Getting out of a bad conversation is a bit like breaking up with someone with whom you’ve had a very brief, very dysfunctional, relationship. “The magic’s gone,” you want to say, “I just don’t think I can do this anymore.” Unfortunately it’s not that simple, because the person you dumped sees you with someone else literally minutes later, which is an offensively short turnaround period, even for a known lothario.
I’ve never bailed on someone just because they’re boring. Enduring killer yawn-fests is a specialty of mine, and I can do some of the most convincing “interested” faces you’ll see this side of Broadway. The reason these conversations are bearable, though, is that the other party is at least throwing the ball back; and I pay that, regardless of how I feel about your new twelve-sided Rubix cube.
Then there’s the other breed – the ones you can’t squeeze anything out of, regardless of how much bait you dangle. These people have the potential to take a beautiful little number like, “I heard you’re running for parliament, that’s great – what kind of changes are you thinking of making when you come into power?” and answer it in under ten seconds. It’s a skill to convey your message with this degree of brevity, but the downside is that you’re only a few words away from sounding like “me Tarzan, you Jane.”
This situation is still not bail-warranting. I enjoy the challenge these people present, and their social graces are such that I doubt they notice the proverbial elephant that is our pathetic attempt at conversation. In fact, even if there was literally an elephant in the room, you probably wouldn’t get much more out of them than “Look – there elephant. Me confused.”
There are really only two situations where I feel like an exit is justified. The first is when there is nothing left for either party to talk about. And I do mean nothing. We both know it, and we’re both frantically shuffling through all known files on the other person trying to find something, anything, to talk about. My desperation was once so great, that I was overjoyed to remember that a member of their family was seriously ill: (enquiries of this nature will buy you at least another five minutes.)
My trademark excuses in this situation are “I’ve gotta go to the loo,” “can I get you a drink?” and, if I’m really stuck, “Is that the time.” None of these are particularly convincing, but I find that the other person is so relieved they’ve found an out, they’d buy it even if you said that your nan had just called from onboard the HMS Cutlass where she was being held for ransom by pirates.
The second pike-worthy situation involves a group of people I refer to as “drifters,” because their nomadic lifestyle means that they camp in a place for only so long as they continue to find the living conditions suitable, and because their eyes kind of roam around the room while you’re talking, landing on anything that’s more interesting.
I think I would rather the drifter just said to me, “I’ve got to go – this is killing me,” because at least they wouldn’t be making a mockery out of both of us: the person who hangs around, on the other hand, has essentially left only a shell behind while the rest of him is teleported somewhere else, somewhere better.
The way to identify a genuine drifter from someone with a lazy eye is to say something like “It’s hard being a nun in the 21st century,” or “I can’t believe I got scoliosis and rabies at the same time.” If they say “uh huh,” or “me too,” you can either stick around and have a bit more fun with them or quietly bail while their attention is elsewhere, so at least when they turn around they’re standing by themselves, dumped, in the middle of the dancefloor.
I’d like to think that I fall into none of the above categories, but, then again, most of the population probably feels the same. The only one I’m positive I’m innocent of is being a drifter: that kind of imagined superiority requires a degree of arrogance I’m incapable of.
Mind you, I was pretty into myself when that guy told me his life wouldn’t be worth living if it weren’t for this blog.*
*This never happened.
10% relevance, 90% Colin Firth. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hasKmDr1yrA