My girlfriend is quiet
June 26, 2011 10:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm chatty. She is quiet. What do I do?

I've been dating a girl for a couple months now. We're exclusive and intimate, and things are generally going well. But she is a quiet type. Flowing conversations are important to me, and it's to the point where I don't really look forward to dinners or car rides with her, because there's a lot of dead air. We have fun doing activities together, but when the activity is done, and it's just us, the conversation is dry.

I've tried a bunch of different things. I've tried letting the pauses last longer, as she may be more comfortable with longer lengths of silence than I am, and that did get her to talk a little bit more. I also tried asking her questions like, "What do you think?" and she pipes up a little bit more. But I don't feel like it's enough.

I think she's as smart if not smarter than me, so I don't think I'm talking over her head. And she seems interested in what I have to say, and listens well, but I think she is modest, and doesn't feel the need to chime in unless she knows the subject really well. I tend to enjoy being an armchair philosopher about all sorts of subjects, and love moving from topic to topic, whether or not I'm an expert.

I'm not sure what else I can do.

Should I break-up? Good conversation is really important in my friendships, and I have trouble seeing this lasting a long time if we don't have a solid conversational rapport. On the other hand, we've been together for a while now, so I figure it's not the kind of thing I just throw my hands up and eject over, but rather something I just watch and let play out for a while.

Should I talk to her about it? I feel like I'd be putting a lot of pressure on her if I did. I wouldn't even know how to frame it. Would I say, "I sometimes feel like there's a lot of dead air when we're just hanging out," or would I say, "I feel like our conversations are lacking," or "Are you kind of a quiet person?" Or "I want you to talk more." I really don't know if there's a way that I can say it without coming off like a master who is upset at his subject's performance. If I said, "sometimes I feel like you're not interested in what I have to say," it seems like I'm slapping her in the face.

Should I try more tricks? I've tried a handful of them, like not moving around topically as much. But maybe there's some magic ones I don't know about.

Should I just wait? Maybe after a couple months, we'll click conversationally? Or is that just wishful thinking. I could see her possibly getting more and more comfortable around me?

The first couple weeks we were dating, I didn't notice her quietness as much, I think maybe because we were just so excited to know each other, and compare our interests to see what we have in common.
posted by pauldonato to Human Relations (44 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Are you happy (with her)?
posted by halogen at 11:01 PM on June 26, 2011

Would you be happier with someone else more talkative, or with not-so-talkative her?
posted by cp311 at 11:08 PM on June 26, 2011

She's comfortable with silence, you aren't. Sounds like you both need to compromise. You need to learn that silence isn't always negative feedback, and she needs to learn that you need perhaps a bit more attention than you are getting.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:09 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think she is modest, and doesn't feel the need to chime in unless she knows the subject really well.

This is a feature, not a bug.

This sounds like your problem, not hers. Learn to enjoy what Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction calls the comfortable silences and just enjoy being around her physically and peacefully.
posted by mreleganza at 11:10 PM on June 26, 2011 [44 favorites]

There is nothing wrong with her. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with you deciding that you and she just don't 'click' because of this.

I'm quiet. I can have long conversations, sure, and I love to listen.. But I'm also pretty content to just be quiet. My SO and I had a two hour drive today, and we spent most of it in silence. No good reason for it -- we just didn't have much to say. I was happy. If your girlfriend is like me in this regard, then chances are you're out of luck. If it really bothers you that much to have quiet times, then this may not be a match made in heaven.

All the same, however, I think you should seriously consider the answer to halogen's question. You seem more perturbed by the general value of conversation and how it fits into your life rather than the specific nature of any particular interaction with her.
posted by meese at 11:12 PM on June 26, 2011 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: @halogen, I'm happy with her, but not emphatically so. I don't feel like my current level of happiness, if it stays this way, is enough to justify our closeness for an extended period of time.

@meese, I'm not sure I understand your last sentence. I come away from dinners and car rides bored, and then I wonder why. And then I think about how much my other friendships involve so much conversation

@cp311, I'd be happier with someone who I felt engaged with when we have dinners and car rides.
posted by pauldonato at 11:17 PM on June 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is really up to you to decide. Do your feelings for her outway her not talking enough for you?

