I would not define myself as an exceptionally gifted conversationalist.
For starters, I only ever loosely pay attention to what other people are telling me. Usually when Carol is going on about her day and that one neighbor who *just won’t close his curtains!* my mind is squarely in the year 1455, caught in an early battle of the “War of the Roses”, imagining myself swinging a mace with deft grace for the honor of House Lancaster. When Timmy is talking about that *interesting thing that happened at work!* I’m internally practicing my magic and sorcery, so that the next time an enemy talks back to me, I’ll be able to vanquish them with my mighty wizardry. It becomes very difficult to offer the correct interjections and commentary into a conversation (“What? He left them open again??”) when you’re single handedly defeating the upstarts of House York, or driving lightning into your least favorite co-worker’s back.
Additionally, I’m just not that great with social cues. Very little of this has ever come naturally to me. When I was a *very* little kid on the playground (in the times before I could buy friends with Pokémon cards), I spent most of my time eating grapes and avoiding the other children. While my classmates were busy socializing and learning how to interact with one another, I was staring at the ground eating a mid-day snack. Where others likely learned about social interactions through active engagement, I’ve always felt that I’ve had to learn about these things through passive observation. The extrovert who could talk to anybody was a very foreign concept to me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t feel comfortable doing what he did. The best I could often do was an imitation of what I observed, that would often come off as forced or, at best, a bit quirky. This has always made it fairly difficult for me to interact with others unless I’m *really* trying, and even then, it’s never perfect.
Lastly, I just really don’t care that much about what most people have to say. And I’m sorry. I really am. It’s a horrible thing to think, much less to say. But dammit, I can’t help it. To reiterate my commentary from a prior post, none of us are truly as creative or original as we think we are. Very little of what we have to say is unique or noteworthy (including pretty much anything I’ve ever said or thought). Your friends are a bit different, primarily because you love them and you *actually care* about what happens to them on a deeply personal level. But for the random stranger in the street, or the co-worker you talk to twice a quarter when you run into each other at a happy hour, what actual reason do you have to care about their opinions? These ideas drilled into us since childhood of “Respect everyone’s opinion!” and “We’re all unique butterflies!” are total garbage in real life application. Jacob down the street is a petty racist with pretty out-there thoughts on the US Constitution. What is there to respect in his opinion? Tyler from work is a white guy in his 20’s who loves hiking and enjoys spending time at the gym. Normal distributions are powerful things, and 2/3 of us fall squarely within one standard deviation of the mean. Tyler – welcome to the 50th percentile (Let me show you around – my spot is just around the corner). You are both entitled to your opinions and interests. There is nothing wrong with them, assuming they don’t cause you to storm the US capital or spend your entire rent check on a personal trainer. There’s just nothing particularly interesting about them either.
All of this roundabout rambling is to say that I am not necessarily at my best when engaging strangers in conversation for the first time. Which is unfortunate, as this is kind of the central premise of dating apps.
First, there is the problem of the actual initiation of the conversation. If I’ve managed to both finish my battle in the streets of St. Albans and complete my magical training for the day, I might finally find the focus to at least *try* to strike something up. But from there, my list of initial conversation starters is fairly slim. It turns out most women aren’t nearly as into mid-15th century English history as I am, nor do they tend to appreciate a good old self-deprecating masturbation joke. And God forbid someone begins a conversation by “Asking you to start the conversation”. Once more, for those of you unfamiliar with the dating app Hinge, in order to “like” someone and begin a conversation, you must first “like” a particular prompt on their profile, usually offering some comment to the person in the process. From there, the other person must then like you back to “match” with you and officially form the connection. In the process of matching, the other person is also prompted to provide a comment, typically replying to the initial remarks made by the original “liker”. However, the second person does not have to provide a comment back to the first person. And in this instance, when the match is made, all it says in the new “Chat Window” is “Person X has invited you to start the chat”. What? No. That’s literally what I just did. This is how I was led to believe conversations worked. One person says something. Another person listens to this thing, and then replies in turn. You can’t just not reply and tell the other person to “Go again”. That’s not a conversation. That’s talking to an emotionally absent wall. It would be like a talk show of entirely rhetorical interview questions. Hell, if there’s not going to be any audience participation, at that point it might as well just be a presentation – here, I prepared a handout.
But let’s assume I have now managed to work past my constant stream of medieval daydreams and have found a common point of interest to begin discussing with another person. We’ve determined neither of us are emotionally absent walls and have officially “Started the Chat”. We now must *sustain* a conversation. Which can prove wildly difficult. First, we have my lack of sophistication around social cues and norms. I’m still not entirely sure what the proper occasion for an emoji is, nor am I entirely certain after 28 years how to actually flirt (*Studies old tapes of the “Real World” intently*). Most of my advances can be boiled down to: “So….do you like stuff? Cool. Tell me more about that stuff. Well, that sure is neat. Anyway, have a nice day!” And within the conversational process it becomes very difficult for me to truly pick up on *real* interest. Are you not asking any questions back to me because you’re a) Bored b) Not interested or c) Generally disinterested in the lives of others? It’d sure be a whole lot easier if you just told me, because I will absolutely not be able to figure it out on my own.
Next, we have my aforementioned lack of interest in most things. To be fair, this is not limited to the thoughts and interests of other people. I barely care about what *I* have to say. As words are leaving my mouth, I’ll often pause half-way through as I realize how little interest even I have in what I’m saying. I had exactly zero minutes of fun putting together that spreadsheet for work yesterday – so, why in the world would another person want to waste any of their minutes hearing about it? I have a business degree and an extremely modest breadth of world experience – so, why would anyone be interested in my thoughts on the country’s current political climate? If they are, they certainly shouldn’t be. This lack of interest in my own self also plays right into my innate desire to deflect in conversations. It becomes infinitely more difficult to talk about yourself when you don’t find yourself particularly interesting. And a conversation that only has one willing participant sharing anything is really just an interview. An engaging interview, sure – but still an interview.
And lastly, we have the transition out of the dating app into a real-life meeting. Which can be extremely awkward and clunky. In the end, this entire conversation was effectively a try-out to gauge general compatibility and perceived fuckability. I’ve never truly found an elegant way to say “Your genes satisfy my requisite specifications for a mate. Let us now awkwardly sit at a bar for an hour as social decorum dictates we must”. It can be especially difficult based on the topic of conversation you’re attempting to transition from. “Huh, yeah. I guess you’re right. The meat I eat every day *does* get produced by an inherently unethical system of factory farming. Anyway, what are you doing this weekend?” Pair this innately rocky transition with my poor social skills and generally bad attitude, and actually moving from the safety of an app to an actual date becomes unnecessarily stressful.
In short, talking to new people is hard for me. And exhausting. And honestly, just an overall trying experience. It is also, unfortunately, the single most important thing to figure out if you have any desire to, you know, not die alone or feel like a functioning member of human society. While I’ve made noticeable progress on this since I was a lonely first grader eating fruit on the playground (*Puts down bag of grapes guiltily*), I still clearly have a long way to go in becoming a fully functioning human. But in the meantime, I’ll just leave you all with this lovely Hinge non-sequitur. It serves as a prime example of my flare for the random, and my inability to create a meaningful thread of conversation. Enjoy.