Monday, March 30, 2009

"Who knew there were so many centers of the universe?”

When I read that phrase, I could think of dozens of situations where it's applicable.

For example: Consider my recent unexpected encounter with a neighbor. When I asked about his children, I was treated to a long list of their achievements delivered with a very self-satisfied, almost smug, look. Did he inquire once about mine, or me? Nope. Apparently his universe is more interesting than mine.

Last week I attended a writers’ social function where I hardly knew anyone. I did my best to introduce myself to as many people as possible and inquire about their writing. Then I asked questions to learn more. Can you guess how many were interested in my writing life? I can count them on three fingers.

It makes me wonder: Were these people simply centers of their own universes, or was I not assertive enough about sharing mine?

For example: Have you ever had conversations with people who were convinced their children are the smartest, or most athletic, or funniest progeny ever? It’s nice that they’re so proud of their kids, though I do have to wonder: isn’t anyone average anymore? I guess the normal folks live in other universes. Anyway, after listening attentively to these people talk about how wonderful their children are, it pains me to realize how few inquire about my (exceptionally wonderful) kids.

Or have you ever asked someone what they do for a living or for fun, or why they are attending a specific event (which are all supposed to be good conversation starters, right?) but they don't ask about you?

This one-sided conversation thing really irritates me sometimes. I confess that I've gone to social events and intentionally not shared any information about my life or my children to see how much time passes before anyone asks. There have been occasions when I’ve come home without one person inquiring, although I did learn a lot about their lives. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hearing about what’s going on in their worlds. I truly do. In fact, my interest in people is one reason I became a journalist. It also may be why I’m so sensitive to the fact that sometimes when I “interview” others, they don’t interview me back.

Do these sort of one-sided conversations ever happen to you? Could it be that some people just don't care much about other universes? Does it ever make you wonder: "Is there's something about me that screams boring"? Instead of following the advice that "nobody likes a braggart," perhaps we're failing to hold up our ends of the conversation by not interjecting tidbits about our lives. It's possible that I might have misplaced the etiquette book on conversation. Maybe people figure that if a person has something of interest to share, he or she will jump in without being asked – as we often do with close friends and family.

Or maybe there are just too many universes out there. What do you think?


ALittleGuitar said...

I'm always relieved when I don't have to answer questions.

BTW, how's JDCR doing at the academy? And DCR at AU?

Robin Hagey said...

Pat, This is absolutely on target. Sara was home for spring break and we had lunch with two of her friends from college and one of their mothers. I, of course, peppered the mom with questions, including, "What do you do? She proclaimed herself a journalist. I told Sara that could not possibly be. She never asked me one question about myself, even when Sara piped up and said, "My mother was a journalist too!"

Nancy Nearing said...

You left me wondering if I spend too much time bragging about the girls! A little introspection is a good thing - right?

So how IS the Washington branch of your family? In case they haven't told you, we have flowers blooming down here.... you should come see!

PatRemick said...

Looking out my window at the snow on the ground and the trees felled by our monster December ice storm still frozen to the ground, I am certainly anxious for some DC warmth and bonding time with my boys!
So Robin, you think maybe we former UPI types ask too many questions and are more aware that we're not getting equal attention? (excluding A Little Guitar who doesn't want anybody to know about his life....)

Glimmer said...

JO is like Little Guitar, he offensively (yes, both meanings of the word -- ha ha) drills questions because he doesn't want to answer any personal ones himself. And I have a tendency to blither and wait for an indication somebody wants to interject. Fear of too much awkward silence maybe. Not sure, food for thought.