Monday, August 3, 2009

And Then There Was Conversation

Bad4Shidduchim has a post up about the problems of dating someone who does not speak during a date or resorts to one word answers.

My mother likes to say that I didn't come out of the womb crying; I came out talking. Being a talker and having observed a lot of other people as regards speaking, I'd like to offer the following, which might clarify a bit some of the puzzlement expressed on the bad4 comments.

Almost all people are born with the ability to produce speech, that is, the physical ability. However, not all people are particularly partial to exercise this ability in all situations at all times.

I believe that we can divide people into six basic categories as regards speaking.

#1: Will talk to anyone, anywhere, on any topic, at any time. This person so loves talking that he/she mostly does not require that a partner in a "conversation" do more than nod their head or say "uhhmmm" occasionally. This person may not even realize that the conversation going on is very lopsided, nor do they particularly mind. They are looking for a good listener, not a conversational equal. We see those people often in a classroom. A question is barely out of an instructor's mouth and that person's hand is shot in the air and the answer is already being fired back. Fixing such a person up with another person who is also a level one talker is not a comfortable dating situation; both sides are talking but no one is listening.

#2: This person shares the quality with #1 of being able to talk, and talk, and talk, but unlike #1, this happens only when they can do so about a particular interest or subject. Present them with something that they care about and they can talk up a storm. Present them with something that doesn't much interest them and they flip to being listeners or one-word answerers. The key to a successful date with such a person is to know or find out what the particular, special interests are and get them talking about those. Of course, if the other person on the date doesn't particularly care for the subject, and goes to change it to something else, the first person may become mostly mute.

#3: This person is neither quiet nor talkative. He/she has pretty much mastered the art of polite social conversation, going beyond one word answers, but not all that much beyond. They know what the neutral topics are that may be discussed on a date, and they discuss them. But deep conversation is not something they are comfortable with when faced with a stranger. They are polite conversationalists rather than enthusiastic ones. In a classroom, these people will answer when called upon but do not raise their hands. It will take a while for this type of talker to feel comfortable enough with someone else to raise the level of conversation out of the banal and the mundane.

#4: This person is the born listener. He/she would far rather hear others speak than speak. These types of speakers don't like leading a conversation, nor actually being an active participant in one. This does not mean that they are not taking in everything that is said, examining it and ruminating on it. It does mean that the other person in this "conversation" is going to have to carry the ball, with little or no input from our listener.

Now we come to two broad categories, of which the first four mentioned are part.

#5: Males. Yes, your sex can determine how or when you are comfortable speaking, with whom, and on what topic. Watch a group of young men in conversation and you will notice that they tend to get physical when they talk. Greetings are accompanied by back slaps. Points may be emphasized with arm punches. Even among friends they tend to talk at each other or around each other rather than engaging in steady eye contact, in your face conversation. They tend to take verbal shortcuts, such as "you know what I mean" rather than going into deep explanations. [Keep in mind that I am talking about social situations, not learning ones.] They are not as adept at reading non-verbal cues as females are (or maybe care less about them)--things like body posture or facial expressions. Mostly they don't worry about whether their male friends are having a good time during a conversation. If they are bored they say so or they leave the conversation. They don't particularly worry about the tone of their voice; it is what it is. It is relatively rare to find a group of young men having a quiet conversation; they tend to be more on the boisterous side, on the louder side. A whole lot of these young and not-so-young males find conversation with females a difficult endeavor. They are generally aware, perhaps from seeing their sisters and their friends, that females seem to speak differently, but they haven't really grasped how. They may modify what type of speaker they actually are when faced with conversation with a female: a #1 speaker may hold back being unsure if his regular mode of speaking will be acceptable.

#6: Females are rather interesting because they have more than one style of speaking. They have the in the public eye among strangers mode, the in the public eye with a friend mode, in private among semi-strangers mode and the in private among friends mode. In all but the last mode, and sometimes even there, they are controlled speakers. They modulate their physical movement during conversation. They tend to make eye contact when speaking to all but strangers whom they will never see again. They modulate the pitch and tone of their voices. Some of this is cultural: loud, boisterous women were met with disapproval for most of history and still are in many sub-cultures today. Many frum girls would consider it un-tsniusdik to call attention to themselves through their speaking. Many females are emotive speakers: they speak of feelings, not just ideas or things. Unlike the males, females generally have an idea of how males communicate, since they are, many of them, keen observers. In addition, polite society has always relied on the female to take care of social etiquette.

Now, how does all this relate to speaking on dates? Perhaps instead of some of the real narishkeit that is asked about a prospective date what is needed is a speech assessment survey. Have someone fill out a form that delves into conversational habits in depth. The boy who loves to talk and talk is going to need a good listener, not a good talker. The girl who doesn't really like being at the forefront of a conversation is going to need a boy who, frankly, can't shut up. The girl who loves to talk and talk is also going to need a real listener. Being honest about your speaking habits could help to avoid some of the dating silences that some people find so painful.

I've seen this in real life. The first boy that one of my daughters went out with was absolutely not a talker. My daughter refused a second date. She basically talked to herself all night. The young man (with all kinds of wonderful qualities otherwise) was finally set up with the right kind of girl for him. The young woman happened to be a former classmate of said daughter's. What everyone in the class knew was that this young woman LOVED to talk, she was a level #1 talker, at the head of the group. Yes, this couple got married. He made the perfect foil for her, and she made him relax because he had no responsibility to initiate conversation.

Recognizing that there are real speech and speaking differences among people, some of which may change upon deeper, further acquaintance, some of which won't, might just help to make for better dates.


Kaylie said...

The first three dates with my husband I almost killed myself trying to find some topic that both of us were going to talk about, not just me. Towards the end of date three the car made a really horrible noise. I told him what it was and he looked at me like he had never seen me before.

I should explain that with four daughters and no sons my dad tried really hard to get us interested in some of the things he liked. The car part took with me. I got out, opened the hood and explained to him what the problem was. When AAA arrived they told him the same thing. Suddenly he could talk, and he asked me if next date I would teach him about all the thinigs he should know about a car. The date was spent in my parents' driveway with my mom bringing out pitchers of juice and cookies to keep us going. And while going over the mysteries of the car he mentioned that he really liked fishing and too bad that fishing wasn't considered a real date. And yes, the next date we went out fishing--my father realllllly wanted a boy.

Too many guys and too many girls spend time on dates talking about things that neither one may really care about but everyone says make good dating conversation. He never would have talked about what he thought were real boy topics and I wouldn't have brought them up not wanting to appear less feminine if it wasn't for the car's problems that date.

Before our oldest got her drivers licence my husband made sure she knew all about regular car maintenance and what goes on under the hood. She asked him if she needed to know this to get her licence. he told her, and he was serious, that she needed to know it before she got into shidduchim. It worked for us, might work for someone else too.

Alex said...

On the other hand there are people like my friend and his wife who are both big talkers. and they provide the conversation energy level they are both looking for.
Or people like my fiance and I who are very quiet (except when it comes to Torah when I won't shut up if the other person is interested), we are happy to sit in a room together each in out own thoughts, the first few dates were somewhat awkward but it ended up working out.