If you're bored then you're boring
May 6, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

An earlier poster mentioned this attitude in a thread on boredom and it prompted me finally to post a question that's been simmering a while. I'm super-boring, but not bored -- it doesn't bother me when I'm on my own, but I'm starting to get a complex about it, vis a vis other people. Help me to have any interest, any interest at all! (Or to feel better about not having any.) Novel inside.

So, over the past 5 years I've become aware (mostly through dating and AskMeFi, actually) that people apparently have hobbies? And passions. Lots of them have more hobbies and passions than they could possibly have time to indulge, even.

I have no hobbies, and no passions. I was educated in a competitive pressure-cooker environment where we were all heavily enjoined to become Titans of Industry and/or Visionaries of Art. My friends from youth are wildly brilliant and many of them are successful to the point of significant fame.

But I rejected a lot of that teaching (and truly, a lot of it was elitist nonsense) and then in my mid-twenties hit a patch of Real Life, Yo (deaths, divorce, serious illness, clinical depression, job loss) that most of my friends have yet to experience on any level. So I have long felt like hey, given what I'm working with here, the fact that I get out of bed and stay out of it for like 15 whole hours is pretty great.

But lately, as I ruminate on my dating history and my current friend circle, it's starting to rankle a bit. I date these talented and passionate men, mostly because then I can kind of feel like I'm engaged with something. But I have nothing to offer in exchange, really, except interest and support for whatever it is they're into.

And I get the sense that nobody likes a co-pilot? But that's where I'm a viking. I'm easygoing and amenable to just about everything, and smart enough to catch on to whatever, but I just don't care enough about anything to pursue it on my own, and in fact become quite bored with it if I do.

In short, I am boring, but not bored. And I think I would like to become Less Boring, but fear that doing so will make me More Bored! So MeFites, share your stories of People Becoming Interesting, or alternately, stories of Boring People You Have Loved.
posted by like_a_friend to Grab Bag (34 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure that hobbies or passions are what make you interesting to other people. Like, I like to knit. I enjoy choral singing. I have strong feelings about the future of the US healthcare system. I don't randomly bring these things up in social settings, because, you know, they're kind of boring. It's like showing people your vacation photos.

Based on what you've written, I can't tell whether you're actually boring or not. You don't really bring up anything interesting about yourself, though.
posted by mskyle at 9:31 AM on May 6, 2013

I don't think it's weird to have one boring partner in a relationship. Many interesting people have semi-boring partners.

This, however, "And I think I would like to become Less Boring, but fear that doing so will make me More Bored" is mind-boggling. That's just irrational and self-indulgent nonsense.

Just put it on your calendar to do one bizarre, interesting thing per week. The laziest way to do this would be to use a weird Groupon each week. It'll give you something to talk about and you can give yourself a break. Learn how to blow glass one week and go on a vineyard tour the next.

I sensed some sort of anxiety or mental wellness issue from your post and found this in one of your previous ones, "My life is fairly awful and stressful and depressing, but that's not really anything different from how it typically is." How about just setting yourself to improve it, without worrying about whether you are "boring"? That word is inherently just about how other people perceive you which matters a lot less than your own contentment.

You're probably more an overthinker than boring. And the overthinkers I know tend to get to DOING a lot less, which makes them perceptibly boring. Because the public isn't all that interested in how rich your inner life is. And it disappears, really, so I'd just set to creating yourself a real life, without regard to the concept of bored/boring.
posted by letahl at 9:32 AM on May 6, 2013 [14 favorites]

I have a friend who doesn't really have passions or hobbies, and she's one of the best friends I've ever had. She's attentive, caring, and loyal, and generous. I know very few people who treat their friends as well as she does. Don't undervalue your ability to provide love and support to others pursuing their passions. As long as you don't feel you're missing out, or that you're being used or something, your care and attention to other people is a very valuable and rare quality in this self-obsessed world.
posted by winterportage at 9:33 AM on May 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

