With the holidays coming I find my inability to tolerate some family members and listen to the inane chatter that fills the room. I am often visually unhappy about the situation. How can I tolerate such gatherings in a way that at least makes it appear I'm not so unhappy? (Bonus points if I'm ACTUALLY not so unhappy).
posted by arniec to Human Relations (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Let me start by saying I am not generally anti-social. I have been called "life of the party" a few times, though my personality does tend to be more introverted than extroverted. However, I've finally pinpointed something--I really only do well in social situations with people where there are things in common, things to talk about, and usually with people within 10 years of my own age.
If I am with friends or even people I don't know who are generally in my age range I am able to be social, have congenial conversation, and enjoy myself in the process. I find myself able to discuss literature, history, current events, food, movies, music, pop culture, video games, human relations, etc. all fairly easily and I have true interest in those discussions so I am engaged and enjoy myself in those situations.
But if you remove those topics I find myself unable to engage in conversation. I know nothing of sports and can only take so much of hearing about people's kids or the trivialities of their jobs.
In business gatherings I can usually chime in when conversations reach topics I know of, or am interested in, be silent during sports or children conversations, and usually enough work is discussed to keep things moving along amicably.
I am not so lucky when dealing with my in-laws and my elderly relatives.
They are hard core conservatives in life and politics, and my wife and I are very liberal people, so discussing politics, social situations, etc. is upsetting to all involved (dinners were tense during the Obama campaign let me tell you). None of our family really follows the news, nor do they enjoy any of the same leisures in life that we enjoy (reading, movies, television, video games).
I am not judging them, but we are just all very different people, and truthfully not very interested in each other's daily mundane lives. Rarely does anything occur (a birth, a death, a job change) that prompts true conversation leaving us with just idle chit chat. While we all travel for various purposes, such discussion of the trips usually are less than 10 minutes long. As we all live in the same city we see each other at least twice or more a month, meaning there isn't time to build up a reserve of topics for the next gathering and there isn't much to talk about.
Yet talk they do. I hear uninteresting stories about people I've never met and will likely never meet, such as my Mother-In-Law's coworker situations or my Godmother's grandniece. If the stories were truly interesting then I might be engaged, but it's usually along the lines of "so-and-so is now entering the 5th grade. She's really smart for her age. The braces come off soon.", and since I've never met these people I don't care. And I'm not good at faking it.
Likewise, they do not care to hear much about our lives. While we can discuss work, we know it is not interesting to other people if we tell the minutia of our day to day routines (yet they are not so considerate to not bore us with the minutia of their routines). More, our biggest hobbies are not shared, and due to ours being generational specific (toy collecting, video games) they are often met with condescension by this AARP enrolled crowd. After a few subtle jabs at our maturity, still playing video games in our 30s, we have ceased bringing up anything about our leisure activities, glossing over the aspects of our life that they frown upon.
This leaves us with nothing to discuss.
After about 45 minutes of being around these people, feeling on stage, struggling to find anything to talk about, my demeanor starts to worsen. During the first of two Thanksgiving gatherings this past weekend, on the first we were the last to arrive and, 2.5 hours later, the first to leave. On the second, which we hosted, after 3.5 hours I just had to excuse myself and go lay down.
Liquor doesn't help, it actually makes me LESS tolerant.
What can I do to be more amicable and a better host in these situations? Or more importantly, is there any way I can actually enjoy these get-togethers with people where I have nothing in common to discuss?