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Guest Post: The Woman Who Couldn’t Stop Talking About Herself

“To do all the talking and not be willing to listen is a form of greed.” – Democritus of Abdera (5th century B.C.) 

Gifted conversationalists — and real friends — know exactly when it’s time to shut up and listen.

My husband and I are still talking about the new “friend” we met on our anniversary cruise last year – an Energizer Bunny of a woman who chattered non-stop, sometimes with her mouth full.  At first we were charmed by her outgoing personality. Her knack for launching a discussion on just about any topic was pretty impressive.

In most social situations, after all, an extrovert comes in handy. A person who’s willing to take a friendly risk — to be the first to smile and set the wheels of meaningful conversation in motion — is usually welcome at any table.

Sadly, our new friend didn’t know when to chill. And by the time our cruise was nearly over, my husband and I were rearranging our schedule to avoid this woman at mealtimes. Which was a shame, really, since our new friend had led an interesting life and had a few good stories to share.

Problem was, she wasn’t remotely interested in hearing anyone else’s stories. She simply needed an audience. By the time we’d drained our cappuccinos on the first night, we knew everything there was to know about the woman’s ancestors, children, dogs, knee surgeries, and all the exotic vacations she took last year. Finally taking a long breath, she announced:  “I could talk with you two all night. You are such interesting people!”

My husband and I were speechless. Between the two of us, we had barely uttered three complete sentences. (We had nodded often.) And for all the time the talker had spent with us, she couldn’t have named two key details about our lives. We left the table feeling exhausted, our ears throbbing.

I’ve heard that the traits we find annoying in other people are usually the ones we dislike about ourselves. So, okay, I’ll admit that I too have a tendency to gab too much — especially when I’m nervous or excited.

But after my encounter with The Woman Who Couldn’t Stop Talking About Herself, I’ve been making a serious attempt to talk less and listen more. I make a point of learning something new from everyone I meet. I remind myself that a good discussion, not to mention a real friendship, is a two-way street.

It’s a very hard lesson to remember, given that we live in a culture driven by social media sites and blogs that promote endless self-disclosure and hourly “all about me” updates.

Regardless, the best conversationalists are sincerely interested in others. They’ll always ask how you are — and they’ll wait for your answer. If you’ve met before, they might recall a memorable detail you shared earlier. Skilled conversationalists always express genuine interest in your job, your health, your family, or anything else that might be important to you.  Who wouldn’t feel uplifted in their presence?

Of course, a small dose of self-disclosure will help grease the gears of two-way discussion — and it might even encourage a wallflower to open up. But a little self promotion goes a long, long way, especially when you’re first meeting someone, according to Ann Demarais, Ph.D., and Valerie White, Ph.D., psychologists and authors of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You.

As these authors note, the most common social violation is “talking at” instead of “talking with” someone.  Dominating any conversation is a huge no-no — and that includes lecturing, sermonizing (unless you’re really a preacher), rambling, ranting, or performing stand-up routines that only close family members would find entertaining.

All said and done, trying too hard to impress someone usually produces the opposite result.  The self-absorbed widow on our cruise didn’t seem to get it, though I imagine she’s still sailing around the globe, oblivious to the fact that her monologues are wearing as thin as a stale after-dinner mint.

And with that, I’ll sign off and shut up. Now it’s your turn to share what’s on your mind.


Cindy La Ferle is a nationally published author and newspaper columnist who specializes in lifestyles topics and midlife issues. Visit her website: www.laferle.com/


Previously on The Friendship Blog:

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Category: Communication, KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (38)

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  1. Mia says:

    I have to admit I have a friend who is really all abt herself and i am pretty use to listen to her all the time but the worst part is when she ask for advice and if you are honest with her and tell her that she should change or do something in certain situation she would go crazy mad and she would start talking super high of herself and would shatter me down before i eveb finish my advice or suggestion. Its pretty annoying and makes me feel guilty that i hurt her over this. Its very hard to have friend like this in busy lives n its more harder to live upto their expectation. I am very disappointed by this friendship as i cant seem to please her no matter what i say. She is divorced with 4 yr old boy who she completely ignores n i feel sorry for both of them. She is lost i suppose. I tried to introduce her to my other friends so she can have more emotional support but no one likes her and ignores her completely and i feel bad for her. Really there is no escape. I don know where i m going wrong as i really worry about her.