Should I talk to her about it?

All of your questions in that paragraph - don't under any circumstances ask any of them.

Can you help her talk to you - yes, you can ask her questions directly. Not - what do you think of that/this, but direct questions.

Yes, if conversation is important to you, you will need to direct it. You can't sit back and wait for her to talk to you because she appears to be perfectly happy with the silence.
posted by mleigh at 11:19 PM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't think there's going to be much you can do here to get her to change and become more talkative during these conversations. Whether or not you stay with her depends on how much this bothers you. If it is enough that you think you can't take it any longer, then I think you should bring it up and communicate your feelings regarding this matter with her before you decide to do break up or anything like that.
posted by stevenstevo at 11:19 PM on June 26, 2011

You can talk to her about it without making demands. Yes, there might still be pressure on her, but, well, what else is new? People in relationships make compromises. Or they don't make compromises and they break up.

You're not insisting that she talk to you about philosophy or you'll kill her cat, you're telling her what you want in a relationship. If you're open to her also telling you what she wants (the ability to sometimes sit in companionable silence without filling the dead air, perhaps), then the conversation should be healthy and appropriate. And if the end result is that she can't or doesn't want to be the person you want to be with, then you break up.

Don't approach it from the perspective that you are right and normal and she is wrong or defective. She is just as normal as you, and a lot of people would find the kind of endless, non-expert chatter you describe to be bullshit.

Don't try 'tricks'. I know you don't meant tricks, exactly, more conversational techniques or approaches, but framing it that way makes it sound really terrible.

But honestly, based on the way you describe things? You're just not that into her.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:22 PM on June 26, 2011 [12 favorites]

Is it possible that you are a mansplainer? Or that your preferred conversational style is more prone to bold claims and argumentation, whereas she prefers a more meaningful, nurturing connection? Maybe she is, at this very moment, wondering what to do about her annoying boyfriend who just won't shut up. Does she seem bored when you talk, or bored when you don't talk?

Also, it is weird to use conversational tricks on people who you genuinely like/love. Sounds suspiciously similar to the art of the neg.
posted by acidic at 11:25 PM on June 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm quiet. My boyfriend would like me to be more talkative in general. I'm just not built that way, though. When I feel like there's actually something to talk about or say, I'm happy to talk about it, but I have zero interest in chatting just for the sake of filling space. And it's OK. When he's feeling chatty, he calls his brother or something. He doesn't walk around getting bent out of shape about it.

And it doesn't have to be a shyness/introversion thing, you know. Some people just don't feel the need to fill the air with (what seems to them) trivial and pointless blather.

Just break up with her. Chances are if you're not emphatically happy when she's riding along next to you in a car not talking, you're not going to be emphatically happy when she gets food poisoning and has diarrhea for a week straight or breaks her leg and can't go out and do those fun activities for a while. Or any of the other myriad annoyances and problems that life throws at you.

Let her find someone who likes her for who she is and doesn't feel the need to change her or "trick" her into talking more. And you can go find someone chatty.
posted by phunniemee at 12:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [18 favorites]

I'm happily in a relationship with someone quiet, and I'm very talkative. After many years, the quantity hasn't gone up much, but the quality went way up, so the quiet doesn't bother me much anymore. Three things have really helped:
1. After just a couple months of couples therapy, we now communicate really well about what really matters. We can process all the important stuff that happens in a day. So, we don't have more conversations than we did before, but the ones we do have are better. This took the pressure off the situation. The quiet periods used to potentially mean scary things like "I'm alone in the world." They don't mean that anymore, because I now know that we'll connect once the time is right. They went from meaning something bad, to being neutral, the way it's neutral that I don't talk to anyone when I'm riding my bike.
2. After that happened, we came to be able to communicate about our communication styles. I can say "oh no, I'm approaching a critical shortage of chit-chat!" Or he can say "I'm still doing math problems in my head. let me catch up with you in an hour." Before, when I tried to start a conversation and he couldn't talk, I'd feel unseen, or worse, rejected. Hearing someone say, essentially, "I can see that you would like to talk, but I cannot talk now, so let's talk in an hour" solves all of that.
3. Time has helped. We've developed a bunch of standby inside jokes that are easy banter even when he's too tired to really talk talk.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes it's still a little hard for me. Sometimes I have to go hang out with friends. I listen to a lot of podcasts.

