What to do about a lack of curiosity in a relationship?
January 21, 2013 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I love my girlfriend. However, she's not curious, and so we don't have discussions. I don't know what to do about it, as it's rapidly starting to affect my feelings towards her.

I've been dating my girlfriend for almost a year (we're both mid-20s), and we've been exclusive for about 8 months. She's wonderful - emotionally supportive, understanding, kind, friendly, and we're incredibly physically/sexually compatible. We're good at communicating our desires and frustrations.

However, there's one frustration that I don't know what to do about -- she's not that curious. I don't mean 'not intellectual', or 'not smart'. I mean that she's not the type of person to ask questions, to try to understand things further, etc. She's interested in listening to me talk about things, and is a receptive listener, but she won't ask me questions, or further engage me in a dialogue or discussion. This makes me feel like I'm forcing my ideas onto another person in a monologue, which I hate, so I end up shutting myself up altogether.


I really like people who are excited about the things they like, and who become super into their own desires and interests. For example, I once met a security guard at a building who started explaining to me his interest in coin collecting, and soon realized that he had a super high degree of knowledge about terminology, history, numismatics, the manufacturing process, the different groups of people involved in authenticating and trading coins, etc. I came away with a great deal of respect for him in the process.

It makes me feel alive, rejuvenated, and utterly happy to be engaged in a really healthy, positive discussion or debate -- about anything. I don't place more or less "value" on information, and I try my hardest to treat all forms of self-inquiry and the pursuit of curiosity equally. And as it turns out, all of my friends are like this, whether they're artists, architects, writers, engineers, fashion designers, etc -- they pursue their own interests, whether those interests may be, and I admire that a lot. One of my favorite friends is someone who is "uneducated" by external standards, but is the most persistent and curious question-asker I know, and it's kind of refreshing and utterly awesome to hang out with them.

However, my girlfriend isn't the happiest hanging out with my friends, since she feels like a discussion-y atmosphere is hostile. (She's mentioned this before.) This means that I'm usually either hanging out with my friends, or with her, but not together, at least not as often as I'd want to. As such, in contrast, it's starting to feel stifling or hard to hang out for extended periods of time with my girlfriend. We get along great, especially when we talk about what we did that day, our own feelings, and when we're physically/sexually active (which is also a large part of our relationship) -- but I feel like I'm unable to have other discussions with her.


For example: I'm finishing up my graduate program, and spent the entirety of the past semester working on a single project. She didn't really ask me any questions about what I was working on during the semester. After I finished, I showed her a 10-minute mini-presentation of my work, and she was happy and excited for me, but that was kind of it. I wasn't asking for professional feedback or critique, but I expected something more beyond a mere "oh, that's great!" -- perhaps, "how do you feel about it?" or "what were you thinking when you did this?"
Or: I mentioned that I was watching a film by an independent filmmaker that I really like, and she said "oh, cool!". She's into film and art - but no questions about what kind of film it was, what I thought, how I felt, etc.
Or: I told her that I was sad about Aaron Swartz, and she asked me, "who's that?", and I gave a 30-second summary, and she said, "oh no, that sucks," and continue doing her own thing.
Or: I just came back from a small trip to a foreign country I had never been to, and I started telling her some of my thoughts; after 10 minutes, she said "oh, that sounds like it was fun!" and switched to a different topic.
Or: I felt upset about something that happened between friends the other day; I explained it to her, and while she asked me a few questions, we rapidly moved onto another topic.

This happens to almost all topics, except for music, and perhaps fashion (or textile arts). As a result, this makes me feel like I'm sharing just a tiny amount off of the surface of my being, because I'm unable to talk about my deeper thoughts and ideas.

Yet what I want is not just to explain my deeper thoughts and ideas to a silent listener, but to arrive there by talking about ideas, topics, things, with mutual questions, and discussions. On my end, I feel like I ask her a lot of details, and I do listen a lot to her. I ask her about details, about her feelings about things, or her thoughts about her own projects, and I do have that discussion with her that is ultimately enlightening and illuminating, for her thoughts. I'm not a selfish talker -- often, quite the opposite.

At the same time, I absolutely understand that it's impossible to change someone (and a little unfair to want to do so), so I can't really demand her to 'become more curious', if this is just how she operates. I also acknowledge that a significant other can't fulfill every aspect of my needs. So I've been thinking of perhaps seeing her less, and trying to see my friends more, because I've been neglecting seeing many of my friends in the process.


I guess my core question is - Not only am I not sure what to do, I'm not sure how to talk about this all with her. I've mentioned this issue in other ways, telling her things like "I want you to ask me more questions", or "I feel like you're not seeing all of me", etc. The discussions that arose out of them worked, but only to a degree.

But if I could bluntly tell her, I would say something like: "I think we have different degrees of curiousity; you're less curious, I'm more curious, and this is something that I really feel affects the way I can talk to you. I feel like I have a lot of immediate thoughts about things and want to engage in curious discussions about things, but I feel like you don't. I don't know what to do about it."

I feel like this would be just inviting strife and discontent, since I feel like I'm discussing inherent personality characteristics, rather than changeable actions. How can I ask someone to change when, for two and a half decades, they've been who they are that way? And this makes me feel like the only answer is to break up, since while I love her and care about her dearly, I don't understand how anything could really change.

Thoughts? Thanks for reading through all this.

TL;DR: I crave and need discussion and debate that stems out of curiosity and excitement; my wonderful girlfriend whom I love doesn't like discussion or debate; I'm not sure what to do, or even how to talk about this with her, since this is an inherent personality trait.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (85 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you can expect her to change. But since this is something you prize in ALL of your friends, I think you are not going to be happy with her in the long run. It's kinder to her and to yourself to break up now and look for someone you are more compatible with.

I'm sorry.
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on January 21, 2013 [20 favorites]

Hmmm.... on first glance, your question is so long that it way surpasses my usual "more than two paragraphs: DTMFA" threshold.

In all seriousness, though, you can love someone without them being a good match for you. In a relationship, there are going to be a lot of times where intellectual challenge and good conversation will get you through dark periods. It's so, so important.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:11 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Before breaking up with her, what about saying what you said here. I thought it was well worded.

"I think we have different degrees of curiousity; you're less curious, I'm more curious, and this is something that I really feel affects the way I can talk to you. I feel like I have a lot of immediate thoughts about things and want to engage in curious discussions about things, but I feel like you don't. I don't know what to do about it."

I don't see why you can't talk about it. I really really don't.
posted by jbenben at 5:12 PM on January 21, 2013 [15 favorites]

I think this is one of those things where she's just not going to be able to provide the intellectual stimulation you need. Whether that is something you can come to terms with in a partner or not is the difference of whether the relationship will work as it is or not.

A way to re-phrase your question might be this:
My wonderful partner doesn't like discussion or debate and this is an inherent personality trait; I crave and need discussion and debate that stems out of curiosity and excitement; where can I get such discussion and debate?

My wonderful partner doesn't like discussion or debate and this is an inherent personality trait; I crave and need discussion and debate that stems out of curiosity and excitement; is it wrong to get this need met outside of the relationship?

My point here is that this isn't necessarily a need that your gf has to meet. You can get your needs satisfied elsewhere.

However, I am curious about what she changes the subject to. She doesn't sound very interested in you aside from the mundane. Does she start talking about herself? Day to day stuff? Her favorite sitcom? It's possible that the disparity between your interests and hers are an inherent incompatibility. I hate to go down the DTMFA route when it sounds like you have a great relationship, but you should think about it. You can't change someone's personality, and you guys might just have this one huge incompatibility amongst a majority of compatibilities. If it's an important enough thing for you, that's okay.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:15 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you sure she's actually less curious, and a not a product of a home where questions where frowned upon? Or maybe she's afraid of asking stupid questions, or shy about things she doesn't understand? I don't see why you couldn't approach it bluntly either, particularly if the alternative is breaking up.
posted by Glinn at 5:17 PM on January 21, 2013 [51 favorites]

However, my girlfriend isn't the happiest hanging out with my friends, since she feels like a discussion-y atmosphere is hostile. (She's mentioned this before.)

I'm curious about why she feels that way - that discussion is hostile. It really seems like something she needs to work on, for her relationships and friendships to get to a deeper level. A willingness to express interest and curiosity about things during conversation is only a good thing - practically a requirement to have a social life in this world. It sounds like she's willing to discuss further when it comes to herself, but not others. Perhaps she has some curiosity, but it's the social aspects of conversation that are stymying her. If not, she frankly doesn't seem like an interested or interesting enough person for someone like you.

But if I could bluntly tell her, I would say something like: "I think we have different degrees of curiousity; you're less curious, I'm more curious, and this is something that I really feel affects the way I can talk to you. I feel like I have a lot of immediate thoughts about things and want to engage in curious discussions about things, but I feel like you don't. I don't know what to do about it."