I had a friend growing up who sounds very much like you. She was lovely and friendly and was up for just about anything but she never really had an opinion or preference. She was always just along for the ride, or so it felt. She was/is very beautiful and was asked on a lot of first dates but not so many second dates. People always talk AT her, not WITH her. Or that is how it was. She isn't boring anymore beacause she did a lot of major things, namely moved to the middle east for a few years. While she lived in Israel she travelled all around (including in Africa) and went on adventures and did a lot of things I never would have thought she'd want to do. She now has experiences and opinions that she can refer to in discussions. She had a lot more second dates, and actually is married now with a kid. Not that a husband and kid are the end all be all, but you mentioned dating so there you go.

Also, it has been my experience that the only way to become less boring is to do more things. Non-boring people don't spend all their time at home/alone. Activities and experiences make people less boring because in doing those things you get STORIES, and stories (I find) are a huge part of not being boring. I know you say that you just don't care enough about anything to persue it on your own, but I think you're sort of giving up. There has to be SOMETHING in this world that you think is fun or interesting. Choose a topic or an interest and then go whole hog on it. Work towards becoming an expert, have opinions and knowledge.

There must be SOMETHING you enjoy doing. Other than your job what do you spend your time doing?
Do you read?
enjoy cooking?
Crossword puzzles?
Online games?
Go for walks?
Work out at the gym?

ALL of these things can be built upon to become less boring.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:36 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

One thing: is there something you were interested in when younger but then dropped? Or something that you have a teensy-tinsy interest in but are overlooking because it is Trivial?

I say this because I flailed wildly in my twenties and early thirties, looking for a graduate school topic or an overriding intellectual passion and then crashed into miserable feelings of inferiority...when all along, I was reading science fiction and science fiction theory with passionate interest, able to talk your ear off about seventies feminist science fiction, etc...but that "didn't count" because it was just science fiction, stupid teenage junk, etc. I've found that I'm actually able to pursue reading about this stuff more seriously now because I allow myself to take it seriously, and if it weren't career suicide, I'd totally go do a PhD.

Also, what about things that have meaning for your life? As a transish queer person assigned female at birth, I was always interested in, like, women's cultural history, the history of fashion, queer theory and history, etc, but I was raised to believe that those things were okay for a hobby, but not where intellectually serious people started. And after all, it was just self-indulgently reading about Frivolous Things, or self-indulgently reading about Things That Applied To Me, and where was the scholarship in that? I think women are often pushed to believe that things about women or things typically associated with women can't be serious hobbies or objects of study. Again, I can totes churn through five hundred pages on queers in the military or whatever and jot down notes for further readings now.

And! Honestly, when I am depressed (or anxious, my real problem is anxiety) all my brainpower goes into managing that, leaving me very little left over to direct my own interests. If you're struggling with depression - especially if you've been a depressive type your whole life - there's a whole "invisible" drain on your intellectual energy just from, as you observe, getting up and staying up. It has nothing to do with whether you are boring.

Also, you can get through life as just a delightful companion. That's fine, if that's what it comes down to. It sounds as though you can amuse yourself when you're on your own, so it's hardly as though you're some vampire-like drag on the more driven among us.

And finally - if I could purse that idiocy about "only boring people are bored" from the hoard of popular wisdom, I totally would. What's next? "Only sad people are sad"? "Only depressing people are depressed"? What a stupid, privilege-y bit of self-help book stupidity that is.
posted by Frowner at 9:37 AM on May 6, 2013 [18 favorites]

But I have nothing to offer in exchange, really, except interest and support for whatever it is they're into.

I suspect that a lot of men are in fact really looking for just that. Like, that would be their perfect definition of a wife.

I also think that most people pick friends less because of the interesting stuff they do, and more because of how they are to be around. There's nothing more boring than a dull person going on about their golf game or their crazy dogs or their trip to China, but with a good friend, it can be entertaining to talk about the weather, or your commute.