Talking about this with her could help. I'd have your goal be simply to daylight the issues of what goes on for you and for her in your conversations. Beforehand, you might get in touch with why her quietness bothers you (what do you feel? ...rejected? surfacing anxiety?). Then in the discussion, try to understand what your conversations are like from both perspectives. Get yourself curious about this topic, then ask questions. (What are the conversations like for her? Sometimes you feel like she'd like it more quiet, does the talking bother her? What is the quiet like for her? Is she doing math problems in her head or sitting there too shy to talk or...?) Have the comments you make not be about her quietness, but about you, your tendency to want conversation, and how you feel when it's quiet.

Also, geez you guys, lay off on the "tricks" bit. It's more like "tactics." He's asking, "is it likely to help if I change my own behavior?" OP, I don't think so, but the best way to find out would be to learn more about how she likes conversations to go.
posted by salvia at 12:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [12 favorites]

I'll keep this simple.

One or more of these will happen:
A. You are going to be annoyed by this forever.
B. She will change.
C. You'll grow to appreciate the silence.

I'm an extremely extroverted person with someone like you describe and it makes me constantly search for people to talk to. It makes long drives sort of boring but I get to sing to music the whole time.
We've been together 10 years.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:30 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

One "trick" to being a good conversationalist is caring about the person you're talking to. Pauses and turn-taking are important, sure, but open-ended questions about stuff she's already interested in are better. Listening and letting her interests open some world for you could be great. Maybe she needs someone who cares about the same things she does.

But if this does boil down to her being quiet and you needing conversation, it's good that you've figured out that's a critical relationship need for you. Just respect that she probably has hidden depths not easily shared and move on.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:34 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm one of these, and i've dated chatty people who were not ok with my silence. We'd try to make it not a big deal, but they always asked me to do the impossible, and that never ended well. Asking her to talk more, in any general form, will not work. I cannot come up with something to talk about on command. My mind just goes blank. I talk when I have something to say. I can't/won't/don't do small talk. The only way to get her/me to talk more is to talk about things that she/I has something to say about. I am not a trained monkey. I do not perform for anyone's amusement.

On preview, if you want this to work, follow Monsieur Caution's advice.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:38 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wanted to comment because, hi, I am pretty much your girlfriend.

I suffer from frustratingly bad anxiety (when it comes to men I like) and I was really quiet and seemingly unengaged around my (ex)boyfriend. The thing was... I ADORED my boyfriend. I loved learning more about him and what were his opinions and thoughts about things, but, because of my anxiety, I got so nervous when we were alone that I sometimes couldn't even think clearly let alone speak that much. On top of that, it usually takes me a long while to be truly comfortable around someone that I don't know that well. So I can see how it might be frustrating for you (because I certainly was frustrated with myself).

If anything I suggest talking to your girlfriend about it. Nothing accusatory, just maybe something like "hey, I noticed that you've been really quiet lately, everything OK with you?". Maybe she is stressed at work, family has been irritating her, heck, maybe she is depressed. Or maybe she is just naturally quiet and you two are just incompatible.

You don't know unless you talk to her! :)

Also, on preview, everything that salvia said as well.
posted by littlesq at 12:39 AM on June 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

My brother-in-law is quiet; his wife is extremely chatty. My husband is quiet; I'm a talker. Both couples have found different ways of navigating this.

In the case of my brother-in-law and his wife, she talks, he listens, and his occasional input is sufficient for her.

In my case, I talk less than I used to, I elicit responses from my husband when the subject is important and his responses are insufficient, and I fulfill my need for long-drawn, meandering conversation by talking to other people. I should say that he also talks more than he used to.

Both couples are pretty satisfied with these different solutions.

