Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My husband and I have a very good friend (we've known him for 40-plus years). When he and his wife are with us, he has an annoying habit of blathering on and on, holding us captive while he talks about some boring subject, and doesn't let anyone else get a word in. If we don't find a way to stop it, I think we will probably explode and ruin an otherwise good relationship. We don't want to hurt his feelings, but we can't stand it any more. What should we do?
Distract with an activity
Try to have a planned event or activity to share when you see these particular friends, something that will keep him from monopolizing the conversation. Board game night, mini-golf, bowling - all these activities will keep him so involved in beating you (conversation hogs are generally competitive at heart) that the rest of you will have a bit of conversation.
- Leslie O'Farrell, Oakville, Ont.
Shift the topic
Find a topic of interest to his wife, and when half a heartbeat of a break occurs in the fellow's blather, blurt it out to her ("Oh! Say …"). Have your partner encourage this new direction. The firm shift of topic will put him off balance for a moment. Allow him room to join the new conversation, but if the blathering recurs, quickly return to what was being said before he hijacked the conversation. With any luck, a few trials of this technique will help him realize: a) that he was being boorish; and b) that you love having them as a "couple" of friends.
- Gabrielle Duval, Guelph, Ont.
Have a frank talk
What's good about this relationship? Your "friend" shows no regard for your news or your feelings. Some people aren't sensitive to social cues. Speak honestly and privately with him; tell him you value his company but not his rude behaviour. If he can change his ways, great. Otherwise, perhaps it's just time, after 40 years, to move on. Invite his wife separately if you enjoy her company.
- Elise Moser, Montreal
The final word
It's safe to say we've all encountered a veritable wind tunnel like your friend at one time or another. I remember the day I decided never to put up with such a person again. I was having coffee with an older gentleman of my acquaintance when I noticed it had been more than an hour and he still had not drawn breath long enough to allow me to say anything but "Really?" or "Wow, that's great." I decided to do an experiment - I would disregard every lesson I'd ever learned about polite conversation. I would not ask questions. I would not prompt with insincere "wows". I would bite back all obligatory "reallys". I would sit there, say absolutely nothing and see what happened.
What happened of course was that he just kept talking.
I can only applaud and wonder that you've kept this man as a friend for so many years. Still, I sort of understand why you would. The very quality that makes these people so infuriating makes them pitiable at the same time: They just don't get it. There's a blank spot in their socialization - they have never learned that for conversation to really flourish it needs to be treated like a team sport: You have to pass the puck every once in a while. You friend is missing out on one of the true pleasures of human interaction because he's too insecure to close his mouth and hear an opinion or experience that differs from his own. Those who suffer mouth-incontinence to the degree you've described are invariably deeply insecure.
That's the crux of the problem: These boors continue to drive us crazy because in our sympathy we indulge them. Leslie and Gabrielle's strategies are good, but ultimately Band-Aids. Sooner or later you'll find yourself once again uttering monotone "wows" and "reallys", hoping your friend will take the hint.
But as my experiment revealed, those of the wide-mouthed ilk are incapable of basic hint-taking. So what happens next? We get fed up and explode, or else we avoid them. Either way, they find themselves alone and friendless with no idea why, thus becoming even more insecure, more garrulous and more of a social misfit.
The kindest thing you can do for your friend is end that cycle. Take Elise's advice and tell him straight what's what - if you can get a word in edgewise.
Next week's question
A reader writes: I am 45, never married, no kids, a successful and generally happy single introvert. I've had some serious relationships but nothing stuck and I have no regrets. The challenge? I have a seven-year "friendship" with a woman with whom I've spent more fun and meaningful times than many happily married couples do. But when I move toward taking it to another level, she generally gets involved with someone else and I retreat. Inevitably, we start talking again and the process starts anew. That's where we are now. I don't want to move forward, only to have to cool it. Should I give her an ultimatum, back away or continue to play the game?
Let's hear from you
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Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy .