The other day, I had lunch with a man at a neighborhood coffee shop. The reason for our meeting was a book I owned that he had expressed interest in and that I had offered to give him, together with a small parcel that a mutual friend who lives abroad had requested I deliver.
The “business” completed, we settled down to the meal, and it was congenial. The food was good and the conversation flowed. A professional man with wide interests, he was knowledgeable and articulate and pleasant company.
Just one thing: During the hour and a half or so that we spent together, during which he expounded happily on a number of topics, some general, some more personal, he never asked me a single question about myself – about my work as a writer, my career as a journalist at The Jerusalem Post, my interests, my opinion on this or that; indeed, about anything to do with my life.
Even though this meeting obviously had no romantic background, I came away a bit subdued, thinking how much the scenario had resembled one I experienced quite often when I was single: getting together with someone in a restaurant or café for the ostensible purpose of becoming better acquainted, yet finding that I ended up being the one who asked all the questions, the man of the moment seemingly quite satisfied to spend the entire evening talking about himself – and learning nothing at all about me.
It made me feel as flat and one-dimensional as a sounding board.
Is this phenomenon the result of nerves, social ineptness, or pure self-absorption? And how widespread is it? “Men talk only about themselves” brought up 65,000 hits on Google.
A MAN inquired – rather touchingly – from a relationship Internet forum: “I heard a long time ago [that men talk only about themselves] and it’s actually true in me, I’m always talking about the things I do, especially when dating, and I can hardly remember anything about my dates [embarrassed emoticon]. Are we men like that?” Replied a woman, with apparent resignation, “I think men ramble on about themselves because they do not know or care to know about the art of conversation. It’s all about them. I have even cut off the tirade... and [thrown] in a random question; the response always goes back to them. Sigh.”
“Possibly...” added another man, “it’s a phenomenon similar to, say, peacocks showing off their tail feathers to peahens. We [men] have a natural tendency to brag and show off. That’s how we attract (or think we attract) the honeys. Don’t worry, if it isn’t working, it’ll disappear after a few thousand generations of evolution....”
BLOGGING FOR The Huffington Post last year, college student Serena Piper echoed some thoughts of my own about meaningful, balanced relationships, both those just getting off the ground and more longstanding ones.
“Men, if you want a key to a happy relationship, here it is: talk with us, don’t talk at us,” she urged.
“For those of you who weren’t brought up with this helpful hint, the conversation rule is: You ask a question, the other person answers that question, and then asks a question in return. Don’t let the conversation be one-sided.”
Women want men to show interest in them, too, Piper stressed, and not just on the physical level.
“Part of being in a relationship is getting to know the person... on the what-makes-them-tick level. What is their passion? What makes them get out of bed in the morning? What is their motivation? “Asking questions, not just answering, is the key to connecting,” she wrote, recalling “doing a double-take the first time a guy answered a question I had and ended it with, ‘...what do you think?’ It was so refreshing and flattering hearing him ask me what I thought, instead of assuming I had nothing to say, or not even thinking to ask me in the first place.”
To those who protest that men aren’t talkers, she tells them to “get over it,” and practice talking since “not asking questions equals no interest” – whether that really is the case, or not.
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY recently reproduced 36 questions said to build or increase intimacy in just 45 minutes.
According to Dr. Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University, New York, they almost always make two people feel good about each other and want to meet each other again.
The questions aren’t necessarily aimed at a romance, but also at deepening any existing tie between two people. Each should take a turn at answering every question. Here are some of the ones I liked: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? What would constitute a perfect day for you? If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose? For what in your life do you feel most grateful? If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be? Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? What do you value most in a friendship? If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? How close and warm is/was your family? What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and any pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item.
What would it be? THE GREAT thing about the above questions is that while they are not overly probing or intrusive, the answer to any one of them can potentially open the door to a fascinating discussion, revealing a lot about the other person in the process, and about oneself as well. This lays the ground for a genuine relationship to develop, one that encompasses the whole person.
In fact, anyone, male or female, about to venture out on a first date could well memorize two or three of these questions and visualize him- or herself introducing them into the conversation. The resulting talk could be an eye-opener, anything but run-of-themill.
At the very least, the encounter wouldn’t be boring.
I REMEMBER many dates that never really got off the ground because the man in question presented himself as dull or self-absorbed and there was no real exchange of views and experiences. I couldn’t believe that someone would sit opposite me for a whole evening and not try to learn a single thing about me beyond what he could see.
Then, in 2010, a man invited me out for coffee, and we stayed talking for three hours about anything and everything. We started seeing each other, and during one discussion, he said, “What interests me is what you think.”
In 2011, I married him.