There's a certain category of people I sometimes meet as friends-of-friends. They're smart, funny, enthusiastic, attractive extroverts who lead interesting lives and tell great stories.
And I really enjoy hanging out with them. I ask them questions, and they say smart and funny and interesting things. And sometimes I even get crushes on them.
And then I go home, and I wonder if it's occurred to them that after spending an entire evening with me, they don't know anything more about me than they did at the start.
(I feel obliged to mention at this point that I don't think anyone reading this is in the category I'm talking about. I mean, of course all of my friends are smart, funny, and attractive, and tell great stories—that goes without saying. And many of y'all are extroverts. And of course I have huge crushes on y'all. But I'm talking in most of this entry about a particular category of people who I don't know very well and who really pretty much never express the slightest interest in me at all.)
They usually like me; after all, I'm a pretty good audience. I'm appreciative, and I laugh at their jokes, and I ask questions that give them opportunities to tell great stories.
And I'm not even really complaining; I do enjoy spending time with such people.
But I'd enjoy it a little bit more if they would occasionally ask me a question, or otherwise express any interest at all in me.
I have several possible theories to explain their behavior:
- They notice that I'm a little reserved, so they assume that I don't want to have to be the focus of attention, so they're being nice by not asking me anything.
- They think I'm boring. (Or to put it more charitably: They notice that I'm a little reserved, so they assume I must not have anything interesting to say.)
- They're in entertaining-an-audience mode; in other contexts, they might be more interested in having a more interactive conversation.
- They don't really notice that there's another person (me) in the conversation at all; they see me as an audience rather than as a person.
- They assume that if I have anything to say, I'll jump on in and say it. (This is the part that's arguably my fault—there's nothing preventing me from jumping in and offering my own unprompted stories instead of asking more questions. But I think some part of me feels that that would be a little rude; and in the contexts I'm talking about, it's harder for me to do that than in more friendly/interactive contexts.)
- They read my journal regularly and thus assume they know everything that's going on in my life. (There's a lot that I don't write about publicly, but that fact may not be obvious to people who don't know me well.)
- No one's ever taught them that asking questions is a useful conversational approach, nor taught them what kinds of questions to ask. (The interviewing workshop I took at SGI lo these many years ago continues to be one of the most valuable classes I ever took.)
- They aren't really much interested in other people—they're so focused on their own lives that they don't really care much about other people's lives.
I'm sure there are plenty of other possibilities. And I don't mean to be as harsh as some of those probably sound. And I'm sure that in many cases what's really going on is a mix of various things.
But over time, I've been starting to think more and more that that last point may be the biggest factor.
It's easy to get so caught up in our own lives that we aren't paying much attention to others' lives. But in my experience, almost everyone has interesting things to say. Sometimes it takes a little patience and/or a little prompting and/or the right context to find out what those interesting things are, but they're almost always there.
Anyway, I don't mean this entry as chiding or as asking people to ask me more questions; like I said above, I don't think any of y'all reading this are in the category I'm talking about. Really just musing.
(Wrote almost all of this entry in early November 2007, but never posted it. Came across it today while looking for something else, decided to finally post it. Haven't actually encountered people like this in quite a while; my posting this now shouldn't be taken as commentary on anyone I've seen lately.)