How many times have you faced the dilemma of the monologist?
You have begun a conversation with someone expecting a dialogue and quickly discover that the alleged partner in this dialogue is instead engaging in an interminable monologue. The discovery, while being an affront to your patience, is also a challenge to your essential understanding of the rules of politeness.
The monologue assault is endless, unedited, often repetitive, without insight to the nature of your attentiveness. The speaker, wrapped up in his narcissistic binge, hasn't a clue to your interest level. He is convinced that you are enraptured by his monologue, an oral deluge about which you have long lost interest. Your mind is devising ways to protect itself from this onslaught by various strategies of mental avoidance, while you assemble your features as if you were listening to the Sermon on the Mount.
In a sense you are trapped, pinned like a dead butterfly, to the rules of politeness and avoidance of insult that you have been conditioned to obey. You know what you want to say to this person: that he talks too much, that he is being boring and repetitive, that his monologue has little interest to you, and that he is assaulting you with a barrage of words which are being rejected by you internally as useless barbs of boredom. Above all, you fear that any protest will bring insult. Worse, your entreaties might not stop the verbal onslaught since the speaker probably truly believes that his monologue is absolutely necessary for you to hear for your own good.
If I am alert enough, my strategy is sometimes a gentle interruption, usually to no avail. Even if the interruption is forceful, the speaker is sure to return to the subject when the interruption has run out of steam. The poor fellow hasn't the insight to understand your dilemma. At times, you try body language signals, the glazed look, the long yawn, or some other forceful gesture, like repeatedly looking at your wristwatch, that might signal boredom or disinterest. In most cases this is an unsuccessful strategy, because the speaker has no clue to your inner emotions, barely noticing such gestures.
Indeed, you always have the sense, even if you quelled his verbal diarrhea for a brief moment, that he is always searching for the right opening to restart his monologue or begin another one, especially one that requires the copious use of that first person pronoun.
Privately, you vow never to be put into this position again. Even this strategy has its drawbacks, if this person's spouse or partner is an essential part of your social or family circle and difficult to avoid.
Actually, I have one courageous friend, who, when the monologue reaches a point of no return, will rise from the table, or whatever venue he feels trapped in, and, without a word, simply disappear, leaving us with the assumption that he has obeyed a call of nature. This strategy, of course, occurs only when the monologist is assaulting a group and not a one on one situation. My instinct is to jump up and applaud him. Unfortunately, I am too timid to emulate his action.
My ultimate fallback strategy is based on something I once read about Bing Crosby, of all people. He had opined in the press that even as he was reciting his obligatory lines of dialogue while the cameras were running, he was thinking about how his horse was faring in the fifth race at Santa Anita.
Thus, utilizing all the multiple tracks available to the human brain, I perfected my latest strategy of escape. When a clueless monologist appears in my social setting, I take flight in my imagination and use my recall skills to wrestle with various story ideas humming in my mind, recall bits of music or memories, tell myself old jokes, or go over recent or past expenditures; I review my most recently read books, ponder today's politics, or review any options on actions still to be taken.
Indeed, such a strategy has been often recounted in the memoirs of prisoners of war forced to bear the isolation of solitary confinement.
You may argue of course that this bit of written intelligence might be characterized as a monologue presented for your own good, but then you are not obliged to follow its coping directions and figure out your own.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses," "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's website at warrenadler.com.