#648: “On dates, I feel like I am making all the conversational efforts.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve recently been making an effort to meet new people via online dating, and it’s been pretty great so far – I’ve met a few cool, interesting people who I enjoy hanging out and exploring potential romantic stuff with. Most of them have super interesting lives and a lot of cool stories to tell, which I like listening to. The problem is, they never ask me about myself and it’s starting to bother me!

I was raised to believe that it’s polite to demonstrate an interest in the person you’re talking to, and that asking them questions about themselves and their opinions is a good way to make someone feel at ease when you’ve just met. Plus, when I like someone, I usually WANT to know all about them and to collect as much info about this cool stranger as possible. The combination of the above means that on first dates I tend to spend a lot of time asking my date about the interests they listed on their profile, what they think about X global event, what they like to do in the city, etc., but I’ve started to notice that the effort is rarely (and sometimes never) reciprocated. This includes people who messaged me first and asked me out, so I know they’re interested in me romantically. I date people of all genders, so I know it’s not just an entitled dude thing (although the dudes are worse).

I’ve tried leaving pauses after a topic of conversation wraps up, for them to ask me something about myself (doesn’t work, they usually start telling a story about themselves or drag out the previous topic a little longer), and occasionally I’ll answer the question I just asked them uninvited (e.g. Me: “So where are your favourite places to hang out in the city?” Date: “Oh, I like X Y Z” Me: “Cool, I’ve been planning to check out Z sometime! Personally I like F and G”), but it makes me feel selfish to do this too often when they’re not showing more than a polite interest. I’m pretty sure it’s not shyness that’s stopping them from asking me about myself, because there are plenty of questions I ask them that they could easily ask back onto me (this is another thing that I was taught it’s polite to do when possible, but I accept that mileage may vary on things like this).

Plenty of these dates lead to a second or third date, and the trend of me feeling like I’m interviewing them continues even when we get to know each other better (or at least, I know THEM). Am I just dating assholes, or is there some script or social convention that I’m missing out on here? I’m not looking for a date to talk AT or for our dates to turn into back-and-forth quizzing sessions, but it’s starting to make me feel uninteresting and unappreciated!

Yours,

The Date Interviewer

Dear Dating Interviewer:

Hello, you are me from three years ago. Open to dating. Interested in meeting lots of people. Able to carry on a conversation with most anyone and put them somewhat at ease. Meeting a lot of basically okay people with whom I could pass a pleasant hour, but few kindred spirits. Meeting a lot of expectant looks across cafe tables. Feeling sometimes like I was putting on a show.

You could try keeping quiet for a bit and seeing if the other person jumps in, but honestly I think you should keep doing what you’re doing, but use it more as a screening process. If you get through Date 2, and the other person hasn’t asked you a single question despite you giving them many openings to do so, you know that they are not for you and there should be no Date 3 (unless they make all the effort to make one happen and make some kind of massive conversational rally). You can also say, explicitly, “I’d love to hang out again next week, why don’t you choose the place” if you’ve been taking more of the lead in planning stuff. The person will either rise to the occasion or not.

And when you run across someone who takes as much of an interest in you as you do in them, where it feels like a conversation rather than an interview, where things flow and it doesn’t feel like you are doing the work of keeping a conversation going, you’ll know you’ve clicked with someone. This is less about finding people who are interested in you (a lot of them are, and a lot of them will be) and more an exercise in finding out who passionately interests you.

Keep doing what you’re doing. Take breaks when it gets to be too much. Among the moths drawn to your flame, you’ll find someone who burns as bright as you.

<3,

Captain Awkward

 

 

 

194 comments
  1. Agree with the Captain. For the first date at least, I bet you are getting a lot of relief on their end that you are easy to talk to and a great listener. And in their relief they just start talking and talking and talking ….

    The test is whether after the date (or maybe during the second date) they catch themselves, realize what they are doing, and start asking you questions. If they don’t catch themselves before this point, they may very well be a lovely, interesting person, but they appear to be self-centered enough that it doesn’t bode well for anything serious or enduring.

    • Ginny said:

      Right, that was my thought as well. On the first date, some people will probably be a bit hyped up and excited to be meeting the cool LW and so will be thrilled at LW showing interest, and hence they will talk. The ones that are interested in you will give you space to talk in future dates, because they will genuinely want to know about you. The others? You don’t have to go on dating them.

      • kyle said:

        I have done a fair amount of internet dating and have been on both ends of this. When I’m nervous (like, say, on a first date) I tent to a mile a minute and may not ask a single question. Not due to lack of interest, but due to nerves. However, I have also been that person who is talked at, which is less than fun. One thing I used to do as a hail mary, was when they took a breath towards the end of the date say, “Is there anything you’d like to know about me?” I found that was a really good weeder question because interested people would say,” yes actually…” whereas others would just stare blankly. Sure, you shouldn’t have to teach someone manners, but if it’s someone you want to give the benefit of the doubt to, it’s a good trick.

  2. Rachel B said:

    I will be interested in what the commenters have to say. This is mainly why I stopped making more of an effort at dating and now am meeting people through work connections and hanging out with friends. Of course I don’t meet as many people this way but the other way was making me crazy.

  3. tinyorc said:

    The first (and worst) OKCupid date I ever went on with a dude who asked me exactly two questions. “Wine?” and “White or red?”
    The bizarre thing is that he messaged me afterwards to be like “blah blah, I feel like we had a great connection, blah.”
    And I thought, “I’m sure you did, dude. You talked about everything from your favourite childhood foods to your career plans for the next three years. I’m sure you felt very understood and listened to. The only thing you know about me is that I prefer a full-bodied Rioja when I can get it, but a Malbec or Syrah will do in a pinch!”

    There was no second date.

    • Had one like that, too. He spent the ENTIRE lunch talking about himself. I just kept paying out the rope…

      From my Mom:
      A true Lady or Gentleman never talks about hizerself unless asked!
      Always ask people something about themselves!

    • robotneedslove said:

      Haha I’ve been on those before too. I remember being about 20 minutes into a date once, knowing it wasn’t going anywhere, and thinking, I wonder if I can get through this whole date without disclosing anything about myself? And yes, I could. And my date was none the wiser, and had a great time, and I politely turned him down for a second.

      I always thought about it as networking practice. Certainly, I don’t want to date someone with no ability to show interest in me. But if I can have one of those interactions with a potential client, and he or she leaves feeling good, then that is a good thing.

      It’s also funny when you go on a date with someone who is ALSO trained “How to Win Friends and Influence People” method of asking questions about others and you just ping pong back and forth trying to get the other person to talk about themselves (usually also a sign the date is not going that great).

  4. Kittentastic said:

    Hi LW, not done muCh internet dating myself (wasn’t really big when I was on the scene), so I guess part of it is screening out a lot of people.

    I thought you might find this reassuring that it’s not just you. I once met someone for a second date (I though the first date had been ok, but then I had been a bit drunk). I arrived at the bar and he started talking at me. I have a strong stubborn streak so I decided not to say anything until he asked me something about myself. And I timed it. After 25 minute he ran out of steam. Asked me how I was and before I had finished answering, took my few words as a jumping off point for another story about himself. I just remember wondering how quickly I could get out of there.

    Anyway, to cut a long story short. Reader, I married him.
    Not really! Never saw him again. Phew!
    I had to kiss a lot more frogs after him before finally finding one I liked best.

    LW you sound like a fun and interesting person. If it feels too much like hard work, then it probably isn’t right. I’m assuming you don’t have this problem day to day so just keep on keeping on.

    • slfisher said:

      I did that with one of my friends once. I realized that nearly every interaction with her was about *her* and spent one of our evenings together just waiting to see if she’d ask me anything about me, even how I was. She never did, so I started hanging out with other people.

      • I did it once, with a very close friend. I was trying to work up the steam to tell her I was suffering severe depression and thought, “next gap she takes for breath, I’ll tell her.” It was literally over an hour later when there was a break in the conversation and by then I’d had enough. (We’re still very good friends and she got better at not dominating the conversation with time!)

      • garlicknitter said:

        I had a friend who moved away and used to call me up occasionally and ramble at me, mostly about herself. One time I had just got back from vacation, so I thought I’d have something interesting to contribute. She asked how I was, I said, “Pretty good. Linda and I went to Whistler this summer, and -” She said, “Oh, that’s nice, blah blah blah blah.” No interest in my past times. Not a friend anymore.

        • RedCat said:

          Last year I went on a trip to China, and when I came back from my trip I took our Office Manger out to lunch and gave her the gift I bought her (and the gifts for her daughter as well). As we are a tiny company, three employees, I try to be on friendly terms with her, even though she is moody and has a lot of personal dramas – which she brings to the office and allows to negatively affect her work.

          Well, she didn’t ask a single question about my trip, gave a cursory thank you for the gifts and proceeded to talk about the latest drama with her awful boyfriend for the whole meal. Seriously, not one question! I reflected on previous interactions and realised this is her pattern, I’d just never noticed before. The other day, I came into the office and asked about her weekend – she talked at me for 20 mins, but didn’t ask how my weekend was. I’m polite to her, but we’re no longer ‘friends’, and I work from home a lot more now.

      • My sister does this, which is one of the main reasons I avoid speaking with her. Weirdly, she doesn’t talk about herself, but rather about *me* and what she believes I should be doing. One time she rambled on for over an hour about what jobs I should apply for, then suddenly stopped and berated me for ‘never asking how she’s doing.” To which I replied I never had a chance to since she never let me get a word in edgewise. Maybe not a polite response, but ooooh it felt good.

  5. I totally agree with the Captain here, but I had some thoughts of my own. I have had similar problems as the LW, and have lost friends over it. I’ve decided to start taking the initiative, and talk about myself, even though they asked me nothing about me. I guess what I’m saying is, if they’re doing it, maybe they expect you to do the same?

    I have no idea if this is the right answer, or the right thing to do, but I started doing it because otherwise few would ask me about myself.

    • Esis said:

      I know for me personally I’m relieved when people help me balance a conversation by volunteering information. I’m so bad at coming up with questions, but I’d love to hear more about them.

      I think the key is to gauge their reaction when you volunteer. Do then listen intently and then ask questions about what you said? Or do they act impatient to get back to their stories, regardless of what you said. Although sometimes if I’m not sure of a follow up question, I’d share a related story. But I like conversations that go that way. I’m not bothered if someone responds to me with a similar story.

      • monologue said:

        Yep. I think depending on your background you might actually feel rude or like you’re prying for personal info that the other person might not want to give. I’m still training myself to say “and you?” more often.

        For people that feel like they can’t volunteer info without being asked, maybe try meeting people like me in the middle and volunteering a little bit. The difference between someone like me who just doesn’t like to pry and someone uninterested will show in what happens next. I’m great at jumping off of an interesting story and asking more questions or sharing similar experiences of my own while looking for common interests and opinions. I just don’t always ask for the initial story very well. Someone who doesn’t care and just wants to talk won’t ask follow up questions, they’ll just steer things back to them again.

        • Remy said:

          I think depending on your background you might actually feel rude or like you’re prying for personal info that the other person might not want to give. I’m still training myself to say “and you?” more often.

          This hits it right on the nose for me. I figure that if a person wants me to have X information about them, they’ll start the topic; otherwise it would be nosy of me to ask. But I am fairly open with information, so I will answer questions (and keep my answers in the range where I feel comfortable). Still working on mentally assigning this agency to my conversational partners. Had an argument with an SO once, who felt like the LW does about our dates — I was both very startled to find out that the SO felt this way (as this outburst of frustration was my first overt notice) and apologetic when I located the source of the confusion. The temporary accommodation we came to was that I would ask more about my date, but would preface it with “If this isn’t too personal” or similar. It had the effect of flagging each instance where I was following the expressed request (I listened! I am responsive!), and also calling out that discussing X without solicitation felt “nosy” to me (This is weird and I am making an effort; now you do your part and if I am overstepping please TELL ME because I do not want to be rude.). It may have been slightly obnoxious, but hopefully I looked less selfish than I had while answering “interview questions” on a date.

          • Remy said:

            Oh, and I left a more coherent version of this comment on the Asker vs. Guesser post from last January. Whoops.

          • LilyR said:

            This reminded me of the asker/guesser conversation too! I also often feel like I’m prying or interrogating by asking someone questions, even questions that should be fairly neutral, in part because that is how I sometimes feel when people ask me questions in conversation. Even questions they expect to be no big deal. And it’s really hard to deflect a direct question that you aren’t prepared for!

            My personal cultural norm is that you should not ask someone about a topic they have not already brought up. “How have you been?” -> fine, functionally a synonym for “hello.” “How is your health/family/work?” -> nope, too personal unless volunteered.

            While I can talk with a question-based conversationalist, I find it much more stressful than talking with someone who matches my conversational style (volunteer information on a topic, pause/listen, repeat). If the other person volunteers no information I am more likely to assume that they are in a private or quiet mood than that they are waiting for me to ask.

        • I completely agree with this. I’m often afraid to ask questions because even innocent-seeming questions can turn out to be secret bombshells (“What do you do?” “I was just fired” “Do you have any siblings?” “My brother died last year”) so I like to let the other person open up first and then I’ll ask follow up questions or offer my own information as a back and forth. Also, sometimes if someone is talking about work I’ll jump in to say something about myself not because I want to change the topic to be about me but because I expect them to respond to what I said and then get back to them – or continue on with what I said if that takes us down a more interesting path.

          When I read the LW’s post I couldn’t help but think of my own experience of dates with people like her who are SO good at asking questions that I accidentally fall into the role of interviewee because my impression is that she doesn’t want to talk about herself. Sometimes when I’m not feeling very happy with my own life I ask a lot of questions because I want to keep the conversation off of myself. Of course that makes more sense in a strangers-meeting-at-a-party scenario than on an OkCupid date.

          • I had an awful experience once when I had to pick up some paperwork from an ex-employer. This was my first time back in maybe six months, but I stopped by my old department to say hello. EVERY innocent question I asked created a fresh disaster. “Oh, hey, how’s Kristy doing?” – “We broke up two months ago.” “Oh…um…how’s the puppy? She must be super big now!” – “The dog got hit by a car.” “Hey, how are the kids?” – “My oldest is in rehab and dropped out of school.”

            That experience made me much more nervous about asking questions, because you never know what tripwire you’re about to faceplant over.

          • slfisher said:

            I suppose, but to a certain extent, especially with a stranger, I don’t think it’s very gracious to lay that sort of trip on someone for an innocent polite question. If one’s first response to “How are you?” is “Well, my mom died,” I would suggest that perhaps one should still be at home mourning.

          • TO_Ont said:

            “I’m often afraid to ask questions because even innocent-seeming questions can turn out to be secret bombshells (“What do you do?” “I was just fired” “Do you have any siblings?” “My brother died last year”) so I like to let the other person open up first and then I’ll ask follow up questions or offer my own information as a back and forth”

            Yes. This is one of the reasons I’ve stopped asking questions about people’s partners, in particular. It just feels so so personal! And for all I know, they’re about to get divorced, so even a seemingly neutral question like ‘how’s his/her new job they mentioned last time I saw them’ can easily turn into a minefield if the honest answer is ‘I don’t know, we aren’t speaking to each other anymore’. Of course they’ll probably realize I didn’t mean to pry and won’t blame me for asking, but it puts us both in an awkward situation. They have to quickly decide if they want to tell me or not, and if not, find some not-too-awkward way of changing the subject, and I will feel clumsy and stupid for asking, and however smoothly we both manage it, they will have been reminded of something depressing and we’ll both feel bad.

            Of course that’s all hypothetical because maybe everything’s fine, but it goes through my mind.

            I have the same problem asking about pets. Pets often die.

            Jobs and school aren’t as bad, to me, because though people may get tired of being asked about them all the time, it’s not as personal so even if it’s going badly it doesn’t feel like prying as much.

    • wordiest said:

      Yes, please do when you meet such people. I was taught it is rude to pry. People offer the information they are comfortable giving, and you don’t try to push them to give more. It’s often hard to remember how to politely not answer a question. Sure, someone can ask, and you can come up with ways to politely say you don’t want to talk about it, but that’s awkward, and you have to be good at doing that quickly.