BUT, I don't think either of us wives would say that we find our husband's company boring. That, to me, is a sign that this relationship isn't going anywhere. Conversational styles can evolve, but they aren't going to magically create your interest in each other.
posted by bardophile at 1:10 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Actually, there is a recent article in Oprah's on how women could benefit from learning to be more the silent types: "the beautiful air around us is rarely improved by the sound of words, and if you're not improving on silence, why talk". Maybe the insight is non-gender specific.
posted by Jurate at 1:25 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is going to be hard no matter how you do it. This talk will be hard. But so will breaking up, so I'd be inclined to putting the effort into talking about it before pulling the plug.

Talk about yourself, not her. "When you get really quiet, I don't know what that means. I don't know if it means you're bored, or too anxious to relax with me, or if it's just part of your more introverted personality. Can you help me understand how this works?"
posted by DarlingBri at 2:09 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might look over a question you asked several years ago, and compare/contrast it with today's question to find insight.

If you are still doing the debating-style of conversation, you might switch to non-debate. I dated a guy who loved debating, and it was exhausting. He was not happy until he "won," and once I figured that out, I let him win quickly by quietly agreeing.
posted by Houstonian at 2:12 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't really look forward to dinners or car rides with her, because there's a lot of dead air

You're not compatible.
posted by the noob at 3:28 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't really look forward to dinners or car rides with her, because there's a lot of dead air...
the conversation is dry...
Good conversation is really important in my friendships, and I have trouble seeing this lasting a long time if we don't have a solid conversational rapport...

It sounds like you are just seeking permission to break up. I don't think this has to be viewed as a failing on her part or too high expectations on your part. Talkative and non-talkative people can work (as many people in this thread show), you guys just aren't one of those couples.
posted by like_neon at 3:38 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's certainly such a thing as joyful, meaningful, enthralling silence in a conversation. But I think achieving something like that depends a lot on the quality of the bond with one's partner. If you're experiencing this as boring, then chances are you're just not clicking the way you should, and that's a pretty good sign about the long-term future of the relationship.
posted by Bardolph at 4:30 AM on June 27, 2011

You've been dating two months and you are bored by her and don't enjoy talking with her.

You're exclusive and having sex and have been dating for two months, so it's not like this is just first-date jitters. Let her go. Find someone you click with.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:01 AM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

If she's shy (or just wary/slow to trust people) it's possible she will open up over time. If she's introverted and/or quiet, she won't - she's happy the way she is and probably not able to be any different without a lot of effort and fakery that will lead to resentment.

But you probably didn't intend it, but this question is phrased in a strange way. It reads as if you see her as deficient, as having some sort of problem. Or maybe like she's a bright child or a puppy, whose behavior you can subtly influence or manipulate in order to help her. Again, I don't think you meant it to be, just that a) if she gets the sense you think she's lacking somehow, that could make her less comfortable around you, and b) maybe you're just not that compatible.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:12 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

A lot of people are saying that things are quiet because she is a "quiet person by nature", but I think it also might be a (lack of) chemistry thing. I am very introverted by nature, and am quiet if I am uncomfortable, tired, or have nothing to say to a particular person,b ut around people with whom I have lots of chemistry, and am comfortable, the conversation seems to go on for days. And I really value conversation in relationships and would not want to be with someone I couldn't talk to, because to me this signifies lack of chemistry. And when I want to be quiet and not talk, if the chemistry is right, the other person will usually understand, even if they are an extrovert.

To me, this sounds like there's something off between the communication and/or chemistry between you two.
posted by bearette at 6:07 AM on June 27, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think you should say something to her and give her a chance to act on it, before deciding to break it off. Sometimes people don't realize how their behavior is perceived. I dated a very take-charge guy a few years ago, and I was happy to let him plan things and even to some extent direct the conversation because that was what he seemed to enjoy. One day he came right out and told me that my acquiescence to everything was making him feel like I didn't really care. This was a complete and total surprise to me, and I started taking the initiative in planning things and in conversation a little bit more. It helped a lot.

So maybe if you frame this as "your silence makes me feel like you're not that interested in me and I wonder if that's true" you might get somewhere.

