Dear Margo: No Need to Get Trapped on the Phone

How do I deal with long-winded friends? Margo Howard’s advice

No Need To Get Trapped on the Phone

Dear Margo: I am often waylaid by a few friends who think nothing of tying up my time for hours on the telephone. I have tried being polite, and I have tried being rude — just short of hanging up — but nothing seems to get through to them. One of them has said to me about a mutual friend who clearly has the same problem that I do, “What else does he have to do?” Well, I read, I listen to music, I watch television, I write, I eat meals and snack, and I go out.

I have normal phone conversations with other people. What makes these telephone people think I want to spend two hours listening to them tell me about their meals in boring detail, how much they paid for yogurt at the supermarket, or how long it took them to get into town via the “T”? Is there a way that I can politely make it clear that even though I like them, I cannot tie up that much of my evening essentially talking about nothing? –Extremely Annoyed but Too Polite, in Boston

Dear Ex: I can’t quite figure out your seemingly unbreakable attachment to these bores who can’t take a hint, or why you would allow these phone talkers to tie you up for hours! When I get caught in an overly long or pointless phone call, I simply say, “Gotta go!” and no one argues with me. Your sense of politesse is misspent in this instance. If you don’t have it, get caller ID and then don’t pick up. Or: Tell each of these clods, once they begin their food and yogurt recital, that you really must run, and then HANG UP the phone. All you need to do is decide you will not be held hostage to these time wasters. It’s not that hard. (Brainflash: Introduce these people to each other!) –Margo, decisively

Guests or Customers?

Dear Margo: My husband and I own two timeshare weeks. The unit we use is a two bedroom, with the master bedroom being the nicer of the two, offering better amenities and views. We have not only paid for these weeks, but also pay a fairly hefty maintenance fee annually.

On occasion, when my husband is unable to go, I will invite a friend or two to go with me. Because I invited them, I do not ask or expect them to pay me a fair share of the maintenance fee that has been paid for the week. It would, however, be nice if they would at least offer. (I have yet to receive such an offer). Also, should I be prepared to let my guests occupy the master suite? Should guests offer to pay for a rental car or a couple of dinners since they have no costs for the week? I don’t know if guests are just unaware of the annual costs involved with timeshares or if they are just mooching! What is proper in this situation? — Just Don’t Know

Dear Just: Are you a hostess or an innkeeper, and are your friends guests or paying customers? When people receive an invitation to a vacation house, they do not think to ask, “How much will this cost?” — nor should they. As for a dinner or two out, that is somewhat standard for houseguests, but ixnay on the rental car.

If, however, money is a concern, when you issue these invitations, tell the friends what the cost will be. Some people may be up for it and willing to pay, while others will pass. It sounds as though you think your guests ought to pay — in which case, you can’t expect them to figure this out themselves. Do know, however, that when issued an invitation — with no mention of money — the person is in no way mooching. (And the hostess never gives up the master bedroom unless she wishes, for whatever reason, to make that generous gesture.) –Margo, correctly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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56 comments so far.

  1. avatar Diagoras says:

    Wow. I don’t know anyone with timeshares, but I’m thinking if I had a friend who invited me to their timeshare, I would just say no and avoid these hassles! Why would anyone buy a timeshare anyway? It’s just a waste of money.

  2. avatar darlean washington says:

    I have a friend who is extremely (and I mean extremely) long-winded.  She will go on for hours if I let her.  If she runs out of things to say, which is rarely, then she will bring up questions to ask me that I’ve either answered or are a sensitive nature that I might not want to discuss.  I guess she figures that since she’s gone on that I should go on.
    I don’t think that it’s so easy to just say “Gotta go!” and then hang up because most of these people don’ let you get a word in edgewise.  Because I feel this way, I use a little proactive preventative technique:  When I see who’s on the phone, I pick up, say hello, and then announce that I have however long as I will be willing to spare on the phone.  For instance, if I feel like listening for half an hour, I say, “Hey, before you start, don’t forget to remind me that I have to go half an hour.”  If she asks why, then I say I have house work to do or something else.
    Or, I just say that I have an hour to spare, and I ask what’s up.  When the half hour is up, I say goodbye, even if she says something like “Just one more minute.”
    The odd thing is that if I say I have forty-five minutes or so then she will often say something like “Oh, well then I won’t bother you.”  It’s almost as if she can’t get enough of her fix in forty-five minutes.  This technique has yet to fail.