I would absolutely just sit her down and bluntly have this discussion with her, hard as it may be. It's important enough that it's affecting your relationship deeply, so you need to talk it through.
posted by naju at 5:18 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

You mentioned you're sexually compatible, and connect well emotionally. Do you guys share anything in common?

I'm married, and, I have to tell you, the ability to drone on about my various obsessions ranks pretty low on the importance scale.

For me, anyway, you seem to hit the important things. I would also be asking if you guys have the ability to prioritize decisions together, in order to make the right decisions and plan for a life together that you are both excited about.

Do you guys have the same sense of humour? The same positive outlook on life. Healthy ways of resolving differences?

It might also be that your work - and that's what it is - is boring to her. I don't talk to my wife about my work. Too boring.

My wife and I, though share an interest in doing stuff outside. We also like traveling. We like some of the same writers (although she's a Haruki Murakami fan and I am not).

Maybe it might be a question of exploring something that you can BOTH be interested in.

If you can't find that common ground, give up.

But why does it have to be all about you? On a more positive note, this is a hump all husbands have to get over. Wives just aren't interested in the Three Stooges, or whatever your version of that is.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2013 [24 favorites]

Some people just genuinely suck at being a good conversationalist. Seriously. I have dated so many people who just do not understand how to ask follow up questions to extend a topic. It's usually because they're pretty narcissistic and genuinely don't give a shit about what other people think, but I have met a few folks who just legit do not know how to talk to other people and have deep conversations.

I think this is worth talking to her about. Maybe you could be like, "Hey, I've noticed that you seem to be really uncomfortable around people and even me when we're having a deep discussion. I really love talking to you, and I would love it if we had deep discussions too. It makes me feel more connected to you and it really energizes me and my mind. What can I do to help you feel more comfortable in those kinda of situations?"

Good luck. This matters to me, too. And it's a deal breaker for me if my partner isn't capable of deep discussion -- but that's just me. Please keep us posted. I would love to know how you end up handling this delicate issue.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:19 PM on January 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

You say you want great, intriguing conversations... But then your complaint seems to be that she isn't asking you questions in order to start these great conversations.

What happens if you ask her questions?
posted by meese at 5:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [35 favorites]

I guess my core question is - Not only am I not sure what to do

Well first, decide whether you love her. If so:

Start by letting go of the notion that your girlfriend has to satisfy EVERY one of your desires. It's OK for you to love her even though she isn't perfect for you in every way. Talk to her about music and textiles and fashion, if that's what she's passionate about, and go visit your friend the security guard and talk about coins. Or hang out with your other friends sometimes and talk all night.

It's OK for you to love her if she's only most of what you want in a lover.

It's OK for you to have other friends, hobbies, and interests that she doesn't share.

It's OK for you to hang out with your friends without her sometimes.

It's OK if you come back from a trip and she doesn't want to hear about all your feelings - maybe she would have liked to hear about the music there? Did you try to engage her at all?

It's OK if you love her, talk about the things you have in common, and have awesome cuddles and sex and quiet nights on the sofa. Stop wringing your hands and find a way to meet your other needs elsewhere. Don't throw away a relationship that makes you both feel loved and meets 90% of your needs.

On the other hand, if you don't love her, break up as kindly and quickly as you can.
posted by fritley at 5:26 PM on January 21, 2013 [18 favorites]

However, my girlfriend isn't the happiest hanging out with my friends, since she feels like a discussion-y atmosphere is hostile. (She's mentioned this before.)

That sounds like something I would say, so maybe consider that you're lying to yourself about how much debating goes on in your friend group. I hatehatehate debating and I hatehatehate people who debate, because in my experience, people who love debating are not interested in listening to me or understanding my opinions, they're interested in getting to talk and presenting their own opinions as correct.

Not to be a dick, but you've written a reallyreallyreally long question, and you basically end with "So as you can see, I have no options". If you want to have a talk with her, first find a way to understand that her way of communicating is just as valid as yours. If you can't get there, then just break up with her.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:26 PM on January 21, 2013 [78 favorites]

I would talk to her, but I wouldn't phrase it as her being less curious. Instead I'd focus on how she moves on before you really feel done with a topic. Make an effort to explicitly ask her opinion on specifics (not just "what do you think") and if she doesn't have one, explain to her why it's a topic that matters to you (not that that means it has to matter to her, but it might get her to see why it's an interesting topic).

Something in your post makes me wonder if the issue isn't how you discuss these things though. If you're someone who gets really excited about your opinions, these conversations might feel more like full-on fights where her opinions get attacked than friendly debates to her (and if your friends are like this, that may be why she doesn't like hanging out with them). Changing topics and not engaging may be her way of avoiding feeling backed into a corner with you pressing your opinion onto her. I'd straight up ask her if she feels this way, and if she says yes, ask her to point it out to you when you start, so that you can work on having friendlier conversations with her.

on preview: what 23skidoo said.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 5:31 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

My partner is not as curious or inquisitive as I would ideally have him be. After 3+ years, I've figured out that it's not a dealbreaker for me. Along the lines of DoubleLune's comment, I've found a way to get that need met elsewhere -- through my friends, mainly. The relationship is so full of awesomeness in most other ways that this issue turns out to be something I can live with. For you, in your particular relationship at this time in your life, it might be a dealbreaker.

The fact that she doesn't want to hang out with your friends because she thinks their discussions are "hostile" is, I think, a tougher issue. One of my exes complained that my wonderfully nerdy friends were "intellectual snobs"; I think he felt insecure about his ability to understand and keep up with the conversation. Could that be an issue for your girlfriend?
posted by southern_sky at 5:33 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It does sound pretty incompatible, but also kind of one sided.

What happens when you ask her questions?

Also... do you get shouty? I don't know if you get shouty; I'm asking. I know some people who get real shouty when they're excited, and they're excited whenever they're really interested in the topic at hand. (For instance, I have cousins who do this, and it cumulatively gets so unpleasant for me to listen to that I'll deliberately steer the conversation away from exciting topics, although I love them and I know their shoutiness isn't hostile or angry, but it's just too much for me on a mellow evening. I would never ask a follow up question, because too much shouty.)

Anyway, if you've examined yourself and you're not shouty; and if asking her questions doesn't get any better conversational results than you've outlined, then, I mean, it's ok to break up if you don't feel like she is fun to chat and hang out with. That's your prerogative. (It's your prerogative if you are shouty too. It's your prerogative in any case.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:33 PM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Your partner does not have to fulfil every intellectual and emotional need in your life. If you spend your life looking for Ms. perfect you will end up old, lonely, and bitter ;) Stick to debating with your friends who like that stuff. My wife has zero interest in sports. Luckily my kids are old enough now to be interested in yelling at the referees on TV with me. Before they were, I often hung out at the sports pub with friends to watch the game. If you two have a healthy relationship she should be happy to have you exercise that part of your personality away from her.
posted by COD at 5:45 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would try talking to her first - I feel like you're just not seeing all of me - and see what she thinks.

Some people who aren't curious don't seem to understand how it creates a wall that prevents intimacy. When this happens to me, I personally feel as if the other person doesn't really care whether I'm there or not - which is a bit of a problem in a relationship. I think you should feel seen and acknowledged by your partner.
posted by heyjude at 5:46 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

You're upset that she's not curious when you bring up things like a movie you're watching, someone you're reading about, a trip you made, or a project you did. It's important to realize that those are all things that you like. You said that you "really like people who are excited about the things they like, and who become super into their own desires and interests." It looks to me like you're setting unfair expectations on your girlfriend. You said you have great discussions when you bring up things like music and textile arts - things that she is presumably very interested in - but then you're upset when your girlfriend isn't as into your interests too. Not that many people are naturally interested in everything, so it seems odd that you expect your girlfriend to.
posted by krakus at 5:46 PM on January 21, 2013 [23 favorites]

I've never known someone who made the "one person sees the other person as boring" thing actually work. However, it's possible to change your expectations such that you no longer see this behavior as boring - it's also possible that her problem is really more about tone of voice/attitude than content, as mentioned above.

I have an acquaintance who does things the way you've described, and also won't answer questions. I have no idea how other people can have conversations with her. This would be an absolute deal-breaker for me.

I also have an exceptionally low tolerance for conflict, tension, sarcasm, and obnoxiousness, and I know more than a few people that minimize how much unpleasantness there is in their communication style.

posted by SMPA at 5:47 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

In my opinion, the OP is not at all talking about "droning about obsessions"--he's talking about a certain joie de vivre people express when they have interests, hobbies, passions. I totally understand what he means when he expresses that he enjoys having curious people in his life. I absolutely find that utterly necessary in my life, as well, and I fully understand him when he says he finds it frustrating when his girlfriend does not share this quality.

In the future, if she remains your girlfriend, you will be sharing much, much more with her than physical/sexual compatibility or your feelings. The truth is, you're going to want some companionship in life--not just moral support, but intellectual support! Someone who doesn't ask questions isn't just showing a lack of curiosity for people like you and I--it's perhaps showing a lack of passion for life the way we'd like to live it. Perhaps it's showing a different way of viewing life than they way we see it.

