There will always be that one person that begins a conversation and lacks the social awareness of knowing when to end it. A friend of mine, Alexis, travelled this summer to Colombia. He endured a 10-hour flight in the company of a socially inept Colombian woman with a disproportionate fear of cold weather. Countless times she lectured him on the importance of bringing a coat to Bogota, even though the temperature is usually around 60 degrees Fahrenheit and you’re so close to the sun you can feel the skin cancer harvesting in your pores. She went as far as offering him to take her coat and keep it. The conversation was initially interesting. Four hours later, however, Alexis placed a pillow under his head and closed his eyes. This failed to deter his all-too-persistent neighbor, who continued to direct questions at him, either completely oblivious to the fact that her conversation partner was subtly dismissing her or just not caring at all. Later, my friend would open his laptop to watch “House of Cards” (2013-present), only to have the woman ask him if they could share headphones and watch it together.
Alexis arrived to Bogota physically and mentally drained, more by the 10-hour conversation than anything else. This was due to the fact that instead of going to sleep, Alexis continued to converse with someone he’d rather not be talking to if he were given the choice. But Alexis did have a choice. Some of us are just too caught up on manners that we forego certain measures that will amount to our general happiness. The irony is that this usually happens with strangers or people we’re not particularly close to. People close to us inspire the comfort necessary for us to disregard rudeness and tell them when something bothers us or when we simply need some time alone. Strangers don’t offer us that same luxury. But is explicitly saying what you want and how you feel necessarily uncouth? Is it impolite to want some time alone and to say so?
Saying what you feel doesn’t mean you can’t do so in a cordial and affable manner. Even if our objective of retiring ourselves from a conversation appears antisocial, our wording could blunt the effect. I’m not limiting the universe of discourse to conversations. I’m referring to actions that ruffle us, little things that build up to the point where our annoyance visibly explodes. This results not only in our deteriorating mood but also creates negative feelings toward the person who caused it. Being upfront and avoiding those moments helps prevent our developing adverse emotions for someone else.
If you are more negatively affected by the guilt of thwarting people’s attempts at conversation than by the annoyance of enduring unwanted socializing, that’s understandable. But for those who would find more peace in avoiding said social engagements, being upfront would likely leave us better off. There is a fine line between being outwardly rude to someone and expressing our desires, however alienating or unforeseen those desires may be. It’s not easy, but it shouldn’t be that hard.