I’m not a violent person. I’m not even really an angry person, just a little frustrated sometimes. However, at my second job I share an office with someone, and he is rapidly corroding all the barriers general decency and patience have in my personality.
He talks. He’s a talker. A chatterbox, really. I walked into the office today and mentioned I had finished grad school. It’s a comment that might merit a few seconds of discussion: a “that’s great” here or a “How does it feel?” there. That’s not what happened. I think me starting the conversation acted as the needle that slipped through the cracks in a dam holding back what I can only describe as “too much fucking talking.”
First it was a trickle. He started with a “that’s fantastic.” I thought it was a little excessive. Yes, it’s fantastic, and I’m happy to be done, but we’re not at the point in our relationship where you can comment on anything in my life being fantastic. Our professional relationships allows for “great” and nothing more. The trickle became a steady pour. He asked me what my plans are. I told him I’m applying to jobs around town and online. The dam broke, the foundation crumbled, the little workers in little yellow hats and vests were crushed as all his conversational inhibitions bled away like a college freshman learning about whiskey for the first time.
He started with his year in Australia, which happened after he earned his first Masters degree, but he took a summer to finish his post grad work, and he planned on working in a middle school, but he wanted a break from academia before he entered it for a career, but he didn’t know where, but then he learned about work visas that would let him work for about a month at a time before he had to move to a new job. He mostly stuck to the coastal towns, worked for six months cleaning yachts on an island. One of The Beatles had a house there. My chatty office mate led me by the hand through all the professional and personal minutiae of his year in Australia. I know exactly how he cleaned the bathrooms at a convention center on an island where rich people partied. It was with a firehose. He said he could have done it on his hands and knees with a rag, but he had a firehose and he preferred that.
I thought it ws over when my boss came in, but then she started talking to him too, and then she left. She could have saved me. She could have given me some task to work on. She could have pulled me away because she knows this guy is a talker and I’m more of a person to text ‘unsubscribe’ to someone who sends two messages in a row. She knew, but she did nothing. She saw her way out, and she took it and left me to rot in social hell.
After I learned all the details of his year abroad, he moved quite seamlessly to a discussion of politics. We agreed on a lot of points and have quite similar ideology, and he’s even a nice person overall, but I don’t want to talk at length about gun rights while I’m drinking my tea and trying to look busy. There’s a time to discuss how silly I think it is that Americans can own enough weapons to pose an actionable threat to a mountain. There’s a time to discuss what I think of the current president. It’s not when I’ve just gotten into the office, and I tried with all my social acumen to demonstrate my absent investment in the conversation.
I tried looking at my computer. My thinking was that it would show I had something I’d rather be dealing with there. The conversation continued. I tried a more subtle route, thinking maybe he was a really over-analytical type like me. I turned my feet away from him, fiddled with my thumbs, tried to look uncomfortable. Subtle cues did not work. I tried leading the conversation to an end. I said “I hope you have a nice weekend at least 3 times.” He was in the doorway at that point so I wasn’t just saying bye to try to end the conversation.
He persevered through every natural end I offered to the conversation, but he’s a nice person, and I was thinking about what a nice person he was while he was telling me about Holland’s political structure and standing in the doorway very noticeably not leaving. He also told me he’s from Holland which explained the sudden international shift. He told me about how Holland’s political parties had changed in the last few decades. I thought of telling him I really wanted to try to get some work done. He told me a story about some “soccer hooligans” fighting in a field. I wondered how I could work soccer hooligans into my everyday vocabulary, and I also decided escaping through work didn’t guarantee the conversation would die. He talked about the great barrier reef. I thought about how it could be possible for me to enjoy someone’s company while simultaneously hating every second of a particular interaction with them.
Then I thought of a way out. Something had been building in me for the duration of this conversation. It might have even taken hold of my system a little while after my first cup of tea for the day. It was devious and inarguable and it posed no way for him to continue to talk to me. During the first available lull, I looked up at him. I was poised to strike. I practiced what I’d say in my head, then I delivered my line: “Hey, I actually have to run to the restroom!”
Then I walked out of the office, my heart light, my cheeks flushed. Suddenly, the world had potential. Suddenly, I could be alive again.
But he followed me.
He kept talking.
I walked past the women’s restroom, but he showed no signs of stopping so I continued. I walked past the men’s, and still he followed. I made it to the unisex bathroom, the one they have for families, a single lockable door separated me from this endless talk that had already run the range of plans for after school and what he thought of assault rifles. I made it to the door. He was still talking. I opened it. He was still talking. I walked in and told him to have a nice weekend, because he genuinely is a nice person, but I wanted my life and his to be separate for a while.
He said goodbye.
Once I was safe with the door locked, I checked the time. He had talked to me for an hour.
He had talked to me for an hour, and most of my contribution had been saying “Yeah,” and “mhm.” I was totally unnecessary in the production of that conversation, but it had been inflicted upon me. Why is this something that can happen? What can I do to make my total lack of engagement any more apparent? Can I get a sign? Something with neon that I can plaster to my forehead that lights up when I just want to be left alone.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I can’t be the only one who has a near-physical revulsion with these afflicted social interactions. My head was buzzing by the time I had the brilliant idea to flee to the bathroom. I know complaining about someone talking too much is the entitled equivalent of someone complaining about how long it takes them to clean their mansion to a person who lives in a tent, but entitled bullshit is what I’m peddling because I am a white overeducated American.
These tiny social disturbances are more than an extreme introvert encountering a lonely extrovert. It’s more than me just not wanting to chat. It’s a total absence of perspective for everyone involved. He could not understand that I had absolutely no desire to be involved in that conversation. And I couldn’t–and still can’t–understand why he was talking to me so much or what he was getting out of it.
I can’t pretend that I was being the nicest person by trying to synthetically conclude my office mate’s aggressively collaborative monologue, but he was also completely oblivious to my unremitting disinterest and desire to be left alone. I wish mood ring technology had improved instead of being left to mall kiosks and the types of stores that say that can photograph your aura. I wish there was something I could actually wear that would demonstrate in bright colors exactly what I’m feeling. If I had some jewel resting in the middle of my forehead that lit up a bright, sickly yellow at the five-minute mark of that conversation, then he wouldn’t have had any excuse to keep it going. And maybe his forehead jewel would be yellow when it stopped, so we’d try to find some middle ground between our yellows. We could chat a bit, sit in silence a bit, and both be left in a neutral brown or a pleasant, serene blue.