DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is to be done about those with the tendency to make virtues of their faults?
I’m thinking of a woman I met who started off the evening by warning us, “I talk too much. My husband tells me all the time at dinner to shut up, but I just don’t.” She then proceeded to show us exactly what she meant by talking entirely too much throughout cocktails, dinner and dessert.
If that weren’t bad enough, she persisted in asking my husband and me three times when we were going to have children. I racked my brain for the right response, even saying, “Oh, dear. What would Miss Manners say in this position?” But the woman didn’t get the joke or take the hint.
My husband and I squirreled out of the uncomfortable position she continued to put us in, but I was still irritated. I have another friend who does this sort of thing – admits she talks too much, but instead of trying to contain herself, she goes on blathering.
What annoys me is that it seems these people are trying to put themselves in a position of “You can’t get mad at me – I just admitted I’m fragile and socially awkward.” But I wonder what can politely be done with this type of person, besides leaving the room?
GENTLE READER: Unfortunately, you can’t agree or leave the room without a covering excuse, but you certainly do not have to answer impertinent questions.
Miss Manners concurs that the behavior you describe is both unattractive and common. To insult oneself before another gets a chance to do so eliminates the need – in the blatherer’s mind – to control the offense. Furthermore, it somehow requests sympathy when no apology is actually being made.
In the first case, if you are very, very careful to avoid any hint of sarcasm, Miss Manners will permit you to divert unwanted questions by responding: “I would answer you, but surely you don’t want me to go on and on. I wouldn’t want to be reprimanded by your husband.”