Good luck!
posted by philokalia at 6:26 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't know if you should break up with her or not... I'm a lot like you (love long meandering conversations) and my boyfriend is quieter. Sometimes I say something and he doesn't say anything in response because... he doesn't have anything worthwhile to say! I found this baffling and frustrating for a long time, and still sometimes do, but started to notice that the things he did say, when he does speak, are so thoughtful, are so articulate, and are so meaningful for being said from a deliberate choice to say those things, that they actually stick in my head way more and resonate for much longer than many of those long, rambling conversations I enjoy. There's also a lot of peace together, on a sort of physical level, which I never experienced with the more hyper men I was with before.

I do have to have my long rambling conversations -- one of my favourite things in life -- but I don't have them with him; I have them with my friends. Then I go home and lie in his arms quietly.
posted by Clotilde at 6:33 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could be that your communication styles don't click. Do you have a tendency to jump from subject to subject quickly? She could find it hard to follow your train of thought. Are you one of those people who tends to move the conversation towards topics you find interesting? I find that some of my programming/engineer friends can constantly steer conversations towards subjects I just don't find interesting.

More likely, I think this is a Five Love Languages issue. The website is a bit cheesy and it's focused just towards romantic relationships, but when I expand a bit on the definition, I've found it amazing for relationship help and understanding people, romantic and otherwise.

Different people value different things in their relationships with others, even to the point of having different love languages based upon the type of relationship.

It sounds to me that you are a 'Words' person, maybe not just in a romantic relationship, but in your preferred communication style with other people. 'Words' people build their relationships through deep, meaningful communication and highly value individuals with whom they can talk for hours. If they don't have these conversations, they feel ignored, unwanted, unloved. For you, good conversation is an important part of a relationship and I think it would be best that you find someone with whom you can have those fascinating conversations.

Your girlfriend could be like me in that she's naturally quiet and finds 'Quality Time' as a means by which she values relationships. My husband and I love to go on long road trips and, when we drive, we can go for hours not speaking. I'll scratch the back of his head (he is very 'Physical Touch' when it comes to romantic relationships), but we won't otherwise interact. For me, those moments are extremely intimate. I can't easily explain to you why the silence is so intimate, other than I know my relationships are solid when I don't have a need to feel the silence. This doesn't mean that we don't have moments of long, fascinating conversations and that I don't need good conversation, it just means that doing something with my husband is more important to me and makes me feel loved.

It's possible to find compromise with individuals who have different Love/Relationship languages. In my last job, I spent 12-13 hours a day with one other person in the middle of nowhere. I loved being with the other non-Words people because I enjoyed the quiet and could spend nearly an entire day without speaking. As we tend to speak more in the beginning of a relationship, I find that the 'Words' people don't become exhausting or too talkative immediately, but after we've spent some time together. Initially, there's so much we want to know about each other that I'm talking up a storm. After we've exhausted all the intro conversation, they want to keep talking and I can often find that draining. I know, based on the Love/Relationship languages that it's important to them, so I use various tricks to help us find compromise, such as asking questions as "If you were a type of ___, what would you be?" and a lot of "Why's".

That being said, a non-romantic relationship requires a different level of commitment and involvement than a romantic relationship. Since you two are so young and you feel bored, I'd suggest breaking up and finding someone who shares this important communication style.

If you do want to continue this relationship, you'll have to both respect each other's Love Languages. For example, in romantic relationships, my husband is Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch while I am Quality Time and Acts of Service. Once we realized this, our relationship improved dramatically. I've learned that calling him 'baby' or saying 'I miss you' means the world to him. He's learned that cleaning the bathroom or cooking will make me feel more loved than all the "You're beautiful"/"I love you"/etc in the world. Explain your Love Language to your girlfriend and find out hers. She may not know it at first. I find that in things of this nature, we may think that we want one thing, but then, over time, we come to realize that something else is more important. As in, you may not be a 'Words' person at all. You just could appear to be a 'Words' person because your girlfriend is a horrible conversation partner and engaging her is like trying to pull teeth.