      It’s taken me decades to work on calibrating. I don’t consider other people rude for asking questions, because I know that standards vary widely on this. And if they ask questions I’m comfortable with, it’s great, but I still don’t like being asked various questions, because they immediately put me on the spot and make me have to try to remember how to get out of the situation. I’ve come to realize that many people won’t offer up information unasked and do like being asked. And I spent a little while going way too far with this… which often made people feel interrogated, which was also bad. There’s a sweet spot for this.

      But people who haven’t found a good blend of offering information uninvited and asking questions of others can be really good people, who are just still learning to navigate a tricky social protocol where the balance also seems to vary every time you move. So, while if having somebody ask you questions is important to your comfort, it could be a really good reason to not date somebody – and that’s fine. But, in general, I strongly support paying attention to the protocol the other person is using, and each person trying to move a little bit in that direction. So, if I notice someone is asking me a lot of questions, I should try to ask them more questions, since they clearly are an ask questions sort of person. And if I notice someone is volunteering information unasked, then I should volunteer what I am comfortable with, because they are clearly a person who volunteers info as a show of closeness and trust and enjoying the social interaction sort of person. Not everyone will move toward you, but not everyone will be aware that this is a thing to do. But the more people who try to adjust to the person they are speaking with, I think the more positive conversations there will be out there and the more comfortable a lot of people will feel.

      • Oh. Ohhhhh. I see.
        I’m an ask lots of questions person, because by asking questions you show you’re interested in them as a person, which is polite.
        Talking about yourself when they haven’t asked you a question is impolite and far too forward.
        Also, volunteering personal information risks them rejecting you, which is never fun.

        On the other hand, I can see how withholding personal information could make me seem cold and standoffish.

        This suggests one way to increase my friend-making chances is to talk more (yet still appropriately) about myself in the early stages.
        But dear me, that is terrifying. I’m an introvert! Being too forward in conversation is rude! Argh!

        This also explains a point of contention between myself and my Squishy. He will happily talk at length, without pause, without asking first how my day was. While I will get increasingly aggravated. Oddly, this only happens over the phone and not face to face.

        Thanks for opening my eyes to a new point of view!

      • Amber said:

        Something I do on first dates to avoid these problems is to ask more open ended questions. Sometimes At the beginning of the night I’ll say “tell me about yourself” and then they can tell you what interests them the most. You don’t have to ask “do you have kids?” And hear the story of their estranged son. If it’s important to then it will come up. I think it’s more about asking follow up questions and open ended questions than prying

        • Obviously, it’s the more general questions you ask, but from elsewhere in this thread it seems like some folks find even general/vague questions too prying. Which had just never even occurred to me.

          I would have thought with online dating, you’d have topics of conversation in your head already from reading their profile. Like, maybe they’ll have some hobby listed or books/media choices in common with you, so in this respect surely it’s supposed to be easier? I certainly wouldn’t go on a date with someone whose profile was devoid of personal character.

          All irrelevant to the LW but interesting nonetheless. It does sound like she could do with interjecting more, or whatever on 2nd dates if she thinks they’re worth a shot, but coming from the same perspective as her in conversation style, I know that is by no means an easy thing to do. Lots of good ideas to try in this thread anyhow. 🙂

          • slfisher said:

            I think the real takeaway from this (and I love “find people who are joyous with you”) is that this shouldn’t be *hard*. It shouldn’t be *work*. And if it is, chances are that it signifies that the two of you aren’t particularly compatible with each other in other ways.

          • TO_Ont said:

            ” Like, maybe they’ll have some hobby listed or books/media choices in common with you, so in this respect surely it’s supposed to be easier? I ”

            Yeah, personally I would assume that if someone has specifically mentioned a topic in their profile, it’s sort of putting that out as a topic they’re interested in/OK with talking about with others.

      • TO_Ont said:

        “But, in general, I strongly support paying attention to the protocol the other person is using, and each person trying to move a little bit in that direction. ”

        This is great, and works for so many different kinds of things. E.g., wondering why someone won’t give you eye contact? Try moving towards the level they’re offering, i.e., you try looking at them a little less. Etc.

        • JenniferP said:

          This is great, with the caveat that it’s okay to have a mismatch of styles, especially when dating. That’s information, not a failure by anyone.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      Yes, this. Please. I tend to get so caught up in my own stories that I forget to ask those questions. It’s not that I don’t want to know about the other person – I really, honestly do! I get to ends of conversations and kick myself because there were things I wanted to ask and I didn’t and suddenly it’s too late. I think I learned it from my mom, because I’ve noticed it happen a lot when we talk on the phone.

      So, I appreciate it when whoever I’m talking to inserts their related anecdotes, or changes the subject to something they want to talk about, or whatever.

  6. I think there is a bit of online dating ennui that can happen with people who go on a lot of dates with people they met online. This was me about 3 years ago. I started to feel like each first date was basically just an interview over coffee to see if I wanted to have a REAL date with that person, and the date was exactly the same each time with the same damn questions and answers, and all the guys were interchangeable. So if you’re actually a cool, conversational, interested & interesting person, they might just be playing the part of New Date With Cool Stories and not really being themselves. Give them a second date to redeem themselves and act more natural, if you like them and feel so inclined. If they’re still self-absorbed after a bit of time with you, they’re not for you.

    As a pretty introverted person who doesn’t like small talk, I don’t have that magic conversational chemistry with very many people. When I do, it just feels easy… I get lost in the actual conversation rather than worrying about the meta details of the conversation, like whose turn it is to ask about whom or having another question lined up so we don’t run out of things to say. When you find someone like that, then you’ve found someone with real potential!

    • Also this. All of the “should I ask a question” and “is it okay for me to volunteer something unasked” typically disappears when I’m talking to someone that I really feel comfortable talking to.

  7. Esis said:

    I know I tend to overtalk when I get nervous and I’ll leave a conversation and realize I didn’t learn anything about the other person, when I wanted to! However, knowing that about myself I often will say, pretty early on, “Hey, sometimes I talk too much (when I’m nervous). I’d love to hear what you have to say, feel free to tell me to shut up!” And next time I make a better effort. So, if you liked them otherwise try a second or third date, if they keep doing it then they might just be self centered, or lack some self awareness. Neither of which are things that you want in a partner! Or at the very least, their tendency to get carried away, like mine, is a pet peeve of yours and thus they aren’t a good fit for you.

    Best of luck!

    • gypsypeach said:

      I, too, tend to (to use a phrase brilliantly employed by another commenter in the meeting-hijacker thread) RELEASE THE WORD KRAKEN when I’m nervous and want people to like me. Internet dating felt like interviewing sometimes, and I tried to at least be self-aware and make a conscious effort to ask about the other person. When I finally met my now husband via an Internet date, we both were talking talking talking all night long until we were kissing kissing kissing. It was like, finally! No more wearing v-neck sweaters and makeup to Starbucks! 🙂

      Hang in there, LW. Keep putting yourself out there and being interested and generous. You will find someone lovely, even if they have a WORD KRAKEN to occasionally tame, I just know it.

  8. Int said:

    This is such a peculiar point of view to me. I’ve always felt that asking people personal questions was nosy and rude. When I’m talking to someone, I’ll give them time to tell me whatever they want, but I wouldn’t pry.

    I guess we should chalk it up to OP and me being incompatible.

    • JenniferP said:

      Incompatible is okay, that’s what dating is there to find out.

      I think the LW is asking questions like…”what’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?” “Reading anything good lately?” “Do you have a favorite spot in town?”

      • Int said:

        I agree, it’s good to find the incompatibilities out, and no one’s in the wrong when they exist.

        Yeah, see, I would feel awkward if someone asked those questions, because it seems too rude to say, “That is none of your business.”

        • caryatis said:

          I’m with you. I tend to let people choose how much they want to tell me about themselves. It feels awkward to barrage them with questions about their life. Maybe LW should get away from the belief that volunteering information about herself without being asked is “selfish.”

          If she wants someone with the same ideas about politeness as she has, then the Captain’s advice is good. But she should keep in mind that not asking a lot of questions might not mean lack of interest.

        • I don’t mean this to be snarky at all, but rather a genuinely interested question: what kind of questions would you feel comfortable being asked on a first date? The questions the Cap’n just listed don’t seem very nosy to me, and if I couldn’t ask them on a date, I think I’d be at a loss for what to talk about!

          • slfisher said:

            I’m with you. The questions being listed fall into the realm of “small talk” with me and somebody who responded “None of your business” to those would be…okay, gee, I think I’m going to go to the bathroom or get a drink or examine the canapes.

            The way I’ve heard it described is you start with small talk — how’s the weather, how about those [local sports team], etc. — and then you look for times that the person throws in another intimacy token, and then you throw another one in, and see how they respond. If you go from “How are you?” to a detailed report of their last proctology, that’s too many tokens at once. If you ask what they’ve been reading lately and they respond “None of your business,” then they aren’t picking up the intimacy token and aren’t interested in talking.

            The way it should go is, “Wow, how about that snow, eh?” and the other person says, “Yes, but I’m looking forward to [local ski place] opening” and then you go, “Oh, you ski? Tell me more about that” and then the other person tells their story and then asks where you ski and it goes on from there.

          • wordiest said:

            As someone with a similar early social protocol, although I’ve moved away from this a bit to be a lot more okay with questions is you do not ask. You offer the information you are interested in having, and then you wait to see if the other person is willing to respond in kind. If you want to know something about someone, it’s only fair that you go first. You make the first show of trust. Then, if they trust you and are comfortable with that topic and it’s going well, after you tell them the book you love, they reply with info about a book they love. So, volunteering information about yourself is the way to indicate what subjects you want to talk about, and then everyone chooses what they are okay sharing about that topic. Polite questions are more things like, “Would you like a drink?”, “Where is your bathroom?”, “Would you please pass the salt?”. But personal questions are a form of intimacy, and that’s pushy with someone you don’t know as well. As another commenter said, the big difference between someone trying not to pry and somebody only interested in talking about themself is how they react when you talk about yourself. The former should show interest in your stories and comments and so forth. Although, I will also second the talking too much when nervous thing. I do sometimes badly flub social interactions if I’m nervous (which I think is pretty common, but I flub them way too loudly and visibly for my taste… ah to be somebody who clams up and quietly flubs social interactions when nervous).

          • The information the questions elicit is the sort of information I would expect to volunteer, and expect the other person to volunteer.

            I guess my background is also light on asking and heavy on volunteering and story telling

          • I’m confused too!
            A complete stranger asking those questions in the checkout line would get a short reply with no detail, but if I was out on a date and got “none of your business” to such questions, I would probably call an end to the date extremely quickly – because dates are meant to be about getting to know each other!

          • VG said:

            I was wondering this too. I mean, I wouldn’t want someone to ask me how much money I earn or what kind of health problems I have on the first date, but you’ve got to ask the other person *something* about themselves (other than “so, tell me about yourself”) or there won’t be any conversation.

          • Int said:

            I don’t really date much, and this thread is making me think that that is a good thing. But I’m generally okay with questions about my public life, like my job or my major in college. Maybe if I have siblings, or where I grew up, or such. If we’ve met through a common interest, then asking about how I got into it is cool.

            Not things about my emotional life, like my favorite spot in town. It’s my favorite for personal reasons, you know?

            I don’t want to be asked. I want to volunteer information, so that I control what the other person gets to know about me.

          • Int said:

            And vice versa. I don’t ask people personal questions (unless we’re close or I need to know for some reason) because I want to be polite.

          • BookLady said:

            I agree, wee_ramekin. Or rather: my style is similar to yours, and not very similar to Int’s. I actually do ask questions like “what books do you LOVE” and – well, once I met my friend and her mom as I was coming back from a social organizing meeting, and they asked me about it, so I asked her mom (whom I’d basically JUST met) “So what are you angry about in society?” Which is pretty damn personal! But they didn’t seem to mind!

            I also feel like if I talk about myself too much without being prompted, it’s sort of self-centered – I’ll give a sentence or two and see if someone asks follow-up questions or seems interested.

            This style is working really well for me, but I am sure it makes me conversationally incompatible with some people who are otherwise lovely – but all our conversations would be friction-y. And incompatible is fine.

          • wordum said:

            wordiest (we ran out of nesting): Yes, exactly.

            If you think about it, this is exactly the kind of protocol we follow on more sensitive issues. I can’t imagine walking up to someone and asking ‘hi, sorry, but, are you gay?!’ – because woah, it’s private, they’re put on the spot, not necessarily sure how honest to be, etc. On the other hand, if I drop my own gayness into the conversation, more often than not people will do the same back.

            I personally have no problem with asking and being asked questions, it’s just that I find a lot of the standard, one-size-fits-all ones tedious. (Not all of them! Go ahead and grumble about the weather, that’s an enjoyable national pastime. But if you ever want to see me neatly evade a question, just ask me what kind of music I like to listen to). So I’ve definitely had the kind of OKCupid dates described in this post. The dates that felt like really good dates were the ones we just managed to have a conversation as though we were already friendly acquaintances. Some awkward pauses, sure, not an absolutely perfect balance between the two of us, also sure. But also not a Q and A session. Those dates, meh.

            That said my policy on online dating was that the first in-person meeting was not a ‘date’, it was just a ‘are you who you say you are’ verification. I tried to do them in passing, in between other things, just a coffee, etc. Never a whole evening or afternoon. Then if/when you meet for longer you’re a bit more comfortable with each other, and can ask about how that event went or whatever. This only works if the geography is convenient of course.

          • Bee said:

            I’m wondering about this, too. I’m another person who prefers volunteering information over asking people. I feel like I’m prying when I ask too much. But these seem like normal small-talk questions that you would ask when getting to know anybody. Even outside of dating, how else do you talk to new friends? Polite chat with coworkers?

          • LilyR said:

            Trying to respond to some of the confusion about what the problem with these questions could be: If you tried to ask me one of these questions as a conversation opener, I would freeze, feel put on the spot, and not quite know what to say. If you brought up the topic first by volunteering information, then asked a question as a followup, that feels much more natural. So to go back to the LW – I don’t think the people they’ve been dating are necessarily like me, but I think some of the commenters responding “I don’t like questions either” may be. I will ask and answer followups, I’ll do “and you?” on dates, but I wouldn’t ask many questions beyond “how are you?” or “Been here before?”

            It’s not that the topic (movies, books, restaurants) is verboten, but if you open the topic with a question I’m going to feel interrogated and if it’s a question about “best” or “favorites” I’m going to be scrambling for the right answer. And if you open a topic I don’t want to talk about with a question, I have no warning and can’t deal with it gracefully. If you open a topic I don’t like (e.g. work, family, health when those things are not going well) by volunteering information, I have a few moments to think of a graceful segue.

            … but that’s just me, and I have noticed a lot of people don’t work this way. I’m not offended by interrogative conversation style, I just find it more stressful.

          • caryatis said:

            wee_ramekin, From what others have said it seems that people have a wide assortment of ideas about what questions are too personal. I think the tone matters as much as the subject matter.

            For instance, let’s say you love movies and you want to find out whether I do too. That’s fine–movies are not a personal topic for me. It’s not like a movie killed my parents. So you could ask, “What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?”– but that puts me on the spot. I’m forced to answer, it’s obvious you are testing me, and if I don’t watch movies then I’ll feel I’ve disappointed you. It’s like a job interview question. It would be more tactful to let the subject come up naturally. You could mention a good movie you had seen, and if I take up the subject enthusiastically you’ll see I’m into movies. If I’m not, I can change the subject, and you get the same information without the interrogation.

          • Totally agree with caryatis above. Even as a pretty extroverted person, sometimes “taste-related” questions can really put me on the spot. And, yeah, it’s important to see if the person you’re thinking of dating has enough similar tastes as you, at least to start, but with a lot of people being VERY judgy on the subject of books, music, movies (pop culture in general) it’s not always appealing to put one’s one taste in the hot seat without first being assured of the other person’s good intentions.

          • slfisher said:

            You know, if somebody’s going to not want to date me because I like Nickelback, I figure that’s their loss. I’m not going to hate on someone for liking or disliking a particular thing; I’m more interested in “Does this person read? Does this person appreciate music and some degree of popular culture?” because I like doing those things and would have trouble with a partner who didn’t. (I once stopped dating a guy because I realized he had exactly three books in his house — and one of them was the health book your health insurance company gives you when you sign up.)

            Actually, I’m going to be more interested in someone who reads and listens to different things from me, because otherwise how will I learn anything?

