One of my former girlfriends, Paula, was an excellent conversationalist and a real boon at dinner parties. This tale is for her.
You always dreaded going to a dinner party with me. In the golden period you could not get enough of them. You marvelled at how engaging my friends were, how welcome they made you feel and you delighted in the range and standard of cuisine. Your knowledge of wine is pretty extensive and people regularly sought out your opinion of the selection they had bought. They even began to call you beforehand to seek recommendations and of course you were always happy to help. I of course enjoyed parading you as my new acquisition amongst my friends and at formal dinners associated with work.
It did not take long however for your informative opinions about wine to begin to annoy me. How I hated that the spotlight lingered on you for so long as people asked you questions and listened attentively to your opinions. My attempts at talking about my accomplishments took a back-seat to you and your wine tasting show. I barely kept my rage in check. How dare you hog their attention in this manner, they were my friends, not yours. The fury boiled away beneath the surface as all faces turned towards you leaving me stranded at the head of the table. Of course, I could not let this behaviour go unchallenged. Initially, I suggested, after dinner in the taxi home that you might want to lessen the amount of time you spoke about one of your favourite topics.
“I know everyone seems to be paying you attention, ” I would explain, “but they are just being polite. I did hear Christine comment that you seemed something of the know-it-all about wine. Perhaps you should tone it down for next time.”
You look surprised (not least because Christine said quite the contrary but I knew you disliked confrontation and would not challenge her about her supposed remark) but eager to please you apologised and said you had not realised you had held the floor for such a long time.
After that I continued to chip away with my remarks before we attended a dinner party (even though you had not long been off the phone to the host who had called to ask for your advice) in order to diminish your confidence.
“But John just called me and sought my advice about the rioja,” you declared.
“I know but that is purely to please me darling, he wants work from me and thinks he can curry favour by speaking to you and seeking your views.”
“Oh” was all you can muster to my further lie.
I would caution you each time against hogging the limelight and remind you that other people had opinions they might like to share as well. I would theatrically cough when I regarded you as talking for too long and you would hastily end your appraisal of the Chablis.
The next dinner party when somebody poured the wine into your glass first and asked you to take the group through what you tasted, you glanced at me. I sat smiling but my glare was cold and unmistakable. You sipped the wine and declared,
“It is very good, very fruity,” and said no more. You looked back to me and I gave you my nod of approval at how you were learning.
Once I had reduced your wine observations to the occasional sentence I would move on to actively putting you down with back-handed compliments and insinuated remarks. Few of those attending seemed to notice but I knew you did from the reddening of the skin on your chest and neck as embarrassment flushed across you. I would accuse you of flirting with other male guests even when you were just making your usual polite and charming conversation. Like slicing a salami, I cut away at you, eroding your confidence and demeaning you steadily and effectively until you began to feign illness to avoid attending dinner parties. Of course I would not let that happen as I wanted you, my beautiful girlfriend on my arm, since appearances had to be maintained and besides, how else might I continue my campaign of belittlement without being in the glare of that powerful spotlight?
Your recalcitrance increased until you would sit barely speaking which resulted in me giving you a dressing down once we reached home. That was a night you would not forget. After that I decided that you were of no more use to me at dinner parties, I could not have my brilliant anecdotes undermined by someone who never said much and rarely laughed. Kathryn was invited to the next dinner party instead.