Illustration by Ana.

Illustration by Ana.

Holy crap, another year has gone by. The planet slowly but surely completed one more revolution around the sun. We lived 365 more days on Earth. And in that astonishingly long yet unbelievably short time, somehow we wised up. We know things now that we didn’t know this time last year. We are smarter. More experienced. We made it! And that means: It’s time for another round of Life Skills. Advanced level. Here we go!

1. Entering and Exiting a Conversation (Politely)

Entering: You know how when people are talking at a social event they stand in a tight circle, and it looks intimidating? You know how it can sometimes feel weird to be alone at a party and want to be in the talking group but you don’t know anybody or have any idea how to join a conversation?

It’s OK, lemon drop! Everyone (EVERYONE) feels a little awkward in a situation like this, but we can handle it!

So you don’t know anyone. So what? You are an interesting and cool person, and other people, if they are not total jerks, will listen to what you have to say, or at least be willing to let you join their group. If you are alone at a social event and don’t know how to enter a conversation with people who are already talking, just get a little closer to their group and eavesdrop in a non-hover-y way. Find an excuse to stand near them—fiddle with a book on the bookshelf or get a beverage nearby. What are they talking about? If you hear someone mention something you like or know about, that’s your in. Maybe someone is showing someone a picture of their dog on their phone. You say, “Whoa, is that your dog? It’s so cute!” And, BOOM, you’re talking to someone in the group! Maybe you hear someone say, “Wait, you haven’t heard of the Breeders?” and the Breeders are your favorite band—jump in! Say something as simple as, “Aaaah, I love the Breeders!” and people, if they are not snotty, will move over and make some room for you.

The key, though—and this is real—to entering groups of already-talking people is to not apologize for yourself. No “Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing you guys talking about the Breeders” or “Sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt, but…” Nuh-uh. It is natural for you to talk about shared interests with other human beings, so just act like it’s the most normal thing in the world for you to casually join a group of people already conversing, even if it is a big deal for you.

Exiting: Maybe a conversation has gone on…a little too long. Perhaps it’s just run its course, and there’s nothing left to talk about. Or maybe someone has cornered you and is boring you to tears about a subject you care nothing about; or they’re persistently hitting on you, and you’re completely uninterested. There are a million reasons why you might want to end a conversation, but it can often feel impossible to extricate yourself. You don’t want to be impolite or hurt anyone’s feelings, there’s no escape route that doesn’t seem super awkward, etc., so you’re stuck talking to this person, desperately scanning the room for anyone who might come and rescue you, blinking SOS signals at everyone who walks by.

You know what, though? You’re not stuck. You can leave this soul-sucking convo any time you want! Here are some of my favorite strategies:

  • There’s always “Excuse me, I have to go to the restroom.” So tried and true that it’s a cliché at this point. NO ONE can argue with your need to pee. This is my go-to for getting rid of people who are conversationally irritating me. And it’s not even a lie! I really do have to pee—practically all the time!You do not have to come back to the person, especially if you’re at a party or in another social setting. Clearly you meant to come back, but you were distracted by someone else. You’re a social butterfly, flitting airily about!
  • If that feels too abrupt, do what my friend Jen does and offer the person something. Say, “Hey, do you want some chips?” or “I’m getting a drink, you want one?” If the person says yes, go get it, cheerfully bring it back, and then wave goodbye and vanish into the crowd. You have now done them a favor. You are obvs not rude, and now you are freeeee.
  • If you’re dying to get out of a conversation with a person you know, you can try reminding the person of a future event. This maneuver involves trying to wrap up the conversation quickly by saying something like “Hey—Kara’s show next week! Are you going?” If the person says yes, say, “Awesome, I’ll see you then!” and smile while backing away.

    However, this is a risky social move, as it may serve only to delay, but not prevent, further misery. This person may approach you again at Kara’s show—after all, you both just agreed to see each other there! But you do have all these new ways to politely avoid talking to them, so maybe it’s not such a big risk after all.

    Anyway, remember: If someone has backed you into a corner, cutting you off from all other people, and is going on and on about something that does not interest you, they are being rude. It is not rude of you to make a prompt, polite, and effective exit.