  2. Laura says:

    Not much kindness or empathy in any of these comments. Loneliness is very hard to live with, and almost impossible to overcome, without kindness and patience from others. No one would find it from any of you folks. You’re far too self-absorbed to have any interest in what is going on with anyone but yourselves. Is the problem with the person who is lonely and talks too much (perhaps out of anxiety, fear, and a real need for connection? Or is the problem the cynical and condescending way people want to pretend that they are better than someone else.? The lack of compassion? The lack of ability to see how we might actually be offensive to others ourselves? This sounds like a gathering of mean girls to me.

  3. vicky says:

    i can’t believe that i googled “what to do to a friend who only talks about herself” and your website is on the top result.. i immediately clicked on it and after i read it, and the comments…i felt kind of relieved you know…i thought i was the only one who felt about this…
    like Kate L, i already know the whole story about her life… and she’s kinda have a habit to repeat and repeat the same story that i already know… and i still listened to her… but when i was trying to tell a story… she’s just did this short “hmmph”…every time!!
    and i’m truly glad and (again) relieved…Thanks…

  4. Margart says:

    I have a SIL who drives me up the wall with her constant conversation! She always ends her sentences with an upwards tone like a question mark so you have to reply. You can’t ‘turn off” She will go on for hours and the only way to say anything is to interrupt which I dislike. Its definitely a family trait as all the women in the family are like that but not to her extent. She lives on her own and makes up for lack of conversation when we are there. I have to put a finger up and say – just a minute, I’m trying to think about something – anything really! She will apologise (always) but start about 2 minutes later! Its so difficult because her brother is my husband and he puts up with it and dislikes me complaining about it! What she says is not rubbish or completely about herself, its just about everything. She verbalises her thoughts. I leave the room, go for a walk, go to bed early, etc to have a break. After about 10 years one time, I spent some time writing a letter saying how I felt and then sent it to her! There was no response at all for months then I brought it up about what she thought about my letter! She replied, “Ive decided to ignore it as you appeared to be under stress at the time”! Years later, I dread these visits but now she has decided to invite herself to our home without being asked! I spend hours trying to concoct the right thing to say. She is really a lovely lady and has plenty of friends.

  5. Karol says:

    If you are true friend you would have a real conversation and be as honest as you can. It sounds like there are other issues going on in the relationship between some of these friendships. Maybe the person who is the Energizer Bunny is overcompensating for an underlying issue; if you are a friend, you would try to get to the bottom of it. If you just met or you do not share a true friendship, drop it and move on. If you lose the friendship, at least you can walk away knowing you spoke from your heart.

    • Sarah says:

      Oh don’t be so ridiculous, we *should* put up with any unacceptable behaviour else we are bad friends? Sounds like you may be the one with the issue.

      Sorry.

  6. Kim says:

    I have a friend that does this and it gets more and more uncomfortable for me every time we meet new people together. We travel a lot so this is a common occurrence. She was in sales and is retired and maybe she misses work or something but its like she’s performing a routine when we meet new people. I am pretty sure everyone on the receiving end is annoyed and it’s uncomfortable for me when I have to tell her in her ear to let someone else talk or to lower the volume. I’m also getting tired of hearing the same stories and one liners. It’s like a broken record. I’m not about to try o compete with the volume and the…volume, but I’d like to meet some of these people and participate in a more tempered, less show time conversation once in a while, too.

    Recently we were trying to get a guy into a conversation with our other friend who had shown interest in this guy. As soon as the conversation started, it was 100% about Chatty Cathy despite the fact that I said in her ear several times that she needed to direct the conversation toward the other girl.

