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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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How to move from one conversation to the next

I have an etiquette question for you. When you're at a party and you're talking to someone, what do you say to indicate that this particular conversation is now history? As my wife will attest, I have a complete inability to cut off a conversation. I tend to wait for the other person to dump me, because I can't handle the guilt, not that I'm guilty of anything. So I'm wondering what the official way to end a conversation might be. Is there one?

Mr. Gluestick

Mr. Gluestick: Personally, I've always found that a swift kick to the groin wraps things up nicely. They bend over at the waist, which looks a lot like a bow, and I'm on my merry way. A simple grabbing of the crotch also does the trick. If you grab with enough force, they bend over at the waist, which looks a lot like a bow, and you're on your merry way. And even if you don't grab with enough force, they're often so taken aback by what you've just done that they'll either run away screaming, which is great because then the onus of ending the conversation is on them, or they'll stand there, completely dumbfounded, while you say "And now if you'll excuse me, there are more important people than you to talk to here tonight."

But let's say, for purposes of argument, that you don't want to mortally offend the person you're talking to but no longer want to be talking to. Then, for purposes of argument, you might consider starting an argument on purpose. With any luck and a bit of skill, the other person won't notice that you've started the argument on purpose and will quickly end the conversation, perhaps with a swift kick to your groin. (Knowing the swift kick might be coming, you can deflect it somewhat, but be sure to bend over, as if in immense pain.) Milder alternatives include 1) being rude, 2) being boring and 3) nodding off, which is 1 and 2 combined. You don't have to actually nod off. Just snap your head to attention and say, "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"

Let's say, though, that you want to neither mortally offend the person you're talking to nor offend them in such a way as to cause non-life-threatening injuries. Then it gets a little trickier. There's the old "I need to freshen my drink" gambit, which I once used while not actually holding a drink at the time. But even if I had been, it's rude to mention freshening your drink without offering to freshen the other person's drink, and once you've gone that far you might as well propose marriage. There are various other lies you can tell. I once said, "Well, I better check in with my friends," then, realizing I didn't know anybody else at the party, went over and stood next to the fireplace, like I was a chimney sweep on call.

But I think you'll find that, when it comes to drop-kicking someone you never want to see again, or even nudging along someone you do want to see again, honesty is the best policy. Not complete honesty! ("You seemed like you were going to be interesting, then you opened your mouth. I'm outta here.") But there's no need to tell big fat lies, just little white ones. Be simple, direct and polite: "Excuse me, it's been nice talking to you." Then walk slowly away, just not toward the fireplace. If people take offense at that, that's their problem, not yours. With any luck and a bit of skill, you'll have left them with the impression that you've had a perfectly enjoyable time, not one of the worst experiences of your life.

And now if you'll excuse me, it's been nice talking to you.

If that was you on the other side of the fireplace, write to: Mr. Right, Isthmus, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or call 251-1206, ext. 152. Or email

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