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Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness.  ~Margaret Millar

Have you ever had a conversation so dull, so insipid, so blatantly one sided that you had to resort to amusing yourself anyway that you could?

The scenario is you’re stuck in a conversation you cannot avoid. You can’t avoid talking to the person  because the circumstances require it. At some level you need to stay on that persons good side, or you can’t risk offending them because of the consequences.

You have to talk to them.

At the same time you know that when you do talk to this person, you’re going to be so bored that your brain will crawl out of your nose. The conversation will be so uninspiring that you’ll crave to find excitement in any way that you can find it. Just to sustain your will to live, you will hunt out anything to amuse you.

The default way people do this, at least as far as I understand how people behave, is by changing the topic or by keeping their involvement in a conversation to a superficial level. Now that works when you’re dealing with reasonable and basically decent people. There are a lot of people out there who are not reasonable or basically decent.

They’re so wrapped up in their own world, own views, own perspectives and own way of looking at issues, that you will not get them to talk about anything else. They’re so engaged with their own neurosis that they can’t bear to not talk about themselves or their cause.

Changing the topic is right out.

On the other hand you don’t have it in you, the heart or the will, to keep playing the passive role in the conversation. You know that playing the passive appreciative role will be misinterpreted for interest. You know that these people, what they need is the slightest indication of interest and they’ll talk your head off.

Playing the passive appreciative listener is right out.

You could do it anyway but it wouldn’t solve the ‘being bored’ part of the conundrum.

I’ve found a solution that solves this. It is a highly personal solution; I don’t even pretend that it’ll work for you. Its sole purpose is keeping me sane. Which for understandable reasons, I feel is a important goal.

If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I have a predilection for clever word play. I also have a really love for those of us who are culturally literate, and able to keep up with the allusions that I pepper my conversation with. Now I don’t expect people to get them but I do enjoy it when they do, and I enjoy people who possess the nuance and ability to keep up.

I combine these attributes together and take them to the boring conversation. Instead of giving negative replies, or dull encouraging ones, I start essentially engaging in one-sided repartee. I start dropping in allusions. I change the tense of words or the context. What might have started as a monologue on holidays is transformed by changing the tense into a sex joke. What starts as a political conversation might become a reference to horror movies. Or the Mona Lisa.

I observe that these diversions have a pretty uniform reaction from the chatterbox. For a second, for a split second they stop. They visibly think “what the hell has he just said” and then they ignore it. They pretend it didn’t happen, that I said the right things, the things they wanted to hear. They keep going on full steam, trusting that I meant to give the response that would validate their insecure rambling. If needed, they’ve shown a considerable ability to fill in the blanks in my response themselves, interpreting it as great and positive words.

A few more seconds go by and their confidence is fully restored. It’s fully restored because they didn’t listen to a word you said in the first place, they didn’t pay it any attention and now that it’s their turn to talk they’ll not take the risk of losing their momentum.

Which gives me a golden opportunity to do the same thing again. And again. And Again. And again.

Eventually, finally, thankfully, subhanallah, the person finally shuts up. Sometimes I hope this is because I’ve disorientated them enough to throw off their balance and forced to really think about what they’re saying. I think I give myself too much credit too. More usually what saves me is the realization that I’ve done my duties towards politeness and decency, and  can request to be excused and depart post haste.

Secure in the knowledge that it’ll start again soon enough. 

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One Comment

  1. I share the same problem but I lack your word playing skill so I’m likely to appear insane to the talking party. Too bad it’s the only way keep myself sane.

    Apart from boredom, my primary concern is that the guy is wasting my precious time, so my best exit strategy may be making up an excuse or making my phone ring.


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