Dear Captain and Awkward Army,
My roommate and friend, Pat, is lonely and under socialized. Not always, but often, when Pat enters a conversation, he does not respond to the organic flow of the conversation or attempts to change the subject. Instead, he will wait until you are fished, then be like “Cool. So anyway, about the story I was telling you before…” and then just keep going. Or sometimes Pat will be like, “Hey, remember that thing we were talking about 20 minutes ago?” and then launch into a story.
Pat’s stories are usually pretty mundane, but in a group of people, Pat will make sure any new person to the group hears the pet story of the day, no matter how many times the other group members have heard it already. Pat is always 100% sure these stories are great and fascinating and will hype them up before telling them. He also seems to be oblivious to signs of disinterest and boredom.
Recently, I had a couple of chatty extroverts over and Pat still managed to dominate the conversation for 2 or 3 hours. I had to leave the room a few times to get a break. This was both exhausting and disappointing because I wanted to catch up with my guests and instead I mostly just got tickets to the Pat show. Though in Pat’s defense, I think my guests were entertained and not put off.
Some of my friends think that Pat is self centered, but I think it’s mostly that Pat is oblivious, eager to socialize, and insecure. Based on some of the stories Pat has told me me, he struggles to make friends and maintain friendships, and due to some of the details of these stories, I think this may be a contributor.
I would like to help Pat expand his friend circle (especially to include people who share Pat’s main interest and would find his stories interesting, since I don’t) but I don’t really want to sit down and have an awkward conversation with Pat where I have to explain that he is boring me and making me tired. It’s not a fun conversation for anyone to have, but Pat in particular has an overactive jerk brain and will likely be very hurt.
I would also like to make an effort to spend more time with Pat, but I don’t want to be talked at for an hour and a half while I feign interest in the ins and outs of Pat’s 18th century literature course and how awesome and smarter than everyone else in the class Pat is.
I know Pat doesn’t come off great in this letter, but he really is an awesome person when he can get out of his own way, and I want to help him.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter.
Signed: Introvert Hides Under Porch
I’ve got 5 pieces of advice for you.
Expand your own social circle and hang out outside your house & without Pat sometimes. Break the Geek Social Fallacy of “Pat is always invited to things I do & that all my social circles include Pat.” That might mean inviting friends over when you know that Pat will be at Regularly Scheduled Out of House Activity, and it might mean saying “I am having a few friends over for dinner on Thursday and I wanted to let you know so you could make other plans.” Pat: “Are you saying I’m not invited?” You: “I get to see them so seldom and I see you every day, so I’d love the chance to catch up with just them for a few hours. Thank you so much for understanding/I so appreciate you giving us some privacy.” Act as if Pat will do the right thing and as if it is a perfectly reasonable request. It is. You can make social events “come one, come all” or “give me a little space and I’ll do the same for you.” Roommates can hang with their friends in your living room and you can hang out in your room reading a book and without anybody being rude or mean or unfairly excluded. This may go against the established culture of a roommate situation, and it may incur feelings, but that still doesn’t make it unreasonable.
Take care of your own boredom levels. Nope on out when Story Pat gets going. Don’t be mean, but be blunt. “I’ve heard this story already. Can I get anyone anything from the kitchen?” People who want to hear the story will stay, people who don’t will accept your lifeline. Start a side conversation with someone you are interested in. When other people tell a story, ask them a follow-up question. You do not have to take care of other people’s possible boredom. If a situation like the other night happens, where Pat’s dominance of the conversation ruins your enjoyment of an event, see if you can pull him aside and say, privately, “Pat, I really want to catch up with my friends a little bit, and I can’t do that if you’re going to tell stories all night, especially stories I’ve heard a million times before. Can you ease off? Thank you.” If you can’t interrupt it in the moment, and you are pissed off, it’s okay to tell him you are pissed off the next day. “Pat, I’m glad you had fun last night, and my friends seemed to really like meeting you, but when you told stories for two or three hours straight, it really put a damper on my evening. I wanted to talk to my friends, not hear stories I’d heard a million times, and you were totally oblivious to any attempts to redirect the conversation. Can you try to be more aware?” If you talk about this directly a few times, and he doesn’t change his behavior, try: “Pat, you’re doing the thing again.” “Not cool, Pat.”
Be direct when Pat when he interrupts or ignores YOU. “Pat, did you hear anything I just said? It really bugs me when I tell you something and you immediately launch into your own story without responding.” “Pat, can we change the subject?” “Pat, I can tell you are very excited about this. Can you sum it up for me in three sentences? I don’t have the attention span right now for the full tale.” “Pat, I’m talking to Veronica now. You can tell your story later.” “Pat, I’m excited that you had a great day, but I’m not interested in hearing about it right now. Can we catch up tomorrow?” “Pat, sorry you had a rough day, but I am in the middle of something. Talk later?” “Pat, I had a rough day, too. Can you listen to me for a second without immediately following up with your own story?”
Do not take on the overall project of fixing Pat’s social life and loneliness. When you want Pat along and when you want to hang out with Pat, invite Pat. When you don’t, don’t. Since he is your friend, consider creating a monthly Roommate Hang ritual in place for your own enjoyment and to keep happy relations with him, but not to fix him or help him.
If Pat asks you for advice about being less lonely or commiseration for why he doesn’t seem to be connecting with people, be direct about that, too. “That sucks. What do you think you’ll do about that?” “That sucks. Why do you think that happens?” are classics and put the onus on Pat to figure out a solution. There are scripts like “Pat, have you thought about joining MeetUp group dedicated to (hobby/interest) or taking a class somewhere?” “Pat, sometimes your stories are very entertaining, but I get bored because I’ve heard them before.” “Pat, sometimes you don’t pay attention to whether other people are really listening to your story and you dominate the conversation. Is there a way you’d like to be interrupted when that happens?” that might get the point across.
True Story/Moderator Note: I am an enthusiastic storyteller and a professor and sometimes I am the Pat in the room. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD this year which explains some lifelong difficulties and tendencies I’ve had around interrupting/enthusiastic storytelling/impulsiveness/difficulty taking turns. I want to remind commenters that a) Internet diagnoses are against the site policies and solving the mystery of Why Pat Acts Like Pat is not our purview. I also want to say, from personal experience, that being told, bluntly, “I love you but you drive me nuts when you interrupt or dominate conversations” and/or encountering awkward silences and redirects from friends or embarrassing realizations that Yes, You’re Doing That Thing Again are totally survivable things even if they sting in the moment. Letter Writer, you can set bright boundaries with Pat about how much you can be talked at without being unkind. You taking care of yourself around these interactions is honestly some of the best “help” that you could give him.