I like you. Do you want to hang out?
July 10, 2007 7:59 AM   Subscribe

What makes people interested in each other, friendship-wise and hanging-out-wise?

Prompted by this question about finding a group to be in, this answer that advises learning to make interesting conversation, and this NYTimes article on gregariousness, and of course, my ongoing quest to find a way to get over or learn to live with social phobia, I'd like to ask, what is it about a person that makes them interesting and what makes for interesting conversation?

Lets throw out things like sexual attraction, money and social position.

I tend not to really go for common answers to this question like sharing common interests and interest in the other person. My reasoning is that if a homeless man had these qualities, you would still probably not want them as your friend (if you do, good for you!). So I think I'm looking for something a bit deeper, unless you can convince my thought experiment is faulty. I guess I'm tending to think that you need friends to have friends; a sort of catch-22 if you didn't start in kindergarten.

Your thoughts and experiences on what makes us interested in another person and what makes their conversation interesting? Thank You! and sorry for the length of this question!
posted by DarkForest to Human Relations (31 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
A shared sense of humor. For me, at least.
posted by paleography at 8:02 AM on July 10, 2007


convince my = convince me my

Seeing my title for this page up there in the big letters makes it seem overly creepy to me now. Sorry about that. I'm not creepy.
posted by DarkForest at 8:07 AM on July 10, 2007


Someone that makes you laugh, stop, think, listen. Someone who will laugh, stop, think, listen; someone who doesn't barge in, interrupt, or talk "me, me, me".
Someone who knows lots of stuff about lots of stuff, has opinions about things, keeps abreast of current affairs, has a variety of different interests (even if they're different to your own), has a varied and interesting history (with lots of personal stories and anecdotes).
Someone that can make you feel at ease, in front of whom you don't mind making a fool of yourself or saying something stupid; where conversation isn't forced.

Anyone wanna be my friend? :)
posted by Chunder at 8:11 AM on July 10, 2007


Shared experiences. If I say something and instead of getting silence or a pert agreement, they understand where I'm coming from, then that goes a long way.

Also, I tend to be attracted to people who are passionate about something--anything--outside of themselves, and who seem to enjoy life in general.
posted by elisynn at 8:12 AM on July 10, 2007


A couple thoughts:

1. There's a difference between an interesting person and a friend. There are people at work who are interesting who I will never have an out of work friendship with. I also have friends who are not that interesting.

2. Don't toss out social position. Social position means a lot of things, not just the negative connotations.

3. Conversation isnt usually interesting. 90% of the time you dont really choose your conversation partner. Life chooses them for you. Converstion is a way to exchange information, jokes, commiseriate, etc. Rarely, you'll find someone who you really click with, but that doesnt mean you cant be friends with people you dont click with or that all conversations must be great.

4. Whats the motivation for a friend? Thats a big question. To some people its the fear of being alone and not having someone to hang out with. This fear drives them to make new acquaintances, socialize, go out, etc. Others are natually outgoing. Some people just plod along with their friends from high school. Others only have work friends. What decides this is your motivation level, fear level, and want level.

At the end of the day commonality is very much in charge. SOmeone who is a lot like you has the potential to be a good friend/acquaintance. He probably likes the movies you like, hence you now have a movie partner. Hes in the same socio-economic class as you, thus you have someone to go to social events with. etc.

Lastly, most homeless people have serious debilitating mental illness. If I had a clone who was homeless for 2 years would, at this point in time, I would have little in common with me. Homeless people often have homeless friends too.

Also, are you getting any treatment for your social phobia? This is a good self-help workbook.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:14 AM on July 10, 2007


I call this kind of thing as "reading from the same script." A lot of people consider me a weirdo, and the few that are engaged by the random things that come from my mouth are the ones I consider friends. Personally I'm impressed by a broad vocabulary, and hearing someone use a 50 cent word is likely to get my attention. Conversely if I drop a word like "histrionic" and the person I'm talking to points out that it's a weird word I am likely not to seek them out in the future.
posted by frecklefaerie at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think that having common interests tends to be a starting point for many friendships, because there has to be something to simply get you through the small talk that most conversations with strangers start out with. See someone in a coffee shop reading your favorite book? Rad. You can talk to them about that. Going to a concert to see your favorite but not-well-known band play? You can talk to the other people at the show about that.