That being said, I find it's rather difficult to change a 'Words' person into a non-'Words' person and vice versa. Some non-'Words' appearing people are only quiet to the majority of people, but have vast conversations with the rare individual with whom they 'click'. I think you'll also find, as other posters have noted, that you'll need to get some of your conversation need filled from people outside of your relationship. As a quiet person, I need my quiet time. I couldn't give you what you needed. If you could get good conversation outside of this relationship, would you still want to remain with her? Or is your romantic Love Language so strong, it's a need for you? There's nothing wrong with breaking up with a person who doesn't fit your Love Language. It's such an important part of a relationship, if not the most important part.
posted by avagoyle at 6:45 AM on June 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I've come to feel like enjoying the down-time together is one of the most important things (to me) in a long-term relationship. Whatever else we don't have in common, I'll always enjoy a long car ride, walk, dinner, wait at the vet's office, etc. with my boyfriend because we just enjoy talking to each other. And I'm a pretty quiet person in general, he just happens to be someone I'm totally comfortable with in this way.

I think it's a little odd that so many people here are equating conversation with pointless blather. My experience is that we enjoy talking to each other because we're both interested in a lot of things, we read a lot, and we like talking with each other about them. We don't talk just to fill space; silence is lovely and fine when it happens too.

I would agree that it sounds like you guys just aren't compatible, but there's a chance that she just needs some time to warm up to you, and maybe a little encouragement would make her feel like it's less of a risk. I'd talk to her about it - gently of course, but what is there to lose in saying "I'm interested in hearing what you have to say sometimes"? One thing that's useful for my boyfriend and I is that we share articles and online stuff with each other a lot - that's an automatic thing to talk about later, because of course you want to find out what the other person's take is.
posted by ella wren at 6:50 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

It may not be about conversation at all. How do you feel when she's quiet? For example, do you feel she's withholding from you? Keeping secret? Being critical? Not appreciating what you said? Feeling superior? Making you feel that you're aggressive or scary?

So called conversation is usually about much more than the content of what is (or isn't) being said.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:25 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're having sex but she needs time to warm up to you to make conversation? Something's way off.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:27 AM on June 27, 2011

I really don't know if there's a way that I can say it without coming off like a master who is upset at his subject's performance.

When my boyfriend talked to me about his similar feelings, I felt like he was telling me I was responsible for his entertainment and was failing to keep him entertained. He tried hard to be tactful, and I tried hard not to interpret what he was saying uncharitably, but I kept coming back to this feeling. It definitely made things worse, as feeling under pressure to "perform" made me self-conscious about speaking up even when I did have things to say!

If I said, "sometimes I feel like you're not interested in what I have to say," it seems like I'm slapping her in the face.

Actually, if you want to talk to her I think this is the right way to go. Explain that you're worried that she's quiet because she's finding you boring. BUT: if you want to have this conversation, you need to be open to finding out that the answer is that in fact sometime's she's not interested in what you have to say, because much of what you have to say is just you bullshitting about topics you don't know much about. Some people like that kind of conversation, some people don't. Be ready to deal with that realization gracefully if that's what's going on. It's okay to end up deciding you're not compatible! Pay attention to the above comments saying that you're coming across as thinking she's somehow deficient, though. It may not be the case at all, but if you're conveying that in your question you'll probably also convey it in any discussion you have with her unless you're careful.

Given what you say about your love of armchair philosophizing and her preference to not say much if she doesn't feel well-versed in the topic, one strategy you might consider is reading something together. This will give you fodder for conversation where she feels like she's got some basis to comment.
posted by ootandaboot at 8:11 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's okay to be quiet, but it doesn't sound like you're happy with someone that's quiet. Sure, you can talk to her about it, but it really does sound like you just. don't. click. And that's okay! Some of my best friends are like this – and even I am, sometimes – but I would not be comfortable in a relationship where silences meandered into awkwardness. I make a strong distinction between "uncomfortable silences" (which it sounds like these are) and "silences of familiarity." It's just different communication styles, but it sounds like yours and hers simply don't click.
posted by good day merlock at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend is much quieter than I am. I compensate for the quietness with a couple of things. On long car trips, I have a terrible habit of keeping a running commentary going ... reading signs, pointing out cows, counting the number of dead raccoons out loud. I keep a notebook with me (as long as I'm not driving), and write some of those things down. I can internally notice stuff without making sure everybody else notices it, unless it's especially often. And when I'm driving, he just has to deal with it :-P We really like doing crossword puzzles, too, so we bring a few crossword puzzles with us to a restaurant or something so we can work on them while waiting for food, stuff like that. I get self-conscious when I look around and notice other people engaged in conversation, but it works out OK. And we try to do "experiential" things that don't mean we have to be sitting somewhere having sparkling conversation.

