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Ask Amy: I’m frustrated that I keep getting stuck in one-sided conversations

4 min

Dear Amy: I’m a 50-something businessman in the Midwest.

I travel a lot on two- and three-hour car trips with colleagues, clients, business associates, etc. We often grab breakfast or lunch, or we meet for a social meal. I’m an inquisitive and outgoing person, so I often ask a question to get a conversation going.

Lately, I’ve noticed that my conversations are increasingly one-way.

Many people answer my questions, then continue to prattle on for the full duration of a meal, without so much as ever asking a simple question in return: “So, what about you?”

I often finish my entire meal while they talk, and they amazingly jam a bite in here and there between sentences.

Am I wrong for growing tired of these interactions?

I am an interested and natural conversationalist, but lately, I feel as if I am just a really good listener. Although I am happy to hear their stories, sometimes I’d like to share my thoughts as well, but rarely am I given that chance.

Have I grown overly sensitive? Is it too much to expect to have an actual conversation?

— Professional Listener

Listener: In my opinion, no, you are not being sensitive, but quite perceptive. This is not surprising, given you have spent a lot of time not only listening, but also paying attention.

I agree that this is tiring and disappointing, although I could imagine during a period of frustration asking your talking companion: “Do you realize that you never express curiosity about me? Aren’t you interested?”

I don't imagine that making much of a difference.

Full disclosure: Several years ago, my daughter passed me a note during a nerve-racking social gathering: “Stop talking. Start listening.”

I’ve been working hard to follow this excellent and pithy directive ever since. Talkers need to train themselves to lob and volley.

My self-training includes your technique: If/when someone asks me an “opening” question (“Do you have children?”), I supply a brief answer (“Yes, I have five!”), and I inquire about them.

Dear Amy: I recently found out from my college-age kids that, when they were much younger (perhaps 8 or 9), they were spending the weekend with my sister-in-law, and for some reason, she told them their parents (us) were getting a divorce and if they wanted to talk to someone about it, they could call her.

Well, needless to say, we weren’t getting a divorce, and I have no idea where she got this idea, but it explains why my kids were hysterical anytime my husband and I had a disagreement during their childhoods.

We assumed it was because most of their friends had divorced parents, but now we know differently.

I’m angry that she caused my kids such pain and anxiety. I know she wasn’t doing it maliciously, but was instead sticking her nose into someone else’s business. And it wasn’t even accurate.

Do I bring this up to her or continue to keep her at a distance, as I have since I found this out?

— Angry Mama

Angry: You should bring this up. However, when you do, you should determine to be calm and respectful, and to be fully present when you hear her explanation.

Your sister-in-law’s choice all those years ago was at the very least a tremendous lapse of judgment. It is hard to imagine the thinking involved in her playing the divorce card to your children, without your express permission, and without evidence or provocation.

No one should make assumptions about the trajectory of other people’s relationships, and no adult should speculate about parents to their children.

Be prepared: She may not remember this episode — or claim not to. She may dispute the words she used vs. the words your children remember hearing.

She owes you — and them — an apology.

Once you've aired this, you can then choose to distance yourself — if you want to.

Dear Amy: “Unsure of Friend Obligations” wondered about how to deal with her depressed friend who never sought help, never changed and vented to her frequently.

Twice in my life, I’ve had a friend care enough to tell me what I was doing to threaten the relationship.

One landed right away, and the friendship survived and thrived.

The other was something I looked back at years later and realized how right she was. I tracked her down and thanked her for her courage.

It won’t always land, but it’s worth trying.

— Restored

Restored: Friends tell one another the truth. I’m so happy you heard it.

©2022 by Amy Dickinson distributed by Tribune Content Agency