        • hummingbear said:

          I join the confusion chorus. Maybe the issue is that small talk questions don’t require literal full disclosure? If the last book you read was “How to Cope With Your Awful Family” and you understandably don’t want to open that can of worms, just name whatever book you *do* feel like having a conversation about.

          • jessalae said:

            This is my perspective too. Like someone said down below, the point of small talk questions is to find something you can actually talk about without using questions as prompts. If I ask what your favorite place around town is, I’m not necessarily looking to hear about how you love Pizza Hut because your grandma took you there every weekend until she passed away last month. I’m looking for somewhere you like to go that I also like to go, or that sounds interesting to me, so we can chat about that place. If you feel like answering with your second-favorite or third-favorite place, or even just that neat coffee shop you discovered yesterday, that’s cool. You can volunteer as much information or as little information as you want. I’m not looking for your deep dark secrets, I’m looking for something we can chat about more naturally, and the question is an attempt to find that something.

        • Do you really feel like it’s none of their business — when you’ve voluntarily entered into a social interaction of at least an hour or two’s duration with them — to ask whether you’ve got any interesting places in town that you like, or have read any good books lately? Wow. That is a level of guardedness I don’t think I’ve ever seen, let alone could comprehend. I’m not trying to criticize, please understand — as you say, it’s just a matter of incompatibility, and I don’t think your way is any more wrong than my way!! But I’d probably mortally offend you within the first five minutes of meeting, just by trying to make what (to me) seems like polite, friendly conversation.

          [P.S. Do you think it was rude of me/none of my business to ask the question with which I led off this comment? I’m just trying to calibrate! Thanks.]

        • Amber said:

          Have you seen any good movies lately is… None of your business!? That boggles my mind. What do you talk about with other people?

          (I don’t mean that to be antagonistic I’m just really confused)

          • TO_Ont said:

            I think that was the point, it feels rude to bluntly not answer a direct question, so if you don’t feel like talking about it (or even more often, just can’t think of an answer quickly off the top of your head) you then have to find some way of quickly changing the subject. Which for some people can feel a little stressful. Or just tiring.

            Personally for me I’m OK with those kinds of questions but I’d still feel more relaxed if the person started off the subject by telling me about an interesting movie they saw recently themselves, first. If nothing else, it would probably make me start thinking of something I’d read of seen myself!

            See, people telling stories makes me think of stories too. Being asked a question makes me feel a little more like ‘oh, now it’s my turn to think of something entertaining to say. Do I have anything entertaining or interesting? Quick! Oh no, I can’t think of anything!’ (And likewise, asking other people questions sometimes feels to me like kind of putting that person on the spot and asking them to ‘be interesting now’, though I try to sometimes because I know really that’s not always true).

            It’s not the end of the world and I can adapt, just saying it’s not the conversational style that feels most enjoyable and relaxing to me.

        • helbling said:

          I think I might be the opposite to you, in that I operate under quite strict ‘do not talk about these things unless they have asked directly about them’ policy. There are two roots to this.

          The first is that I had it drummed into me growing up, and I know my friends did as well, was that jumping into a conversation was Bad and Rude. I can’t count the number of times I’d try to make conversation with someone, end up telling a story, only to get hauled to one side with ‘how rude!! You ask other people questions, you do NOT just keep talking about yourself!’ It should be pointed out, no one I saw get this rebuke was dominating the conversation, it was just there were apparently set (unspoken) rules about how long you could talk for in a conversation without offering the other person a go, like sharing a toy. Other wise, it wasn’t considered a conversation, more a captive audience, and generally unless your anecdote was very short and snappy, there was no way to tell one in its entirety without running over time and being rude.

          The other thing is that it’s not that I don’t want to talk about a subject, it’s that I’m never sure that people want to hear about, and I have other friends who operate in the same way. So asking a question about something is code for ‘hey, I would love for you to talk about [subject]’ and unless asked, means they won’t bring it up, not because they don’t want to talk about it, but because I’ll assume they don’t want to hear it.

          So, I suspect this means irl we wouldn’t get on at all, because you wouldn’t ask questions because you’d worry they were too personal, and I wouldn’t volunteer information because I’d worry you didn’t want to hear about that subject, or you’d have asked already…

          • wordiest said:

            I’m curious about how this works in practice, if you feel up to explaining. Does this vary/weaken with intimacy? How do you navigate weird info you want to talk to. Using a few personal examples, obviously you can’t ask these questions of someone without looking really weird, so I assume you generalize them somehow, but things I am likely to talk to friends about in the upcoming future when catching up…
            Sudden, unexpected change in my medical chronic medical condition of over a decade (does this get a “how has your health been?” I assume it doesn’t get a “have you had any surprising medical developments recently?” … wow, I totally would not ask the latter because my willingness to discuss the topic so very much does not imply my friend is if my friend happens to have had some recent development they are still dealing with)
            Discovery of a cool park that can be reached with public transit (Maybe, “Have you been to any nice parks lately?” that’s my best guess for converting that to Askerese)
            Having read a really interesting article about the possible effects of altitude on various mental health conditions (Would “Have you read any interesting articles recently?” work? that feels very pushy to me, but maybe it doesn’t to you.)

            Being used to offering info, I simply intend to bring up the subjects at some point in the conversation. (Well, the first two, the third may or may not come up), because I think they will be of interest, and because keeping my friends up to date on the basics of what is meaningful in my life currently is part of friendship to me.Although I would not necessarily bring up any of those with strangers or on a first meeting, although I would consider the park to be a fairly good thing to use in early conversations if I were to meet some new people soon. It’s a fairly safe topic that can be summed up in a few sentences, and could be of interest to locals. It also allows for branching out of conversation in various ways.

    • So I sometimes deal with this – as I also worry that it might be rude – by saying “hey, I am really interested in getting to know you, but I worry about asking questions that are too personal, so could you tell me about etc.” That said, this tendency means that sometimes I don’t get on with people who are highly reserved.

      • JenniferP said:

        This is great!

      • I think “ooh, tell me more?” or “interesting, go on?” can be good prompter-type questions that are non-invasive and easy to slip in to show interest if someone is already on a particular topic.

    • I dated someone like this and I have to say, it was so hard and frustrating. LW and I both have the “showing interest in someone verbally” background for sure. If someone didn’t even ask me the most superficial question like “read any good books lately” I would think they didn’t want to know who I was at all. I met a boyfriend’s parents once and they didn’t ask me one thing – even “are you having a nice trip to our little Midwestern town?” I was miserable. It doesn’t need to be ABOUT me but there are two people on this date/meeting/etc.
      I had two OKCupid dates meet me somewhere, in their words, “interesting, so we would have something to talk about.” One was a standing-up-only bookstore, the other was a kind of crappy Asian grocery store. FIRST DATE. So we would have conversational topics while my knees buckled on the tile or he did his weekly shop. We’re two adults with full rich lives and can’t find a topic in common without props? No thank you.

      LW: You’re doing it right! If you get a whiff of pulling teeth on a first date when people are excited at finding someone with whom they have something in common AND DO NOT LOOK FOR THOSE COMMONALITIES, you are right to keep looking. I wish you well and I fist bump you, fellow interrogator! : )

  9. JMM said:

    I want to hear every commenter’s story! I feel like the back-and-forth of conversation is a lost art.

    I feel like we should all go into conversation with two goals: 1) tell an interesting anecdote and 2) elicit an interesting anecdote.

    Also, no repeating yourself, talking loud, interrupting, or being mean.

    But it seems like most people either go into conversations acting like flotsam and jetsam or they steamroll over all participants. Where are my people?

  10. I think that this has less to do with you or your date than that you don’t have anything to talk *about.* Conversations that are not interviews happen when you have a shared experience to observe/navigate/discuss. I’ve run down the list of “these are my favorite TV shows/hobbies/whatever, what are yours?” and it always feels like a simulacrum of human activity. It’s much more fun to do an activity together than to talk about that shared activity in the abstract, and it tells you a lot more about how the two of you fit together.

    (This is also, incidentally, why it’s so hard to talk to parents sometimes. That regular phone call is an interview, not a shared experience.)

    What’s really interesting, at least re: my own online dating experiences, is how hard people will resist anything that isn’t a “sit with beverage in hand and interview each other” date. I’ve tried to set up dates where we go to art museums, play a board game in a coffee shop together, any type of navigated, shared activity that isn’t the good ol’ sit-and-stare. A lot of people recoil from that.

    • MJH said:

      My first date with my now-husband was pub trivia, which we both enjoy, and which gave us a lot to talk about and collaborate on while finding out about each other. And LW, I totally agree with CA, because I had so many dates like yours, where I asked ALL THE QUESTIONS, and it was always a relief when that didn’t happen, and convo flowed more naturally. I think it would’ve been good with my husband even without trivia, because he was interested in getting to know me, but having that extra thing to focus on really helped.

    • hummingbear said:

      I think I’d be on the “recoil” side (well, recoil is a bit strong, but not-prefer) precisely because I think of the first date as a chance to see if there is conversational chemistry and shared interests. Going to an art museum might be fun, but it doesn’t provide as much opportunity to talk unless you’re both huge art lovers. At the end of the date I’d probably think “I learned a lot about van Gogh today, but not very much about this potential dating partner.”

      • addipanandosi said:

        I went on a first date once to an art museum. It was kind of awkward because the first two hours or so of hanging out consisted of walking around looking at things, surrounded by other people, and whispering. But then afterwards we went out for a beer and played pool. We did end up dating for 10 months or so, so it was a successful first date…

    • miss_chevious said:

      Yeah, I would resist this, as well. I don’t want to graduate to activities unless I’ve already screened you for basic compatibility. I’ve had too many dates where I was trapped (by social convention) into staying longer than I liked because the activity wasn’t over.

      • Jenna said:

        For a first date, I like a coffee shop, or something that you can LEAVE if things are awkward. I had a horrible first date once, and it ended up being a very (very, very)long hour. Everything was wrong about it, except he was polite, so I didn’t feel that I could ditch him.

        And he wanted to walk me to my car and hug me goodbye….

        • Yep, I always did happy hour for the same reason. If it’s terrible, well, I have to do some chores and work tomorrow. See ya!

      • I am the queen of the 45 minute first date. I often will actually tell the person beforehand that I have somewhere else to be shortly after so will have to keep it to one drink, etc. I’d much rather cut a great date short and schedule a second than get stuck for three hours with someone who makes my skin crawl.

        • JenniferP said:

          Good call! My personal dating rules the last time I first-dated (about 3 years ago, at age 38):

          -Whatever it is should take 45 minutes – 1 hour, max.
          -It should be easy to schedule. If finding a mutually agreeable time/place was taking 10+ emails, I was out.
          -Whatever we do could cost no more than $20. $10 preferable. Free also good.
          -Easy train or bus ride from my house. No long commutes, no picking each other up.
          -Everyone pays their own way.
          -It should be a on a weeknight. Weekends are for people I already like (or myself). “It’s a school night” gives an easy out.
          -If the other person didn’t have a place in mind already, I would suggest a place I already know I like, so at least there would be that.
          -I would be recently showered and wear clean clothes, but not worry too much about it. Like, maybe lipstick, but maybe not.
          -Even if the dude was the hottest and coolest person alive, no going home with anybody that first meeting (correcting an old habit of my own, not something everyone should do).
          -If conversation was not fun and easy (aka Do I feel like I am doing all the work while the other person just stares at me expectantly?, Does the other person talk the whole time?) NO SECOND DATE.

          These rules worked. I met a lot of ok people, a few truly neat people, and one I’m gonna marry next year sometime. I saved myself a lot of trying to make someone fit or argue myself into liking someone more than I actually did.

          • Cricket said:

            I should probably learn to enact the timing rule in my own life. I honestly hadn’t considered that as a factor to keep in mind, but now I’m reflecting on dates I’ve had and realizing I tend to do a lot of casual, loosely formatted stuff that can potentially drag on for hours, which sometimes ends up really fun and sometimes goes totally awry.

          • JenniferP said:

            On a second or third date when the first date was awesome and we’ve been constantly texting/chatting, we’re both looking forward to it, etc. the whole let’s have coffee/see a movie/then have dinner/then stay up all night talking thing is great, but it was way too much for a first date.

          • Getting married next year sometime: Congrats! 🙂

          • Victoria said:

            These are all awesome rules, but I don’t usually suggest places I like for the first date. If the person is an idiot (like the guy that clicked his fingers at all the waiters and tucked his napkin into his shirt, aargh) then I’m embarassed to go back there afterwards alone. I don’t want to ruin a great place! I’m very picky about table manners, though, so that probably has something to do with it.

          • Amy said:

            CONGRATULATIONS, EL CAPITAN!

    • I’ve done the board game date, and it was fairly useful, because my date was a painfully shy Aspie guy, and I could see it really helped him to have the game as something to revert to when his discomfort with the situation overwhelmed him, to give him a chance to regroup. I didn’t end up seeing him again, because there just wasn’t chemistry (at least on my side), but I would certainly do the type of date again. I can completely understand the issue of having a way to escape if the date is terrible, but I’ve rarely had dates so bad that I couldn’t tolerate remaining for the duration of one round of Scrabble, and if I did, it would probably be due to something horrible enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty about cutting it short and leaving anyway, simply saying, “You know, I really don’t think this is working, and I’m going to have to go now.” And museums are a no-specific-period activity just as sitting with a drink is; you don’t have to go all the way through the whole thing. Maybe I wouldn’t do something set up the way a few of the more recently-built historical museums are, with a track you’re supposed to follow from the beginning of the subject to the end, because that would be awkward to leave in the middle. But an art museum, which you just wander through in any order you want for as long as you want? Not a problem. (Well, except for my personal total inability to take an interest in most forms of visual art, but that’s a difference of taste, not a matter of timing.)

      • I think the art museum thing is also going to be an issue of personal taste, because a problem I have with art museums is that I want to look at EVERYTHING, so I feel weird leaving with only seeing part of the exhibits. Also, I have trouble navigating a museum with someone going a different speed than me. So for me a museum would be a terrible first date for many reasons, and someone suggesting a museum for a first date would be telling me something about our compatibility right off.

  11. tawg said:

    I think you can just use their answer as a springboard for your own talking without it being rude, but I know that I personally find that pretty exhausting because it goes against a lot of coding that’s been put into me along the lines of “if they want my words they’ll ask for them”. Which is pretty shitty and damaging coding, so I’ve been working at telling myself that my words/thoughts/experiences do have value, and that if people aren’t willing to make a place for my words in a conversation then they’re communicating that they don’t want to make a space for actual-me in their lives, just the attentive ego-boosting version of me. Of course, one of my friends has pointed out to me that I tend to shut myself down in conversation a lot and redirect it to my partner. So a typical greeting goes “Hi, tawg. How are you?” “Fine. How are you? How’s [thing]?” So in plenty of circumstances I’m actually blocking myself out.

    It can be easy not to recognise an invitation to speak – like the pauses you leave in conversation for you date to ask you a question. If you’ve been steering the conversation by asking questions and providing topics, your date is probably waiting for you to continue on that trend. A sudden stop in the flow from you without context and without any indication of what you want might be baffling. So next time that particular moment comes up, maybe you could lean back in your chair and say “Now you ask me some questions.” Making it really clear what you want and what the unspoken signals that your sending mean is SUCH a kindness when it comes to interacting with new people. If your partner jumps at the chance, then great. If they can’t think of anything to ask you… you can just bail out of the date right there, if you want.

    • muse142 said:

      I am also a Person Who Asks A Lot Of Questions, and a Person Who Gets A Little Miffed When People Don’t Seem Interested In Me. I heartily second the line, “So, it’s your turn to ask me a question” with a big, friendly smile.

      • winter said:

        Also if people find that too confrontational, I can recommend “So what do you want to know about me?”

        • Drew said:

          “But here I’ve been pumping you for information this whole time. How rude! Why don’t I let you ask the questions for a bit?”

          Works especially well if you haven’t been pumping much because the geyser just erupted on its own — it says, “I’m a little sick of hearing about you, so let’s talk about me now” without blaming your dating partner for being talkative.

    • madebyryn said:

      Thank you for being so kind about something I know I do and have a lot of anxiety about! I love talking and get carried away and then catch myself feel terrible and ask really crap stilted questions that don’t help. They come out all phoney because I’m worrying about having been self absorbed rather than asking natural interested questions as part of the flow. It is so nice when I talk to someone prone to the same issue and they steer the conversation to them and I can ask natural questions. However I do want to get better so I talk as easily with people that don’t!

