Everyday Ethics: The Really Nice People You Are Indebted To Who Come For A Visit And Refuse To Leave

That was the classic SLN skit from the Seventies that kept going through my mind today, and I felt guilty about  it. After all, it wasn’t a rude John Belushi who had come to our house. It was the wonderful woman who had rescued our dog from neglectful owners, taken him to her home, nursed him to health, and allowed us to adopt him. We are so grateful to her for her compassion and kindness, so when she and her friend, who also had been involved in the rehabilitation of Spuds, asked to stop by and see how he was doing after being a member of the Marshall family for three weeks, of course we said yes.

Spuds was, predictably, thrilled to see them, and they were emotional about seeing him in such good health and spirits. We invited the two women in, of course, offered them refreshments, engaged in conversation about our dog’s progress and adventures.

How long would you say would be a reasonable time for such an encounter? They stayed for three hours, from 2 pm to 5.

We showed them the house, Spuds’ toys, and the neighborhood. I allowed them to take the dog for a walk, with me as guide. The only topic of conversation the entire time was this dog and other dogs, because we have nothing else in common really, though it’s not as if they wanted to talk about anything else.

Grace and I had things to do, things that we had planned to do, things like, oh, getting some posts up on Ethics Alarms. But neither my wife nor I wanted to do or say anything to make the two very nice women uncomfortable or to make them feel like they were imposing. They saved our dog! We are so grateful to them for their kindness and caring!

I honestly began to think they would never leave. Grace asked if they were hungry. No. They just wanted some water, and didn’t want refills. I thought the walk would be a nice coda to the visit, since it took place about 90 minutes in: Good suggestion, Grace! Yet when we returned after 30 minutes, we passed their car, came up the walk, went in the house, and they sat down again.

Now what? Fake a heart attack? Sneak into the bathroom with my cell phone and call my home line, as my wife pretended it was the police, reporting that my son has been in an accident?

There just didn’t seem any way out except to wait, smile, and act as if we had all the time in the world. I thought they might have gotten a hint when my wife literally repeated word for word the same story three times at hour intervals. I considered offering to recite “The Highwayman”—that worked at driving guests away when I was in junior high. Wait! Talk politics! Make fun of Joe Biden! Put on the the MAGA hat—except that I don’t have one, and I really didn’t want to do anything that might upset these sweet people, like making them think the dog they had rescued was being trained by a deplorable racist facist.

The interminable visit finally came to an end, like the Hundred Years’ War, Revolution #9, the Roman Empire and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. They left happy, we waved, everyone hugged, the dog got kissed, and the day was shot.

Did we have any ethical alternatives besides just letting the visit take its course?

23 thoughts on “Everyday Ethics: The Really Nice People You Are Indebted To Who Come For A Visit And Refuse To Leave

  1. Preplan for things like this and when people call to come visit, let them know up front that you have other obligations that need attention and you’ll only have forty-five minutes to an hour to spend with them, when the time is up nicely remind them with something like “my the time really has flown by but you really have to get to your other obligations and they will graciously leave or they’re being rude and then all bets are off as far as I’m concerned. If by chance you hit it off and you want to spend a lot more time with your guests, then it’s your choice to postpone your other obligations. This works absolutely every time; I use it a lot and it’s very rare that I have to say it’s time to go more than once.

    • The same principle can be used if you need to go to someone’s house and you don’t want to stay very long, preplan and tell them up front that you can only stay for ___ minutes because you have some things you need to get done before heading back home.

  2. Simple, when going by their car after your stroll, that was the best place to pause, make a comment on the car – “how do you like it?” “How does it handle in the winter?…” etc. then say, “I’m so glad you could come by…” as you moved to hold the door for them while they got in. 🙂

  3. I’m going to say that as an introvert a three hour visit would have had me on edge towards the end. But given the current Covid-related social isolation, your visits might have needed it to recharge their batteries. I say smile, take the hit, and consider it your good act for the day.

