Unless I initiate, there's no talking. Is this normal?
December 3, 2011 10:23 AM   Subscribe

I've always had to initiate nearly all [online] conversations I've ever had. I would like to do something about it.

I can have great conversations with people, particularly on the internet. It is admitted the conversations were indeed great. However, unless I initiate the next one, there will be complete and utter silence. There are no inquiries into the events of my life; nothing so small as simply asking how I've been since we hadn't talked for weeks, no easy-to-do follow-up on a previous conversation, no desire to share some developments with me that I may find interesting.

Obviously I can command the attention of someone while communicating in person, but online chatting makes up the bulk of the communication I maintain with acquaintances. I can't quite call people friends if they never bother to initiate. This would be fine with me if it weren't for the fact that, with one exception, this is what happens with most people I try to get to know and talk to.

Is this a problem with me? Given that I'm the most consistent factor in all of these instances, am I doing something to sabotage any desire others might have had to initiate? Am I simply completely socially incompetent? After having a very engaging conversation spanning 4 or 5 hours and then being treated as if I'm not even there the next day, I'm not sure I can even muster the right words to explain this well. Comments, anecdotes, advice, etc. -- anything is welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"the next day"? After a 4-5 hour conversation, is there really that much to say the next day?

Really, though, I wouldn't worry about it. If these people are talking to you for that long, they clearly don't mind that you're initiating the conversation. Maybe they're paranoid about being bothersome.

Or maybe they're busy, or jerks. Maybe they just don't want to talk as often as you do, so they don't go out of their way to do it. It's hard to say.
posted by supercres at 10:31 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Obviously this is a complex situation, but what stands out to me is that you are having 4-5 hour conversations on the internet. If I spend that much time with someone, I generally don't expect to talk to them the next day. We just run out of things to say. I might follow up after bit more time, like two weeks.
posted by steinwald at 10:32 AM on December 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. Are you waiting long enough? If I'd talked to someone for four hours one day, I wouldn't have anything to say the next day.

2. If you always initiate, that's the pattern you've fallen into. They just expect you to drive the conversation.
posted by desjardins at 10:32 AM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personally, I generally dislike chatting online, *especially* with friends. If you're my friend, I want to talk to you in person. Online chatting is generally reserved for my Internet-only friends, and usually not all that significant. Perhaps you just have the expectation that all people love chatting online, whereas your friends may not. Don't judge a friendship based on that.

Also, how often do you expect communication? It sounds like you expect to be in daily communication with people -- many people are much too busy to maintain that level of communication with anyone except for an S.O. -- and even then, more likely a live-in S.O.

And the length of communication -- 4 to 5 hour conversations? That just seems so long to me. And if I did have a conversation that long with a friend, I would probably feel pretty talked-out and like I didn't have much to say for a while.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why don't you try explicitly asking your friend to initiate the next conversation? As things are winding down, you could say something like "Well, it's been great talking with you. I'd love to hear from you again. Why don't you send me a message when there are new developments/ when you have time to chat again/ etc." Then wait. If they want to talk to you, they will.
posted by steinwald at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Can you follow up with a mod to clarify, are these people you know in real life (and if so, how do you know them and how well), or are these people you meet online and are hoping to develop friendships with?

If these are people you met online, a lot of people come online looking for one-off conversations, so they may or may not be interested in talking with you further. If these are your real-life friends, consider that those who can see you regularly might prefer to do that. I'm not a big online or phone chatter. I'd rather just get together. If these are friends who live far away, a lot of people just aren't good at keeping up with long-distance friends. I tend to talk with my long-distance friends online or on the phone for a couple of hours once or twice a year, and basically never communicate with them beyond that. That means that it isn't about you, it's about the fact that many, many people tend to let friendships lapse when they live far apart.
posted by decathecting at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2011

I think some of this is also that it's really easy to fall into a pattern where one person is always the initiator of chatting, regardless of other circumstances. I IM with a lot of people throughout the day, while we're all at work in different places, and I probably initiate like 20% of the time. It's not because I don't love my friends or really like talking to them, but just because this is the habit (also, I'm usually really busy at work). You sound really chatty and also like you have trained these people (unintentionally) into expecting you to be the one to make contact. I don't know a lot of the deets here, obviously, but if this is one of those situations - where they are people you know off-line and they're otherwise cool, I really wouldn't waste my energy worrying about this. You have NO IDEA what is happening on the other end of the computer whilst you're sitting there waiting for them to chat with you, and the likihood is, whatever it is, it probably has nothing to do with you (which is a good thing). Do these people ask how you are and whatnot when you DO initiate? Is it otherwise a normal convo? I'd not worry about it if so. You are probably just the...alpha dog, conversationally. That's not a bad thing.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 10:51 AM on December 3, 2011

I have very long, engrossing, enriching conversations with people online as well. I have a whole spectrum of different types of internet friends, ones that bridge the gap to real life friends all the way to random people I've had one chat with that one time and they never made it off my buddy list, through people who I used to chat with daily and haven't said a word in years. My life would be completely unrecognizable without internet chats.

The thing of it is though, it drives me up the wall to make smalltalk with people online. I either have something to talk about, or I don't. It can be just small daily topics of discussion, sure, but if I've had a long conversation with someone who isn't a coworker and they want to talk to me the next day, unless I have something new to discuss, I get really annoyed by them. And sometimes, yeah, I just get chatted out.