The most important thing for me was to realize that when he was quiet, it probably was not My Fault, nor was it a commentary on the quality of our relationship. He doesn't initiate conversation the majority of the time - but when he does, it's something interesting, something he feels strongly about, something silly, whatever. I've learned that I have a tendency to get nervous in quietness and can try to say something - anything - to feel that gap. But if I keep quiet for a while, something might come out. Or, alternately, I'll be hanging out quietly with the guy I love! I'm trying to remind myself that this is not a commentary on his feelings about me. I know that he loves me and when we're sitting quietly together at a restaurant, it's not because he thinks I'm unworthy of conversation or too boring to talk with. It's just that he doesn't feel like something needs to be said at any given time.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:14 AM on June 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that you are a mansplainer? Or that your preferred conversational style is more prone to bold claims and argumentation, whereas she prefers a more meaningful, nurturing connection? Maybe she is, at this very moment, wondering what to do about her annoying boyfriend who just won't shut up. Does she seem bored when you talk, or bored when you don't talk?

This is another thing to consider. I have no idea whether this applies in your case, but a lot of people don't seem to notice gendered conversation styles that many people have been socialized into. Men often dominate conversations and tend to use more overt means of gaining control of the flow, as it were, by interrupting or not allowing others the opportunity to join in. And many women are hesitant to do the same in order to gain greater access to the conversation. It's more obvious in group settings, but I can tell you that a guy who does this on one-on-one conversation may end up hearing a lot of silence, even with people like me. And I am an annoyingly bold and talkative conversationalist.
posted by vivid postcard at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2011

Is it possible that you are an only child/eldest child and your girlfriend is from a family with multiple siblings/loud parents? If so, she is likely used to speaking less frequently than you are. Or, it's possible that she takes longer to think of an appropriate response than you do and is carefully weighing her words (as you're in a fairly new relationship) so she doesn't blurt out anything embarrassing or that could be construed as combative.

Maybe the last guy she dated dominated their conversations and interrupted her a lot. Unless you've asked her, you don't know.

Here's a good way to broach the subject: "You know, I'm a pretty chatty person by nature. I'm worried that I might be dominating every conversation or blathering just to fill the silence in our conversations when we're alone, because that's what I do when I'm nervous. I know we haven't been dating very long, but I'd like to break that pattern so I can learn more about YOU -- especially when we're eating a meal alone or in the car together. I'd love it if you'd share something about yourself the next time that happens, if you're comfortable. It would help me learn how to be a better listener, too. And if you just don't feel like talking then, that's fine -- but if I start rambling on and it's bothering you, please tell me, because in my mind I naturally think silence indicates the person I'm with is bored and then I feel compelled to try and become Mr. Entertainer."

It's not just her silence that's the issue here, it's your need to fill it, too. And she might want to talk a lot more than she's doing now, but there's a reason why she hasn't yet - why not motivate her to open up by admitting your own honesty and vulnerability instead of "ding" training her with conversational tactics? You never know until you ask!

And hey, if nothing changes and you break up after that, at least you'll both know why: you're not compatible. Being honest about something that's bothering you instead of expecting someone to read your mind is Relationship 101.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

To me, if you don't enjoy just being with her you shouldn't be with her. If she's acceptable only if she's chatty enough or talkative enough — well, your "enough" is obviously not her "enough", and as an introvert who tends not to be chatty I'm inclined to say the problem is with your inability to deal with silence, not with her inability to have a conversation.