    She’s never mentioned my little in ear suggestions but I want to clear the air before our next trip. Any ideas?

  7. Sela says:

    I don’t mind if someone is a Chatty Cathy as long as they are intelligent and interesting in their subject matter. I find that when people say someone talks a lot it is usually because THEY want to talk about themselves. Kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. I also find some people talk a lot as they are anxious when there is a silence. In my experience with Chatties they seem to feel a need to entertain or please others in some way, which is fine as long as they aren’t negative. Perhaps the Chatty Cathys are very misunderstood. Of course, there are the narcissists who always make themselves the center of the universe, even while they pretend to listen to our stories.

  8. Rene Napoli says:

    I had a friend who did this. I accepted her, and dealt with this for over 4 years. When we met a VIP at sag/aftra, she talked about herself first, then introduced me, but did not know how to say my last name, then ignored and re introduced herself to the VIP. That is when I realized, WOW, this person really does not care. I have done all I can to help her, however, I quit. Too much work, and not worth it. All she talks about is her problems, and complains about other actors and actress’s and all my friends. She always expects me to do all the work, and obligates me to pay for everything. moving on after 4 years 🙂

    • Sherry says:

      Hi Rene, I know from your words how frustrated you are, but that is because you actually care about this person. I have known you since 1996, and I have the utmost respect for you. It will work itself out in time. I will always be here for you. You have helped me and my family so much with your knowledge and wisdom. You are a gifted man. Love you always, and my parents send their love too.

  9. Tabitha says:

    This is my sister, to a “T”. I love her to death and she is really funny, tells great stories and can converse on literally any topic. HOWEVER, after a few hours of listening to her tales and finding myself unable to redirect her to anything about anyone else, I always have to remove myself from her vicinity. It’s frustrating. I don’t think she’ll change so I just accept I can handle her in limited quantities.

    • Tabitha,
      Since she’s your sister, and it sounds like you spend a fair amount of time with her, maybe you could find a tactful, loving way to tell her that dominating conversations is a turnoff to most people. Two-way conversation is a social skill — and it’s also common courtesy. So I think you’d be doing her a favor if you could find a gentle way to discuss it with her.

      • Sarah says:

        Cindy and Tabitha,

        Whew, that’s my sister too. Seriously, I can tell you the story line of every TV show she watches, the intimate details of the dramas of her co-workers, everyone at her school, on her sports team, in her sorority she dislikes and how they’ve slighted her. She can’t deal with lulls in conversation, and after I’ve heard her gabber on forever, I just don’t even speak very much. Telling someone, especially a loved one, that they have this problem is hard. It is a delicate conversation and for me, it didn’t go well. 🙁

        • Claire says:

          Sarah, Cindy and Tabitha

          This is my sister, too! Had a brief contact with her on the phone today and felt exhausted and smudged out like a cigarette butt after 10 minutes during which she was putting on makeup and throwing things in a bag to go on another high profile adventure and she has nothing to wear because people have already seen these things once and she won’t feel fresh but she will soldier on. She briefly asked how I was and when I mentioned something it was turned into a story about her daughter and what her daughter has been going through to get into college and how much help she needs and so my sister is there to the rescue; except she is only in her mind.
          Sadly for me, trying to address this “delicate conversation” has not gone well for me either. Sigh.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This is an interesting post. I’m guilty of getting carried away talking about myself when I was younger. I’m more conscious about what I say (quality over quantity) and who I’m speaking to now. Everyone does this at one point but I think it’s a matter of frequency and severity.

    There should be a give and take in a conversation. I get incredibly annoyed when a friend or a co-worker asks how I’m doing, doesn’t acknowledge or wait for my answer then proceed to blabbering about herself. I have to look bored or interrupt in order to stop them from talking too much about themselves. Best speakers keep the listeners engaged by allowing the listeners to speak. Anyone who talks about themselves incessantly is a turn off. Self-absorbed conversations can also come off as bragging.

