Guide to discovering how much you bore your friends

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

It was 3 a.m. Sunday during my vacation, and a cool breeze swept across the porch as I regaled my Pensacola friends with the story I like to call "How Various Mixed Drinks at Mardi Gras 1998 Almost Landed Heidi on 'Girls Gone Wild' Before Fate Intervened."

The story ended, people laughed politely, there was a pause.

"That's why we're up so late," one of them said. "Your stories!"

It hit me: I was doing the lion's share of the talking. Again.

When I worked out regularly with a friend years ago, a gym employee noted that the body parts I worked most were my mandibles.

When I chose to shut up for an hour during a trip to Paducah, Ky., a couple weeks ago with The Other Half and his parents, the car fell silent except for the country crooners on the radio. They had been sucked dry of their desire to speak.

Other people don't seem to have a problem with uncomfortable silence. In a group, they will sit quietly for minutes at a time without uttering a word.

Doesn't that seem strange? People sitting around together but not speaking to each other? No one even bothering to make the mundane little "sure has rained a lot" chit-chat that makes the world go 'round?

Still thinking about that night on the porch, I decided to do a little experiment with Mr. Half on the drive home to Missouri. We talked about our little vacation south, our old friends and the week ahead.

And then I just shut my mouth.

Dead silence for a half-hour. Finally, Mr. Half said, "What is wrong with you?"

So then the question becomes: Is what I say interesting? After all, people could be appearing to listen so as not to hurt my feelings.

Think about how many times in the course of a week you cradle a phone between your ear and shoulder repeating "uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh" to callers telling you long, boring stories. And how many times have they asked a question when you weren't paying attention, forcing you to say, "Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you. Phone cut out."

The thing is, not a man or woman on Earth believes he or she is one of those people. Those people plunge ahead blindly, believing that someone gives a darn.

There's only one solution: I must give a simple test to people forced to listen to me for long periods of time to see if they are just listening politely or actually care about what I have to say.TEST FOR BORING STORIES

1. When I speak, do you find yourself:

a. listening intently

b. considering your to-do list for tomorrow

c. considering suicide as a means of escape2. During a phone conversation with me, have you ever:

a. been so enthralled that you failed to pick up your children from school

b. listened half-heartedly while watching "The Golden Girls" in reruns

c. given yourself a pedicure, cooked dinner and filed your taxes while giving the occasional "uh-huh"3. If I were to move to the other side of the country, would you:

a. be sure to get my new number so you could keep up with my life

b. get my new number but promptly "lose" it

c. change your number and direct your friends to tell me you entered a convent where phones are forbidden4. When you see me walking up to your front door, do you:

a. throw it open, eagerly awaiting the news I might bring

b. consider pretending that you aren't home but then open the door out of guilt

c. draw the curtains and hiss to the kids, "Make one peep and no XBox for a week!"

(Feel free to borrow this test for your own friends.)

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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