Awkward Conversations + Significant Other = ??
April 12, 2010 11:11 PM   Subscribe

Are awkward conversations with a significant other normal?

My boyfriend and I have been together seriously for 2 months, dating since November. Both in our thirties, the relationship is serious and is moving quickly. We have been honest about our feelings and spend at least at least 3 days a week together (are both very busy). My question is sometimes our conversations have awkward silences, or are just simply awkward. Telephone conversations are the worst.

We both come from very different backgrounds but have all of our "day-to-day" things in common (movies, games, television, napping, eating etc...) but our work worlds are vastly different. He is much more educated than me and I am more..."street" educated than him. He has said on several occasions that he feels he is not "cool" enough for me and I have said on several occasions that I am afraid I am not "smart" enough for him. I am wondering if we are both afraid of saying the wrong things so our conversations become awkward?

Any opinions, advice. Everything is great except this and it's driving me nuts. I turn into a total jack-off on the phone because I get so nervous. Has anyone experienced anything similar....basically...HELP!!
posted by thelastgirl to Human Relations (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience if I'm dating someone I really connect well with, any silences we have aren't awkward.

That said, I can get pretty shy on the phone. Maybe you guys should talk over AIM, Skype, etc if the phone is too awkward.
posted by too bad you're not me at 11:23 PM on April 12, 2010

Yeah, I vote for completely normal. Especially considering that your relationship is so new; two months of dating ≠ significant other. It will get better, give it some time – but also consider that my relationship was long-distance for two and a half years and while we get along fantastically, we never really learned how to have non-awkward phone conversations.
posted by halogen at 11:24 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

how are you on the phone normally? how is he? how are you with your girlfriends after you go on vacation for a week - are you just as chatty on the way back as the way there?

i think it's probably just the getting to know you/spending most of my time with you hiccups.

for now, concentrate on fewer conversations that are more substantive. if you email during the day, cut down on it and keep a little list of things you would have emailed and you can talk about them instead. anxiety will only make this problem worse.

the husband and i talk a lot on the phone - every one of his breaks - and we spend all of our free time together. we've known each other for 10 years. yet some days i feel utterly uninteresting. i can't think of a single thing to talk to him about - so i go to sites i know he likes but doesn't visit a lot. i look at things like boing-boing, fark, here, etc and i try to find one or two interesting and non-stressful stories so we have conversation jumping off points.
posted by nadawi at 11:24 PM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

Have you talked about awkward pauses with him? If not, do. Then next time one of you can say "that was...awkward" and you can laugh at yourselves.
posted by sallybrown at 11:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I am wondering if we are both afraid of saying the wrong things so our conversations become awkward?

You know your situation better than anyone. If you think this is what's happening, you're probably right.

I think it's completely normal. Despite how serious the relationship is, you haven't actually known each other that long, and you both have some insecurities about how the other person sees you. If you, for example, are worrying about displaying a lack of smarts, that may cause you to hold back in conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing. After only a few months, after all, you don't necessarily know what will happen if you say something "stupid!" But after a while, you'll realize that even if you say something silly or don't understand something, he won't call you dumb or be mean (I am assuming here that he is a good dude), and you'll start to relax, and the awkwardness will go away.

Anyway, I'm making some assumptions there. Bottom line, I think this is a normal part of getting to know someone, and no big deal. It'll go away with time as you get more comfortable with each other.
posted by mandanza at 11:37 PM on April 12, 2010

~8 years after falling in love with her, I still find talking on the phone to my S/O a little weird. so much of good conversation involves more than words. in other words, I wouldn't worry about the phone conversations being a little awkward. it does help (a little) to realize that phone conversations are just weird.

(as for the rest? I dunno. We both have PhDs, we work in the same field, we live together -- and yet there are still occasionally days when our conversations don't have quite the same spark. Those days pass. that said, I can't imagine having most of my days be like that.)
posted by chalkbored at 11:46 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

gibberish is your friend! My boyfriend and I are both kind of scattered people, and it's pretty easy for us to lose track of phone conversations. When there's a pause, we'll often fill it with nonsense, sort of free associating, just trying to amuse each other. Another way to take the awkwardness out of pauses is to also be able to say to each other "I'm a little lost in space right now, I'll call you back in a bit when my head clears" and then call back when you feel like talking again.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:54 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

One day all that nervous energy and awkwardness will be missed. Laugh through it now, cherish it later.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:02 AM on April 13, 2010

Oh yeah. It can be super weird. "They" say that more than 60% of human interpersonal messages are communicated nonverbally, so...when you can't see, touch, smell or taste the other person you're clearly operating at a disadvantage.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:25 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not every conversation you have with your loved one is going to be a dialogue for the ages. Don't sweat it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:21 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My question is sometimes our conversations have awkward silences, or are just simply awkward.

iamkimiam has it: it is because there is something between you that you have awkward conversations. Silence is OK. Sometimes you have nothing to say, but don't want to hang up. Imagine you're holding hands and saying nothing and it won't feel so awkward.
posted by three blind mice at 1:35 AM on April 13, 2010

Get a headset or earpiece for your phone, so you don't have to hold it in your hand.

Then you're not having a PHONE CONVERSATION in which everyone must be maximally entertaining and interesting 100% of the time. You're just going about your business (even if that's sitting on the sofa) and the other person is present while you are doing it. It's much more like just being in the same room.... and conversation suddenly becomes a lot more normal.

If you really want, you can sit and watch the same TV program and make the same sarcastic remarks about it that you would if you were in the same room. Assuming you have plenty of free minutes, that is!
posted by emilyw at 1:53 AM on April 13, 2010

I'm crappy on the phone because almost all of my non-face-to-face conversation takes place through email, so somewhere along the line I lost track of how to talk on the phone. I'm trying to get better at it, since I realized this and now have a job with a decentralized corporate structure where I could be talking to someone who is anywhere in the country. But I'm still pretty bad at it. I don't know who's supposed to be talking next or how to make a joke.

