The Humanist Dilemma: How Can I Get My Guy to Stop Messing with People on the Phone?

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Toying with Telemarketers: My boyfriend has this thing he does when telemarketers call: he engages them in conversation. “What’s your name? Hi, Molly. Where are you from? How’s the weather there? Do you ski?” He keeps this going so long I can go out, run errands, return, and he’s still talking with “Molly.” When he’s had enough, he announces he has no money and the call is suddenly over.

I think what he’s doing is awful. It’s a waste of his time. It’s a waste of the telemarketer’s time. And it wastes my time because I find it totally distracting when he’s conducting one of these meandering conversations. He thinks it’s hilarious. I think it’s stupid and mean.

If you agree that he should stop, maybe he’ll heed you, as my protests seem to fall on deaf ears.

—Is There a “Do Not Call This Guy” Registry?


Dear Registry,

Wow. Your boyfriend must have a lot of time on his hands, or he’s very lonely, or he’s working on his conversations-with-strangers skills, or he’s a bit sadistic.

I’m not sure how telemarketers are compensated, but I suspect just keeping someone on the line for fifteen minutes without making a sale is not valued (unless it’s like riding a bronco, with points for how long you can go before you get bounced off). And I don’t think telemarketers are allowed to disconnect the call as long as there’s a sentient being on the other end. Very often a supervisor may be listening in, judging how well they’re doing, so they have to remain polite and keep trying to make a sale.

The fact is, telemarketers are human beings (except when they’re robots) who are trying to make a living. I don’t know how many of us grow up with this as a career goal, but it’s a (usually) honest job, and no matter how much we loathe these calls, we should bear in mind it’s not the person on the phone who deserves our wrath, but rather the circumstances that make this sales technique profitable. If people didn’t buy enough to cover the cost of these calls, they would go away. Certainly the Do Not Call Registry can help, but it doesn’t screen out everything (such as political campaigners), and many marketers break the rules and call even if your number is on the registry (which you can report—if you have the time and energy).

I’ve heard of people handing the phone to their toddlers when telemarketers call, allowing the kid to happily babble to whoever’s there, which is similar to what your boyfriend is doing. If you share a home phone, maybe you can get rid of it and just use your cell phones (which tend to receive fewer marketing calls). Or you can try to answer the phone before Mr. Loquacious can grab it. Or encourage your boyfriend to spend more time working, cleaning, shopping, cooking, taking out the garbage, or anything else to keep him otherwise occupied. Maybe conversations with actual friends would be helpful.

If all that fails, I guess you either have to live with it or not live with him. If you want to share this column with him but he’s too busy gabbing with telemarketers to read the whole thing, just show him this bottom line: Stop it.