This is a compatibility issue, of course, but probably something that can build resentment, as it's not her fault and I hardly think it's something she can/should "work on". It's an orientation, in some ways, and I don't believe it can be changed. Do communicate this with her, but don't make the point of the conversation that she needs to change.

Your needs, ones that make you UTTERLY HAPPY, feel REJUVENATED, and RESPECT OTHERS are not being met. I think it's time to move on.
posted by rhythm_queen at 5:47 PM on January 21, 2013 [19 favorites]

I once met a security guard at a building who started explaining to me his interest in coin collecting, and soon realized that he had a super high degree of knowledge about terminology, history, numismatics, the manufacturing process, the different groups of people involved in authenticating and trading coins, etc. I came away with a great deal of respect for him in the process.

This is a great story, but you do not discuss doing anything like this with your girlfriend. Instead, your entire AskMe is about how she doesn't open up a door to allow you to talk about your interests.

I'm not criticizing you or saying your needs are wrong (we all want what we want), but I can't tell whether your complaint is that your girlfriend isn't curious enough for you (is she curious about her own interests? what does she work on? what interests her?), or whether you want a girlfriend to be a more animated "audience/conversation party" for you.
posted by deanc at 5:48 PM on January 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

From the OP:
Thanks for all of your responses! I don't want to threadsit, but some early clarifications that might help early on.

One: When I ask her questions, she responds with an answer, and then I ask her another question, and I get another answer, and so on. I do this a lot, and I like listening to her. However, it feels one-sided sometimes, since she doesn't respond with a question. This just means that I keep on listening about her interests and desires. I'd say that it makes me feel like I know alot about her likes and desires, yet that she doesn't know much about mine.

Two: When I mean discussion, I mean open-ended non-hostile discussion, not angry or shouty debate. I guess I would just love to have this discussion with my SO:

A: I just watched this great film called [film title]! It was by [film director].
B: What was it about?
A: It was about [contents of film]. It was interesting because of [interesting aspect].
B: I like it when things are like [interesting aspect], although I recently watched [other film] by [film director] and I didn't really like it.
A: Oh, but I liked that one. Why made you not like it?
B: I didn't like it because of [unlikeable aspect of film].
A: What about [film that also has an unlikeable aspect]?
B: Actually, I liked that one, because even though it had that aspect, it did [this other interesting artistic thing]
A: Hmm interesting. I didn't like that one but I liked the other one. Maybe it's because [this other interesting artistic thing] feels forced to me sometimes. Do you get that feeling?
B: No, I don't. Why does it feel forced to you?
A: Well, because of [this aspect] and [that aspect], maybe?

(and so on)
posted by jessamyn at 5:51 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

My mom hates it when people ask her a lot of questions. A common refrain from her if you ask her a lot of questions is "stop interrogating me!" To her it doesn't demonstrate interest in her or her life; she finds it invasive and somewhat threatning and rude. She hates "nosiness" and feels really on the spot when people ask her a lot of questions- partially because she has some memory problems, partially because she gets confused, partly because of her anxiety, and partly because she just values her privacy.

If she wants you to know something, she'll tell you. If you ask her one or two questions, especially clarification, it's ok but much more than that makes her pretty uncomfortable. She also hates debates and tends to get somewhat upset when someone uses logical arguments at her because she's just not capable of responding in kind, so a) she feels inadequate and b) she feels bullied.

Maybe your girlfriend has experienced some similar attitudes or holds some of them herself. Not bad or less valuable, than yours, just a different style of communicating. If there's stuff you really want to share with her so that she knows you better, don't wait for her to ask the right questions. Just volunteer the information.

Also, I ask tons of questions but then I barely remember any of the information I collect so I wind up not knowing people very deeply. So just bear in mind that being questioned is not the same as being understood.
posted by windykites at 6:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [14 favorites]

If you can't carry on a conversation with her without her changing the subject every two seconds either she literally does have nothing to add to the conversation or you and your conversations bore her or she disagrees with what you're saying but is too polite to say. You might try asking her, in a non-confrontational way, things like: do you disagree, I notice you got awfully quiet? or am I boring you, droning on? or the ever appropriate I dunno, what do you think? and see what she says.

I once dated this guy who I can only describe as a human Labrador retriever. He was very happy, very friendly, very upbeat and he loved to go outside and run around. If you talked to him he smiled and looked happy for you and like gave you a hug or a friendly nudge. That was it. I broke it off with him and my friends were like "but he's so nice! and he likes to ski and hike!" and I was all "have you ever tried talking to him?" and they were all "I talk to him all the time!" and I said "did he say anything in return" and they were all "no, but he wagged his tail and the way he tilted his head it looked like he understood... oh." I don't know if he had the worlds most severe case of ADHD or just genuinely didn't care but I've had better conversations with my houseplants.
posted by fshgrl at 6:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [34 favorites]

That ideal discussion you just quoted could feel hostile and intimidating to a bystander who is not very knowledgeable about the kind of films you watch.
posted by steinwald at 6:02 PM on January 21, 2013 [21 favorites]

OP, the chat you outlined sounds a lot like my preferred way of spending time with my SO, especially in the evenings after we've put the kids down. It feels great to reconnect with him and when we segue from that straight to going to bed I always feel like I'm getting away with something because I'm so lucky to be able to have slumber parties with my best chat-partner.

Not everyone communicates this way, of course. Some people would find our chattiness unbearable.

But if you like it, it's amazing, and I advise you to go get it if you want it because it's worth it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:05 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Your "ideal discussion" sounded like the kind of convo that would bore me out of my mind. I'm quite talkative, and curious, but just don't have a wealth of knowledge about certain subjects to discuss them at length. Discussions like that are better left for the classroom, imo. But if you get onto my chosen field, or a subject I have something to say about, then I will go on and on and bore you to death.

So perhaps it's just that your interests are not compatible. If I were your gf, and you were boring me to death, I probably wouldn't come out and say it -- I'd try to be polite and steer the convo to something I was interested in. But then, I also couldn't see being in a relationship where my SO bored me to tears. It's more likely to happen with family members I have to talk to.

You need to sit down with her and have a frank discussion and figure out if it's just a difference in communication styles, or if you bore her, or what's going on here. Trying to say "I need you to be more curious/engaging" (paraphrasing whatever you said in the OP) without figuring out why you guys aren't connecting in the way that you'd like won't get you anywhere.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:10 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am married to someone like this - almost exactly like this. I, too, am a passionately curious person, and I've managed to find other things in the marriage that make me happy, and to fulfill my curiosity and need for smart, stimulating discussion with friends and in my worklife (also in academics). But I'll be honest - it leads to a lonely existence. I crave being able to share those things that I love and find fascinating with my life partner, and he's made some efforts, but it's just not who he is to engage in that kind of conversation.

So, as has been stated previously, I think the big question is whether you would be satisfied finding those parts of your life fulfilled elsewhere, or whether it's a top priority that you have these things with your partner. I find that as I get older, I increasingly crave this kind of connection with a partner.
posted by Ms. Toad at 6:13 PM on January 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

my girlfriend isn't the happiest hanging out with my friends, since she feels like a discussion-y atmosphere is hostile. (She's mentioned this before.)

If you are at all interested in salvaging this relationship (and it sounds like maybe you are), try to get to the bottom of why she feels this way. Have you asked her why she feels like that specifically? Are your friends argumentative or intimidating in their discussion style? Does she feel like she can't get a word in edgewise, or has nothing to add to the conversation topics that come up, and just ends up sitting there like a lump when they're around?

She's interested in listening to me talk about things, and is a receptive listener, but she won't ask me questions, or further engage me in a dialogue or discussion. This makes me feel like I'm forcing my ideas onto another person in a monologue, which I hate, so I end up shutting myself up altogether.

I'm actually not sure how this feeling of yours is very different from her feeling generally uncomfortable about asking a lot of questions. It sounds like you're both shutting yourself up on the communication front. Maybe she'd feel more comfortable if you shared more upfront, as opposed to demanding that she ask more questions if there's actually more you want to say.

Given what you said about her having lots of things to say about other topics, it sounds like maybe you just don't have many overlapping personal interests.
posted by wondermouse at 6:14 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

My takeaway is that your girlfriend may be listening, but that does not mean she is a good listener.

Which it looks like is more important to you than you thought.
posted by tooloudinhere at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I mean discussion, I mean open-ended non-hostile discussion, not angry or shouty debate.