      • No, you’re having dinner with your wife, or whatever you had sketched out as a plan before it was interrupted. Time with your spouse should have as much importance in your schedule as random overstayers. You had already entertained them for a long visit and polite fiction is sometimes the grease of interactions too. Even the old Miss Manners spoke on ways to deal with visitors who overstay.

  4. When you answer the door and find uninvited/unexpected guests there, just say how nice they came by just now, and immediately say you and Grace wouldn’t mind (an excuse to take) a break from (work/deadline). That would be honest. As you invite them in, your very bright guests would apologize for dropping in and give you a reason for their presence; then, you could decide on the spot – and let them know – how long (a break) you would delight in their company.

    • A clarification: the visit was not a surprise, but they also were not exactly invited. Since the rescuer has been emailing for updates and photos, and checking (nicely, but a bit obtrusively) regarding how we have been caring for the dog, the visit had the feel of an informal investigation. After all, you do have to sign a contract to adopt a dog, but there is no requirement for periodic home checks, and she isn’t authorized to do that.

  5. Yea, I think you did the right thing. It was probably really enjoyable for them to spend time with your family and the dogs. They probably overstayed their welcome but three hours for a visit with someone you rarely see isn’t that long. They’ll probably cherish the time they spent with your family.

  6. I would never dream of going to the home of someone I barely know and sticking around for hours. Those women either really wanted to see that dog or were desperate for an afternoon’s socializing.

    Or both.

    I’ve been there. There’s no really good way to send someone a polite direct message when he or she doesn’t seem to get the subtle ones. It’s just that we’re too nice sometimes just as you and Grace were too nice to those women.

    My husband and I have been victims of both the Visitors That Won’t Go Away and the Hosts That Won’t Let Us Leave scenarios.

    * After an hours-long visit and with a three-hour drive home ahead of us, we got up, put on our shoes, grabbed our coats, started to make our good-byes and the host suddenly remembered a computer program we absolutely had to see. Following the slowest boot up in history, the host proceeded to show us that same photo warping program that makes your face look distorted and goofy that everyone has on their computers. This took an additional 20 minutes.
    * After another hours-long visit with a visiting-from-out-of-town relative and with a deadline, I prepared to leave her host home only for her to suddenly remember a video of a school play that had a section she was desperate for me to see. I asked how long it was, she said 20 minutes. Since I didn’t see her much and she seemed to be so excited about this part, I agreed to stay. 45 minutes later, this thing was still going. I finally sought clarification on how long this part really was only to find out that she’d been showing me the whole play and we were halfway through it.
    * Our son’s grandmother asked us to watch her other grandchild for an evening. Raising a grandchild is hard and she didn’t get many opportunities for getaways. Shortly before the scheduled evening, we found out it was an overnighter. When she dropped the child off, we found out it was for the whole weekend and not just one night. Sunday afternoon, she called us to tell us she was an hour away. Several hours later, she finally showed up. With no idea when she would arrive, it was impossible to make any plans to leave the house. That end of the family has always had a hard time with communicating accurate departure and pick-up times.
    * A couple we knew only in a group setting invited us to have dinner and a movie at their home. The only nights that worked were weeknights which we try to avoid since we have to work. We made an exception to come on the weeknight they requested, despite the fact that we were both working overtime that week. We explained how we needed to be out by a certain time so we could get home and get enough sleep for our early morning. They agreed because the wife worked at night and needed to leave at that same specified time anyway.

    At dinner, conversation took up a lot of time. By the time dinner was over, we had an hour left. The wife looked at us hesitantly and asked if we were alright with a movie. Seeing our concern, she suggested, “An hour and a half movie, maybe?”. Being good sports, but not thrilled, we agreed. One hour later, she left for work and this movie was barely moving along. It was then that I realized this thing was not 90 minutes at all. Sure enough, the movie was a good two hours long. Not wanting to be rude and take off immediately at the end, we stayed for 15-20 minutes for post-movie conversation. We got home and to bed, not only not early as we had intended, but even later than was normal for us.