      • slfisher said:

        Practice. Have a list of standard questions to ask people and have a few down for each new person you meet. In the case of a date, obviously there’s their profile and what they say there.

        My boyfriend is Aspie and I help him come up with small talk for family gatherings when I’m not going to be with him.

    • Phospher said:

      I think, honestly, it is not your job to teach a man the basics of how to conduct a polite conversation. Indeed, it is not rude to talk about yourself (especially if someone has been monologuing about themselves!) but it is not obscure or secret information that when someone asks “so what have you been up to this week?” it is polite, after answering, to ask a similar question. “Waiting for you to continue on that trend” [of paying unreciprocated attention to him!] is not reasonable. Leaving a pause is not some subtle hint the poor fellows can’t be expected to recognise, it’s “I’m no longer doing all the work to fill the silence, if you don’t like it, you’d better do something.”

      I went out with a guy like this. He really was very attractive and interesting so he got away with it longer than he otherwise might have. On date two, though, I stopped jumping into fill every pause with a question or an admiring comment. Just when it was getting unbearable he seemed to get back into the swing of things and everything –temporarily — got better and I thought “oh, he was just nervous.” Then he took me into a dark park and made a chilling joke about how he could, haha, murder me and leave me in a ditch. I was too shocked to comment at the time but told him later this had made me uncomfortable

      He had been very keen on seeing me again before I said that. Afterwards, he dropped me like a stone. I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet there.

      I think when people are consistently self-centred in conversation, it’s fair to conclude it’s *because they’re self-centred*. And that it’s a red flag. It may be worth one more date to see if it was a fluke, or nervous babble, but beyond that, do not work around, do not worry about “baffling” them, do not educate them, save yourself and run away.

      I followed up Mr Murder Humour with a guy who asked lots of questions *like a normal, polite human being* and the sense of sheer relief was astounding. “Oh, yes! This is what a real conversation is like! I’m NOT overly demanding for expecting it!”

      • winter said:

        Yeah. If it’s already hard after the first or second date, what would a relationship look like?

        Also glad you dodged creepy park dude *chills*

      • Emily said:

        Yikes, that is not an okay thing to joke about with someone who you have only met twice. I’m glad that you didn’t keep on seeing each other.

        • Phospher said:

          Thanks. Yeah, it may sound a little dramatic, but I really think even if not consciously, he was auditioning for abuse victims. And to be honest even before the obvious off joke, I think the near inability to ask me how my day had been was a sign that something was wrong which it was not up to me to fix.

      • Also, I agree that it’s fair to conclude that people who talk endlessly about themselves are most likely self-centered. LOTS of people are self-centered. I’m self-centered. It doesn’t necessarily mean their sociopaths or unbearable human beings but if a top quality you’re looking for in a partner is that they NOT be self-centered, you can probably safely nix most people who go an entire first date without asking you a question.

  12. Linden said:

    Oh, LW, have I been there. The worst date I ever had was when I went to dinner with this man who had seemed sort of interested on email, but had nothing worthwhile to say in person. A query of “read any good books lately?” elicited the response, “No, I just read technical manuals from work,” and went downhill from there. I babbled like an idiot just to try to fill the dead air, and practically chewed my leg off to get home ASAP.

    None of this stopped him from asking me back to his place. Bleah.

    • miss_chevious said:

      I feel your feels. I went on three dates with a very nice guy (NOT a Nice Guy(tm)) who was, possibly, the Most Boring Person In The World. After almost ten hours together, I could not suss out a single interest he had. Sports, politics, cars, gardening, his job, the outdoors, pets, current events, any form of pop culture or media,…no real interest in anything. I had to stop seeing him because I had no idea what to say anymore.

      • Taiga said:

        Arg, I worked with someone like this. She would become animated when talking about exercise and diet but and that is literally all. She wasn’t even interested in discussing her work. I have never met someone with such a complete lack of imagination. It became a game for me to try to find a topic that would spark an interest from her. Have you seen this new movie, Jane? Hey Jane, they just found this parrot they thought was extinct, isn’t that cool? Who do you think will win the election, Jane? I’m looking for a book to read on vacation, Jane, any recommendations? Have you been following the Stanley Cup playoffs, Jane? So-and-so is going on a field trip to the Galapagos, Jane, isn’t that exciting? (It’s not as obnoxious as it sounds, pretty much it was this list of questions spread out over two years.) I always got the same response: rapid eye blinking, a tight-lipped smile, and the words “I’m sorry but I don’t really know anything about that.” NOTHING interested her.

      • Taiga said:

        I’m finding this interesting because while there’s one person in my life I find myself in this situation with often, I’m usually on the other end of the spectrum. Trying to get the other person to talk about themselves because I’m uncomfortable being asked probing questions.

  13. jen said:

    i can converse with almost anyone, but i’m really not good at questions. i’ll listen, interested, while you talk about something you like, but if you’re waiting for *me* to bring up something *you* want to talk about, you’ll have a long wait. i’m not really an “asking questions” type of person. i’m a ‘listen to your thoughts, then tell you my own’ person. why not just try to have a conversation instead of an interview of likes and dislikes, and just say what you think about things instead of waiting to be asked? in the example above, i would actually think it was weird and passive aggressive if the other person asked me where i like to hang out, but then didn’t automatically volunteer their own answer, instead waiting for me to formally ask and then being silently upset that i didn’t. like i’m failing at some kind of unspoken conversational quid pro quo score card.

    • JenniferP said:

      You wouldn’t be failing at conversational stuff, but you might find out that you are incompatible with them or they with you.

      Me + Highly Reserved People = BAD MATCH. Not they are bad, or I am bad, but we don’t gel well together. Finding that out is what going on dates is for. If the conversations feel like work, this thing is probably not going to work out between you.

      • “Me + Highly Reserved People = BAD MATCH”

        Hahahahah! Me, too! I’ve had experiences with a very reserved individual where they literally say nothing, and the less they say, the more I say, until it spirals into me on some kind of frantic soliloquy while they stare in horror. Lolz.

      • BookLady said:

        Same. (Per above, before I saw this.) I wonder, are two Highly Reserved people more compatible? How does that work, if both are reserved – is it the same pattern of intimacy tokens, but dispensed over more time or over more interactions?

        • spikywren said:

          I’m not sure I always qualify as “highly reserved” – I’m often the conversation-encourager in casual encounters – but when I was first dating my boyfriend, I was sufficiently unnerved by the prospect of romance (this was my first time dating anyone) that I became quite reserved with him. I vividly remember being at dinner with him and just listening to the silence stretch on and on. At first I felt sort of aggressive about it, like, “I’m nervous, let’s see if this silence makes you nervous too” but then he kept not minding it, but not filling the silence, and then eventually one of us would naturally think of something to say. It actually was one of the first things that really endeared him to me, his comfort with those unfashionably long silences.

          So to answer your question: yes, at least for me. Long silences and a very gradual increase in intimacy. We’ve been dating seven years now, so it’s working for us.

        • Kootiepatra said:

          I would consider myself a Highly Reserved person. I’m slowly getting better at carrying small talk, but it takes taxing, conscious effort for me to do so. I like people, and I find people super interesting. It just takes me a while to feel like I can read the person and their boundaries well enough to be totally comfortable with volunteering a lot of information or knowing what to ask about.

          But personally, some of my easiest first-coffee meetings have been with folks who are pretty outgoing, yet don’t mind that I’m a bit more reserved. If they’re comfortable in their own skin and able to joke around and drop a couple of good conversation openers, I feel a lot more comfortable loosening up faster. That initial meeting can actually be kind of tough with another reserved person, because we’re both really, really struggling to come up with small talk, even if we both think the other person seems to be kinda nifty. It’s not impossible to have a pleasant conversation anyway, but it does take more work.

          Yet, like spikywren said already, being able to be comfortable with a bit of silence is really, really nice, too. I don’t carry on constant conversation even with my closest friends and family (parallel play FTW), and if that wigs the other person out, then we’re definitely not compatible. So I don’t particularly need the other person to be reserved themselves (several of my closest friends are goofball extroverts); I just need to feel like they’re okay with the fact that I am reserved.

          That said, as a Highly Reserved person, I *love* finding ways to *do* things with the new person, because that gives some really natural breathing room around the small talk. I agree with the Captain’s advice above that you don’t want to commit to an hours-long Thing to Do with someone you’ve never met, but my coffee dates go so much better if I’ve already had one or two starter conversations with the person. This does mean that I am 110% more comfortable dating people that I meet through work or hobbies, as opposed to meeting someone for the first time *on* a date. It also means that once we’ve gotten past the, “Yes, you do not seem like a chore to hang out with” stage, I want to get out and Do Things as soon as possible, because it eases the conversation intensity and allows me to be more relaxed and feel less like every date is a mutual interrogation.

          • EJ said:

            Yes to this entire comment, but especially this part: “But personally, some of my easiest first-coffee meetings have been with folks who are pretty outgoing, yet don’t mind that I’m a bit more reserved. If they’re comfortable in their own skin and able to joke around and drop a couple of good conversation openers, I feel a lot more comfortable loosening up faster.”

          • Jinian said:

            All of this, exactly.

        • Yup! I’m particularly good at it with my sister, when we’re in the same city we’ll sit in the same room doing our own thing and every so often direct a comment at each other. On a date when you’re getting to know someone obviously there’s more interaction than that, of course (though personally I haven’t dated in ten years).

        • Teka Lynn said:

          When my husband and I first met, we didn’t exchange a word beyond “Hello” and “Goodbye”. We just sat and smiled at each other and flicked a gum wrapper back and forth across the table.

          That was twenty-five years ago. We do talk quite a lot with each other; many people have noted that we talk a mile a minute with each other while being fairly taciturn with other people. We just found we clicked and were comfortable enough with each other to open up.

  14. heffalumps said:

    it seems to me that there’s basically three conversational levels: 1. other person seems to be doing all (or most of) the talking; 2. other person seems to be doing virtually none of the talking (I call this “making me do the conversational heavy lifting”); or 3. both of us seem to be talking about the same amounts. these levels can vary over time, but I’ve found that other people will usually go to one of those three levels and stay there. of course, even if we’re talking the same amount, that’s no guarantee we’re hitting it off–we could be talking past each other completely, or both of us talking less than usual from being uncomfortable–but it’s a good sign, for me. I’m definitely more of an extravert than introvert, and I’ve had to train myself how *not* to talk about myself constantly, but slow down and pay attention to the other person, respond to what they’re saying, ask leading questions, that kind of thing.

    I don’t specifically look or wait for questions. they’re nice when they happen, but I’m fine to spin off onto my own tangent without them, too. I don’t really notice unless the other person is relentlessly talking about themselves (especially if they constantly interrupt me talking about myself to tell me about themselves; ESPECIALLY if they do it so they can tell me how much better/worse/more EX-TREEEM their own life experiences have been).

    • Teka Lynn said:

      I let the other person do most of the talking, usually. I’m listening to what they have to say! Give me space to talk, and let me know that you actively solicit my opinions, and I’m happy to share the lifting. If someone does all the talking, I figure they want to talk, and I’m not going to get in their way.

  15. While I definitely get this concern, and the Captain’s guidelines are good advise, I feel like the LW is putting too much stock in who is “asking the questions” when the concern is “are we conversing/connecting”. Though since you aren’t getting the connecting/conversing, I can see how that conflates. One trick I suggest that helped me a bunch when I was on the dating scene is to use more leading polarizing questions. Get a list of questions that can produce some serious conversation potential. Just no actual flamewar questions (oxford comma is not a good date topic).

    4X: Considering I live in Toronto which has a pretty robust food/foodie culture, a question like “What are your top 3 restaurants?” can easily start a full date-long conversation about food/restaurants/tastes/good recommendations/future date ideas/etc with a good connector and it can be the only real question of the night. Or, it can easily reveal that this person has no actual opinion or taste in food. If that’s something that you really want to connect on, then that’s a pretty good sign that one date is probably enough.

    If you’re getting a lot of “meh” conversations with just “What do you think of POP_CULTURE_X?”, try “CHARACTER_A and CHARACTER_B are totally going to end up boning in POP_CULTURE_X, right?”

    Sometimes that lead in is all it takes.

    • Phospher said:

      I disagree. It’s not just “are we conversing?” it’s “is the other person interested in me, and my life, or am I just the designated interviewer here to draw out how exciting they are?” If there’s nothing they want to know more about me NOW, when does that kick in? When do I get a simple “how was your day?” When do I NOT have to do all the work of generating interesting conversation? If the answer is “probably never” then more questions for the LW to ask and yet more conversational work for her to do is not going to fix it.

      • plumbicon said:

        This really got my attention. Too often I’ve felt like I just happened to be their designated audience and they interpreted my responses as cues to keep going on about themselves. Eventually I’ll think “if all we’re going to do is talk about how great you are, forget it.” I have ways to call it out when the folks in my inner circle do it, but when it’s someone who’s outside that circle, it gets challenging. I want interactions with people who genuinely want the give-and-take of conversation, because people who are always About Themselves wear me out. In fact, part of what people see in me as “reserve” is me using years of hard-won lessons, trying to suss out “is this person somebody I’ll enjoy talking with, or is this person going to be self-centered/judgmental/other undesirable characteristic?”

      • TO_Ont said:

        Interesting. If I had a conversation where I did all the talking and the other person just asked me questions but never offered anything themselves, I think I might feel like _I_ was doing all the work in this conversation, and when were _they_ going to take their turn? Like, why do I have to do all the talking and entertaining and revealing myself and trying to think of funny anecdotes?

        If they kept it up I might try to ask them a question or two every now and then to see if maybe that got them started, but I’d expect them to eventually take off on their own. If they literally didn’t offer anything they hadn’t been asked about, I’d probably assume they were either just really reserved or untalkative and I should respect that, or like they were being kind of unfriendly and passive, or maybe like we just hadn’t clicked enough for them to have anything to say. I can try a little to draw someone out if they’re not being talkative, but an entire conversation where the person I was talking to never offered anything, never just told a story on their own, only talked if they were asked a question – that would just feel awkward and kind of painful to me, personally.

  16. Esti said:

    LW, I definitely don’t think it’s rude for you to volunteer info or stories about yourself. In fact, I think that’s part of good conversation.

    Of course, someone who is answering question after question from you and never asking you anything should notice that they’re dominating the conversation and make an effort to change that pattern. But they may be feeling similarly awkward, where they tell you all about something interesting (to them) and you just look at them, and then you’re both just looking at each other waiting: them for you to jump in with your own related story, and you for them to ask you a related question.

    Personally, I prefer when conversations don’t take the form of back-and-forth Q&A sessions, but instead just flow. So if they ask me what TV shows I like and I tell them about Sleepy Hollow, I’d much prefer that they go ahead and tell me about this other show they love that sounds similar or about how much they love Nicole Beharie (as they should) or about the thesis they wrote about the American Revolution. I find it a lot more stilted if they just nod along politely and then when I’m done sit there until I say “and what TV shows do you like?”

    YMMV, of course, and if your dates just never take an interest in you then by all means keep looking until you find someone who does. But if you’re running into the same issue over and over, with men and women, then maybe try being more proactive about volunteering your contributions to the conversation instead of waiting to be asked.

    • Kit said:

      I am definitely more of a flow-conversation type person, if that’s a thing. Asking questions is tough for me, even seemingly innocuous ones about television or books. I WANT to know what books this person I’m talking to has read lately, but “What books have you read lately?” feels monstrously stilted in my head. I would not be surprised AT ALL if my anxiety brain had something to with that, but anyway: This reminds me of that thread from way back — I think the Askers vs. Givers thread? It was all about how these two groups of people think that they’re operating with the same social rules, but actually are not. The askers ask for things, fully appreciating the askee’s right to say yes or no, while the givers tend not to ask, unless there’s a guaranteed yes, because they feel saying no is rude. (I’m definitely a giver!)

      I’ve been thinking about this because I have a friend who’s conversational style is a lot like the LW’s. She asks a lot of questions, is genuinely interested in people, and as a result she makes friends quickly, but occasionally runs into people who take advantage by talk talk talking. I, on the other hand, am much more reserved, and asking questions of people gives me the wigs.