That said, I find it really hard to believe you don't have interests. If I dropped you in a Barnes & Noble, I am sure you'd go first to the fiction or the travel or the fashion magazines or the sports section. You wouldn't, I assume, be equally happy to flip through books on medicine and tax law and ancient history - one of those topics would grab you more than the other two, or you'd reject all of them but go look up something else. You don't have to have actual hobbies like knitting or whatever, but I'm sure you're more interested in some things/places/activities than others.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:47 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think everyone has a story to tell, so I assume you're dogging yourself unnecessarily here. And there are plenty of social hobbies you could get into where the hobby itself provides all you need to see an interesting social encounter through, even if other participants aren't exactly sparkling conversationalists (board gaming leaps to mind). Indeed, you're a hot property for someone who has 'Shaper' on their Belbin team role inventory, because they'll love sharing their hobbies and passions with you and seeing you get into them.

But I'll admit I do have a preference for hanging out with people who take a researcher/intelligence-gatherer point of view on hobbies I can relate to in some way. There's one friend I can rely on for foodie info, one I can rely on for RPG info, one I can rely on for comic book info, one who is amazingly into being a lawyer and loves going on about it, and so on. I try to be that guy on a few topics, and some things you can do are to just go deep--go down paths in that area that non-fans would consider boring, even if they're boring to you for a while too--and practice coming back with funny stories about it. Make notes on the weird bits, either in a diary or a Goodreads sort of thing focused on your hobby. And bring those into conversations without forcing it, being careful to listen well to others first, because that's their initial clue that you'll be fun to talk to.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:48 AM on May 6, 2013

One of the most blatantly interesting people I know said something, uh, interesting. He's very outgoing and has lots of friends, he's well-read, has strong convictions and a distinct worldview, makes art, and so on. Maybe you know the type. Anyway, he was talking about the time he had spent with some acquaintance's child diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and he said he really recognized himself in that kid, the way he would become maniacally interested in something and sit up all night devouring books and thinking, kind of disregarded the mainstream views on things, and was in some sense an outsider. Of course this guy has more of a knack for social skills, but other than that he felt very similar to the autistic kid.

(Sorry if this is misinformed about the diagnosis or something -- I don't know much about it, it's just a story.)

Anyway, it's interesting to me, because it seems to say something about the qualities that go into someone being "interesting." It's like there's almost a paradox, in that one might want to be interesting in order to be socially accepted or liked, but in this story interestingness comes from pseudo-autistic obsession and a somehow basically antisocial outlook, not caring much about being liked much less "normal."

So by this logic, my suggestion is to not try to be interesting for someone else, manic pixie style, but to live as if the world is already an immense throbbing mystery and to launch right into it with frenetic enthusiasm in whatever way resonates with your deepest inner bliss and wonder and maybe even anger or confusion.

For me one part of this turns out to involve doing meditation, studying Zen, and going on temple retreats -- which might seem "interesting" to someone, and it certainly is to me, but it's not me that's interesting, it's the mind, Zen, koans, the Zen Masters, Zen poems, history, everything. Another one of my real fascinations is internet culture and forums, so I'm reading books about that, experimenting with some forum software of my own, thinking about it, talking to people about it... I'm not trying to write my own OkCupid profile here, I'm just saying, these are things that I'm not just dabbling in to make friends, they're obsessions!

I have another friend who's really very strange, his worldview and thought is like an obscure labyrinth, he's out of the loop about stuff everyone else knows about (news, facts, popular music), but can talk for hours about the philosophical system he's derived from interviews with Aphex Twin. He likes to have periods of a few months when he doesn't really talk to anyone, just stays home and listens to music and reads up on esoteric financial instruments and chaos theory. But he's very friendly, kind, inviting, honest, even lovable.