Volume levels aside, I'd call the exchange you listed a debate. The people in your exchange seem like terrible listeners to me. It doesn't seem Person A or Person B are listening for meaning at all, it sounds like each is just defending their opinions. Plus, it changes the subject like every other line, so that makes it harder to get any real depth out of it. Each person sounds like they're just making sound bites, instead of trying to understand each other.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:24 PM on January 21, 2013 [35 favorites]

Is this not why everyone else is here at MetaFilter? This is pretty much exactly why I am at MetaFilter. It's OK to meet your need for discussion and curiosity elsewhere.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:28 PM on January 21, 2013 [11 favorites]

Ask yourself: is she entirely uncurious? or just not curious about the things you want to talk about?
If she's entirely uncurious, then bail. If it's the latter, you need to step back, find, appreciate and approach the things she's curious about with respect and equanimity.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Instead of starting out with a conversation and expecting the person to be excited, show one another new experiences.

So if she likes textiles, well, let her pick a museum exhibit or "how to make textiles" this afternoon. Build a common vocabulary and see if your curiosity is piqued and you ask about new topics and angles to explore together.

Similarly, ask her if she would be interested in (give her difference choices) watching a movie by your favorite director, or go to country X together, or taste new food Y. See how she reacts. Does she get excited and ask questions and want to try more new things?

This is where the fun is if you can find intellectually curious people IMO. The excitement and new knowledge, experiences, and questions build from there, but YMMV. But when I read your second example, I can see people not responding because...what if they don't know who director X is? You need a common vocabulary to start with, no?

posted by Wolfster at 6:43 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dump her. You'll both be happier. You don't just want her to do a thing, you want her to be a way. That is not a recipe for happiness.
posted by Etrigan at 6:46 PM on January 21, 2013 [28 favorites]

This is a really interesting question, and it's also interesting that you're getting a broad range of responses.

My guess is that your girlfriend is slightly intimidated by you (and your friends) and that she also finds you slightly boring. I've certainly been in situations where I've felt a mix of both those things, when people I'm talking with are knowledgeable and long-winded in a slightly show-offy way. Sometimes there's an element of mansplaining, too.

If your girlfriend is introverted, tends to be practical rather than playful, is facing real-life problems like unemployment or family difficulties, and/or has less formal education or is less widely read than you are, those are all factors that would make my guess likelier to be accurate.

If so, I'd say it's a basic compatibility issue. Only the two of you can decide whether it's a dealbreaker.

I'd also say that if you're even mildly contemptuous of her intellectually (and it sounds like you may be) then that's probably a dealbreaker. She could be great in many ways, but it's not healthy for either of you to be in a relationship that doesn't feel equal (enough) intellectually to be satisfying.

FWIW, if you do engage with her on this, do it carefully. People are what they are, and telling her you need her to be more curious and questioning might just shut her down more, especially if she's already intimidated or feeling impatient with you.
posted by Susan PG at 6:47 PM on January 21, 2013 [13 favorites]

I think you should break up.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

For the most part this reads like you have different styles of communication and different needs from a relationship (any relationship, whether partner or friend). Sometimes people just want to hang out with their partner and chill, rather than have a massive discussion, because their partner is the person with whom they don't have to make a major conversational effort. Are you that interested in fashion or textile arts yourself, or do you just ask her about it for the sake of encouraging the same kinds of questions from her about your interests? I bet she can tell.

If she feels discussion is hostile, perhaps she has had too much experience of the kind of people have a combative discussion style, for whom questions are asked only to force the other party to defend their position or concede defeat. If you don't enjoy that kind of discourse and you are surrounded by those people, you fall into the habit of not engaging, full stop. I don't mean you and your friends are necessarily like that, just that she could've grown up in a family or peer group that was, and her personal style adjusted accordingly.

And most importantly, I feel we don't actually get much of a feel for who your girlfriend is in all this, and what she does, which is going to be very pertinent to the question. What does she spend her working day doing? Does she work in a job where she has to make polite conversation with clients all day and engage with their issues? Or where she has to answer phones or smile at customers all day? Is she a teacher who has to answer a zillion kids' questions? Does she do manual work that just leaves her utterly exhausted? Does she have to work on really complex intellectual issues?

When I've been writing a heavy-duty report which requires major reasoning and concentration I am a zombie after work; when I've spent four hours giving a workshop which includes a gruelling Q&A, I do NOT want to have to answer another question all day, no matter who it's from. If her work makes demands of her which are communication-based then perhaps she just doesn't have the energy to engage with you on these things. In which case you need to decide whether you can get this energy from other places or whether this is a dealbreaker for you.
posted by andraste at 7:09 PM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

To:dr: You want her to be interested in what you have to say about just about everything. You could have handed her a magazine or sent her a link about Aaron Swatz, but instead, chose to explain for half an hour. It's nice you listened to someone gas on about coin collecting, but guess what? Not everyone is interested in coins.

When did you last ask her about a subject she knows a great deal about/is really into and about which you know not so much?

(Notice I did not use the term "mansplaining", but I held myself back.)
posted by Ideefixe at 7:09 PM on January 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

It sounds like the actual question is not whether your girlfriend is curious/what to do about her lack of curiosity, but whether she is curious about you. And the answer seems to be "not particularly."

Have you ever asked her why she doesn't ask more questions, instead of just telling her you'd like it if she did?
posted by sm1tten at 7:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, I guess I won't be dating Ideefixe now! One of the things I look for in relationships is someone
  • who has definable interests
  • that he is happy to introduce me to
  • that can also sustain my curiosity (i.e., not sports)
  • and who is curious about what I in turn can share with him
  • so that we explore stuff together.
I have a hard time even thinking of how else I could spend time out in public with someone who didn't meet these criteria. That's a big chunk of what defines the idea of a relationship for me.

You've got some suggestions above to try to "get to the bottom" of the reason your girlfriend acts how she does. But if you were enough of a brain surgeon to be able to do that, you probably wouldn't be asking this question.

So, in summary, I'm sure both of you are lovely people. But if she's genuinely repelled by open-ended "why" questions, asking her about her personality is probably not going to yield very much. There's not much point in staying together if you make each other somewhat miserable.
posted by Nomyte at 7:24 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

People, the OP has said repeatedly that they listen to her talk about her interests.

In my experience, this lack of social reciprocity is a recipe for long-term loneliness and, as you've already seen, social isolation. That is what's missing here--it's not that she is not curious, it's that she is unable to preform the basic back and forth that makes up conversation. I imagine she doesn't have a lot of friends of her own, you don't mention them.

Try letting her know that you find it enjoyable to have her ask you questions about the things you talk about. She'll probably make an effort but won't be naturally good at it or interested in it.

Honestly, I'd bail. Unless you have a kid together or there's some other reason that you have to be together, there's no reason to settle for getting this basic human/social need met elsewhere.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

I've been in a relationship with someone who craves the kind of discussion you're describing. It's just not natural for me, and I really don't think that's because I'm less valuable or less intelligent or less socially capable. It's just not how I engage with topics that aren't particularly thrilling to me. Having those kinds of discussions be the norm for my interactions with someone is not how I choose to spend my time or mental energy. It would feel like work rather than being fun the way it is for you.

And I'll tell you the same thing I told him: I'm not going to change. She probably isn't, either. Enjoying/not enjoying that kind of exchange on every little topic is not a lifestyle choice.

If it's a dealbreaker for you, that's fine. Own it.
posted by cranberry_nut at 7:34 PM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

People, the OP has said repeatedly that they listen to her talk about her interests.

Maybe the WAY in which he is listening is the cause of their lack of discussions that he would find fulfilling.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wrote a big long thing, but some of the updates and other posters have clarified some things. There are, though, some thoughts that still come to mind:

- Has she always been like this? Is this a recent thing? Is she under any stress or anything?

If she's always been like this, maybe it's an issue. On the other hand, I'd point out that, as a naturally curious person, that curiosity turns inward for me during times of stress. When working on big projects, or dealing with major deadlines and problems, I tend to just respond to conversations with "Uh-huh," or "that's sad to hear," because inside, I'm all there is no way, at the rate we're going, that my trainees are going to finish their modules by the end of the training period. Am I doing something wrong? Is there another type of exercise we should be doing? Shit, what's the current education literature on this? Am I going to have to revise my entire training plan midway through this? Why aren't they getting the lessons? What can I do? shit shit shit stress stress stress etc.

- Is your relationship still kind of new?

I know you stated how long you've been together, and I do think for a lot of people, a year is long enough to recognize this as an issue. But on the other hand, there are others who take things kind of slowly, don't see each other all the time, and are generally just turtles when it comes to love. Is it possible you two are still, emotionally, in the early stages, and are still learning how to be comfortable with each other. Is it possible that she, you know, might be on the shy side?

Only you can answer that, because only you know how much investment and time is in your relationship. All we can see is the length of time, and not its quality.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:46 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

You mentioned your education level but I didn't notice hers. If she has less formal education could she feel intimidated by you and your friends?

I was raised in a family where passionate discussion and debate were forms of entertainment.
I have found many people find those qualities offensive. I hate to generalize but I have frequently found women from the South (which I am one) to view this style of communicating threatening.