      It’s become a bit sticky lately, because she will ask these questions that will get very personal (how are you and partner? What’s happening with you two? Marriage on the horizon?), which is fine, because she’s my friend and I want her to know these things. But we’ll be in a library or walking outside and not in a position where I can get into my emotions right then, but because she’s ASKED, I feel obliged to answer. Which is silly, but there you go. I would never dream of asking something so personal, unless she brought it up herself, even though we’re close — but now I’m seeing that just because that’s my preference, it may not be hers. I’m planning to talk with her about it, because I don’t want her to think I’m not interested in her life.

      I just wonder if, like askers vs. givers, there are two types of conversational styles that are colliding here. For the LW, that DOES NOT mean “Hang in there forever, kitten, it’s just two conversational styles that’s making these dates the worst!” Because, “our communication styles don’t mesh” is a perfectly good reason not to go on date number two. I’ve just found it an interesting frame to view interactions, and a helpful way to remind myself, “Self, you are talking to a Question Asker. Please be polite and ask them questions, too.”

      • slfisher said:

        I agree that “Marriage on the horizon?” is a bit much of a question. But “So how are you and partner? What’s happening with you two?” is simple politeness. “See, I remember that you have a partner and even what their name is, and I’m asking more than the rote ‘How are you?'”

        • TO_Ont said:

          To me “So how are you and your partner? What’s happening with you two?” is something there are very few people in the world I could imagine asking. ‘How is your partner doing?’ maybe, because that’s more like asking about their partner’s job/school/interests/etc, which is OK, but the problem to me with ‘What’s happening with you two’ is that it actually sounds like I’m asking how their relationship is going! So, uh, no. Unless it was someone where we had an established pattern already of talking about our personal relationships, e.g., it if was a specific person who I know likes to talk about their personal life with me, and who has previously brought up the subject and who I know is comfortable with such questions.

          • slfisher said:

            Gosh, that’s not what I’d mean by it at all. I’d just be acknowledging their coupleness, and the other partner. How’s the job for each of you? What sorts of things are you guys doing with your spare time? That sort of thing. It never would have occurred to me to put the interpretation on it that you’re suggesting.

            Just asking “How are you” and not asking about their partner as well, strikes me as rude.

          • TO_Ont said:

            “Just asking “How are you” and not asking about their partner as well, strikes me as rude.”

            Well, I really wouldn’t say that’s the norm in most of the social circles I’m part of. It depends who it is, how well you know the partner, how much that person tends to talk about their partner in general, etc (I have good friends I’ve seen every week for years whose spouse’s name I don’t even know). Not that it would be rude to ask about the partner or anything, but it would certainly not be expected in most situations I can think of, if you don’t know the partner personally (and it might even be mildly weird in some situations to ask regularly, if you don’t actually know the partner, e.g., most coworkers). OTOH there are some situations where it feels very natural, like perhaps some of my parents’ friends.

            I know people who actually would mean ‘so, are you two still together?, though, so personally I’d probably avoid that specific wording since it’s a little ambiguous.

            Obviously if it’s a really standard and expected greeting where you live then YMMV!

          • slfisher said:

            It’s certainly typical here for other people to ask me about how my partner is, yes, especially if they’ve met him.

      • wordiest said:

        I think like ask versus hint/offer culture, there is a spectrum at play. You might be more ask about favors than one person and less than another (I’m highly ask for favors, but there are limits both to kind of favor and whether we have a close enough relationship for me to ask). Although I am highly offer for personal information, and i realized today that it’s connected. Asking questions is asking for stuff. Asking for stuff is okay, but turning most conversations or first conversations into a list of requests is not good. to me, if one person is asking a lot of questions and the other person is answering those questions (not switching topics, just answering), then the person asking the questions is dominating the conversation, even if they do substantially less talking. Since, after all, they kept asking for info and kept getting exactly what they asked for and controlled all of the topics of conversation. I think part of ask culture is you ask for what you want. So, if you’re asking a lot of questions, I assume that means you want to pry massively into my life. And if you do not offer any reciprocal information, then I think you’re being rather pushy (although I’ve learned to adapt this view by recognizing alternate cultures). So while asking questions is often okay, it’s best to err on the side of not asking questions. Especially since people who want to be close to you will offer up signs that they want to be close to you, such as telling you things about themself. This is obviously deeply incompatible with people like the letter writer, and why I think it’s really good not to get locked into one perspective. And also why it’s good not to assume someone’s behavior necessarily represents a character trait like being pushy or self-centered when it might just be a cultural difference. The letter writer is clearly trying to be kind by asking questions, not pushy. The people answering may be self-centered or may be trying to be both extra-giving (since it’s a date, after all). There’s also the tendency for people to double down on what they are doing when it isn’t working. So, they may be thinking, “Wow, she still won’t tell me anything about herself… she must be feeling really uncomfortable, I guess I need to share more about myself and build even more trust and connection before she’ll relax and be willing to tell me about herself. I better think up another story… maybe she’s just really nervous on first dates and will warm up and be sharing later?”

        It’s still probably too big a difference to be worth trying to make work in a relationship. So, it’s fine for it to be a sign that the date is with someone you’re not compatible with. I just really support acceptance and some flexibility toward people who vary on these things in more general circumstances. Or, at least, not assuming them to be bad people, even if you firmly categorize them as people who you don’t want to hang out with.

        • Kootiepatra said:

          I totally agree with this. A person who doesn’t ask a lot of reciprocal questions isn’t necessarily selfish or disinterested in you–that’s only one of several motives they may well be having. But whatever their inner life is like, that’s still a perfectly good reason to conclude that you’re not compatible enough to bother with another date.

  17. Dromeda said:

    LW, as someone who is often aware that she is probably talking too much, I’ve also just gotta say that sometimes it’s hard to know what questions to ask people. Oftentimes the “…And you?” feels really awkward and stilted. There’s a compelling argument to be made that the art of conversation is truly dying. Many people are happy to just talk and talk with the slightest provocation, so the art of eliciting conversation from someone atrophies.

    • tnb said:

      I agree that “And you?” sounds awkward and stilted (may as well add a “milady” to that), but I think an enthusiastic “What about you?” could feel totally natural.

    • Phospher said:

      “And you?” is always better than *nothing*, in my opinion. I’d rather have awkward reciprocal interest in my life than apparently no interest at all.

      • tnb said:

        Agreed, it’s really just about reciprocating and showing interest.

        • winter said:

          Thirded. It’s not about the beauty of the phrasing, but about the sentiment (if they don’t consequently cut me off when I’m trying to answer).

  18. paddlepickle said:

    This thread is fascinating to me because at first I thought it was incredibly bizarre that the LW was experiencing this so frequently, but reading the comments that appears not to be the case at all. I can’t say I’ve ever experienced it, despite having some pretty lame dates. . .even the dullest dudes have been able to muster a ‘so tell me about your job’. Or maybe it does happen and I just fail to notice/am talking too much? I do find though that the best dates are the ones where there aren’t so many questions because you find yourself swept away on some topic, and you find things out about each other naturally as they come up.

    • Huh. I’ve seen this complaint lots of times (thankfully never about me, but I suspect I’d be guilty, too, so I’m not being smug). The only thing which struck me as unusual was the fact that the LW says it’s coming from both genders — but based on how gender roles seem to tie into this problem most of the time, I’d be willing to bet LW is a woman. Our culture tends to try and force women into the “you sit and listen while I talk about myself” role, and then punishes them if they comply by letting egotists and bores walk all over them. (Not at all surprised to hear that the men are worse on this front.)

  19. Lynn said:

    LW, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I think it is a compatibility issue. I dated a bunch of people with interactions that were remarkably one-sided, in spite of me making effort to share, open up, and let the other person get to know me. But honestly, there were often few or no opportunities to do so! I do enjoy asking questions and learning about other people, so I tend to attract people like this. But I kept at it, and I found there are definitely people out there who have a different conversational style, and one that works better for me.

    On a side note, I try to give friends and acquaintances more of a pass on this issue, and when I notice it, I make more effort to volunteer stuff about myself. But I do find it can get in the way of the deeper intimacy I’m the most interested in. Sometimes changing up the style of communication can help; someone might do all the talking in person, for example, but when we’re texting, the conversation becomes more even.

  20. I concur with the Captain that you’re doing just right. When I look back on my single days – and I was using online dating and it’s where I met my now-wife – the one thing I wish I could convey to myself is that it’s perfectly reasonable for 90% of those dates to feel like a complete and total waste of time. I had already done pretty good at internalizing “all relationships end till the one that doesn’t, and that’s okay” but I had a harder time just accepting the number of -meh- outings I was going to have before meeting the people who’d really click.

    Which isn’t to say the dates were total turkeys – though some were – but I went on plenty where I’d probably have had more total Fun if I’d stayed home with a DVD. But the numbers game of finding the compatible can be a slog, so don’t be discouraged by these dates where it doesn’t feel right. It just happens.

    • MJH said:

      Seriously. I’ve heard lots of complaints about shitty, awful dates, but the dirty secret of online dating is just how “meh” most of the dates turn out to be. No good story, no bad story. Just meh.

  21. LW, what are you doing for your dates? If you do the first date in a public place and like the other party well enough, can you suggest something that’s very _you_ for a second? Check out what’s going on in your locality, and pick something weird and wonderful. Or play games (video/board) together. Go somewhere you will get muddy. Visit an art gallery or museum together that’s outside your normal range. If they still show no interest in what you want to do, if they do not pay attention to you having a good day, too, and making sure your preferences don’t clash, then you’ll know all the quicker. If they’re just shy or a bit jaded or don’t know how to do this formal ‘dating’ thing, that should help.

  22. catiecan said:

    This is less relevant in the first date scenario but I called my dad out on this a couple years ago and he took the information on board and (I think) has really improved. We have a strained but not unpleasant relationship and once when we were chatting on Skype and I had asked him three or four questions I said “Huh, did you realize that in 45 minutes you haven’t asked me a question yet?” He got defensive at first but I kept calm and said something along the lines of “I’m not trying to lash out or hurt your feelings, but when it seems like all the questions are in one direction I sometimes feel like you don’t want to know or don’t care how I’m doing.”

    Applying this to your situation, if something seems like it’s going well to the point that you’re on date two or three could you bring it up? “I noticed that you haven’t asked me many questions about my life and it’s making me feel like you’re not interested even if that’s not the case.”

  23. TB said:

    This! I’m a guy, and feel like I’m interviewing on dates all the time. I was starting to wonder if it was me!

  24. Commandant Cray Cray said:

    Conversing is hard. I was lucky to have a sociable friend I could ask and imitate. What I got from her:

    1. The point of every initial conversation with someone you don’t know is to find something you have in common. From there the conversation flows. Your questions are not to get answers, they’re to move the conversation on until you find something you can genuinely talk about.

    2. Ask interesting questions. Just skip the movie question and go straight into whether they think there’s alien life. It can be weird but I’ve found most parties are relieved by the lack of initial boring questions.

    3. No one wants to carry the conversation torch. If you have to do it all the time, you’re not having fun. There’s only so many times you can save the conversation from awkward silence. Be okay with that. It’s not your responsibility to take care of the other person. Ah delicious awkward silence. Just look at them expectantly and brightly.

    4. Chattering is a valid initial conversation strategy. Again, you’re both making sentences until you find a similarity. Don’t really worry about the words or their hesitancy until about 20 minutes in, when everyone is warmed up.

    5. Talk about yourself. It’s not rude. When you ask about the restaurant and they say they love Bob’s, you can jump in with a personal story about burgers. Don’t wait. Seriously. If you talking about yourself gets dead air, a derail, or them ignoring you then say goodbye. But hopefully they will be genuinely interested in the the story and/or relieved not to have to talk about themselves for moment.

    6. For an experiment, try to talk about yourself the whole time. Don’t interrupt or anything but see how it feels. You will still probably not be rude.

    The thing I’ve noticed about the self-obsessed society we live in is that you have to get in there, to jump and perhaps shove people a bit verbally to have your stake in the conversation. (Sidenote: often especially necessary with dudes, especially in large groups). People really don’t mind most of the time. That’s the way discourse works these days. So don’t wait for someone to ask. Take it as your due. You get to talk too.

    You sound awesome, and I hope this was helpful in some way. Please pick and choose (or ignore!) the above for what’s right for you.

    Best of luck to you LW!

  25. yan said:

    This is fascinating in part because I’ve only gone past date two with people that passed this whole conversational gambit. I’m introverted, yes, but I put a lot of energy into going out on dates when I am dating because having conversations is sort of totally the whole point. Now, I don’t really “click” with most people, and so, on those dates, I end up working hard at asking questions and being interested. I share a little in response, sort of, but I’m uncomfortable at this point, and I’d answer a question, but likely not volunteer much. Because there is no flow here. Even if I’m uncomfortable, so long as the date isn’t a jerk or scary, I can tough out a conversation over a coffee.

    But. On rare occasions, it is not work to talk to someone. Most of the time, I’ve dated these people for a while. It’s not that there is no awkwardness, no pauses, no silences. It’s more that, overall, it’s not hard to talk to THIS person, and that feels amazing.

    So, yeah. Date 1 is figuring out if there’s a reason to have date 2. Sometimes date 2 is just to see if part of the non-click of date 1 was nerves (it really never has been, but maybe some day). Sometimes date 2 is to see if that person who is easy to talk to is someone that I might want to do more than talk to, or just to see if we still have stuff to talk about. After that? Well, I don’t get much further with that many people, and I’m okay with that. When I’m tired of the effort, I stop dating for a while.

  26. LW, I just want to say, I can relate SO MUCH. I have definitely been out on dates where I did not get ONE single question about myself, and of course those dudes were like, “I thought we connected so well!” Uh-huh, whatever. I’m kind of surprised at all the commenters who have either never experienced this, or who think it’s rude to ask people questions, b/c I thought this was a more universal problem. I am a big introvert, and even I think it’s rude if a date doesn’t seem the slightest bit interested in asking me about myself or letting me talk.

    But I have also had dates where people were interested in learning about me, and asked me questions about my experiences and opinions, and things flowed much better. So know that they are out there! (Whether or not you hang in there or take a break from online dating is up to you…this issue is only one of the many reasons it’s a lot of work!)

    What I am saying is, you are not alone in this, and I endorse the Captain’s advice!

  27. LW, for me the most important thing to take away from the Captain’s answer is the part where she talks about using this situation as a screening process.

    You sound like a pretty conversationally-savvy individual. Additionally (as someone who often finds herself in a similar position on first dates), it sounds to me like you really value conversational reciprocity and the feeling that each member of the conversation is sharing the burden of the conversational upkeep. I think folks have given a lot of good advice and reasons why your dates might not be asking you questions. It’s good to be aware of these perspectives, but keep in mind that it’s important to you that you not always be the one driving the conversation. Someone else’s “I don’t want to pry by asking questions”, while well-meaning and polite, probably still reads to you as “This person is placing the burden of overcoming conversational inertia squarely on my shoulders”. Their polite, kind intent doesn’t actually matter if it causes to you come away from dates feeling a little drained and wondering if they’re interested in learning about you. Dates should be fun for you too!

    It’s okay to acknowledge that it’s a personal dealbreaker FOR YOU if your date doesn’t ask you questions. That is perfectly cromulent. I’d give it two dates, if you like, so that you can make sure that your date wasn’t just nervous the first time around. But if you have two dates in a row where you feel like you’re providing most or all of the conversational management, it is perfectly okay to stop seeing that person.

  28. Jolly said:

    LW, the sad truth is that the world has no shortage of self-absorbed a-holes. Those self-absorbed a-holes will get together with other self-absorbed a-holes, they’ll have mutually self-absorbed interactions, and they’ll listen to top-40 tracks and watch top-grossing films about self-absorbed a-holes with unhealthy relationship dynamics and relate to them deeply, and continue to assume that That’s Just How Relationships Work.

    Or maybe they’re not self-absorbed a-holes, and they just aren’t able to communicate with you in the way that you require. Either way, at some point you’ll find someone who works with you–I’d hold out for that person.

    • Amber said:

      Hey now I enjoy top grossing films, you’re being not cool here.

    • Bee said:

      …Not everyone who you don’t get along with or who has different interests than you is an asshole.

    • Yeah, jumping on the bandwagon a bit here, you want to cool it with the judging people by their taste in media. I like top-40 music. Why? Because when I was in dance class we listened to a lot of pop music, and now when I hear music with a strong beat and a dance hook my posture gets better and my peripheral vision improves. There is literally no correlation between someone’s media preferences and how cool a person they are. (Karl Rove and George W. Bush both said that Babylon 5 was their favorite TV show of the 90s, which makes my biggest-B5-fan-ever heart die a little inside every time I think of it.)