Maybe this comment makes it seem as if I see this stuff as the highest goal of life or something, but I really don't... To me kindness seems to trump most other qualities. But yeah, I just realized how to express it concisely: if you're interested then you're interesting, even if you're just interested in how to cook chili. You don't have to dive into some True Passion, you can nibble at different things, --- okay, here's another take:

Stop surfing aimlessly, disconnect your WiFi for 30 minutes, and come up with one semi-interesting thing that would be reasonable and decent and add some wonder or spice to your life, that you can do today or tomorrow. Give this one thing some focus, some dedication, some energy. Maybe there's a book of poems in your bookshelf that you've never really gotten around to. Do something with that. Don't just "read" it to "be interesting." Engage with it, like an enthusiastic child engages with a video game. Give yourself space and time to actually connect with that poor little book. I promise you, it is a world unto itself. It contains infinity, like the cat's necklace in Men in Black. Maybe all you can provoke out of it is a sense of frustration and confusion. That's perfectly fine. Maybe there's one poem in there that could give you that feeling like you're almost beginning to cry. But it's not going to read itself. You have to open it up, sit down, and look at the words with your eyes. Underline a word, go ahead, it's your book. As far as this exercise is concerned, you are the master of the universe, a goddess, you possess danger and power and vision. Light a candle. This is turning a little weird but hopefully you see my point.

I was in love with a wonderful girl who I never in a million years suspected of having dabbled in Wicca, but that's actually how she got interested in gardening, somehow. Take a Sunday for yourself, turn off your phone, and drink one more cup of coffee than you'd normally drink, and treat it like a drug trip. Who knows what unspeakable things could happen?
posted by mbrock at 9:56 AM on May 6, 2013 [15 favorites]

My answer here is heavily based on this:

I was educated in a competitive pressure-cooker environment where we were all heavily enjoined to become Titans of Industry and/or Visionaries of Art.

I'd bet, because I've known other people who were raised in very competitive environments, that you probably have some anxiety or self-worth issues build up around failure and around performing work not up to whatever standards are acceptable to you or to whoever is setting the standards.

With a good mentor, a competitive environment can sustain great and developing work, because a good mentor will define success such that you can reach it from where you are, and will even see to it that you are well-resourced to operate at your own level. But as an adult, you don't have a mentor or a teacher to let you know what realistic success is, (and therefore what failure is) so failure kicks in when it oughtn't. It kicks in early and keeps you from trying things.

I think you should think about your ideas of what failure means and how that interacts with what you pursue or don't pursue. I think you should consider whether you don't pursue things because you're afraid to fail at them.
posted by gauche at 10:03 AM on May 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

I used to be Very Amenable. It finally got to the point where a couple of good friends told me that I HAD to share an opinion at least a third of the time. And with the help of therapy, I realized that it was anxiety, a fear of failing, that made me always go with the flow and do what other folks were interested in and wanted to do.

I'm not suddenly Ms Fascinating and Super-Active - I still struggle with feeling like I'm kind of boring and passive sometimes. But I have opinions and do things I enjoy. Surprising things! My biggest interest for years now has been fitness, not at all what I would've expected.

The people I've found most interesting, socially, were people with intellectual curiosity. It's great that they play piano or kayak or whatever, but that doesn't lead to many conversations. So my advice to you would be to identify what you like and to be curious about the world around you. You'll do more stuff and be more interesting to others.
posted by ldthomps at 10:16 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interested people are interesting, all these great passionate people need someone to talk to about their great passionate things. Be that person, listen, ask good questions, give opinion. Heck most high achieving passionate people are desperate for someone to listen to how fantastically high achieving and passionate they are. There is nothing wrong with being the supportive person, there is a reason why they have a co-pilot, it doesn't mean you have nothing to offer. When you listen to them or are involved in their passions, be engaged and really listen and be involved. Maybe their passion will become yours, maybe they'll be thrilled to have someone to share these things with and if not you went out and learnt about a new thing and found out that's not a thing you're passionate about and while you were doing it you weren't bored or being boring.
posted by wwax at 10:25 AM on May 6, 2013