I'm an introvert married to an extravert. If he expected me to keep up with his chatter, we'd have broken up years ago instead of today being our thirteenth anniversary.

Sometimes being around him is like having the neighbor kid bouncing a ball against the side of the garage again and again and again and again and again and again and again. After a while, I say "Sweetie, shut up."

Him: "Shut up? I can shut up. You don't think I'm the kind to keep blabbin' when I'm told to shut up, do you? Some people never know when to stop. When I'm told to shut up, I—"


Him: *wide grin* *silently mimes "I love you"*

posted by Lexica at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2011

I'd find a friend (not her) that you trust to tell you the unvarnished truth, and ask him or her whether you tend to talk too much, whether you interrupt people, whether you correct people, and whether you're sometimes intimidating.

If the answer to all of these is no, then break up with her, she's not your type.
posted by desjardins at 1:51 PM on June 27, 2011

Response by poster: Based on this thread, it seems like 50% are in favor of talking to her about it and 50% are not. I think a couple things resonated with me, that put me in the "not" category (at least not this early, maybe as a last resort)

She has mentioned she has a dominating father who argues and verbally abuses her mother a lot. I also get the feeling she adores me a ton, and she told me that she has struggled with shyness before. I'd lean toward not saying anything, because yeah, that's already piling on the pressure and only going to make things harder for her.

I started talking less a long time ago, in order to give her more space to talk, and that helped initially, but I wonder if now that's adding to the uncomfortableness and shyness.

I hadn't even really considered the alternative of accepting the quietude. I used to look with disdain at old couples sitting at a table, not talking to each other, and reading the newspaper. Both my parents are very chatty with each other and with me, and I grew up with a certain idea of how conversational a relationship should be.

On the other hand, I've read things showing often how important conversation is in relationships, just as much as any form of communication.

So I'm probably going to see how much I can accept, maybe see if I can remove the pressure from her to talk.

I may also try things like asking direct questions after I go on a long rant about something. I enjoy silence and there's a lot of introverted aspects to me. But I think what bugs me is if I bring up a topic, spout 4-5 lines on it, to me that's the beginning of a conversation, not the end, and so I want feedback and participation.

Regarding the much-lauded mansplaining comment

Just to clarify, I do not interpret her responses as expressions of disinterest or boredom. Nor do I mansplain things to her. I did do more conversation-interrupting earlier in the relationship, but I've toned that down in order to get her to open up more. I also have an objective/cold/mechanical/evopsych mind-map of relationships, and so when I open up and explain it in text, it may come across like I'm a douchebag. You have every right to interpret what I say however you want, but the mansplaining suggestion (and how it was presented) was offensive and gender-insensitive.
posted by pauldonato at 4:14 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

But I think what bugs me is if I bring up a topic, spout 4-5 lines on it, to me that's the beginning of a conversation, not the end, and so I want feedback and participation.

This is the problem. You want her to talk about what you want to talk about, instead of talking about what she wants to talk about.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:17 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

objective/cold/mechanical/evopsych mind-map of relationships

What I'd most be on guard against is the sense of being able to manipulate things. I'm a theory-builder too, and it took forever for me to get back in a more humble place. Your backing off of the "tricks" is a good one, next back off
posted by salvia at 12:03 AM on June 28, 2011

Whoops, didn't mean to hit post. But my basic point was that the less you assume you know and especially the less you assume that your knowledge will let you predict cause-effect relationships (if I do this, she'll do that), the better.
posted by salvia at 12:27 AM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

@littlesq - Hi, I wanted to comment because, hi, I am pretty much you :) I could have written your post myself. It actually pained me a little to read it, because I'm going through this situation (again) right now.

@pauldonato - I'm really late to this thread and couldn't have added much to all the advice you've already received, but just want to say I'm so glad you decided to give this girl a chance for a bit longer. As you can see, I definitely sympathize with her (and with you; awkwardness sucks for everyone involved). Good luck and keep us posted, I would love to know how this works out!
posted by mhm407 at 5:39 PM on June 29, 2011

« Older Looking for East Bay Regional Park posters of a...   |   Where to buy Asian-style sleep pad? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.