      We want to like the same media as our friends and social circles because we want something to talk about with them, but don’t assume that makes everyone who likes and dislikes the same things that you do just as smart as you–or that someone who likes things you hate and dislikes things you love is a self-absorbed a-hole.

      I get the point that you’re trying to make about toxic relationship models, but that’s a) not only in top-40 music and popular films, plenty of indie stuff has toxic relationship models too, and b) not a reason to dismiss a large swathe of culture and the people who enjoy it.

  29. I’m a socially anxious people pleaser and so you’d think that doing all the talking would not be a vice of mine but I’ve had a fair number of dates that I really enjoyed, only for me to facepalm afterward as I realized that we’d spent nearly the whole evening talking about *me*. I think in my case it’s a combination of an Aspie-like tendency to get a little too excited about the chance to talk about my interests, with a tendency toward the “volunteer information and expect the other person to reciprocate” conversational style. (Possibly because I have a hard time finding questions that will net more than a few words in response; “How’s the new job going?” gets me “Eh, fine,” while if I share my opinion on something at least there’s the possibility of agreement, disagreement, or “That reminds me …”)

    I second everyone who has said that you can consider yourself welcome to just jump in if the other person isn’t asking questions. Also you might try holding pauses a little longer/more often, to put the burden of changing topics on the other person for once. And personally I would be totally fine with “Okay, now it’s your turn to ask questions about me;” it wouldn’t make me melt into a puddle of angst and self-loathing the way catiecan’s script above might.

    Of course, it might be that none of the above works to tip the balance of the conversation, or that you end up feeling like you’re doing all the work of balancing the dynamic, in which case we’re back to the fact that sometimes people are just incompatible.

  30. Rachel B said:

    It’s not just dating, it’s family functions as well. I’m looking forward to spending a Thanksgiving evening asking in-laws about whatever topic I remember them being interested in from last time, but the most I get in reciprocity is, “so are you still at X place of employment?” I would almost prefer watching football but there’s a no-TV rule…

    • spikywren said:

      I would like those in-laws! I dread the questions of innocently interested relatives: “So how’s grad school going?” (Terribly!) “How do you like living in [place]?” (I hate it!) I’d much rather just hear about their lives/interests.

      • plumbicon said:

        I know this feeling. What I do for a living is so far removed from the interests of my relatives, and they don’t understand it (they’d rather fall back on their assumptions), so just about every conversation goes like this:
        Them: So, how long you get off for the holidays?
        Me: (responds)
        Them: When do y’all start back?
        Me: (responds)
        Them: It must be nice to get all that time off. (Relative) doesn’t get but two days off.
        Me: (fights urge to ask “and why do you feel the need to use that to make me feel ashamed?”)
        Them: So, y’all get much rain this week?
        Me: (knows it’s half-hearted prompt at small-talk, hates small-talk, but gives polite response)
        Them: (drops thread; goes back to discussing nosy local gossip with rest of family at table)

        • Maybe they are not trying to make you ashamed? They are just trying to find common ground seems like. If Aunt Mae only gets two days off then you come back with, “Gosh that must be so hard for her!” or whatever easy thing.

          • plumbicon said:

            Oh, I dearly wish it was common ground they were seeking. Instead, it’s a game I’ve seen too often: the dominant voices in my family don’t consider my work (teaching college) as “real” work, and among other things they poke fun at all the time off I have between semesters. It’s one of the many “different” things about me they tease me for.

  31. I hate to say this, but I tend to have the habit you describe. So maybe my perspective will help.

    When meeting a friend (or someone new – tho I’m not dating) I desperately want the meeting to go well. And so I’m more exuberant than usual. Then if the other person asks a question (other than “how are you” “fine thanks” type politeness) I tend to be interested and answer. Especially if they say “so you’re passionate about x, tell me more” and I CAN tell them more cos I love the topic and…

    … And usually as they leave I think “crap. I completely didn’t ask how THEY were”. And then I feel like shit because I really do care, but in my enthusiasm and my wish not to leave awkward silences I got carried away.

    I usually send them a text saying “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot to ask how YOU are doing. And I do care, so please tell me & I promise to listen”.

    My friends tend to know what I’m like and ride with it (I could do the whole “tho I don’t know what they see in me” thing, but I’m not fishing, I’m a grown up, and for whatever reason they do enjoy my company so I’m not gonna act all whingey). I feel like I’m always apologising but I get messages back saying it was fine, so… Whatever, there’s not a lot more I can make of that! And I’m grateful – I have lovely friends.

    However I can see that if someone you haven’t met before acted that way on a date, it would be a very off-putting characteristic.

    Maybe consider whether they are just keen, kind, nervous, and genuine, trying not to leave awkward pauses – they might turn out to be a kind person. But if they are self obsessed and just want to talk about their achievements and don’t seem to be interested in yours, that is a bad sign.

    I’m not sure of a good wording to use if you want to see if it’s the former – hopefully others can find a good turn of phrase which will result in decent folk saying “Oh gosh yes look at me talking, sorry I’d love to know more about you” and then listening, but no-hopers will ignore and carry on boasting.

    Actually I guess it could be as simple as “well it has been lovely to learn so much about you; what would you like to know about me?” That could be pretty revealing and useful in a date situation.

    • Phospher said:

      See, though, you realise, on your own, that you sometimes waffle on a bit, and you are doing your best to fix it afterwards. No one is helping you do that, no one is having to work to come up with the exact phrase. Because as you say, you actually do care! I’d be much more forgiving of LW’s dates if they were behaving the same way. Of course getting carried away can happen, especially when you’re nervous! But these people are just as capable as you are of realising what’s wrong, and they AREN’T. I don’t think that it’s worth trying to draw something out of them that ought to be emerging on its own.

      I’m very much on the “maybe a single second chance then dump them, do not try to help them, there are people out there who will be interested in your life and know how to show it” side of this, but yes, of course, I too can waffle on and talk too much without asking questions! I rarely do it these days BECAUSE I made the effort to stop. If I catch myself I course-correct as soon as possible or else try to make up later. Methods of displaying interest in another person and not treating them as an interviewer may vary, but anyone can find SOME way to do this if they want!

      It’s like in Pride and Prejudice when Mr Darcy complains that conversation is difficult while Elizabeth plays the piano: “I certainly have not the talent which some people possess … of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

      “My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising.”

  32. LW #648 said:

    LW here – very interested by all the comment feedback from people who seem to have had the opposite upbringing from me, i.e. feel like asking questions is prying/rude and would prefer a conversational style where both parties volunteer the information they think is interesting/appropriate. I hadn’t considered that as a possibility, so thanks!

    Just to clarify for some of the commenters: what I mean when I talk about asking questions is usually following the thread of the current conversation rather than switching topics constantly. e.g. they’ll tell me about some cool research they’ve been doing and I’ll ask followup questions on the parts that interest me.

    Like the Captain says, I think I’m going to have to start seeing this as a screening process – even when the conversations we end up having are great and interesting, I come away feeling like I’m doing all the work of managing the conversation, so I think that this style of conversation just isn’t for me. I guess I was hoping/expecting that the ratio of Super Compatible Potential Datefriends to Basically Okay, Objectively Cool People would be higher, so it’s probably just a case of needing to adjust my expectations.

    • Kootiepatra said:

      Just commenting to point out that Super Compatible Potential Datefriends sounds like a fantastic band name. Or maybe a comic strip.

      Wishing you luck in the screening process!

    • I understand the disappointment of finding that most people one meets, even people with whom you can have great and interesting conversations, aren’t actually Super Compatible Potential Datefriends. But remember, you don’t need to get all that many Super Compatible Potential Datefriends in the end! In fact, it might be best if *not* everyone, or even one out of every three or four people you meet, were SCPDs. You’d have to end up leaving a whole lot of people who felt really compatible and attractive and with whom you were deeply tempted to follow up with a relationship on the table, even if you’re poly, because otherwise you’d simply run out of time! Sometimes it is possible to convert people with whom one has great conversations but who are not SCPDs into friends or friendly acquaintances whom you meet for conversation, but if the reason for the incompatibility is that they’re egocentric or have zero conversation-returning skills, you would probably find them just as tiring if you did talk to them in a platonic context at other times. So I’d say let this batch go… but don’t feel that your only choices for everyone is between them being SCPDs or abandoning all opportunity ever to converse with them again! If you find people whose awesomely great and fun conversation skills (including an ability to return the interest and a compatibility in your respective styles for catching and returning the lead) are worth experiencing again in your eyes, but they aren’t qualified as SCPDs for some other reason, tell them frankly that you don’t feel the chemistry and think it’s probably not a great idea to date some more, but that you’d love to get together in a non-dating context if they feel they’d be interested in that. Some won’t, if their purpose in meeting people is specifically to find a romantic partner and they don’t want to explore other types of relationships (I think this form of single-focus is usually a bad idea, but that’s one person’s opinion and they’re entitled to make their own choices), but many will.

  33. orangina said:

    I’m a little surprised by the judgment I hear from some people that the information-giving conversational style is self-absorbed. I experimented with switching to a primarily question-asking style for a while and got the feedback from my circles that it’s too nosy/prying/draining/boring (and my girlfriend was actually so turned off that she didn’t want to have a conversation with me for a while), so I think it’s a clear compatibility issue rather than one being objectively “better” than the other.

    It took me until after college to understand that a lot of other people don’t naturally volunteer information unless asked, because my circle of friends were all information-givers rather than question-askers. I don’t think I have asked more than ten personal questions of my BFF from that time in the years we’ve known each other. Just as you don’t like to volunteer information uninvited because of a nagging feeling they’re only politely interested, I don’t like to ask questions uninvited because of a nagging feeling they’re reluctant to engage and answer. Honestly, for me, asking questions felt like *pulling teeth*, or having to turn a wheel by hand for however long you’re talking.

    But one of my good friends was a question-asker (and became a professional interviewer, actually), and after three years of friendship she said to me, “I like you a lot, but why do you never ask me any questions?” and I said to her, “That’s funny, because I always wondered why you never seemed to want to share anything.” We realized we were at polar opposite ends of the conversational asker/giver spectrum–even our responses to each other reflected our modes of engagement. She had asked me a question that was an explicit invitation to talk, and I gave a statement that had an implicit invitation for her to tell me about herself.

    I’m feeling like–like Kit and wordiest suggested, information-givers might consider working to adapt to conversational partners who expect them to ask questions, but question-askers might also want to understand how this other mode works and the implicit cues involved, and since LW asked if there was a social convention they might be missing, here’s how I understand it:

    As an information-giver, I drop “hooks” when I talk to allow people to latch onto something, and those would be seen by other information-givers as places to jump off from. So it wouldn’t be, “Oh, I like X Y Z,” but “I like Z–I’m really into Z type of architecture, but visiting that place is so pricey and I feel like public/community spaces like that should be free,” which is a BIG BIG implicit invitation for an information-giver to respond with something like, “You know, the upkeep means it would be impossible for admission to be free without being subsidized by blah blah blah,” or go on a tangent about socialism or whatever. So with information-givers–just share something you think is interesting and then I’ll jump in, and then you jump in, and off we go!

    That said, LW, your energy is important. Even though I can talk to question-askers now without offending them by overriding my instinctive feeling of discomfort about being nosy, it’s still an energy drain for me because it feels like nagging to get engagement and intimacy from a person by asking them questions all the time, and likewise I’d imagine that for you, it might be stressful to have to shove your way into the conversation with your own uninvited opinions and anecdotes and stories all the time. And neither of us are wrong to feel this way–you have to do what’s good for you.

    But on a broader social level, it might help people to know that for each style there’s a different set of expectations that has nothing to do with being self-absorbed or nosy.

    (I’ve actually started a lot of dates by asking whether they’re more of a question-asker or an information-giver as far as conversation goes, which usually gives me the information I need to make sure conversation goes smoothly, makes them aware of my own style, and also starts a merry conversation about social interactions. But I flirt by being direct and pushy, and YMMV.)

  34. Haddles said:

    You know, this is something I’ve been noticing lately even in my friendships.

    I have a lot of online male friends and it seems all we ever do is talk about them and their lives. I hardly even get a “how are you” or a “what are you working on” or a “how is that college thesis going”. And it’s starting to bother me, especially since some of these male friends are making romantic advancements. One confessed that he loved me recently and he NEVER asks me questions about myself, despite claiming to “know me so well.”

    How do you bring that up in a long term friendship? Saying “you never ask me about myself” sounds naggy and selfish. I try to volunteer information, but they never seem interested in it?

    • winter said:

      I’d just look for a way to phrase it and then hit send. Keep it relatively short, also as non-blamey as possible – “I feel like this when you…” or something in that vain – and wait for their answer. If you know what you want from them, you can also try to ask for that explicitly.
      But honestly, sometimes there’s value in making people small doses and invest in new people who seem more interested. Because you can fall into the trap of “Oh they are trying to change. Look, they are trying SO HARD”, but real change doesn’t ever happen. (Colored by my experiences, so…)

  35. As a Highly Reserved Person, I don’t usually comment here, but I thought I might have a helpful perspective this time.

    LW, I tend to find myself on the other side of your interview/date scenario fairly often. For me, any kind of conversation with someone I don’t already know well (and sometimes people I do know well) is fraught with peril. They ask me a question about myself and, once I manage to access my Provide Personal Information algorithms, suddenly it becomes my turn to ask a question. This is where it all goes horribly wrong. The silence stretches out as I try to come up with something that my brain deems appropriate to ask because if they wanted me to know, wouldn’t they just tell me? And then they’re uncomfortable and I can tell they’re uncomfortable and what’s wrong with silence anyway, but then there they are, jumping in to fill the silence with something and it’s too late for me to reciprocate and I’ve failed at conversation.

    And then I met my current Significant Otter. On our first date, we went out to lunch and ended up sitting in that restaurant for seven hours. Suddenly, everything worked. That back-and-forth, give-and-take rhythm of conversing that I’d never managed to get the hang of with anyone else was fun and easy with him. There were a few silences, but we were both comfortable with them because we were at ease with each other. It just felt right.

    My point is, when you’re with the right person, talking to them won’t feel like work. If after a date or two you’re not meshing conversationally, whether you’re coming at it from your side or from mine, it’s ok to write those dates off as good practice and move on.

    I hope that helps and best of luck!

  36. peeta8 said:

    Yeah, I had a first-few-dates recently with a woman who talked endlessly about her own interests (including her job & gardening, about which I had zero to say). She seemed to think things were going great! Not just lacking the ability or willingness to toss the conversational ball back to me, but also unable to tell (or didn’t care) that my minimalist responses meant I was not at all interested in the topic. I am a good conversationalist generally, so I am pretty sure it was the dynamic and/or her, not me.

  37. AJB said:

    Sometimes it’s cultural, I think. I moved from a region of the US which is big on telling/trading long stories to a place where more than a few sentences in a row is considered too much. It’s been really tough for me to adjust.

    • Anne said:

      It can definitely be a cultural issue. The culture I grew up in emphasized sharing about yourself – telling stories, giving opinions, starting debates. I’ve recently moved to a different area and have found that conversation style is considered borderline aggressive around here! What I consider friendly sharing my new environment sees as argumentative. It takes conscious effort to match my communication style to people here. LW, you may want to consider what the social norm is for the area you’re in. You may have gotten a bunch of jerks, or you may have gotten a bunch of nice people who don’t understand. YMMV though, and what you need in the relationship is more important than anything else.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yes, I am from a family where we have wonderful, joyful, long dinner table conversations with everyone jumping in with anecdotes and arguments, from the smallest child to the oldest person. In fact to me a conversation with someone who never ever interrupts me or who I never interrupt sometimes feels like a kind of half-hearted conversation, where we weren’t really that excited by each other’s company (and I’m an introvert). And I often find with many people, and I’ve noticed often people of my parents’ cultural background, it’s so easy and natural to get along, and we make friends quickly and talk for hours and both seem to feel so delighted and engaged.

        But then I occasionally am in a group where my conversational style, which I’ve basically spent my life learning to get good at, and which comes out more when I’ve known people for a while and started to relax (I’m kind of shy), actually seems to come off as aggressive or even ‘lacking in social skills’ (while meanwhile I am aften drained by the end of the evening by their ‘awkwardness’ and what feels to _me_ like ‘lack of skill in making conversation’!).

