.” If he really won’t get the message, one really solid line to have handy is “This is not negotiable.” Try for size, “Why are you badgering me? I’m done talking with you right now. This is not negotiable.”

    I get that in group situations this can feel so painfully awkward. Pulling it off with minimal awks is all in the delivery. Even if you feel really nervous and scared, even if you’re worried about what other people present will think of you, even if inside you are feeling reluctant to confront him and worrying that you are the one making it awkward — don’t show that. Outwardly, do everything you can to project an air of complete calm, to show that you are the reasonable one and he’s the one picking a fight. Which is the complete and utter truth, but it helps to remind yourself of it in the moment. One thing I do is practice saying this stuff beforehand in the bathroom mirror. Get so good at saying it that you can say it in a perfectly calm, flat voice, with your face blank, your shoulders back and your whole posture relaxed. If you can pull that off with your uncle, nobody looking on will be thinking “Wow, what a drama queen LW is, I can’t believe she had the nerve to talk to him like that.” They’ll be thinking, “Wow, what a drama queen Uncle is, I can’t believe the way he kept on trying to provoke LW when she was being so reasonable and trying so hard to be polite and just disengage.”

  44. My mother is the regurgitater of all thing FOX in our family and I have spent years using my secret weapon: WALKS.

    “My goodness, it’s stuffy in here, why don’t we go for a walk?” “Dad, I’m a little stiff from my drive, want to go for a walk?” “Brother, why don’t we take Nephew for a walk to get his wiggles out?”

    Since no one wants to listen to my mom bloviate (even if they agree with her, she really does mangle the arguments badly), the specific person I ask will usually agree. And then the person next to HIM will agree and then suddenly it’s a huge, whole-family pile on and the dogs need to come and someone needs to find the leashes and where are the kids’ shoes and the subject is changed.

    Once on the walk, it’s much harder to maintain conversational control of the whole group. It’s not just easy but necessary to string out into smaller groups and start those side conversations. It’s also easier to wander away from a rant to another group just by speeding up or slowing down your footpace. In a pinch, I’ve slowed down until I was behind my mom’s peripheral vision and then stopped to “tie my shoe” so that she was way ahead of me.

    As a bonus, if you are dealing with seniors, they often don’t get out for enough walks. My grandparents-in-law loved it when I suggested walks because everyone else always assumed they just wanted to sit in their easy chairs.

    Finally, walks are good for you, especially if you can manage to go for a walk in nature. It’s much harder to be angry and vicious when there are birds and trees and dogs chasing balls.

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