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20-40-60 Etiquette: Deciding who ends long phone conversations

QUESTION: I enjoy your weekly column. I am now in need of some answers to an issue that recently developed when two relatives began calling me, often leading to conversations that extend two or more hours at a time. I was always under the impression that when someone else initiates a phone call, or, if you return their call, that it is rude to break off the call without good reason. My online search only gave conflicting answers.

Could you please provide me with a definitive answer as to whether the caller or the person receiving the call should move first to end the phone call?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: Who has time to talk on the phone that long?! I would let them know you have to go at a certain time when the caller calls. That way it’s not super long.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I don’t think etiquette requires you to talk as long as another person is able to talk. It’s OK for either party to say, “I have loved catching up with you, but now I have to go.” When my children were younger, there is no way I could have had a two-hour conversation with anyone; with some of my mom friends, we’d get interrupted mid-sentence and wouldn’t be able to pick up the conversation again until a week later. I’m not sure I could do that now. Two hours seems way too long.

However, I do miss an occasional phone conversation — now that everyone seems to text more than they call; both texts and calls have their place as ways to connect with other people. My children have their conversations these days via FaceTime, which can be equally as difficult as a two-hour conversation because a video call requires your full attention. It’s hard to fold laundry, be dressed in pajamas or have a messy house while you chat via video.

In your situation, if you have time to talk for two hours, and want to, that’s one thing, but if you don’t, just politely end the call and say you’ll catch up another time.

HELEN’S ANSWER: If you are the caller, you should be ready to end the conversation when it is over. However, depending on time constraints, the receiver could also choose to be through talking at any time. Common courtesy dictates that either one could say, “I am so sorry, but I have to hang up now — I have to leave the house, cook dinner, answer the door” — or do whatever is happening at your house.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Patti Leeman, community volunteer: “A definitive answer" — probably not. There are so many variances involved, only a few of them being the age of the callers, the culture from which they sprung up or the reason for the call in the first place.

If these calls are happening often, my own guide would be to check Caller ID before answering calls and return calls according to the time available to visit with any friend, whether long-winded or those of few words.

Then, because I always like to have the last word, I would be ready to sign off at any time that would seem the conversation is over.

Since 2009, Callie, Lillie-Beth and Helen have written this generational etiquette column. They also include guest responses from a wide range of ages each week. So many years later, Callie is 20-plus; Lillie-Beth is 40-plus and Helen is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email