Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist Catherine Newman explains how to avoid unwanted conversation.

Greg Clarke

Q. My neighbor, John (a happily married retiree), loves to talk. In fact, he drops by to talk to me about twice a week. (I’m a graduate student who lives alone.) He often brings something over, like fresh banana bread or homemade jerky. Then, while standing at my door, he’ll tell me that there’s a yellow-jacket nest that I should take care of or a slippery spot on my walk.

The problem: I want to be left alone when I get home. I’d like to be polite, but the situation has become frustrating and time-consuming. What’s your advice?

L.F.

A. Uh-oh. A bored and chatty guy. He’s like a bad date you’re not even dating. (At least he leaves banana bread in his wake.) If he stops by in brief five-minute stints, you could consider chatting with him to be a good deed—what Jewish people call a mitzvah. But if the talks tend to go on longer than that, you need to have a word with him.

Your neighbor, like many people who monopolize conversational airspace, is probably oblivious to subtle social cues. So be direct: “I’m sorry,” you can say. “It probably always seems like I’m free to chat, but home is where I do most of my work. Forgive me, but I have to get back to it. Thanks so much for the jerky.” Promise him that you’ll have a big party when you get your graduate degree, then close the door.

Ideally, in time, he’ll find someone down the street who is more welcoming of his attention. In the meantime, you might as well enjoy the treats.

Catherine Newman

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