    • You’re so right, Anonymous! I am finding this problem to be more common in the age of blogging and social media … and I think it has to do with the fact that online “conversation” is much more one-sided. Bloggers and people who use Facebook frequently are given carte blanche to go on and on and on about themselves. (I’ve been guilty as charged, too.)

      The best relationships, including friendships, are built on mutual sharing and sincere interest in each other.

  11. Christina says:

    Great post!! Thanks so much for sharing your insight; it’s very helpful. 🙂

  12. Kristen says:

    Excellent article! I’m a chatty person, and I’ve lately felt like I might be talking too much about myself when trying to relate or empathize with others. I’m very consciously pulling back and trying to focus on the other person now! Thank you for this great piece!

    • Kristen, I’m chatty too, and I know there have been times when I’ve talked too much when I should have listened. The way I see it, everyone we meet has something to teach us. And now, every time I meet self-absorbed people who talk too much about themselves, I am reminded to be a better listener.

  13. Maria V says:

    This gabby person fits the description of my mother. She is great at striking up conversations with people but not so good at shutting up and listening.
    I find that to be an extremely aggravating, and embarrassing, trait of hers (which I assume is just another manifestation of the fact that she’s extremely self-absorbed). She’s so bad that, twice, in the span of two hours, I tried to have a talk with her about a serious issue I have been going through, and both times, she cut me off mid sentence to ramble on about herself.

    Sadly, we never had that conversation (as far as I’m concerened, she simply doesn’t care). There are other issues there as well. She’ll find out what’s been going on when I eventually end up in the hospital or, god forbid, the morgue. 🙁

    • Maria,
      Wow, this problem has got to be twice as hard — and painful — when the offender is your own mother. I’m hoping that you have another close relative or dear friend who will listen to you and show genuine interest in your stories and your life. As I responded to Tabitha (above), since this is a problem with a close relative, I wonder if you could find a gentle way to talk to your mom about the issue?

  14. Kate L says:

    This was… enlightening, to say the least. I’ve been having some issues with one of my roommates lately and have been really trying to assess the situation to see where I stand with him as a friend. Before I read this, I had been asking myself if I really knew anything about him, and truthfully, I do, because he (like your Chatty Cathy) loves to tell stories about himself. But after reading this, I realized that he doesn’t really know anything about ME, and doesn’t seem at all interested. I’m a storyteller too, but I can’t remember the last time one of my stories wasn’t bulldozed over by him cutting me off and telling about something similar that HE had accomplished. And yes, it’s exhausting. I think some people are all about themselves and couldn’t care less about others around them. At least I know I have other friends who will listen to my stories as readily as I’ll listen to theirs.

    • Kate, as you pointed out, it’s so important to have other friends who will listen to your stories and actively “share” in your conversations. Real friendship isn’t one-sided. Sounds like your friend is more interested in having an audience than a friendship. I can only take people like that in small doses — and needless to add, I never feel truly close to them.

      • Kate L says:

        I know it’s been months, but I feel I should follow-up on this situation.

        I’ve completely cut myself off from my now ex-roommate and his fiance. Turns out it was much worse than I had initially thought it was. To be brief, my move out of the apartment was accompanied by the police and an offer to take out a restraining order against the two of them. My ex-roommate wasn’t looking for someone to be his audience; he was looking for someone to control, and my complete refusal to allow that is what turned things nasty. Glad to be done with it.

  15. Mrs. R. Davidson says:

    Cindy, thank you for this excellent article. In your case, the self-absorbed widow has gone. But the insights you shared are resonating.
    My sister is a big talker and all about her. I usually answer her calls
    but sometimes I just have to bypass them. It is always difficult to know what to do, especially with a family member that you care about.