You seem to be idea driven and enjoy responding to conversation. She sounds more experiential - perhaps more of a doer than a thinker. Sometimes this type of person is quite physical and sort of soaks up experiences but doesn't feel the need to examine them in the way you enjoy.

If this is her nature then perhaps sharing more experiential moments and then talking about them might get her more comfortable with that style of examination.

You have some strong pluses in the relationship. If middle ground can be had or you find balance through other relationships it could work. Sometimes perception is the only difference between boring and comfortable compatibility.
posted by cat_link at 7:47 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

OP, this probably wouldn't be a deal-breaker for everyone, but it would certainly be a deal-breaker for me, so I get where you're coming from.

The only thing I have to add here is that this might be situational. I consider myself a high-curiosity person and *love* to listen to my SO talk to me about his interests (space technology, mathematics, inside-baseball politics) and discuss mine. Sometimes those conversations are debates, sometimes they verge on lectures because one of us knows so much more than the other, but we both enjoy them -- *except* at times when I'm really tired or stressed. After I've just worked a 14-hour day and I've still got my head full of anxiety-producing work concerns, I don't want to have a reasoned discourse about the possible merits of instant run-off voting. I want to have a glass of wine, snuggle, and go to bed. You know?

If you've been dating her for nearly a year, I'd guess what you're seeing is more habitual or innate than situational. But one thing I'd consider before breaking up is whether maybe there's some other stuff going on in her life that's making it hard for her to engage this way.
posted by shattersock at 7:50 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people are defending or explaining your SO, but I don't think either is necessary. I think she may just not be right for you, and that's okay. Maybe it's not a deal-breaker for you as it would be for me, but I don't think it's something you should ever expect to change.
posted by Edna Million at 8:00 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's an essay by Tad Friend, "The King of Banter," that feels like it might be relevant here. You might give it a read; it looks like all of it is visible in the Google Books preview, at least from my end.

It sounds like you want banter, if not of the strictly witty kind, at least of an intellectual sort. But it sounds like that may not be something your girlfriend is into. The question is, does she express her love for and interest in you in other ways? Or is she just uninterested in you?
posted by limeonaire at 8:06 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

To be more clear, what I mean by social reciprocity is that when Andrew asks Brad a bunch of questions and shows friendly curiosity, Brad will rather naturally start to reciprocate by asking questions and showing friendly curiosity about Andrew, or at the very least try to give back to Andrew in some way by making a joke, referencing shared history, or thanking him for listening. The fact that your girlfriend just answers the questions and doesn't give back or recognize when showing interest would be appropriate is the problem. I mean, the vast majority of people could come up with a few questions and show interest in a project you spent a ton of time on. She isn't capable of really doing that or she'd have done it by now, since you've had this conversation before and she's kind and willing to try.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:11 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, like some posters, I noticed that I would be incompatible with your "ideal conversation." The type of conversation you outlined would be rather dreary for me - it's all focused on the whos and whats of your topic, which I find kind of facile (I don't think you are facile, though! That's just my thing). Conversely, my partner and I just spent, like, 2 hours debating the various methods of implementing a particular business practice, breaking out a lot of pros, cons, constraints, and potential outcomes of that single issue - we're basically into the whys and hows of a topic, and all of its processes, which some would find awful and pedantic and boring.

So - do you think our conversation in unsatisfactory, and could we say the same to you? Maybe as a knee-jerk reaction, but that would really just be a framing issue, and would get in the way of a resolution.

However, if you felt that a conversational style like ours is too incompatible to mesh in the long term, I wouldn't think that you were being crazy or unrealistic. You want what you want, you know, and I do think it's completely okay to value conversational compatibility in a relationship. It ranks high on my list.

I guess, then, (re)consider your framing of this conundrum, and maybe afterwards you'll have a clear idea of what's really going on, and what you should do about it. I think a lot of the responses here are great, and the fact that they go off in different directions means that there are a lot of frames you may have to consider, and interrogate, before you can get a clear idea of what's happening, and what you want to do.
posted by vivid postcard at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's possible to still love her and date her and spend the rest of your life with her, but it is soooooooo sublime to date someone who is just as "chatty" about their passions as you are. My most recent ex-boyfriend and I could chat for hours about our thoughts and opinions about all kinds of art, and my current boyfriend and I have marathon discussions about every little thing, just like the one you outlined. I don't think I could go back to not having that-- well, not by choice, anyway.

On a more positive note, this is a hump all husbands have to get over. Wives just aren't interested in the Three Stooges, or whatever your version of that is.

Arghh, not this stereotype. There are many women out there who are just as interested in sports or the Three Stooges or whatever other doofy quirky whimsical "manly" passions and interests you have. I actually find it kind of weird when guys date women who don't have anything in common with them because they don't expect women to like "man" things, or because they think men possess a boyish excitement that women with their indulgent sighs and amused eye-rolls and shallow but innocent interest in fashion and knick-knacks and Jane Austin tv adaptations can never know. Or whatever. (What I'm saying is, you want to date a woman who's a coin geek, or a film geek, or whatever kind of geek. Geek doesn't imply anything about physical attractiveness or social skills-- it means someone who's passionate about something and geeks out!)

In my experience, this lack of social reciprocity is a recipe for long-term loneliness and, as you've already seen, social isolation.

Word. I'd go out and get that banter, if I were you. It can be sad to break up a relationship over something so seemingly innocuous, but I've made that decision (in my first relationship, which was spinning its wheels) and I think it was right in the long-term.

And vivid postcard makes a good point because your way (and my way) is not the only way to have an intense, reciprocal conversation, but it's extremely gratifying to find someone who matches your style. There are plenty of AskMes from men and women bemoaning the fact that their partner doesn't ask enough questions or limits their conversational banter to "mhm," and it's honestly just sad to feel unheard by the person you love.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:27 PM on January 21, 2013 [16 favorites]

Also: you can discuss this relatively bluntly, and I've had experiences where someone who seemed not into reciprocity was actually shy, or insecure, or jealous, and after a few talks we ended up having some great conversations.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had an ex who might describe me in the way you're describing your GF. But I'm more like you than I am like your GF. Our conversations sucked, and I was terrible at maintaining them, because I thought the things he wanted to talk about were super boring and I couldn't dredge up anything to say about them. And the fact that he was so super excited about these boring things, and framed himself as this knowledgeable person with so! many! interests! that made him an interesting person, made me start to see myself as this boring person who didn't know how to talk. "Obviously if he has so much to say and I don't, I must be the dumb one. Otherwise I'd have something to say." It wasn't true, but that's what it seemed like at the time, and I believed it for whatever stupid reason.. The point is that this could go a lot of different ways and there could be a lot of stuff going on here.

All you have to do is figure out if this is a deal breaker for you. We can't do that for you. I would just think about all of the thousands of restaurant conversations you have to have with this person in the future and if that thought is positive or negative for you.
posted by bleep at 8:44 PM on January 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

You can't make a person be someone they're not. So... the question is... what do you want in a partner? ...is that her or is it not?
posted by 2oh1 at 9:13 PM on January 21, 2013

There's something that smacks me as paternalistic about your post and the way you talk about your girlfriend and other people. I can't put my finger on it, exactly, perhaps it's your coming away from the security guard with "a great deal of respect" or saying that one of your "favorite friends is someone who is 'uneducated by external standards, but is the most persistent and curious question-asker [you] know, and it's kind of refreshing and utterly awesome to hang out with them". It's almost as if you expect people who aren't as educated as you to inherently be less curious, and it surprises and refreshes you when they are. Something about that makes me uncomfortable. I might suggest that you think a little about what you place value on, and whether it's curiosity or something else.

Also, when I put together the length of your question, your mention of forcing ideas onto others in a monologue, and the fact that your girlfriend said the environment of discussion with your friends is hostile? I'm inclined to believe her. There are two types of discussions, in my experience:
1. One person holds court. Others listen, but get little in edgewise. The only way to get yourself heard is to interrupt and speak loudly until you get in on the action. Then you talk for a long time until someone else shouts over you and takes away your power to speak
2. Everyone listens quietly and takes turns. The conversation builds as it continues. People are not desperately thinking of retorts or replies or things to say. They listen, think of something interesting and relevant, and bring it up when the other person is finished with their sentence or paragraph.

And then there's this: you want to tell her that "I think we have different degrees of curiosity; you're less curious, I'm more curious" - after you've explicitly placed value judgement on your particular brand of curiosity. I think you have a very specific definition of curious: you want her to be curious about you. When you say that "she didn't really ask me questions about what I was working on during the semester," is that because perhaps she didn't need to? How much do you talk about your work? How much do you talk in general? You say that you are concerned with monologing and forcing your ideas on other people, and your mention of this concern makes me think that this might be a tendency of yours. Your question is really long, and you seem like the chatty type. Is it possible that she didn't ask you because she already knew the answer? Why is her asking or not asking about Aaron Swartz or the independent filmmaker a sign that she is not curious? It sounds like she has hobbies and other things she talks about: why must she share your interest in those things?
posted by sockermom at 10:03 PM on January 21, 2013 [35 favorites]

I see the reluctance to join discussions between you and your friends to be somewhat of a separate issue. As others have pointed out, it is easy to feel intimidated by that type of group dynamic, and especially so if it all comes across as hostile and arguementative. I see this as completely understandable, and quite unrelated to the problems in communication you have between the two of you.