I don't think you need friends to have friends. It's just easier to find friends when you already have them, because it's easier to meet people that way. In that particular situation, it's your mutual friend that is your common interest.

As time moves on, though, I think that you need to have more than just common interests. There are also different types of friendships. There are some friends who go out to the bar every Friday night and get wasted and that's what that friendship is. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's very different, and has very different requirements, then a friendship based on experience and empathy.

I personally think that, once you get past that initial first step, lasting friendships are based on many of the things that lasting romantic relationship are. Open communication, mutual empathy, support, the ability to relax and have a good time, etc.
posted by plaingurl at 8:15 AM on July 10, 2007


For me, a shared sense of humor is really important. I'm not at all a clown, but I have met (and dated) some very interesting people that I just couldn't get that close to because of humor; I don't care how much we have in common, if you get sincerely uncomfortable any time I crack a masturbation joke or a dead baby joke, it's just not going to work out.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:21 AM on July 10, 2007


I like people who dig really different things than I do, or who have really different ways of looking at the world, but are able to articulate why they think as they do. It's like psychic tourism! Conversely, if someone likes all the same things as me, but can't really say much about why they like those things, they're not gonna be very interesting to hang around with.

So: clear communication skills are the key, apparently.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:21 AM on July 10, 2007


what is it about a person that makes them interesting and what makes for interesting conversation?

They do interesting things and can express that to others in some way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2007


I think it's easier to answer this in the negative, i.e. what doesn't make for interesting conversation.

-- People who talk exclusively (and extensively) about themselves, their kids, their job, or their particular hobby, or always steer conversations into their own areas of interest.

-- People who are negative/judgemental about the likes and interests of other people, putting down things other people like and asserting the superiority of whatever movie/band/interest they prefer.


Interesting people generally a) express interest in other people; b) share their own experiences and opinions without demeaning others; and c) do both a and b in equal proportions to maintain balance in the conversation.

So if someone at a party says, "My husband and I are going to Hawaii this summer to visit the volcanos."

A bad conversationalist follows up with, "Hawaii? I went there once...(insert long tedious anecdote about fighting with a hotel over room service charges...BORING) I don't know why anybody would even bother!"

A good conversationalist follows up with, "Oh, I just read something really interesting about Hawaiian volcanos (insert interesting National Geographic tidbit)" or "Are you really interested in geology?" or even just "Which ones are you going to visit?"

Someone who has difficulty making conversation might follow up with, "Oh, that sounds nice." Which subtley expresses disinterest in the person and their trip, and doesn't move the conversation forward for either person, resulting in awkwardness. (Unless the volcano-lover is a bad conversationalist, in which case you may spend the next 45 minutes learning more about Hawaiian volcanos than you ever wanted to know.)

Good conversation is about back and forth, like volleyball or tennis. You take the topic, bounce it around a bit, then find a way to give it back to the other person. The more you practice, the easier it gets.
posted by junkbox at 8:29 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seriously, take a look at groups of friends. They tend to hang around with similar people. You rarely see a group of smoking hot girls with one fat girl in the middle. People are defined by their social group. This means that people who can choose DO choose people that improve their social standing.

Business men hang out with other business men. Hot cheerleaders hang out with other cheerleaders. It's a social ladder, and if you are an akward geek, you'll have a real hard time trying to get Wall Street type men interested in hanging out with you, no matter how interesting your conversation.
posted by markesh at 8:31 AM on July 10, 2007


Sorry but but if you removed the things you listed as throwouts (attraction, social position, money and interests) from peoples friendships there really wouldn't be much left for most people.