  3. avatar Karleen S says:

    I don’t understand where people ever got the idea that “politesse,” as Margo puts it, means to rollover and acquiesce to everyone else’s whims.  Being courteous and polite allows you to say no.  It’s all about the way you say it.  Not only that, the phone is their for your convenience, not everyone else’s.  There is no rule that requires you to answer it or remain on it longer than you care to.  I do it with my uncle because he truly is bored and can’t do anything since kidney failure landed him in a rehab facility.  But that’s only when I get on the phone.  He tends to call when he wants to chat, but I let it go to voicemail keeping in mind I should finish whatever I’m doing and ring him back.  I’m not required to drop everything in any etiquette book that I’m aware of.

  4. avatar Paula says:

    Got a friend like that myself and I’ve had to develop some strategy methods of dealing with her.  First of all, she is one of my closest local friends (note I said “local” – she lives a very few miles away from me and we see each other in person often, so to me there is no reason to spend ages on the phone!), and we’ve had some issues in the past, which we’ve been able to resolve, and to me, too-long phone conversations are not valid reasons to end friendships.  Some of our past issues came from a lack of maturity on both parts, her unusual background and not knowing how to deal with issues as an adult, and my not knowing how to be honest with her.  In the early years of our friendship 20+ years ago, I got pressed into service more as a counselor (I am two years and a few months older than she is – nowhere near equipped to do that, especially not in my 20’s!) to her than simply as a friend, and it drained me completely within a very short time.  

    When my own mild case of depression began sneaking in (took me a few years to realize what was happening), I eventually put the friendship on hold, too drained to handle her problems and her automatic phone calls to me whenever something in her life went the least bit wrong.  We had very little contact (a couple of cards exchanged, ran into each other at certain events, etc.) for six years, during which we both did some badly needed growing up.  Now we are both in our mid 40’s, and though I still see things from the past sneak through in her behavior now and then, and I probably still react as I would have 20+ years ago in wanting to try to “fix” things for her, that kind of behavior no longer dominates our friendship.  I genuinely enjoy doing things with her and am glad to have her as a friend.

    The extremely lengthy phone conversations still go on, though!  A simple “hey, how are you?” phone call can turn into an endless recitation of things that happened to her decades ago, things nobody can change now, or her just “venting” about whatever her current worry is.  She’s learned how to control those tendencies to a large degree, but there are times when she has a captive audience in me on the phone that it tends to come out.  I will usually, when that starts, find a way (tell her I need to go do something – she can talk on the phone and do EVERYTHING; I don’t “multi task” well and she knows it) to get off the phone as soon as possible.  After such an incident, she will often realize she’s crossed a line and will then call back (not that I need or want another phone call!) to apologize.

    One strategy I’ve developed with her is to, in my own mind, allow her 30 minutes of phone time with me per day.  I’ve never said any such thing to her, of course, but whenever she calls (thank goodness for Caller ID!), I first of all make sure I can give her my undivided attention for at least 30 minutes, and I note what time it is when I answer.  Once the 30 minute mark is approaching, I start making noises about needing to get off, things to do, etc.  Usually I can hold it down to around 30 minutes with that strategy.  And if she calls me again in the same day and there’s nothing important coming up (meeting her somewhere, for example, and there might be a change in plans), I just let the machine (at home) or the voice mail (cell phone) get it.  I will usually listen to the message fairly soon afterward just to make sure there’s no emergency.  There have been times during a conversation with her that I’ve outright said how long we’ve been talking, and sometimes she gets the message.  Not always, though.

    I fully understand that my friend is lonely and she’s said as much, but IT IS NOT MY RESPONSIBILITY TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT!!!!  I keep telling myself this periodically as I need to, so I don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for her and/or feeling obligated to help her.