I bet you probably ARE interesting (or at least no more boring than anyone else), but you just don't want to share the interesting things about yourself because you are afraid that they're uninteresting (or at least unimpressive). Get over that! With therapy if necessary!
posted by mskyle at 10:26 AM on May 6, 2013

1) Just because you don't have hobbies doesn't mean people find you boring. Do you have interesting thoughts or are knowledgeable about something? Are you funny or can make jokes? Socially, being boring is much different than not having hobbies or passions. I've met people who seem pretty typical and non-interesting, and then they add me on Facebook and I learn they have traveled the third world building houses for poor kids or something crazy.

2) I know a lot of people who are completely "boring" -- they don't really seem to do anything interesting or have any refined interests in their lives. I think "boring" is normal and on MeFi you might be getting a sample of people who tend to be a little more eccentric. It's OK if you like hamburgers and watch football, for instance, because a lot of people do.

3) Anything can be a hobby, really. I bought a synthesizer and no, I can't actually play piano, but I still have fun making up melodies and songs with it. I am completely not athletic, but that doesn't stop me from loving soccer and blogging about it. In spring, I plan a garden in my backyard and it's not a big deal, but definitely a hobby. Anything that you do when you're not working, basically, is a hobby. Maybe your hobby is Friends and seeing every episode and knowing everything about the show. Whatever, still counts.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:26 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

A hobby is a hobby because you do it when you want to. It does not require discipline or guilt over not doing it. It inherently is enjoyable. I've had hobbies, several of them, and then they drop off because I have other priorities. I know I can pick them up at a later date without guilt of not having done them for a while. I can find the same joy I once had, or at times I've decide I rather just do something else. Some things you don't realize are your hobbies because you just naturally do them like reading, eating, having a specific type of conversation. Everyone is different and our focus and what drives us is different. Be okay with who you are at your core and the "hobby" inspiration will come or magically appear and you'll know you've been doing it all along.
posted by happysocks at 10:39 AM on May 6, 2013

I'm super-boring, but not bored -- it doesn't bother me when I'm on my own

What did you mean by this? What do you do when you are on your own?

You don't have to have a passion for something to do it. You don't have to be world class at something to make it worthwhile. You can be interesting on a local level, to your friends and acquaintances, to dating prospects, etc.

You won't be able to make it sound exciting to random people on the street but good friends and family that you know and talk with a lot will often learn and follow the most mundane details of your life if you are willing to share them, especially if you show interest in your stories. It is about maintaining a connection, keeping the channels open, learning context for future stories.

Similarly if you decide to pursue something friends not joining you should not be taken as a sign that they find you boring. Plenty of my friends do things that I find fascinating but I have absolutely no interest in going with them.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:03 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have quite a few hobbies but I only pursue them because they make me happy and keep me from boredom. If I pursued hobbies because I thought that people would find me more interesting, I would probably enjoy them a lot less. As a result, I think that you should worry less about appearing interesting and start doing things because you like to. You'll find relevant hobbies, interests and passions that way.

Also, one of my best friends is a lot like you. She has absolutely no hobbies and she never really seems to have an interest or opinion on anything. Yet, she's an awesome person because she's always open to try our hobbies and try new things. She's always up for anything, which makes her a great and interesting person!
posted by cyml at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having hobbies and interests doesn't suddenly make feelings of inadequacy and inferiority go away. Since you say you've struggled with clinical depression, I think this is probably at least partially the depression talking. I can get down on myself about this too, and I actually do have a bunch of hobbies and interests, stuff I don't even have enough time for! Somehow, at these times, those things aren't good enough, or I feel I'm just not doing enough of them, and I get really down on myself about it.