There would be "chemistry" I guess but try define that one.
posted by uandt at 9:03 AM on July 10, 2007


People tend to stick to their own. I don't usually hang out with people who don't play music.

*shrug*

Life is short; find some smart people. I don't have time to fart around with a bunch of brain-dead lemmings.
posted by chuckdarwin at 9:07 AM on July 10, 2007


You tend to befriend the people you spend time with. That's all.
posted by futility closet at 9:14 AM on July 10, 2007


Some responses:

There would be "chemistry" I guess but try define that one.

Yes, chemistry. I'd like to know more about that... What if a person just has bad chemistry?

I don't have time to fart around with a bunch of brain-dead lemmings.

Sometimes the best answers are the snarkiest... I agree.

what is it about a person that makes them interesting and what makes for interesting conversation?

They do interesting things ...


Ow! The recursion hurts my brain...

and can express that to others in some way.

Yes, good storytelling. That's something I want to know more about.

So: clear communication skills are the key, apparently.

At least one of the keys anyway. Unfortunately I have some difficulties with that.
posted by DarkForest at 9:21 AM on July 10, 2007


probably difficult with social phobia and whatnot, but maybe try talking to everyone you encounter in a given day and find out what makes YOU like talking to people.

Having difficulty starting a conversation? Instead of not talking at all, make eye contact, smile and say hello. Then you can not talk.

I sometimes find myself repeatedly talking to people I don't like talking to. Difficult to tell them to go away.

Sorry if off topic
posted by Gregamell at 9:34 AM on July 10, 2007


Besides chemistry, being interesting, and other ephemeral qualities, I look for friends who aren't going to be a big drain of energy and time. I'm up for spending 3 hours on the phone if a friend had a disastrous day, and I'll happily look at a resume for somebody even after a long day of work--as long as I know this person's not going to call me again tomorrow with another disaster. So when I meet somebody new, if I get a hint that a person is high maintenance, I'm not interested in having another conversation. All the funny, interesting conversation in the world isn't going to make me want to be friends with you if I get the feeling that you don't have some inner resources. Nervousness and awkwardness can be endearing, but neediness is instantly suffocating.
posted by CuriousGeorge at 10:48 AM on July 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


I understand that there are a lot of kinds of negatives that can keep a friendship from happening. I think I have or can get a handle on those. But lack of negatives is not in itself going to create friendships. I'm more interested in understanding the positives that attract people to each other.
posted by DarkForest at 11:41 AM on July 10, 2007


Like lies and self delusions?

Those are not positives but if the others are not enough you use them to manipulate people into liking you.

If you want too keep these people as friends you'll have to change your life permanently to make this new person into you. This process might actually be good for some people.

Nobody likes a compulsive truth teller if we are going to pile on the negatives.
posted by uandt at 12:11 PM on July 10, 2007


I would say I'm an introvert, but I am passionate, and someone who damns with faint praise the things that I love or entirely quashes my spirit with criticism goes way down on my list.

A sense of humor always wins me over, though!
posted by misha at 12:12 PM on July 10, 2007


what is it about a person that makes them interesting and what makes for interesting conversation?

They do interesting things ...

Ow! The recursion hurts my brain...


It's not such a nasty recursion. I often use a tiny truism that "a person is interesting if they are interested".

By this, it could mean that they have one or more passions in life, although hearing about their model railway set for the hundredth time could grow boring, so more generally, they have an enquiring mind - they are interested in all manner of things going on around them: science, politics, arts, literature, people...the more somebody is fascinated by almost everything they come across, the more that contagious quizzicality inspires you to look more deeper into things, or to look at familiar things in a new light. Well, that's what I find interesting, anyway.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:27 PM on July 10, 2007


I can relate this to my experience of MeFite meet-ups to give you evidence in action. In theory I have absolutely nothing in common with the fellow mefites I have met so far, but a very strong shared sense of humour. An expectation of difference and therefore no discomfort that I'm not a geek. A welcoming attitude towards someone of a different culture helps, so the basic thing is openmindedness in every sense.
posted by Wilder at 2:35 PM on July 10, 2007


Like lies and self delusions?

uandt - I totally don't get your last comment. Want to elaborate?

