Given the season, you’ll probably be invited to events that will force you to come into contact with people and, horribly enough, make conversation.
Even for those of us who never • Stop talking, making conversation with strangers or near strangers is fraught with peril.
There are things you • Stop asking, things you should never say and things which — if said to you — give you instant and automatic permission to leave the conversation, the event and quite possibly the state.
I’ve compiled them in an easy-to-read list, which I hope you’ll consult early and often.
The first category is “• Stop Asking.”
• • Stop asking single people when they’re going to “find somebody.”
• Stop asking people who found somebody when they’re going to “move in together.”
• Stop asking people who have moved in together when they’re going to “get hitched.”
• Stop asking people who got married when they’re going to “start a family.”
• Stop asking people who had a child when they’re going to “give their baby a sibling.”
• Stop asking people who have had two children how on earth they’re going to “manage the pressure of continuing their careers while raising a family.”
• Stop asking people who don’t have a job when they’re going to get a job.
• Stop asking the people who have a job when they’re going to get a better job.
• Stop asking people who have the good job when they’re going to start taking some time off work to have a balanced life.
• Stop asking people who live at home when they’re moving out.
• Stop asking people who are renting apartments when they’re going to move into a house.
• Stop asking people who own a house when they’re going to add onto it.
• Stop asking people who own a big house when they’re going to get a second home.
• Stop asking people who own a house and vacation home when they’re going to downsize.
The second category is “Don’t ever say,” as in don’t ever say, “I can’t even imagine having another serving of that rich food — I’m stuffed!” as seconds are being passed.
• • Don’t ever say, “Let me show you this video really quick” when actual adult people are having an actual conversation with words.
• Don’t ever say, “I can’t believe you haven’t read that book.”
• Don’t ever say, “I already heard that story but it went like this … “
• Don’t ever say, “I was just teasing. You know I love you just the way you are. Lighten up.”
• Don’t ever say, “I’m sure he only did that because he likes you. Lighten up.”
• Don’t ever say, “Lighten up.”
The final category is what I consider the fulcrum lines, the ones that permit you not only to leave the conversation but to eject yourself from it as if from a military aircraft under fire.
If any of the following are said directly to you, do not answer but instead head toward the nearest exit.
• “There are only two types of people in the world …”
•“Want my fat clothes? I don’t need them anymore.”
• “‘Arsenal’ is probably too strong a word; I prefer ‘collection’.”
•“She’s worked for me for eight years and I still can’t pronounce her name.”
• “Trench mouth is not actually contagious.”
• “If you’d read the ‘Artist’s Way,’ you’d understand.”
•“I guess you don’t want to make America great again.”
• “Polyps are no laughing matter.”
• “I have a great idea for a book and, if you write it, we can split the profits.”
• “People like you just don’t understand.”
•“In my humble opinion …”
• “My 12-year-old’s screenplay is just the beginning of a trilogy of films.”
• “Calm down.”
•“Can you believe how those (insert minority group here) are (insert any form of behavior here) and ruining the country?”
• “Plants feel pain too.”
Bringing a pointless argument to a graceful end while retaining your dignity and poise is usually better than ruining the occasion. You don’t have to lighten up or calm down; you can laugh to yourself and, after thanking your host, simply leave. Then send me the line that sent you home, OK? I’ll put it on next year’s list.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.