It's pretty awesome.

Point being, maybe that's a problem for one or both of you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:43 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Completely normal. Intimate conversations should, ideally, never be mediated by electronics.
posted by flabdablet at 2:52 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am horrible on the telephone, have nothing to say, resulting in long silences which become awkward. This has nothing to do with how much I like a person.
posted by beerbajay at 3:13 AM on April 13, 2010

Since you guys are at the "serious" stage, the best advice I can think of is to just let your guard down completely. You'll have nothing to lose and nothing left to feel nervous about. In person, you need to point out what exactly you're interpreting as a weird silence. Some people (guys) need a bit of silence just to drink in the moment or formulate the next thing they're going to say.

That said, Mrs. bonobo and I have had 17 happy, talkative years together and our telephone conversations can still be stilted and weird.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:40 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for normal.
posted by the foreground at 7:30 AM on April 13, 2010

My partner and I, in the early days 17 years ago, had the most amazing sex ever. It was like, "I know your soul, your soul and my soul are intertwining in the most ecstatic union of unions that ever was known."

And then we'd do to dinner and he was kind of a quiet person and I'd think, "huh. We hardly have anything to say to each other..." It was kind of weird. When I told him this recently he said that it had never seemed awkward or weird to him, and he was surprised to hear that it had, to me.

What it was for me, I think, was that I had to get used to his style of conversation. He's a quieter person than I am, doesn't rattle on, doesn't necessarily volunteer a lot. He's happy to listen. It was just that it took us some time to get used to each other's way of talking.

We're still not super-talkative on the phone. I travel without him three or four times a year, and most of our phone conversations during those trips are pretty brief and sometimes awkward. But then there's a long de-briefing when I get home.

(On preview, I am not married to bonobothegreat, but I celebrate the coincidence of 17 happy years. Congrats to bonobothegreat and the Mrs!)
posted by not that girl at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2010

Normal. I hate talking on the phone, whether it's the love of my life or Comcast on the other end.
posted by mezamashii at 8:05 AM on April 13, 2010

I too will add to the 17 yrs. married coincidence (and not with 'not that girl' or 'bonobothegreat'), and also concur that this is normal, even now. But what is different now, is being comfortable with the fact that this difference in communication style, is just that, a difference, and not representative of a 'bigger problem' in the relationship.
posted by kch at 8:07 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

My s/o and I don't talk on the phone much, but when we do, it's usually pretty short. Neither of us are really phone people, so after talking about whatever we need to talk about, it's usually "Whelp, that's my news, guess I'll talk to you later, love you kbye."
posted by craven_morhead at 8:08 AM on April 13, 2010

The stars must have been aligned for all all us awkward conversationalists back in the summer of '93.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:38 AM on April 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Everyone has their bad days when any civil conversation is a chore. But at two months you are still pretty much strangers so any conversation will have to be an exploration. The GF and I have some interesting conversations because we have similar interests in art, culture, politics, and ethics. It is fun to talk about current topics we have interest in explore our opinions of those things.
posted by JJ86 at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2010

Normal, and not a problem unless either or both of you feel it's causing difficulties. Phone conversations are just weird for many people. Mr. Lexica and I have been married for 12 years and are still madly in love with each other, but our phone conversations are so short they're almost telegraphic. We just don't much like phones.

As for feeling that the pauses in in-person conversation are awkward... have you tried mentioning it when it happens? When a pause that feels awkward to you comes up, you could just say something: "Huh, this feels awkward to me. How about you, honey?" Maybe he'll say it does, in which case you can talk about it. Maybe he'll say he feels fine, in which case you could spend some time looking at what signals he's giving that you're interpreting as "awkward, something wrong".

My experience has been that it's often better to explicitly drag out and look at things like that. "Whoa, wait, this conversation is going off the rails and we're both getting upset. Uh. Okay, what's going on? Should we take a break and talk about this later?" It's not exactly comfortable to do, but it's better than the uncertainty of wondering if something's wrong, or trying to guess what I did or said wrong, or any of that kind of interpersonal guessing game.
posted by Lexica at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend you slow things down, and give yourselves time to learn to communicate, before you accidentally move into a depth where strong communication skills are required and you don't have 'em. That includes the ability to feel that silences aren't awkward.
posted by davejay at 11:14 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone; this thread is beautiful. Human nature seems a little "off" when it comes to awkwardness. How exaggeratedly heavy it feels! I'll repeat everyone's suggestion. Awkwardness is a kind of internal pressure. I guess the mutual feeling of awkwardness is itself a source of further awkwardness — a brief pause, you start thinking about awkwardness, before long you're "lost in space." Bring it up! That's how you open the valve! Take this stuff into the shared reality and it'll feel so much less oppressive — not a lurking dragon anymore but something pretty obvious, like hunger — there's no reason you can talk about it like you talk about where to eat.

Maybe you don't have to bring it up while you're both feeling it? Maybe a time when you both feel fantastic could work? You don't have to be very serious about it. Conversations can't always be brilliant. Being together is enough! When you've brought it up, then the next time it happens you have a natural subject to talk about and joke about — which will either fuel the conversation, or you'll just decide to go do something else. It's your adventure, you can be any way you want, you're beyond the social requirement to try to seem pleasantly tip-top in all conversation — accepting that, together, can be really fun and empathic, and a kind of fresh start.

Etc, etc. I'm probably mostly writing this for my own sake. It's not trivial to follow through, but I think it's about getting over a relatively tiny hurdle to open up huge new terrains of empathy. Have fun!
posted by mbrock at 3:42 PM on June 7, 2010

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