Just wondering, when you feel like you're getting down about how much more successful and exciting your friends'/boyfriends' lives are, are you reading stuff they post on social networking sites? If so, I would recommend getting away from those sites for a while.

If you really can't think of anything you like to do in your spare time, but you still have spare time, try doing some sort of volunteer work. That tends to help me come out of mental ruts, and to feel like I'm really "doing something."
posted by wondermouse at 11:05 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So you have a group of wildly brilliant, successful, passionate friends/lovers. And being around and supporting and listening to and understanding talented and interesting people makes you feel engaged and happy. Going off alone to study or practice anything would be boring to you.

Maybe your passion is fundamentally social? Maybe your main hobby/passion could be cultivating these friendships, finding and bringing groups of amazing people together? Maybe the thing you have to offer is your ability to network and make connections and throw fabulous dinner parties or organize events? That's an incredibly valuable thing to do.

The main problem with focusing on being one guy's perfect sidekick is that you might be pretty isolated and you might wind up too dependent on him (and one guy will never really meet all of your needs). But if you are the muse, confidante, and funtime facilitator for a half dozen different independent interesting people, you won't be able to help being interesting yourself.
posted by steinwald at 11:06 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

If not for an outgoing friend in the first year of college, I might have hidden in my dorm room and I would have been pretty content. He invited me out to do and see things, and through him I met more people.

And like you, I was amenable and easy to please. I might have coasted on like that, if not for my wife, who has no patience for non-answers. She was part of a group where certain members were indecisive, so those who were more confident, or willing to take a stand, jokingly used the term "Iron Fist" when they stood firm on a decision.

From these experiences, my suggestions are to 1. make friends who are outgoing, and 2. embrace your personal iron fist - speak with confidence on something, even when you don't care either way. Or if someone asks "Where do you want to eat?" Through out 3-5 places you'd like to go, so they can reply. Saying "I'm OK with whatever you want" may annoy the other person/people, especially if they're lacking direction themselves.

Regarding point 1: if you don't have many friends, go out and find some interesting activities in your area. MeetUp.com is pretty handy for many areas, as you can search by activity or interest. Don't be afraid to stick your hand out, grin like a (minor) idiot, and tell someone your name.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:08 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all mightily for your perspectives; there's a lot to chew on.

One thing this thread has definitely isolated for me is the role "obsession" seems to play in a lot of peoples' lives--whether multiple and sequential obsessions, or a lifelong obsession. This might be the real crux of my issue: I'm not an obsessive or enthused personality type, but that personality type is highly privileged in the circles where I travel. I am capable of thoughts and opinions, but it often seems that anything short of

launch right into it with frenetic enthusiasm in whatever way resonates with your deepest inner bliss and wonder

...is regarded with some disdain. But the words "frenetic" and "enthusiasm" pretty well never appear in the same sentence as my name, so, I may need to find some new circles.

If I dropped you in a Barnes & Noble, I am sure you'd go first to the fiction or the travel or the fashion magazines or the sports section.

On the contrary, I assure you I would go immediately to the coffee bar. ;) But actually, I really could find something in any of the sections at a bookstore. Think of me as the target audience for the New Yorker--a little bit of all the things, not much of any one thing. Over the past year, on various peoples' urgings, I have read scraps of things on: copyright law, histories of synthesizers, and books on slow-cooking and blogs on Premier League football and "dating with Crohns disease" (I do not have Crohns disease). It's all equally fine and at the same time, I feel no need to ever read about any of those things again.

What do you do when you are on your own?