    I’d say try a similar strategy with the people who don’t think twice about demanding hours of your time on the phone.  In your own mind, set a time limit, and once the mark approaches, start telling them you have to go.  Even say, if you have to, “We’ve been talking 30 minutes already, and I need to get off the phone so I can get some things done.”  If they ask what things, it’s none of their business!!!  Regardless of what you “have” to do, it’s not up to THEM to decide how you spend your time!

    If you truly care about these people, I think you can find a way to control the phone time with them.  But if they’re people you’d just as soon do without, then I think scaling back your contact with them drastically is a good idea.  You are not obligated to “entertain” them for hours on the phone!

  5. avatar kgram says:

    I have several friends and relatives who fall into the LW#1 category. They aren’t on my A list of friends because that’s reserved for people who are capable of give and take. Still, there they are on my B list (or is it my C list?).

    I agree with much of what has been said, here, but have a few things to add. Perhaps I’ll introduce my problem callers (in descending order of acceptability) and tell you how I deal with them:

    Person One is both intelligent and from a very different culture than my own, one that I am interested in studying (I should have been an anthropologist). She only calls me when she is in some sort of trouble (maybe once every two weeks, on average) and her problems are quite challenging; in fact, it’s fun to help her sort out her life (I should have been a lawyer/ marriage counsellor/ philosopher). Besides, she says all the right things to feed my ego: “Ooooh, you are so smart; I don’t know how I’d get by without you”.

    Also, I have trained her to feel insecure about the fact that she talks about absolutely nothing but herself. This means when I get bored and announce I’m going to hang up, she’s the one who feels guilty. All in all, this lady would be on my A list if (instead of pretending for no more than 30 seconds at a time) she would actually listen, occasionally.

    2. Person Two has been a trial for many years. He is married to a good friend who, for some unfathomable reason, won’t divorce him. He can’t help being who he is. I suspect he is somewhere on the autism spectrum (I should have been a psychiatrist) and he just doesn’t get other people. He also talks about nothing except machinery.

    Just saying “Sorry, got to go” doesn’t work. Hanging up on him, after saying “Sorry, got to go” several times, enrages him. Many years ago (before caller id), I attached the phone to a long line and trotted over to ring the door bell. “Oops, there’s the doorbell; gotta go” worked nicely. I also tried to introduce him to Person Three (below) but they couldn’t stand each other, naturally, since neither will give an inch in the “let’s talk about me” universe they inhabit.

    These days, I only answer his calls when I truly feel like it. We have a lengthy conversation (30 minutes) about four times a year, on average, although he calls several times a week. I put him on speaker, make myself a cup of coffee, turn on my laptop and start surfing. I respond whenever I can, but mostly say “hmm, uh-huh, wow, ain’t it awful?” which seems to satisfy him. This is totally successful, so far, and we both seem to have a good time.

    Person Three is a close relative who has several mental disorders and is not only entirely obsessed with her own interests but also mad as hatter. I finally had to give up trying to help with her problems (I should have been a psychologist) and now just listen patiently (once a week), agreeing as much as possible and shutting up the rest of the time. Then I explain that I am exhausted and she lets me go. No idea why “I’m exhausted” works, when “I’m on fire” wouldn’t. Since she used to try to reach me several times a day, now down to several times a week, this is a big improvement.

    Person Four is an even closer relative who is a (prescription) drug addict. Her p.o.v. is that life sucks, everyone she knows sucks (including me) and she is not a drug addict but needs money. Since I am not going to give her money there is no point in listening to the rest of it and I don’t. Maybe twice a year, some situation arises and I have to call her. It is always a mistake.

    Person Five is my husband who is definitely an A list guy except he cares who won the ball game and not only watches Turner Classic Movies but wants to tell me the plot. Other than that, we have a lot in common. He doesn’t phone me, of course, unless I’m out (we are retired). It’s just part of my ditzy personality that I can’t remember to turn on my cell unless I actually want to use it to call someone.

    I can appreciate that some people would say I am being dishonest with these folks but the alternative is no relationship at all. Almost all of us need relationships but some are uniquely incapable of sustaining them. In this case, I think a creative approach is not only acceptable but kind.

    • avatar Karleen S says:

      And the length of your comment means… Are you sure you’re talking about other people? 😉