Do I Have to Chat At The Gym?

- Very Serious: An Advice Column By Kelly Conaboy -
Do I Have to Chat At The Gym?

Dear Kelly,

I recently joined a small gym and there is a person who frequently tries to make small talk with me there in the morning. I don’t like to talk at the gym, I go to work out in peace and then leave. Do I tell this person to leave me alone, or do I have to chat?



Oh god, David, this sounds like a nightmare.

It is a phobia of mine to be recognized in public settings for the purpose of recurring small talk. In the past I have gone to such lengths as changing my daily coffee place to a worse coffee place, because I started seeing the same people there over and over again and things got too chatty. I know it sounds like Larry David bit (wait, David — are you Larry David?) but sometimes Larry David is right. It can be much more pleasant to just go about your business without having to exert any unnecessary personability.

Now — the gym. This, unfortunately, is something I do not know about. I won’t go into my own personal fitness routine, because I already have in past advice columns and you can read them all from beginning to end if you’d like to know my secrets, but suffice it to say my routine happens rarely, takes a maximum of ten minutes, and is YouTube-based. I did take a tour of a gym with a friend once, though, so I understand a gym’s interior. Equipment, floor, bathroom, ceiling. People pulling things and pushing things; holding heavy things, punching, running. Sweating, breathing.

I can understand that this is not an environment in which one would enjoy chit-chat. First of all, you probably look sweaty and unkempt for most of your gym duration. Not that that’s a bad thing for everyone, but even the hottest people must feel a bit caught off-guard when they’re talked to, all of a sudden, while looking like that. You’re also likely out of breath, from all of the exercise. You’re also probably trying to zone out — watch one of the TVs, listen to a podcast, get pumped up to your work-out mix, remember how many “reps” you’ve done, or some such. You are, like you said, trying to work out in peace. You’re trying to mind your own business.

This seems obvious to me, as I’m sure it does to you, but once again we have run into a situation where someone sees the world differently. This happens in life. “It takes all kinds,” as they say, even the kinds who are annoying at the gym. It seems to enhance this person’s life to chit-chat. Maybe they are afraid of being alone with their thoughts (a murderer?) or maybe they have a crush on you (a sexy murderer, like Joe from You?). Maybe they are sad and lonely and new in town, and desperate for a friend. Maybe they're just annoying. Their reasoning doesn’t really matter, David, because in any case, you now have to deal with them.

So what do you do? I assume you’ve already tried terse responses and not making eye contact, but if you haven’t, I’d say start there. Attempt to stick to one-word answers, if possible, and then immediately go about your business as if you are so busy working out you couldn’t possibly take the mental strain of conversation; as if it is in fact maybe dangerous for you to have your thoughts pulled elsewhere right now. And maybe it is!

If the chatter persists, maybe you can start wearing ear buds, if you don’t already. They don’t need to be playing anything, but when the chatter starts talking to you, you can do the patented “I’m listening to something, sorry” by pointing at them and shaking your head while frowning. Enough of these and I would hope the loquacious individual gets the message (though you’ll have to be diligent about wearing them from the second you enter until you are at least two blocks away).

If the chat still continues, you have to make a choice. You can either confront the chatter head-on with your personal no-chat policy, or you can live with the chatting forever. This is a choice you’ll have to make for yourself, based on your personal guilt level and passiveness. (You also might want to weigh the kindness of the chat-loving gym-goer. Are they rude, or are they just chatty?) If you decide to confront, be kind but stern. Answer whatever question they’re asking you that morning, and then add something like — “but hey, just so you know in the future, I don’t really like to chat while I’m working out. Sorry, I know that’s weird!” It’s not weird, obviously, but sometimes you have to take an L to get the results you want.

Otherwise you can just blame it on COVID-19. “Hey, sorry, I’m just really freaked out by droplets and aerosol particles, and you know, all that stuff. They increase in the air with talking, so I’d rather we not talk.” Take advantage of every pandemic-related excuse you can, David; we all deserve it.



Image: eGuide Travel; stick figures: Kelly Conaboy.

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