Thanks for the comments so far. The ones about passions and inner resources are particularly interesting.
posted by DarkForest at 2:38 PM on July 10, 2007


to steal a line from somewhere, those who are interesting are usually also those that are interested.

Don't underestimate the importance of 'someone who feeds my ego' as a criteria.
posted by softlord at 4:00 PM on July 10, 2007


Things i could find on short notice: this or this one.

A previous poster mentioned a good conversationalist being the person following up someone mentioning a trip to some volcanoes with information and tidbits gleaned from popular media about said volcanoes.

A normal person won't remember much from that documentary they saw on discovery 2 years ago and will therefore fill in the missing bits with lies and fabrications. In the end it all makes for some very interesting conversation so it's all good.

Sometimes you suffer the total humiliation of going on a bullshit rampage against an expert in the field so it is always a good idea to ask people about their profession at the start of the conversation...

I feel a bit like an ass writing all this but really, your deception skills are really, really important when it comes to making friends and acquaintances. It's all the elaboration I can give right now. Hope it's enough.
posted by uandt at 4:01 PM on July 10, 2007


Thanks, uandt, I see what you mean now. The NYTimes article I linked to goes into a bit about the deception needed to get along in daily life in a community where you both want acceptance and want to maximize your own opportunities.
posted by DarkForest at 4:07 PM on July 10, 2007


I think a lot of it has to do with two people being able to read and play off of each other. You might both be the types who are interested in learning about other people's backgrounds, lifestyles, and the like. But if one of them rambles on with not much of a point, and without a natural way for the other person to follow up on it, it just gets awkward with a lot of conversational dead-ends.

Ideally you'd both have a lot to say, and you practically alternate setting each other up for the rest of the chat. There are perfectly nice and engaging people out there, but if they're oblivious to the times that you're not "actively" interested in what they're talking about, you're not likely to seek them out in the future. And that goes both ways. But whether being able to read others in that manner is easily learned, I don't know.

Common interests is more of a case-by-case thing. Personally, I'd rather talk to someone who I have a lot in common with, and can relate to, while at the same time learning things about them here and there that I'm not familiar with. The commonalities you have can act as a springboard to the differences between you. But if you're just small-talking to a stranger you'll never see again, you'll probably stick to talking about the game you both saw, or how great both of your favorite musician's last album was.

And of course, compatible senses of humor probably plays a pretty big role, too. There's the TV/movie cliche where the guy tries way too hard to befriend others by cracking really lame jokes, and he just ends up annoying everyone. Don't be that guy.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:19 PM on July 10, 2007


I think a lot of it has to do with two people being able to read and play off of each other. You might both be the types who are interested in learning about other people's backgrounds, lifestyles, and the like. But if one of them rambles on with not much of a point, and without a natural way for the other person to follow up on it, it just gets awkward with a lot of conversational dead-ends.

Ideally you'd both have a lot to say, and you practically alternate setting each other up for the rest of the chat. There are perfectly nice and engaging people out there, but if they're oblivious to the times that you're not "actively" interested in what they're talking about, you're not likely to seek them out in the future.


Exactly. The great Ambrose Bierce put it best:

Bore, n: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:26 PM on July 10, 2007


(which is why extreme extroverts bore me senseless - they tend to be so in love with their own voices, and so in love with the idea of themselves as entertainers, that they actively make it near impossible for others to participate in a conversation. they don't have collocutors; they only have audiences)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 PM on July 10, 2007


Upbeat!

For example-

Q. Hi, how are you?
A. Oh yeah, good. How are you?

OR

Q. Hi, how are you?
A. Oh.. *smile* actually not too bad at all. *bigger smile* And yourself? *interested implied smile*.

People always snap to life (and then credit you with their sudden chatty perky mood). When all you've done is remind them to smile...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 12:53 AM on July 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


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