I assume other people are equally annoyed by "hi what's up" IMs out of the blue, most particularly because I know a large handful of people who are constantly in invisible mode on gtalk so they don't get smalltalked to death by people when they appear to be online. I've managed to nip this behavior in the bud with the people who do that to me by flat out not responding when they don't have a non-smalltalk topic within the first few IMs. I will ask "did you have something you wanted to talk to me about?" straight out of the gate, and if there is any equivocating I either just drift off and stop responding or I make something up like "sorry, busy right now." and never get back to them. That doesn't mean I don't ever want to talk again. If I have something to say or ask that's relevant to that person I'll initiate a chat again, maybe only a day or hour later, but sometimes months go by. I'm definitely way more agressive about this than most people seem to be? I've seen utterly dull smalltalk IM conversation logs pile up and up and up for other people; this is what drives them to invisible mode.

Sure, if I'm really intrigued by a person or inspired by something, we can have daily chats and emails lasting hours at a time, but that sort of thing never lasts for more than a few days at most. People have lives to get back to. When people are online, they're not just there to talk. The internet isn't always a happy hour bar sort of situation. You might be getting ignored because they simply have too many cat videos to watch or something.

You also might be kind of forgettable? Try not to be offended by the suggestion, but even if you've had a really enriching conversation with someone it doesn't mean that they will be thinking of you even a few days later if the only thing reminding them you exist is your handle floating on a buddy list somewhere.

My suggestion is to establish a little place for yourself online, like a blog or just a little website with things that you make or like on it. That way, people can find you via mutual interest, and when you make updates, it's like you're giving them a topic to talk to you about, without you being the one to really initiate. Also you might explore slower forms of communication, like long form email, or even actual letter writing. The longer it takes to communicate, the more emphasis is placed on the quality of conversation and the less on its frequency.
posted by Mizu at 11:05 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing to keep in mind when speaking of online conversations... Some of these people may not be aware that you are online and available to chat. I hardly ever look at my chat programs to find someone to chat with and therefore never initiate conversations. You simply might be more aware of who is online than they are. They might not ignoring you, they might might see you there until your chat screen pops up on their monitor.

Just a thought.
posted by patheral at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2011

Your question reminds me of this previous question: friends are not as responsive to my emails as I would like; why? Some of the answers there might be useful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 AM on December 3, 2011

Hm. I have friends who I only talk to on the phone once every couple of weeks, because sometimes we don't see each other for months. And that's a half hour conversation, at most. And then I have no need to contact them the next day, or even 2 days later, even though I consider them close friends, because another phone call so soon after a catch-up conversation would just be polite small talk. So unless you're being ignored by friends who you see often and they just don't bother IMing you to say something relating to what you guys do in real life (for example: "hey, tomorrow night will be awesome, don't forget to invite ___"), remember that most people have things to do and want to avoid small talk when you've already had a long conversation yesterday and nothing new happened.

And yes, some days people have the time to chat online for 4 hours. Most days people don't. So they don't want to start a conversation when they know they have to go in a few minutes.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you may be wearing out your welcome with these long, involved online discussions. I wouldn't want to initiate a conversation with you the next day, either--I'd feel talked out after 4 hours. Plus, I think I'd want to either pick up the phone or (more likely) meet in person if I had something serious to discuss and that kind of time to spare. It's great that you are interested in others' lives and try to keep up with them, but you might be a little TOO available.

I think you need to adopt a new strategy if you want them to initiate discussions on your life. Remind yourself that sometimes you should leave 'em wanting more. Save some stuff for next time, so that they will WANT to contact you.

Try purposely cutting your next online conversation short instead of just dwindling down to nothing left to say. And end on an upnote, something like, "Oh, and next time, remind me to tell you about that time with the ninjas and the hotdog guy on the roof of the World Trade Center! I was thinking about you the whole time...anyway, this was fun, talk to you later!"
posted by misha at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get several verbose pen pals and exchange lengthy missives back and forth, with all of them going at the same time.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 1:49 PM on December 3, 2011

After having a very engaging conversation spanning 4 or 5 hours and then being treated as if I'm not even there the next day, I'm not sure I can even muster the right words to explain this well.

Without reading the other replies --- 4 to 5 hours would be way, way too much for me and probably for most other people. I like online chatting and I would be really antsy after ONE hour even if you were super fascinating and awesome. Four to 5 hours would be actually draining for me. I probably wouldn't want to do that again for a month, certainly not the next day.

Not only that, people have things to do. I do not think that most people who are full time in school or a job, have real life friends, pets, and chores to do, have time to spend that many hours in a row just talking to one person online.

I suspect might be going on here is after that 5 hour long mother of a conversation, people might be avoiding you. Because if they start talking to you, there goes the rest of their afternoon. People may think that if they start talking to you they will get trapped into something they don't have the time, energy or interest for.

But maybe they would be interested in having shorter conversations with you. If I were you, I would try an experiment. Limit yourself to half an hour in these chats. No matter what. No matter how amazingly they are going. And before you embark on one, ask the person what they are up to. If they say not much, then go for it. If they start mentioning things that they are trying to get done, don't try to chat with them at all then and wait for another time.
posted by cairdeas at 3:50 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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