    • Mrs. Davidson, thanks so much for your kind comment. You’re right — it’s harder when the “talker” is a family member. I don’t think there’s a person out there who doesn’t have a problem like this one, which is why I hope Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is still available as a holiday gift 🙂

  16. Rosemarie says:

    I’ve met people who act like that before. Although I know they can be draining and annoying at times, I try to accept them for who they are and limit contact not in an obvious way. Those individuals had either poor social skills, loneliness, mental/emotional issues, or they just loved to talk. If it’s a stranger I don’t mind it, but a friend, potential partner, or close family member is a different story. Your communication is healthier if it’s balanced. When it’s starts leading to rudeness and insults–mostly when it was more a psychological issue–then walking away is healthier for me. And the person may never get the idea that their behavior is affecting others, but I try to be the best I can be on my end and be satisfied with that. I found the more experience I had encountering such personalities, I got better at knowing how to deal with it.

  17. Thanks for all of these thoughtful responses to my guest column! Several of you have used the word “lonely” and I believe you’re spot on. Sadly, self-absorbed, “all about me” people alienate themselves from others because they leave everyone feeling drained and empty.

  18. Alberta says:

    She is talking at rather than talking with – Alcoholics do this a lot as well – talk at people, sometimes for hours and repeat themselves a lot. I wonder if the lady on the cruise was an alcoholic.

  19. Tracy says:

    This is my personal pet peeve! So many people are like this! Or maybe there are not so many of them, it just feels like it. Currently in my own circle, there is one woman who does this and everyone tries to avoid her. Such a shame that not one of her previous 4 (!) husbands wanted to deal with this in her. It makes for an unpopular person and that contributes to her lonliness….

    • Tracy, so true. People who talk too much, or have narcissistic personalities, are probably quite lonely. The way to have friendships is to show sincere interest in other people. And that involves asking other people questions about their lives, showing sincere interest in their lives, and listening to them.

  20. Tanja says:

    This post actually made me think if I do that? I know when I am around my twin, she talks a lot and it is then, that I try to compete with her and no one can get a word in edgewise because she will say something, I will cut her off and she will cut me off or continue the story and we can get louder and louder.

    This was usually when we were younger and lived together. Now, although, I have difficulty making friends, I find it is because without her, I am shy. I feed off her lines.

    In any case, I may not be that extreme, neither is my sister. However, thanks for posting, this is insightful and gives you some food for thought. Now, I will have to put the mirror up to myself and rethink or be aware of the communication. (metaphorical mirror).

    • Tanja,
      Thanks for your wise comments. I have to hold the same “mirror” up to myself as well. I think this issue is a challenge for our whole culture these days.

    • rick says:

      Wow, this is serious, thanks for posting this. I recently met a girl online, it wasnt a looking for a girlfriend tyoe thing, just, I commented on something she posted on another page, we happen to be in the same state and probably an hour drive from eachother.
      She ends up calling me and talking about music, god and friends and her problems and how god has blessed her and she loves god, but shes kind of a slut. Lives music and sex.
      She rambles on and on for over an hour everytime we talk, I barely say anything, I find myself strangling my phone,lol, Ill try to add to the conversatuon and she doenst stop, she just talks over me, doesnt skip a beat, she’ll tell me about sonething that happened and usually, when someone does that they tell you, and you respond with what you think about it, but not this girl, she’ll tell me the story, then tell me about everyone she told the story to and their reactions to it, and she will even interrupt me often if Im tyring to tell a story and once she has interrupted she will even change the subject to something else at least twice then get a little lost and say something like,” ok now where were you? What were you talking about? You were saying?” And by that time Im lost and cannot remember what I was saying. What does this say about this girl? Somehow she likes me and thinks we would be a great couple, we talked once and she sends me semi-naughty pictures of herself,lol, I feel like I will end up using her for sex and then never talk to her again and Im not that type of guy, but it seems if we got together she will throw herself at me, she mentioned that she also like to be manhandled and likes to be tied up. Sorry this is so long but I have never dealt with this before.

  21. Amy F says:

    I feel sorry for people like the Energizer Bunny. She’s probably lonely or has poor social skills or lacks insight. But, I don’t feel so sorry that I’d want to be around her or listen to her, lol.

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