        So I practice adapting to the different conversational style so I can be more comofortable in more different situations, but meanwhile I keep an eye out for people who feel like ‘my people’, where the conversation flows more naturally and I feel like I’m at home.

  38. Thistledown said:

    If I was one of the LW’s dates, I would still feel like I had learned a lot about her. I tend not to give a lot of weight to what people say, and pay attention to their actions, body language, etc instead. If I was dating the LW, I would feel like I also learned a lot about his/her through the questions asked and his/her general conversational style. Since I don’t read very much into what people say about themselves, I don’t feel like I’m revealing a lot about myself, even if I’m doing a lot talking. If you start a date by asking what books I like, and I answer that I liked Jane Eyre, and say something vague about it being underrated, I’ll think I’ve gained more information then you have. I’ll infer that you’re capable of taking a lead in the conversation, that most people you know read books, and that books are interesting to you. (To be sure, these would just be starting hypothesis; I’d be watching for more evidence to support them.) For all you know, Jane Eyre was the only novel I read in my high school English class and it was the first thing that popped into my head because I never read books and panicked as soon as you asked the question. Maybe my favorite book is Mein Kampf, but I’m saving my antisemitism as a fun surprise for the second date. All you’ve really learned anything about me is, (1) I’ve heard of Jane Eyre and (2) I can say something about Jane Eyre.

    I’m much more likely to demonstrate interest by body language than by asking questions. But if I’m on a first date with a stranger, I’m probably not comfortable demonstrating my feelings about anything remotely important to me. I’m also probably not going to demonstrate a whole lot of interest either until I know them better. Basically, my ideal date would be two people keeping up completely meaningless, yet entertaining, chit chat, while sizing each other up based on everything else that’s going on. I’d still feel like it was a productive date from the perspective of learning more about the other person in order to decide if I wanted to spend more time together. Obviously, the LW and I would not be compatible. If the LW wants her date to ask her questions, she should find somebody who does just that. I want to add the perspective that just because her dates aren’t asking questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested in her or that she’s not interesting.

    I’d call my style a preference for indirect communication if I’m being generous, and a paranoid repression if I’m feeling less generous. Although, in my defense, I’m almost always communicating my feelings as well. It just takes somebody can read between the lines to figure out what I’m saying. There are people who can, and it would be a really important characteristic for a long term partner of mine. This has been really clarifying to write. I always feel like I should be more direct, but the people that I have a the longest friendships with and feel most comfortable around are the people who I can communicate with indirectly. So maybe I should focus on looking for those people to date. I can use my words when necessary, but I don’t like it, find it stressful, and probably would find it too exhausting to maintain a long term relationship if that was the default mode of communication. (I never maintain long term relationships because I find them exhausting.) I would say that conversation and communication are completed different for me. To me, saying something like, “I love you” with words communicates, “I want you to think I love you.” Which is just awkward to respond to you, as I don’t know if somebody’s conveying their affection, trying to manipulate me, or is really enjoying some pain killers. I would never feel loved just because somebody said so. I never feel comfortable saying “I love you,” as it feels generally hollow and trite to me. (I do tell people like my family members that I love them, because I think it makes them happy. I understand, very very well, that not everyone thinks the way that I do.) But in the context of a new relationship, talk is cheap. This might finally explain why I feel so uncomfortable and exhausted in relationships, especially when I try to practice my “healthy communication skills.” They might not be so healthy for me, and while it’s good to have those skills, it’s probably better to look for somebody with the same natural style. My knee-jerk reaction to this is, “what sort of repressed weirdo interprets “I love you” as some sort of insult or plot? In a healthy relationship, you say how you feel.” But considering the fact that my attempts at dating are beginning to approach the definition of insanity (i.e. expecting different results while trying the same thing repeatedly), it can’t hurt to try to something different. Any ideas on how to screen out/warn off people like the LW who are going to be hurt by this style? I’ve been thinking of trying online dating again, but somehow I don’t think that advertising for emotionally repressed weirdos who don’t like talking about their feelings and who react to all complements with suspicion is not a good idea. Or should I leave the dating pool alone and try more therapy?

    TLDR: Everyone communicates differently. While it’s good to build your social skills and think critically about the way you interact with people, it’s probably better to find somebody you can relate to without expending too much effort. (Alternate TLDR: I’m a crotchety old maid who will die alone, with no regrets about any of that.)

    • slfisher said:

      I don’t mean this insultingly at all, but you might want to try meeting Aspies. (For that matter, you might be one.) If nothing else, I think you’d find more people who feel just the way you do. 🙂

      That said, I totally know where you’re coming from with the “I love you” thing. “Okay, but what does ‘I love you’ *mean* to you? Does it mean, ‘I was an asshole but you have to forgive me because I love you’? or ‘I want you to date me exclusively’ or what?” There’s a term of art that I’m not remembering right now — complex equivalence, I think — which basically means that it’s a single word but that people attach all kinds of meanings to it and you have to make sure that you’re both talking about the same thing.

      I don’t deal well with the indirect thing, though ; it’s way too much of a guessing game about What Do They *Really* Mean? I used to be with a partner (an Aspie, incidentally) who would drive me crazy because I would say A and he would say, but your body language or whatever else is saying B, so I don’t believe you, and who could tell whether I was conflicted or he was talking out his hat?

      My current partner, who is also Aspie but in a slightly different way, is a process junkie and we discuss things at a level that would probably drive other people insane but it works for us.

    • Vicki said:

      If you’re looking to write a profile, maybe it should include something like “Indirect communicator seeks same. I get a lot of meaning from tone of voice, body language, and context. I’m looking for friends/a partner who that makes sense to.”

      That might not screen people out, but if you can find the people who you are compatible with, screening the others out may matter less.

  39. emdashing said:

    I just wanted to thank the LW and all the commenters here. I feel like a lifetime of confusion about social interactions has suddenly been illuminated. I’m a question asker, though, if silence persists, I will convert to being an information volunteerer and while I have always known that talking about yourself “too much” can be seen as rude, I had literally NO IDEA that questions like, “what movies do you like?” or “where do you like to eat?” could be seen as too personal. I work in film, so the former is pretty much our version of “how are you?” In all honesty, I’m not sure what to make of this (Also: I’ve never been on a dating website that didn’t ask some version of those questions in the process of creating your profile, before you even get to the date. How do people manage this?). I appreciate that everyone is working so hard not to say that one way is better than the other, because that’s a good reminder to have. My family taught me to ask people about themselves so I share the LW’s frustration sometimes when people never ask me about myself. It feels very much like they don’t care. I will try to take into account that this isn’t necessarily what it means, but I have to admit: I’m still lost as to how to behave in life in general. If I can’t ask questions and I want to avoid talking about myself too much, what do I do? On dates, it’s true, I can take a measure of compatibility and be happy to have the information, but I think this issue comes up with all kinds of meeting-new-people. Coworkers, friends’ spouses, classmates, etc. How do people navigate this? And what can I do to make it clear that my questions aren’t meant to pry, but to find a topic we can enjoy discussing? I like some of the scripts above, but if there are more, I need them.

    • wordiest said:

      I would recommend starting out lightly on both possible ways of interacting. That is, if you feel like asking a question, start vague. A question like, “So, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” leaves a lot of room for offering the kinds of information the person is comfortable offering without feeling pushed to give anything that is currently a sore spot. And try offering little bits of info about yourself – especially parallel information. If somebody tells you about a book they like or an activity they enjoyed and then pauses for you, you can either discuss that book/activity or tell them a bit about a book you like or an activity you enjoy. Then watch for how they react in the conversation. As you see whether they are asking questions or offering information, you can adapt to them. It’s also okay to lean a bit more toward whatever you are more comfortable with, since you shouldn’t have to constantly stress over potential conversational issues. I often don’t think about it too much unless I notice a problem, and then I try to remember different possible pitfalls to analyze what I can change to make things less awkward and more comfortable.

      Also, some people really are just self-absorbed or currently really messing up their own conversational skills. So, if you do find someone who talks about whatever topics they decide they want to talk about, doesn’t ask you questions, and doesn’t show interest in the topics you raise, then really don’t worry that you’re doing anything wrong. Either system or a blend of both systems should allow for a back and forth when both parties are using the same rules. So, if no set of rules seems to allow for that back and forth, then just accept that this conversation is not going to work.

      While I lean strongly toward offering info, I’m mostly okay with being asked questions (and more so as I’ve gotten older), but I still prefer much broader ones to narrower ones. So, “What was the last book you read?” is a really annoying question, because I’m going to have to try to remember, which I won’t necessarily be able to do and then think about whether or not I want to talk about it, which I might not. But “Have you read any interesting books you’d like to discuss lately?” is totally fine to me, because it gives me an easy-out and gives me a lot more options.I can also honestly say, “None come to mind” if there are none I want to discuss without having to clarify if I’ve been disappointed with my recent reading or simply don’t want to discuss the self-help book I was recently reading. If I were being more conversationally suave, I might say, “None c come to mind, but I’ve been wanting to re-read A Wrinkle In Time, because…” and thus get us started on a conversation that sparks off that broad question, but goes into something that you wouldn’t have had a clue to ask about and may or may not interest you, but is connected to the general question to an extent.

      But, honestly, part of it is just accepting that sometimes you won’t mesh with some people. Sometimes, even if you’re both good people, you’ll just grate on each other’s nerves. And since you can’t please everyone, you have to choose a style you feel comfortable with and that you can feel good about yourself with and just accept some clashes will happen now and then. Oh, and I guess finally, I’d suggest trying to figure out what the most common style for wherever you live is, and keep it more in mind with new people. I would strongly suspect styles to cluster in regions, but not 100%, of course, especially since many people do move.

    • Angie said:

      You should lead with your preferred/natural style, IMO, if only because it’s stressful to spend all your time trying to pre-emptively satisfy everyone. You don’t have to please everyone perfectly all the time (and especially not from the get-go), and even if they don’t love the question, “What kind of movies do you like to watch,” they’re not usually going to take your head off for it. 🙂

      YMMV, but for me, it’s not that I find questions prying so much as I feel questions need to have a reason/justification as to why they’re being asked, or else they feel a bit bafflingly nosy and/or random. Even someone asking me, “How was your week?”–especially if I have not indicated prior interest in the person–can elicit sort of a feeling of, “Why… are you asking this? Why do you need to know this?” What can offset that feeling for me is if the asker says, “I ask because… (you seem upset etc etc)” or if they’re willing to give their own response to their question without being prompted.

      How I read and adapt to people to figure out whether they’re one type or another: the moment somebody responds to one of my statements (“Parallel parking in SF is a nightmare!”) with only a tangentially-related or unrelated question (“Where else have you been to?”), I know it’s time for me to switch to a bit more of a question-asking mode because that’s what they’re likely to be more comfortable with. Information-givers change topics by spontaneously bringing up new ones (“I’m so sick of parallel parking in big cities. I just came back from London, and the Tube is amazing. Food is awful though. I ate three pounds of fish and chips in two days though blah blah blah, etc.”).

      I will share a bit of a communication snafu that happened recently with a question-asker friend–we were cooking together and she asked me, “So, did you have a good time at your dance class last night?” I was confused, and I replied kind of suspiciously, “Yeah? It was pretty fun? Why do you ask?” I was expecting her to justify the question with a reason like, “I need an alibi for that time. Can I say I went to the class with you?” or “It looks boring, so I was wondering why you kept going,” but then she said, “Uhh, just making conversation?” Because question-askers ask questions to start conversations, not only if there’s a deeper reason! Ay. Sometimes I forget.

      • slfisher said:

        “Just making conversation” along with “I’m showing you that I care about you by paying attention to the things you tell me, and expressing interest in them.”

      • emdashing said:

        Thank you for replying, Angie! I really appreciate it (same to Ruth & wordiest). I wanted to ask a few follow up questions (um, obviously, I like questions) because even your examples kind of make me worry I’ve been offending people right and left without realizing it. If “How was your week?” isn’t an okay acquaintance level question, what is? I hear what you’re saying about trying to match people’s styles and I will be more aware as I go forward, but I honestly am not sure how to have a conversation without asking at least some questions. For instance, it’s typical for people in my office to say things like “How was your weekend?” to each other on Mondays, and depending on the level of friendship, you answer accordingly (someone you barely know: Great! Thanks. Yours? Someone you know better: Well, I did x, y, and z. How was yours?). The vast majority of people–regardless of how detailed their response–reciprocate the question, which I hope means I haven’t been offending any of them. I’m having a hard time imagining myself walking up to someone and saying “I did X this weekend,” and then waiting for them to respond either in kind or by changing the topic. That feels very awkward and, well, rude (why assume they want to hear about my weekend?). Basically, I don’t think I can stop trying to be solicitous at the start of a conversation, so short of never being the person to “start” a conversation ever again in life, what are some okay questions? I don’t want to be stuck commenting on the weather to everyone for the rest of time (assuming the weather is even in bounds?).

        Also, to all the people who don’t use questions–how do you determine who is receptive to what topic and when? Especially when you are first meeting them? This is so basic, I guess, but how do you NOT ask questions and still keep a conversation going when you don’t know anything about the person? I’m looking back over time and seeing all the moments when I thought I was being friendly by asking new acquaintances questions about themselves when I might have been really alienating them. I’m still kind of mind-blown by the idea that this isn’t how conversation is supposed to work and talking to people without even (what I had thought were) basic questions seems like it would require magic. Example: I was recently at a party where I only knew the friend who’d taken me and I didn’t have a great time. Afterwards, I realized that not a single person at this 15 person party had asked me a question in the entire four hours I was there so, like the LW, I felt like I’d done all the work. I also didn’t feel comfortable just launching into stories about myself when no one seemed interested in them or me, at all. I did, however, ask them a lot of questions and while none of them seemed to be met with discomfort or reluctance, they were never reciprocated or expanded upon. I was in a different region of the country from where I normally live, so now I realize there must have been a communication-style difference, but I’m still not sure what I should have done? I kept being on the edges of conversations, but I thought jumping in uninvited would be rude, especially since everyone else there knew each other really well. Even without questions, there must be some sort of cue that lets people know their input is welcome? What is this cue? How do I recognize it? When you want to converse with a person, how do you indicate this without a question?

        • TO_Ont said:

          I think the questions you’ve given as examples are fine. You can see from this thread that many people really like to be asked, and even those for whom that style doesn’t come as naturally have usually learned to adapt to differences enough to be perfectly fine with such open-ended questions, and take them in the spirit they’re given. I don’t think asking people questions is objectively ‘wrong’ or anything, it’s just that different people will be used to different emphasis. And in a more offering culture, questions are sometimes more a way of fishing around for a new conversational topic that everyone likes, at which point they become less necessary.

          Personally, I like it best when others just jump in with a short comment or anecdote of their own. If there’s already a conversation going, you can test the waters by offering something short initially, and related to the conversation, then see if others pick up on it and take it further. In terms of body language, you can pay attention to things like whether a circle opens up to make space for you when you come over. And whether someone is turning to you/looking at you and telling you something — e.g. in a very ‘offering’ kind of culture, telling someone an anecdote is often an invitation to respond with a related anecdote.

          (For example, we’re all having a nice and interesting conversation in this thread, and it’s mainly people offering anecdotes and opinions in response to other people’s anecdotes and opinions, without being specifically asked by name for their opinion).

          Of course it’s also possible these people just weren’t that friendly or something.

          Personally, if I were you and suspected I might be in a more ‘offering’ kind of a place, I wouldn’t try to stop asking questions or stress myself out about that, but I might say try to offer a little bit more without being asked.

        • TO_Ont said:

          I wrote a longer reply, which hopefully is just taking a moment to post, but my short answer is 1) Even in a very offering culture, questions aren’t totally forbidden or anything, especially a) very open ended ones or b) ones that follow up on a topic someone else already offered 2) If you suspect you’re with a more offering kind of group, try offering a little bit more yourself, if that’s the kind of culture, it won’t be seen as rude, rather as being friendly. Try something short and related to what others just said if you’re unsure 3) There are other ways of inviting your thoughts — looking at you, opening a circle to include you, giving an anecdote or comment in your direction can be an invitation to respond in kind, etc.