That said, I find it hard to grasp some of the answers that suggest you find "intellectual stimulation" elsewhere, OP. Seems like a lot of trouble, to me anyway, to have to go out, seek and maintain entirely separate relationships with which to fulfil something that I would desire in my ideal partner anyway. And I definitely don't think it is wrong or unusual to need that sort of rapport with one's significant other, the kind you don't seem to be receiving. Asking questions of one another is part of being nice, part of being a caring and attentive partner. Partners should never be conversationally bored by one another.
posted by wats at 10:16 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd shorthand the experience you're talking about as 'externally processing". That you consider and think about things by verbalizing them, and engaging others who also either externally process, or know how to engage an external processor by asking questions.

I excel at engaging external processors, though I am a straight up internal processor - just let me read the data on my own and consider it - type of person myself. Perhaps your girlfriend is an internal processor, or perhaps she just really has a different focus and communication style.

I think you can have a neutral conversation both about what's happening (I really really like externally processing on pretty much every topic.) and what you're afraid is happening (Because you don't ask me questions, I think that you find me boring, or whatever). Straight up ask her, but phrase it as - when you don't ask me questions, I think you think I'm not interesting, and I feel frustrated, because the way I connect is through this interplay of me asking another person probably 10-20 questions, and them asking me 10-20 questions, with each of us building on each others insights and conclusions to have a positive conversation. In my dream world this would look like this.....and then ask - is that something that you're interested in?

I say this to say that it might help you to drop the part about 'curiosity', which is an interpretation of her behavior, and just focus on the behavior - yours in how you communicate, and hers, in asking her if she has an interest in communicating in that way. And if not, then how does she want to communicate.

But be open to the possibility that she finds you a bit of a monologuist - or that she actually isn't that thrilled by the gift you're giving her, of asking her 100 questions, because she might just find them intrusive. Or perhaps that your friends all appear to her as tiresomely drainy with their salon-style conversation. But if this is really important to you in a partner, then ask for it. Without the judgment part (about her apparently not being curious). Drop the judgment part, and start being curious yourself, about her, and ask her if she'd be interested in connecting with you the way you'd like to be connected with. I just asked my husband today to knock off asking "how are you doing?', and to exchange it with, 'what are you feeling right now?' because the former question drives me nuts, and the latter feels more specific to me. He kindly obliged. Perhaps your girlfriend will too. This isn't so much a character trait/am I asking you to change as a person question as a, I'd like this thing in our relationship - it's really important to me - will you oblige me? question. You have the right to ask for it, and she has the right to decline it if she wants. But ask.
posted by anitanita at 10:36 PM on January 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

I think I've been on both sides of this dynamic in past relationships. I dated someone like your girlfriend, who was the kindest, loveliest person, with whom I had a good chemistry, but who never seemed to be able to fully engage intellectually or conversationally. Like your girlfriend, happy to listen to me, interested in my thoughts, but just never challenging me and contributing his own intensity to the conversation. I ultimately decided I wouldn't be satisfied with that long term.

I also dated someone who was an intense conversationalist and who demanded constant engagement, usually in the form of debate. (Debate that he usually felt compelled to keep up until he "won".) It was exhausting. It was confrontational. I think he genuinely wanted a conversational sparring partner, and I knew that neither one of us was ever going to be happy. I think he viewed me much like you view your girlfriend. Not challenging him enough.

Fortunately, I eventually found a happy medium and now have a partner who engages me often and challenges my thinking in a good way. We regularly have long, interesting, provoking discussions about things we read, saw, or are interested in. I guess what I'm saying is, this person, as lovely as they are, might not be a great longterm match. Unless you get all you need from your work environment or friends, it's probably not going to be satisfying long-term. I'm not sure that you can ask people to change these types of behaviours. I think they're pretty ingrained in one's personality.
posted by amusebuche at 10:42 PM on January 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well you're almost done with your grad school program right? See how you feel a couple months after your program is finished. I find that people in academic programs love discussing opinions and "acting intellectual" (I don't mean for that to sound obnoxious or condescending) but that when they are out of the academic program that drive lessens considerably. When you're more concerned with looking for a job, dealing with inane politics at that job, or whether it's the right time to have a baby, or whatever, instead of the heavy academic stuff you're used to reading all the time and parsing in class. Because of this academic mind-set, you end up having conversations like this with other non-academics too. But you probably spend so much time with her, that this wouldn't be a one-time conversation but one that you're asking for frequently.

What does she spend her time doing? Ask her about it. Maybe she'll have a lot to say about why she chose to eat exactly what she ate today, and what the recipe means to her.

This may not apply, I'm just conjecturing in case it ends up ringing a bell with you. Good luck whatever you decide.
posted by saraindc at 12:29 AM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder if your girlfriend doesn't fine these types of exchanges a little grating. I'm a pretty smart and curious person, and I love to talk about interesting things. But if I were talking to someone about a movie I liked, and I ended up having to defend WHY I liked the movie, or EXPLAIN WHY I didn't NOT like the movie... I would think to myself: Dude, can't I just f*cking LIKE A MOVIE?????

I, personally, find these types of conversations just really unnatural. I don't need to have a debate about everything. And sometimes I've felt like the person was challenging me for challengings sake... and there can just be something really de-validating about that type of conversation.

Like my idea has to pass muster before its valid.

Could this be why your girlfriend might find your friend's discussions a little hostile?

Anyway, I would think about breaking up. this sounds like a deal-breaker for you.
posted by misspony at 2:37 AM on January 22, 2013 [31 favorites]

This isn't something you can change about her. The options are, as you probably know, that you can accept her as she is or you can break up and search for someone more compatible. But it's not fair to her for you to begrudge her because she doesn't ask you questions. You also sound very needy and perhaps she just isn't able to provide you with the amount of specific attention that you require.

From what you've written, I don't see any indication that she's less curious than you, or that you're more curious than her. You seem to have a very particular, formulaic pattern of discussion that you want to follow and she doesn't play. Conversations like that are almost disingenuous to me because the questions ARE so formulaic--like small talk, the sort of thing you ask when trying to make polite conversation. All of the questions you want her to ask you are prompting questions; they ask you to elaborate on what you've already told/shown her. If she weren't there asking the questions and you volunteered the info instead, it wouldn't change the outcome of the conversation at all. It's not really a deep, thoughtful debate. It doesn't sound like you really want her thoughts. It sounds like you simply want her to be a vehicle to help facilitate your own thoughts.

Speaking as a curious person, I rarely ask questions of the kind you've described with someone I know well because it seems obvious to me that these are things the other person should just volunteer during a discussion. Is it possible that you're just not as interesting of a conversationalist as you imagine? I'd bring this up with her to get her thoughts on this, but I don't think it's going to bring about the change in the relationship that you want to see. You don't sound very compatible.
posted by Polychrome at 2:48 AM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

What happens when you try to talk about a topic while on the same side? That is, rather than a point/counterpoint about a given subject (like the movie in your followup example), a topic you are both currently or just recently experienced? It seems like she's disinterested in debate (defend your opinion of X!) and lecture (explain the history of Y!), but that doesn't mean she's not interested in discussion (what's up with Z over there?).

I have a friend who tends to name drop people, terms, and concepts looking for questions. I find this frustrating at times because, well, if you want to talk more about X, just tell me about X without all the prompting for the Socratic Method. If you're not going to tell me about the person, term, or thing you are talking about without me asking for it, I'll just assume it's not important to the main point of your statement.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:58 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yep, I've been in a relationship exactly like that before. It didn't work out, because of that and many other reasons. I'm completely happy now that I've found someone I can engage in interesting conversations with more often. Not hostile or argumentative, because that would drive me crazy, just a shared mutual curiosity and enthusiasm about things.
posted by empyrean at 4:59 AM on January 22, 2013

Reading these responses reminded me of something.

I work with a guy who probably thinks that I'm uncurious and maybe even that I'm not very smart. He likes to try and get me engaged in conversation with him and since I don't really get involved most of the time he will often spend hours- literally hours- talking at me while I give a few "uh-huh"s or even just completely ignore him.

I don't engage because a) he obviously has no interest in understanding my thoughts; he just wants an argument and then he wants to be right, and b) his opinions and ideas tend to be really ill-informed, often to the point where they're almost nonsensical. I know a lot more about the topics that he's trying to have an "intellectual conversation" about than he does, but since his purpose seems to be showing off how smart he is, it's really difficult to talk with him.