    The next time the couple invited us to dinner, there was no overtime involved. We arrived at their home at the agreed-upon time: the wife was napping; the husband was cleaning the house and we sat there for an hour before she emerged and he finished making supper.

    It was the last time we ever went over there.

    None of the people described above are bad people. Most of them are very pleasant and, in every case, we were motivated by the desire to be hospitable, generous and kind to nice people. The problem is that none of them respected our time and some of them were, and still are, repeat offenders. They took advantage of us.

    It reminds me of a letter that was sent to an advice columnist (maybe Abby, I don’t remember). The letter writer’s home was on a well-trafficked, hazardous road. An accident took the life of a stranger and the family asked permission to put flowers at the letter writer’s curb as a makeshift roadside memorial. The flowers were eventually joined by stuffed animals, notes and cards and other paraphernalia. The letter writer was finally prompted to write when the victim’s family wanted to build a shelter there for all the stuff so the memorial would be protected from the weather. The letter writer is a nice person. There wasn’t anything wrong with allowing a few flowers on the lawn to comfort the family of the accident victim any more than there’s anything wrong with us extending a visit for a few extra minutes to make someone else happy or for you allowing these friendly women to come over and visit Spuds. But she was being taken advantage of, too.

    Just as your hospitality was taken advantage of. No one can take advantage of you without your permission.

    This is where boundaries come in. Boundaries determine where another person ends and you begin. They are not easy to establish with otherwise nice people, but they must be firmly enforced because, sometimes, setting boundaries is the kindest thing you can do for some people. That’s one of the reasons why boundaries are often ethical.

    I only present this because I have a feeling that these women will want to visit Spuds again. When that happens, it is essential that you and Grace have already decided ahead of time whether you want more visits and, if so, how long those visits will last. Then enforce those limitations.

  7. “Did we have any ethical alternatives besides just letting the visit take its course?”


    That’s life when you’re a kind person. They were obviously desperate for your and Grace’s company. The blog can wait. Good for you and Grace.

  8. This is a situation without solution. I was stuck in the same boat when my friend had a virtual birthday party (his 30th, incidently) that everyone ditched except me and his brother. I got sucked into playing a complex boardgame who rules I could not comprehend, on a glitchy website for seven – 7 – hours!

    The best I could do was set a firm deadline of midnight, whether the blasted game was finished or not. What else could you do when your friend was ditched on his 30th birthday?

    (Incidentally, the website had a feature where you could “flip” the table. After hour 3, I was severely tempted….)

  9. That’s just one of the potential uses of a MAGA hat. I’m starting to think it might be a good idea to always have one handy, despite my lack of fondness for Trump.

    Put one on while dining in one of several major American cities and someone will probably find assaulting you irresistible. With any luck, it will be a trust fund kid with rich parents. Instant just redistribution of excess wealth!

    Flying? Depending on the luck of the draw, you may be able to simply put on a Trump hat and, within minutes, have the person seated next to you go ballistic and be escorted off the airplane. Boom, extra space!

  10. Sounds like a serious case of Abilene Paradox to me.

    On a more personal note.
    I am a nice, friendly person and I have learned to say, very friendly, sentences like, “Well, shall we finish this meeting/visit? I need to go/do …” or “Darling, we need to move on.”
    Plenty variations possible.
    And it is certainly a thing my wife appreciates because she is more reluctant than me in taking the initiative with ending meetings.

    The Abilene Paradox helped me to visualize that the other party is also happy that someone ends the meeting.

  11. My paternal grandfathe was a retired railroader and a man of few words, When he was ready for guests to leave in the evening, he would loudly tell my grandmother (her name was Louise), “Lou, we need to get to bed so these good people can go home!” I don’t think that one ever failed to work.

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