        • wordiest said:

          If it’s typical for people in your office to ask that, then it’s highly likely that it is polite in your office to ask that. I also agree with leading with your preferred style. So, be yourself, and if you run into problems then think, do I need to change something? Sometimes what you need to change is interacting with that person at all, but sometimes you can make smoother interactions by adapting your own style (especially useful if you either like some other things about the person a lot or have to interact with them for some reason).

          But to explain how to do it without questions, you just offer info. Although first offerings should always be short, a few sentences or less, because you don’t yet know if they want to talk about the topic. Do not open with a long story. So something like, “I had a great weekend, I hope you did too.” The last part expresses some interest in their weekend, but is extremely non-pushy. They can then either say, “Why yes. I happened to … (whatever is relevant, let’s say,) saw an old college friend who was in town.” or simply say, “Thanks, it was okay.” or something else fairly neutral or even, “Not my best weekend, but maybe the next one will be good.” If they bring up something about their weekend, then it gives you a jumping off point to discuss any topic related to that.

          I think offer culture is strongly about seeing and following conversational hooks. I mentioned briefly above that I would consider mentioning I found a nice local park that is accessible by public transit, and I might mention that if I were trying to make a new acquaintance, because it has a lot of conversational hooks. If I were to bring it up, the other person could reasonably respond about their own experience with parks or their feelings about public transit. If they chose the former, then I might continue their lead by explaining why I was looking for parks, which gets into my photography hobby and who knows what info about them it might lead to (for all I know, they might have significant botany training, which certainly isn’t something I’d ask a person if they have, but might be interesting to hear about) and public transit leads to all sorts of potential topics on politics, socioeconomic differences, disability, how public services affect quality of life, etc. But I don’t know if any of those possible pathways interest the person I’m speaking to. So, I start off with the short info that I found a lovely park accessible by public transit. And that doesn’t take up much of their time, isn’t very personal, and doesn’t push them. They can steer that toward their preference or they can decide none of that interests them and answer with something that they have done or discovered or seen lately, until we do hit on a topic that we both want to discuss a bit more.

          Once you get deeper into the nesting, then it’s okay to tell longer stories, because you’re on a subject the person has expressed some interest in. Of course, if they fake interest to be polite, they’ll get stuck with lots of longer conversations on subjects that do not interest them. And I won’t know in advance whether we’ll end up going into me telling some sort of story about some pathway we led to, or me discovering something fascinating about them and following that pathway more, or us having similar experiences and trading stories on that subject back and forth until neither of us think of them. And that’s fine. It should generally balance, but as long as we both found a subject we are interested in, it’s okay to choose to be more the listener or the speaker for a time, since one of us may want to hear more about a subject we don’t have as much to contribute toward. Also, some people simply prefer talking more and some prefer listening more, so I don’t always consider an imbalance a bad thing.

          In groups, you are generally assumed to be welcome if you stay on topic and don’t go on for long periods of time (unless you’re going around taking turns telling longer stories). If people regularly ignore your input, act as if you did not speak, or respond negatively, then you are probably being snubbed in some way and there’s a social issue. You jump in at the same places as other people use to jump in (what those cues are varies regionally as well, and would make this comment even longer). You volunteer your input, then see what people think of it. Asking a specific person a question is a touch weird, because you are deciding for them that they should jump in now.

          Reading through this thread, I realized several things about my early verbal culture:

          I’d describe it as outgoing, but very private. (You are expected to jump in a bit, overlapping speech is a sign of excitement, enthusiasm, and high compatibility, but you don’t pry. You assume people who are being quiet want to be. And while adults sometimes try to draw out children, it can be a bit condescending to do that with an adult. A desire to be less outgoing is to be respected peacefully and generally without comment.)

          Sharing information is giving of yourself. When someone tells you something about themself, that is generally like a present. Your thoughts, feelings, and opinions are of interest and value, and somebody who doesn’t care about them is somebody who isn’t worth your time. Similarly, other people’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions are interesting and of value, and if you do not want to hear them, then you aren’t compatible and should try not to waste their time. But open up slowly, because when you share of yourself, you can get hurt, so give trust slowly and increasingly. Likewise, recognize when other people offer you trust and intimacy by telling you things about them and honor and respect that. This is part of why I do not have much of a negative opinion toward people who hog conversations, since they are giving and giving without taking much. They may be being foolish or short-sighted, but they are doing it in a way that is safe for others. Whereas someone who listens and listens and doesn’t talk about themself… well, I wouldn’t want to open up much to them, because they do not yet show trust in me.

          On a side note, I went way overboard with asking questions in college, when I realized most people were okay with it. I even sometimes had conversations on topics almost entirely of my choosing where I got tons of information about other people and often didn’t tell them much at all about myself. It felt very dominating, greedy, and powerful to me. So, I do still emotionally often work this way. I do actually regret some of that, because I hadn’t yet learned the lesson that some people will let themselves be pushed way past their boundaries, and I assumed people answering meant they were okay with answering. On the other hand, I’m still glad I asked tons of people what the process of thinking feels like for them and how it works, because once I helped them understand how to answer that question, I learned some fascinating things about how much people can vary. Finally, yeah… there’s a reason I took the username “wordiest”, I do get very rambly and talkative on subjects that interest me. Conversations help my thoughts to congeal.

          • TO_Ont said:

            Wow, you are totally from my planet! I would pretty much agree with every word here, just couldn’t think of the words to say it as clearly.

    • Ruth said:

      Don’t go too far in never asking! Except with a few people I really trust, I’m a question-answerer because I’ve learned through some really negative experiences that volunteering can result in being told that no one actually cares what I think/experienced/want. If people don’t ask me, I often assume it’s because they don’t care and actively would prefer not to be told.

      • TO_Ont said:

        I think it’s probably good in general not to be too much of a purist (never ask questions, never volunteer info). If you do a little bit of both, even if you tend more in one direction or the other, it’s a bit more flexible, I think. And you can notice if someone you’re talking to responds particularly well to certain approaches.

      • TO_Ont said:

        See, that’s kind of why I generally feel kindly towards people who talk a lot – they’re the one making themselves vulnerable and risking rejection.

        It’s different if someone actively rebuffs attempts to change the topic, but if they’re just talkative, to me that’s brave and generous, to put themselves out there in the open like that.

    • Bee said:

      This was really interesting to me, too. I tend to share rather than ask questions, because this is what was polite in the culture I grew up in. Asking could be nosy or rude, or put the other person on the spot. It was better to share your own opinions or experiences and let the other person respond with their own. From the outside, it probably looks like two really self-centered people talking!

  40. shan said:

    i have a similar thing like the LW but when I meet up for the first date, like the non questions from them I seem to get the feeling that they met up with me to see if I would sleep with them or be the f buddy or fwb. They dont really have a conversation with me but they want to met up. In my profile I state that Im not looking for a hook up or fwb, Im looking for something real. Yet this past year Ive been on 4 “dates” “meet ups” like that… they dont really have anything to say to me, so im the one asking all the questions. When I notice that they conversation has kind of died out I leave but they will either email me or call me asking if I would like to be fwb. Im not giving off this vibe, trust me, Im looking for a total opposite of what they are looking for…. ive had a weird year of dating.

    • winter said:

      I think that says more about them and their assumptions and entitlement issues than about you. Probably they think that if they hit up enough people, someone will eventually sleep with them… Part of that is a total lack of respect for your stated preferences 😦

  41. zinemin said:

    This thread has been very interesting for me. I only know very few people with whom I can have natural, pleasant, two-way conversations. Very often, I feel like the other person is performing, and I am cast in the role of audience, where I’m constantly saying things like “oh, that must have been stressful”, “wow, what a great trip you are planning” etc. and ask follow-up questions. Not to do this seeme rude to me, and thus I find the majority of people rude, since they behave very differently, do not ask follow-up questions and interrupt me to continue talking about their things. My impression until now has been that most people are just genuinely not interested in others and do not enjoy empathizing/ making someone else feel accepted like I do. But maybe many people just do not NEED this kind of constant validation and encouragement that I need, and this is why they do not give it to me, not because they are rude. Normally I just avoid these kind of people, but if they are family or coworkers I really have a very hard time dealing with those huge differences in converstation-style, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. The discussion here makes me think that I should try to adapt more and imitate their style. Maybe they really just do not want to pry, and assume that I am very closed-up and reserved? Or maybe they are also just narcissists, I am not sure. 🙂

  42. Amber said:

    Oh man yeah I get this a lot in internet dating, I ask a lot of questions and sometimes they never reciprocate. I went out with this guy recently who talked about himself the whole time! I asked him about being a fire fighter and he launched into the longest most boring story. I tried to hurry him to end by saying “and then you put out the fire” but he literally said ” hold on I’m getting there” at which point I went home after one beer. He texted me saying he had an amazing time and I was like really… You don’t know anything about me! My feeling about it when that happens with nerdier guys is that they’re trying really hard to impress me instead of connect with me, which, like, no. If some guy just wants to impress me and doesn’t care what I’m like then he’s looking for a human shaped person to fill the girlfriend slot and maybe have sex with. It’s gross.

    However I internet date a lot and this isn’t everyone. Keep doing it lw, you’ll meet people who are interested in you as much as you are in them!

  43. Dear LW

    I too agree with the Captain’s advice.

    Use the first dates for screening.

    If you want to, think about why they don’t ask questions. Or recognize that they are not compatible with you now and it doesn’t matter why.

    Either way, if you can, recognize that you will find people who are joyous with you.

  44. twomoogles said:

    I think conversational clicking is huge! I wonder if some of the people who only seem to answer questions but don’t ask any would work better with somebody with a similar style–so it would feel more like sharing stories rather than one person monologuing? I can’t even really think of my usual style, honestly, which is funny because “being able to have a great conversation” is absolutely crucial for me to want to date someone or be their friend. My problem is that this basically never happens the first time I meet someone. I’ve been friendly/casual friends with somebody for months, and then had a sudden ‘conversational breakthrough’ that usually involves 4 hours of talking…but I find it really hard to predict when that will happen.

  45. Grand Mouse said:

    This helps so much! I’ve realized from reading the comments that I’m a information-volunteerer, but when I first meet people it feels too presumptuous, so all I do is ask questions of them even though it feels really stilted. So I have trouble connecting with anyone. But people here are saying this isn’t that uncommon, so I should stick to my style (with compromise of course).

  46. BlueSkiesLily said:

    I also think there is something a lot of the “I don’t like small talk” commenters are missing. I say this as a person who also used to “not like small talk” and viewed it as vacuous and empty. The thing is, the content of small talk is actually pretty irrelevant: that is why it is called small talk. But it is a first step towards a gradual increase in intimacy, because if you are going to talk with someone at all, by necessity you have to start by talking *about* something, and it is better to pick a safe, less personal topic to begin with. And the reality is that all small talk actually is “about” something — all small talk is about the same thing, really: demonstrating attention towards another person and engaging with them

    The marriage/relationship researcher John Gottman talks about “relationship bids,” and I think a lot of what is being talked about in this thread is . Learning to recognize bids, and responding to a partner’s relationship bids is literally essential for having good relationships of any kind. Offering information (as an invitation for a partner to respond) and asking questions (as a sign of interest and an invitation to self-disclosure) are both relationship bids. Responding to these bids with open hostility (“it’s none of your business”) is a great way to damage relationships, or prevent them from developing in the first place, but hey, it’s your choice.

    The other thing that occurs to me is that if you feel like the question “so, what’s your favorite place in town” puts you too much on the spot, perhaps you could try simply engaging in some intentional practice at making small talk. As a formerly socially awkward person (some would say I still am, but less so), I promise, it is a learnable skill. Pay attention to what other people say in similar situations, and try to generate some ideas, and then try them out in actual conversations with actual people. For example, good responses to the above question include, but are not limited to:
    – “I don’t know, it’s so hard to pick a favorite since there are so many places I like, but what’s yours?”
    – “actually, I don’t eat out that often but I do like to just wander around and do people-watching downtown sometimes”
    – “well, I’m curious about the new place that’s opening up next month”
    – “I’m not sure I can pick a favorite but I usually really like Y type of place (casual places / thai )”
    – “It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one place I was at recently that I liked is …”
    – “I’m new in town and I haven’t had much of a chance to look around yet, can you recommend anything?”

    Note that none of these gives away the identity of your favorite place to go out (some people will have good reasons for preferring to withhold that information from a stranger), but they all engage with the question at some level and continue the conversation. The first response manages to give away almost no information, while the others involve various small self-disclosures.

    It is not at all rude or strange to dodge any particular question in this way (although if you are constantly evasive it will show over time). It is not rude to respond briefly and then change the subject, or to turn the question around, or to simply say “I don’t know” — as long as you respond in some way that continues the conversation, which is, after all, the whole point.

    (OTOH, it really can be tricky to figure out which topics people might consider too personal, and this can be extremely cultural. For example, I was raised in a home culture where talking about one’s personal finances with anyone except close family and and maybe a few very close friends is basically taboo — in particular, I carefully avoid revealing information about my net worth, discussing how much I am paid, or revealing how much I paid for large purchases (such as a car) or for gifts. However, I now have many friends and co-workers who come from cultures where these topics are discussed very openly. I am often taken aback when co-workers ask each other, or me, direct questions about things like how much a recent house purchase cost, how I invest my money, and so on.)

    • RedCat said:

      Great advice!

  47. Pseudonymous said:

    It’s not just personal, but cultural. I’m from a culture where direct questions of anyone, let alone someone you just met, are a sign of aggression and poor boundaries, at best. It is considered worse when a man does it to a woman. You invite people to speak by offering them an ear.

    I’ve worked the cultural gap out with a lot of people, though, and I feel like this isn’t just incompatibility. People are already so nervous on first meetings, I don’t know anyone who has ever said they were grateful that someone they just met asked them a series of questions – it amplifies nerves. I think I’d suggest that the LW should try to alter her first date/meeting behavior. Not all of her behavior forever, because people get to be who they are.

    First meets are tough. Her description of her own behavior is that she silently listens and never shares, but waits to be asked. That strikes me as odd, because if I’ve just met you I can’t know what is OK to ask you, I only know what is OK for me to share. Maybe rather than universalizing question-asking as the only polite to be interested in someone, the LW could consider prepping for a date by thinking of a short story or minor event she would like to share about herself. Or maybe two. If the person doesn’t reflect any interest, then you can determine more about whether everyone except you is rude:-)

  48. Gryphon said:

    This post (and associated comments) really struck a chord with me. I didn’t realise just how non-question-y most of my friends were until this year, when I had a book published. It was the first time I’ve ever achieved anything like that and it was a huge deal to me.

    I was expecting follow-up questions to my news (“I’ve been commissioned to write a book”/”I’ve been busy writing a book” /”I’ve just had my first book published!”). But I can count on the fingers of one hand the friends who followed up with what I would consider obvious questions: What’s the book about? Fiction or non-fiction? When’s it coming out? Is it the kind of book I would enjoy reading? Can I have a free copy? Etc.

    The experience has made me look more critically at the type of interaction I have with many of my friends and realise that I’m always the one asking the questions. I don’t think this would have dawned on me if I hadn’t had Big News of my own that I really wanted to share. The book came out months ago and there are still a lot of people that I consider to be friends/close friends who have never even asked what the title is or what it’s about.

  49. charlie said:

    I agree that people not asking you questions back is a red flag, but I would correlate it with other information. My current boyfriend did not do this, and I almost dumped him over it. But he did show other signs of interest-to the point of moving across the country. Now we have been together many months, and he is more comfortable and open and at ease, and while we still aren’t good on the phone, in person all the awkwardness and onesidedness has disappeared. Anyway, I’m glad I hung in there, even though my first reaction was ‘Not asking me reciprocal questions=not interested in me’. He clearly is, and has shown it with other ways. He’ll never be the conversationalist my best friend is, but I don’t know that I need him to be. And if I’d censored him for it, I’d be missing out on a shitload of happiness right now. I once got angry and asked him why he never asked me about my particular profession, and he looked a little hurt and said that he’d ‘read all about it!’ So some people have a different way, and I guess you have to figure out if that jives with you, but not meeting the conversation style doesn’t necessarily mean ‘you don’t matter to me’.

    So I guess my advice is to look for other signs. ‘Not asking questions + also never taking date initiative’, or other some such, to draw a conclusion. or ‘Does he/she listen to me when I take the initiative to describe something about myself?’

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