DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a relative who lives alone and who calls me every week to chat. This would be fine, except the calls are always over an hour long, and the person only talks about their own interests and doesn’t really let me get a word in.
I find an hour is a long time to just sit and listen, but any polite attempts I make to end the call are ignored. I’ve tried, “I should get to bed, as I have work in the morning,” “I think I’ll head out for a walk while it’s still light out,” and “I have dinner reservations at 7:30,” among others. But the relative either ignores me or launches into “one last story” that goes on for 30 minutes.
I don’t think they mean any harm -- I think they may just have difficulty understanding social cues -- and I don’t know how to tell them how I feel without hurting their feelings. I’ve started to avoid answering their calls because I dread how long they go on. What should I do?
GENTLE READER: Your relative has, perhaps unintentionally, stumbled on a technique well known to telemarketers: If they keep talking, a polite person will be reluctant to interrupt or to hang up. This is the right impulse, as one rudeness cannot justify another. But that does not mean you must be a helpless victim.
No one can actually speak without taking a breath -- and when they do, dive in with a short, complete sentence such as, “Thank you, goodbye” and hang up before the person can restart. This requires careful timing and is not comfortable, as it means not waiting for the normal full stop from the other person or leaving a breath before hanging up.
With your well-meaning relative, you will still have to preface it with multiple gentler attempts to end the conversation. For telemarketers, it was enough, in the ancient days of landlines, that they not hear the receiver impacting the telephone base.