It's hard enough to converse with a know-it-all who monopolizes the conversation, but when they don't actually know very much, the advice "never argue with an idiot" tends to be my go-to stance. I don't engage with him because it's pointless, unless he's talking about his family or something really bland and neutral.

I've also been getting less interested in "intellectual conversation" and debate because I find it doesn't go anywhere. I rarely get any new information or exposure to new viewpoints from it, so it just seems like pointless wheel-spinning. Plus, most people seem to take six paragraphs to say something
that could be summed up in a couple of sentences, and I just don't have the patience to listen to someone
drone on about things that I already understand.
posted by windykites at 5:30 AM on January 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

OP, I think the huge range of responses you're getting here only serves to illustrate the point that some people are just more like you, some people are just more like her, and staying together may very well be a recipe for massive resentment on both sides.

Some people are trying to make you out to be a self-absorbed elitist and her a long-suffering object of your intellectual scorn, and I really don't think that's fair.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:44 AM on January 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

I've only skimmed through all the responses, but here's something that might be enlightening.

The problem here doesn't seem to be that she's incurious, or unintelligent. The tipoff is that she did it when you were upset about something in your friend circle -- that's not a Big Serious Intellectual Discussion at all. The problem seems to be that she sucks at holding conversations -- with you. It might not be on her end. See, I've been your girlfriend. I've totally shut down conversations with "oh that's cool" or "great!" or "interesting" -- and this is going to be harsh, but in most cases it's because deep down I didn't really care. If I'm at that point, I'm not really engaged in things, and I can see why this would drive you nuts. (Full disclosure: I wouldn't be able to deal, and I know EXACTLY what the "only on the surface" thing sounds like.) The reason the examples of conversation you're giving seem so stilted is this sort of thing either happens organically or it doesn't -- it can't be faked. It really doesn't seem like you have much in common, too, and it'd really bother me that she didn't like hanging out with my friends.

But that's just me. The thing we can't answer for you is how you feel about this. Are you OK with, to be blunt, a trophy girlfriend? (A couple decades ago the OP would be close to a societally ideal setup.) Or do you need the friendship and rapport too?

Or put another way: Is it more important for you to love her, or to respect her?
posted by dekathelon at 6:41 AM on January 22, 2013

Take a look at two of the examples you gave:

1. I just came back from a small trip to a foreign country I had never been to, and I started telling her some of my thoughts; after 10 minutes, she said "oh, that sounds like it was fun!" and switched to a different topic.
2. I felt upset about something that happened between friends the other day; I explained it to her, and while she asked me a few questions, we rapidly moved onto another topic.

On example # 1: You'd already spent 10 minutes talking about it. Chances are, you already talked about anything she might've thought to ask, and by the end of the 10 minutes she was probably kind of exhausted from listening to what does sound like a monologue.

On example # 2: You explained it, AND she asked a few questions. Yet, even that wasn't good enough.

Think about these things and what it is you're really asking for here. Honestly evaluate how your communication style (and your friends' communication styles) might come across to her. It sounds like she is trying to meet you in the middle sometimes, but perhaps you're a bit too intense for her and "on" all the time, which can be exhausting for a person who maybe wants to chill out and enjoy the silence more often, and she's just not up for constant discourse the way you'd like her to be. It doesn't mean she's less intellectually curious or less intelligent than you are, but it probably does mean you're not compatible.
posted by wondermouse at 8:05 AM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is going to bother you more and more as the relationship progresses. If you don't have enough to talk about now, think about your dinner discussions in 2 years, 5 years, 20 years (if you're thinking in those time frames). She doesn't need to meet your every intellectual need - I have friends that I talk about certain things with that I don't discuss with my husband. But you spend a lot of time with your partner, and she should be an engaging companion. That sounds drier and less significant than I mean it to. Shared curiosity and engagement is one of the best things about having a long-term partner/companion/lover. IMHO, it feeds love and helps keep it going.
posted by walla at 8:24 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

More generously, this may just be something you can chalk up to "poor chemistry." There are people who lovelovelove to dissect the minutia of social interactions that occurred during their day or spend an meal going over in intimate detail everything they like about the food. I used to be kind of judgey about the sort of people who enjoyed these conversations. Now I just realize that these conversations don't say anything about the people intellectually, and it's not even about the content of the conversations themselves that are considered important: rather, these are relationship-building exercises (like small talk). When two people share the same relationship-building wavelength that reinforces itself through conversations about topics and in ways that animate you both, that's "good chemistry." And quite possibly, you and your girlfriend don't have it with each other.
posted by deanc at 8:29 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

On rereading:

it's starting to feel stifling or hard to hang out for extended periods of time with my girlfriend

That's a maaaaaaaajor problem. You shouldn't feel stifled when around your girlfriend for an extended period of time. It should be the opposite. And yeah, this is probably only going to get worse.
posted by dekathelon at 8:31 AM on January 22, 2013

Sometimes I'm like your girlfriend in conversations, OP. Often I'm trying to be a participant in the conversation, but I don't want to look foolish or derail the conversation or get into an argument, or I just can't think of a good thing to say, or I get the feeling the other person's really invested in talking about that specific thing and I just want to facilitate their thoughts rather than injecting my own. If I were talking to you, I would have gotten it very wrong. And I could see myself getting very verbally tiptoe-y, to the point of clamming up, around a friend or partner who thrived on Ideas! and Discussion! and we would just get so very frustrated with each other.

I've also been in your shoes, though. I've been in both platonic and romantic relationships where I've felt like I was pulling the weight in every single conversation, and it just got so frustrating constantly trying to get things going. It wasn't even a matter of getting into some sort of deep discussion, it was just that I couldn't get them to ever return a serve. It is incredibly hard to feel like you have any sort of connection with someone when you can't sustain a conversation.

You've framed this as a problem of her not being on the same level as you. If you want to stay in this relationship and improve things, you need to reframe it in terms of her not doing a thing that is important to you. Etrigan's comment - "you want her to be a way" - really nails it. And this thing that you categorize as an "inherent personality trait" not only is neither inherent nor a personality trait, it's not necessarily the right personality trait. It's quite unfair to her that you're conflating her conversational ability with her curiosity. That's like saying someone's not smart because they're not good at math. Does she read for pleasure, have personal projects, try new things? Those are all more accurate indicators of curiosity.

So, well, is the problem that your girlfriend is somehow intellectually beneath you, or is it that she doesn't converse with you in a way you find engaging? If it's the former... it's just not going to get better and you need to end it. Relationships simply don't work when one partner considers the other unequal. If it's the latter, there's more hope, though it will take work and patience on both your ends, and there's still no guarantee it'll work out to your satisfaction. Maybe she'll get better at asking questions but it still won't provide the stimulation you crave. Maybe there's a fundamental incompatibility that you'll never resolve.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:48 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's a little condescending of you to say that if your girlfriend doesn't ask you the questions that you want her to ask that it means that she's not a curious person. It's also telling that you think that the problem is hers and that the only way for the problem to be resolved is for her to change. Not once in your very long post did you ask how you could change to improve the situation.

You also say you "crave" and "need" so-called intellectual discussion. So one way of looking at it is that your needs are getting in the way of a perfectly good relationship, not that your girlfriend is somehow flawed or lacking.

Do you know if you're meeting her needs? Have you asked her? If you're really interested in making this work, then you have to approach it from the perspective of what can you do to make it work, not how can your girlfriend change to make it work.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:50 AM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Opposites attract. Vive la différence.

Often, the best couples are not people who are the same, but who are vastly different. So you're intellectually curious and she's not. She's emotionally supportive and you're not. It can still work. You seem to be the one that has a problem with the situation. You need to decide whether the problem is a fatal flaw in the relationship or if you're willing to accept her as she is.

As someone who's been married 28 years, I would say you need to accept the person just as they are at the moment. They will change over time (and so will you), but make the commitment to accept her as she is and as she will come to be. If you're lucky, maybe she'll do the same.
posted by Doohickie at 9:06 AM on January 22, 2013

This happens to almost all topics, except for music, and perhaps fashion (or textile arts).

What conversations are you having about these three topics? Does she want you to discuss these with her? Do you feel, as these are often seen as 'trivial' matters, that these are perhaps beneath you or not sufficiently intellectually stimulating?

As others have said, you don't have to discuss everything with her, and somebody talking at length about something of little interest or that is little known to you is not the best way to prompt a conversation. I have been reading up a lot about perfume in the past few weeks, and following on from this have been watching a really interesting series (I made an FPP about it if you're interested) about the machinations of the fashion industry. I've discussed little of this with my SO, as his interest in clothing and textiles is minimal and if I started explaining to him how licensing makes a lot of money and perfume is used as a tool to reinforce the 'story' behind a designer's look rather than as an olfactory work in itself and how there are companies which can put a fragrance in a machine and give you a molecular recipe...he'd start looking pretty bored as well - yet he is one of the most curious people I know. How do you react when she wants to talk about music or fashion?
posted by mippy at 9:14 AM on January 22, 2013

My husband is more like your gf and I am more like you. We have managed to make it work and find a happy medium, but I will say it is one of the larger, on-going frustrations in our relationship.

