Recently I was staying in a darling little hotel run by an older couple. They didn’t hire a staff and did everything themselves. They did the laundry, changed the linens, cleaned all of the rooms thoroughly, managed their own finances, and were a welcoming face to every single guest that checked in.
They told me their very detailed story of their life while I was standing in the lobby of their hotel, running 20 minutes late for work, trapped by my own inability to interrupt the sweet old lady, who seemed like she just needed to talk. But the point is … I couldn’t leave. I was stuck in a conversation I desperately needed to get out of.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Kaitie, you could have just told her you were running late for work, she would have understood.”. You’re 100% right I could have, and it is likely she would have understood.
But when your standing there, in the throws of pleasantries, the stakes feel so much higher than they do after you’ve walked away.
But it isn’t just this sweet old lady, it’s everyone! It could be the cashier at the grocery store who wants to tell me about his favorite bands, even though he knows he’s listing bands I’ve never heard of on purpose. It could be my mom on the phone who can’t stop starting sentences with, “While I have you…”. I’ve even had email correspondences that are infinitely on-going.
Why is it so hard to get out of a conversation? Why is it so hard for us to excuse ourselves? Is it that we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? Is it that we’re so insecure that we can’t imagine walking away and having someone dislike us? Is it that we fear the awkward clumsy clunk of our interruption?
Let’s break it down.
1. Perhaps it is our fear of our own voices.
Maybe we are afraid to interrupt because were afraid how our voice would sound. Maybe we are afraid if we say it too loudly it would sound angry, or if we say it to softly, they won’t hear us.
Or maybe it’s the awkward goodbyes that follow, the lie of the “oh yea I have to go anyway” or the disregard of the “oh wait, quick just one more thing…”.
Perhaps its not our voices we’re afraid of but the silence that follows after the goodbyes. The weight of guilt on our shoulders. When you’re in this situation, you’re never as doomed as you feel. If you get up the courage to finally say “excuse me I’m so sorry but I have to go” It always feels like a weight is lifted off of your shoulders.
2. We don’t want to sound rude.
We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Even strangers. Even creepy guys who are hitting on us. We don’t want to hurt their feelings.
People, especially women, are taught that our needs are less important than other people’s feelings.
We are taught that its okay if we’re uncomfortable, if its for the sake of preserving the feelings of a 60-year-old guy who is picturing us. We’re taught that it’s fine to be 20 minutes late to work if an old Lithuanian woman is giving an impromptu improvisational reading of her memoirs.
Your needs are important. Your thoughts and wants are valid. It is okay to be rude sometimes if you need to leave.
3. We’re insecure about what others think of us.
We think, “This is the most boring story I’ve ever heard in my life, and I do not care about this person at all, but I don’t want them to hate me.”. I know this thought well. I don’t think that in one paragraph we can get to the root of our needing to be liked, we should all do some soul searching on that one.
But something has recently occurred to me: maybe this person is just being polite and doesn’t want to have this conversation either.
Boom. Changed my entire outlook. Maybe they are just being polite. Maybe they will be grateful to me for letting them off the hook. Sometimes when I think that, I feel better about ending a conversation that I don’t want to have.
Now I think we can all tell when someone needs to talk. There is a big difference between needing someone to listen to you and forced pleasantries and sometimes people just need to be heard. And sometimes, being there for someone who needs you is worth clocking in 20 minutes late.