Dear Carolyn: During extended family get-togethers with my side of the family, there is one person who does 95 percent of the talking. When I ask someone else in the room a question about their lives, this person always jumps in and takes over the conversation again. This talker also never inquires about what might be new or important in the lives of her close relatives in the room.
My husband and kids really have a hard time being around the talker. We have reduced our visits with this person to only when out-of-town relatives are visiting.
Is there any way to encourage this person to let others talk? I leave these get-togethers frustrated that, while I was with family members for three hours, I didn't have an opportunity to hear what's going on in their lives.
Frustrated: There are always ways. The question is, are you willing to use them?
There’s refereeing: “That’s interesting, Chatty — hold that thought. Right now [someone else] is answering a question about her life.”
There’s also self-sacrifice. “Chatty, let’s go for a walk/start dinner/make a run to the store.” Take turns and you’ll each buy the others precious chances to talk.
There are gimmicks: “Let’s go around the table and have each person give an update.”
These are gentle, and fair — to a talker perhaps most of all, since having people avoid Chatty seems to be the alternative. That isolates him or her, of course, which leads to loneliness, which probably started the over-talking in the first place, which then will only get worse. A firmer hand might be the softest touch.
Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, "Amy," is dating one of his close friends. Amy broke up with my boyfriend a little over a year ago, after dating for three years. I can tell my boyfriend is uncomfortable every time his friend and Amy are mentioned.
Whenever a friend asks my boyfriend how he feels about them, he states he's the happiest he has ever been and he might care if it weren't for our relationship. I think his response is mostly true, yet an overstatement. For some reason, the overstatement bothers me.
It's hard not to secretly feel jealous. Also, because we all live in the same city, we are invited to a lot of the same events. I've never met Amy and I'm hesitant to attend gatherings she is invited to.
How can I truly be there for my boyfriend and gracefully attend the same parties, dinners, etc., as Amy?
— Awkwardly Caught in the Middle
Awkwardly Caught in the Middle: Just go. Have your discomfort upfront. Then go again, knowing she’ll be there, and again, until it stops being an exception. Awkwardness is powerful, but it doesn’t stand a chance against the yawn of familiarity.
More important: Your sniffing out hyperbole in your boyfriend’s professions of joy is the interesting part of your question. Pushing past your fear of Amy-ful events, conveniently, is also the first step toward seeing whether he is in fact protesting too much. There’s nothing like having the ex in the same room to tell you whether he chose you because you’re you, or chose you because Amy was no longer an option. Again — better to face your discomfort upfront than let it stalk you wherever you go.