For a different perspective, I don't view it as a lack of curiosity as much as it is a different learning style. He likes to read extensively about a subject that interests him, wiki-browsing is big with him. But he doesn't really like to talk about it back. He'll explain something to me if I ask him to, and he'll listen to me, but he doesn't like to offer commentary or opinion. This is a difference in how we think/process. I "think outloud" so when I'm developing an idea or an opinion I like to talk about it and let evolve. He emphatically does not. He likes to mull and then share a fully formed idea after it is done, discussion is frustrating to him because he can't formulate opinions to add because they're not "done".

Do you stay or do you go? I dunno, that's up to you and what you're getting out of the relationship, but she's not going to start conversing in a different style. Her brain doesn't put ideas together the same way yours does and you can't make that change.
posted by dadici at 9:16 AM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

It's possible that this is dealbreaker for you and your girlfriend; your communication styles are not gelling and it seems to make you unhappy. However, it's quite the leap to assume that your girlfriend lacks curiosity because she doesn't engage in conversations the same way you and your friends do.

I have met some people who were both deeply and broadly curious about the world who were lousy conversationalists. By the same token, I am very skilled at the sort of banter you modeled in your follow-up, but that's not an accurate reflection of my curiosity or even my mental presence in a conversation. I could uphold my end of that conversation while not really giving a rat's ass and thinking very serious thoughts about what kind of grilled cheese I want for lunch. I can remember our conversation and bring it up later, but that doesn't mean that I care about you or the thing we discussed. My point is that you should be careful not to mistake social skills (or lack thereof) for character traits.

That still doesn't mean that you and your girlfriend are perfect for each other but you just don't know it. But I would consider some of the things mentioned by others above.
posted by stowaway at 9:56 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just my opinion: RUN. Run. Runrunrunrunrunrunrun. This will not go away. This will never not frustrate you. You will come to resent her for this, and on some level to lose respect for her on an intellectual level, even though you will tell yourself that you don't. When out of desperation or by happenstance you finally cross paths with someone who naturally engages in the kind of deep thought exchange you crave, it will sucker-punch you in the gut and you will do, or be sorely tempted to do, things you are not proud of. Because YOU NEED THIS.
posted by SinAesthetic at 10:02 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm in a relationship right now where I'm struggling with this issue. My boyfriend is brilliant, loving, fantastic in so many ways... but we just don't have those sorts of conversations as much as I'd like and I'm starting to realize that we never will. We have them on occasion, under certain circumstances, and we tend to have them more when we're with other people, which makes me feel a bit more positive that it's something that might happen more when he's more comfortable.

I'm torn between SinAesthetic's perspective -- fearing that one or the other of us will find this with someone else a few years from now and this relationship will end in a torrent of heartbreak -- and the idea that I get so many good things from this relationship that it's probably not a dealbreaker. I'm really not sure which is right.

So, I don't really have an answer for you, but I'm there with you. I don't think this is a DTMFA situation because there's no MF. For me, it's a "just wait and see what develops because this is awesome in other ways" situation.
posted by 3491again at 10:39 AM on January 22, 2013

if I were talking to someone about a movie I liked, and I ended up having to defend WHY I liked the movie, or EXPLAIN WHY I didn't NOT like the movie... I would think to myself: Dude, can't I just f*cking LIKE A MOVIE?????

Oh My God, repeated for truth. Some of my family are like this and I want to throw angry cats at their face. Their idea of conversation is to challenge you on totally mundane things and basically hammer at you to justify why you think/feel that way. They could very well agree with everything you've said but they still come at you as though you're making some irrational declaration that you have to explain. For them it is sport and engaging and fun, but for others it is aggressive and patronizing and infuriating. Neither group is right, but it has been my experience that these two paths shall not meet. She is very unlikely to learn to engage in that type of conversation and enjoy it, and you are unlikely to see her non-combative type of conversation as anything but boring. This difference in conversation style is already negatively impacting your relationship and how you think of her, and if she is anything like me she is probably starting to get frustrated with you as well.

Conversation IMO is a HUGE part of a relationship and companionship, and the ability to have engaging conversations that both parties enjoy is absolutely key to having that relationship stand the test of time. I believe the person you decide to spend your life with should be your best friend that you have great sex with. It sounds stupid, but think about it... I don't think she sounds like your best friend, nor do I think she ever will be. Same with you for her.

Have a talk with her, see where she is at and what she thinks about the matter, but my money is on breaking up. I don't think you're ever going to get what you need from her, you're probably always going to feel unfulfilled, and your opinion of her is going to keep going down. Right now you're saying that she isn't curious, but over time it would be easy for that to snowball and fester in to "She is boring and intellectually lazy.". You shouldn't have a partner you think about that way, and she shouldn't have a partner that thinks of her that way.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

The way your girlfriend talks to you (as described in the original post) sounds like the way I talk to people who bore me.

I have a couple of people in my life right now who I actively avoid encouraging conversation with because they have something to say about EVERYTHING and I mostly just don't care, and it's too much work to encourage the interesting conversations without getting drawn into the boring ones. It's not that I'm not curious... I'm just not curious about what these people have to say.

Probably your girlfriend doesn't feel like this about you? Because then why would she be with you? But then you're bored with her and you're still with her...
posted by mskyle at 11:21 AM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I feel like this would be just inviting strife and discontent, since I feel like I'm discussing inherent personality characteristics, rather than changeable actions. How can I ask someone to change when, for two and a half decades, they've been who they are that way? And this makes me feel like the only answer is to break up, since while I love her and care about her dearly, I don't understand how anything could really change

You've basically answered your own question here. You need to decide, if this particular aspect never changes, are you going to be happy in the relationship? If not, break up. FWIW, your sample conversation sounds intensely interesting to me and I love it when people babble on about X topic that they're clearly fascinated by. I look for that quality in a partner, too. There's nothing wrong with that! If that's something you want to share with your partner and not just your friends, go for it.

Not everyone will feel that way, as evidenced by the varying answers in this thread. There's nothing wrong with your girlfriend's communication style, either. Just think about it like fit - you're more suited to someone with a different conversational preference than the one your girlfriend has. Doesn't make you or her "wrong," just incompatible.
posted by Autumn at 11:37 AM on January 22, 2013

I can relate. I feel some people have been reading you unfairly. I may be over identifying with you but for me it's less that he was boring and more that I felt boring with him. Sometimes it seems like a chemistry thing - like the physical chemistry is there but the conversational chemistry just isn't. I manage to have great mutual conversations with lots of people, why do I feel like a dud with him? And I don't think it's that he was bored with me or despised me, I'm sure it's not that. But I don't know what it was. It's baffling to me.

Anyway, I think that if the rest if the relationship is really good, then it may be worth figuring out the friends thing. If you really can't find a way to integrate your girlfriend and friends, I don't see much hope. If you can though, then maybe there's really a there, there.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:29 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

This really doesn't have anything to do with curiosity, given that curiosity can be expressed in all kinds of nonverbal ways. (Does she like to read nonfiction? That's usually an indicator of curiosity. Or follow long Wikipedia trails? Or go to museums?) You do not want her to "be more curious." You want her to ask you more questions in conversation. Which is a totally fair and understandable desire, but those are different things! And it'd probably be better if you didn't phrase it, either to her or to yourself, as being "more curious," because curiosity is generally considered a wholly positive trait and a lack of curiosity is often thought to indicate that somebody is dumb and boring.

Also, there are plenty of reasons a person might act this way. A lot of people would think it was intrusive and overly aggressive to ask someone a ton of questions about a project they were clearly proud of -- they'd be worried that it might sound like they were questioning the other person's expertise.

If you want to change the way she converses with you, you might want to just have a conversation with her about the way the two of you converse and the fact that you'd like it to be a little different. But this might just be a basic personality difference. And again, it's not about curiosity!
posted by ostro at 2:31 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's something that might help you determine how important this issue is to you: if you had kids with this person and then you died, how comfortable would you be with the idea of that person raising the kids without your continuing influence on and involvement in their development?
posted by Dansaman at 3:15 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're still reading, I thought you might be interested in this quote I just ran across from 20th century thinker Clifton Fadiman. I'm sure you were oversimplifying for brevity, but I did notice that you seem to equate good conversation with asking questions. Fadiman did not, and in discussing his radio show Conversation, he says this:

". . . we Americans place considerable faith in the question-and-answer technique as a means of eliciting what is loosely called the truth. We had to learn that, as far as conversation is concerned, the technique is unproductive. I do not believe that the interview method ever generates real answers. It may draw out public pronouncements. But it can never create good talk, and whenever on Conversation I find myself "spurring" my colleagues with questions, I know we're in trouble. The art of exchanging ideas has nothing to do with the art of interrogation."
posted by JanetLand at 3:37 AM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

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