Honestly, not much. Work absorbs most of my time, and in the remaining couple hours it's all I can do to keep food in fridge/belly, keep the apartment from squalor, make sure the cat is alive, and get a minimal amount of exercise. I see friends occasionally, and if I'm in a relationship, then those two things suck up whatever time remains.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:41 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe you are OK. The world needs listeners for all the millions of talkers. Also, your 'obsession' might come along someday - it might not have appeared yet.
posted by Cranberry at 11:56 AM on May 6, 2013

I think this post is sad because you went through tough stuff in your life, and decided that all that stuff about achievement and being a Titan of your field was a lie and abandoned all of that, and now... Well, you haven't replaced it with anything and you're wondering why you feel kind of empty. You don't have to (and shouldn't) pursue hobbies and things out of obligation because you feel the need to be "interesting." But if you want to be more interesting and more engaged with people, you have to live and engaged day to day life and "living" doing those things that might seem trivial to you.

I know someone who is brilliant, went to schools where they educate them to be professional Titans, etc. and she's actually doing that. But she is one of the most boring people I know. Mostly because outside of her job, her life seems to be on hold. Occasional travel where she signs up for a tour with older people and sees "the sights." Figures she will do some more serious travel when she gets married and has someone to travel with. And meanwhile most of her vacation days and long weekends are taken up visiting her family. Doesn't drive-- doesn't feel like owning a car because she doesn't really go anywhere that would need one. Maybe when she has children, she thinks, it will be more useful. Lives in the same apartment she's lived in for years-- I've never been there because she doesn't really host social events. She is vaguely shopping for a house but wants to have the right one because she wants to stay there and raise her family there, so it has to be family-friendly for when she gets married and has children. No real hobbies but that's not a big deal because her job is very consuming.

But the point is that I am making is that she seems to believe that the adventures of day-to-day life are burdensome and not useful. She doesn't have a car and is a bit apprehensive about renting a car that she isn't familiar with, so she doesn't take weekend trips. Her travel is to visit her family or pre-packaged visits to places she "needs" to see so never has any unusual adventure or has a significant social experience during travel. Is not going to just buy some random condo in a un neighborhood that she will have to sell in 5 years, so she lives in the same place until she finds the right suburban house. I think she regards eating out at restaurants to be a bit of a waste of money as well as a time sync, so her birthday gathering was at a tourist trap with friends cobbled together from random places, a couple being people she had met at a networking event. No college or grad school friends even though the town is teeming with alumni from those schools, and her comments about her classmates seems to be some judgmental disdain for their relationship trivialities or other moral shortcomings. And in any case, she tended to focus solely on what would get her the important professional chits. So as a consequence of taking this "serious" approach to life and avoiding the risks and trivialities that other people are engaging in, she is lacking in the self development and the experiences that make someone interesting and engaging to be around.

Now you and my friend both have a different approach to "seriousness" when it comes to life. She's very professionally focused and you are not: but the outcomes are quite similar because in a sense it sounds like you are both avoiding engagement with life because you find it petty and unimportant while you're waiting for the "real" stuff to happen. But the "real" stuff is happening right now! You just feel that it is beneath you, and now you're realizing the consequences of that (though you're a step ahead of my friend because I think it is dawning on you that other people have something that you don't).

Now, I don't have a lot of advice. I don't think that suggesting that you take a year off to travel the world would be helpful, because you'd probably hate it, and you'd retreat back to your comfort zone. But it might help to re-engage with your old self. Obviously you got to the college you were in because you used to be passionate, intellectually engaged, and ambitious. Maybe think back to that and start engaging with those things that used to turn you on, intellectually? There doesn't have to be a goal or outcome in mind: just do it and regain that sort of intellectual engagement that you find gets fired up, and then maybe you will feel the need to engage with other people intellectually about those things, or similar things.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 12:00 PM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: like_a_friend, yeah, I emphasized the "obsession" aspect of it, maybe because I had some intuition that you felt drawn towards that, and I like to exaggerate. But I definitely don't think that's the only way to be interesting, or even the best way. Obsessed people can be really hard to talk to about anything except their own idiosyncratic obsessions. I know I am.

With that exaggeration out of the way, maybe we can hone in on some other way of being, and see it as awesome even if it's not unbalanced. I know lots of people who are interesting in a sane and functional way by just having lots of diverse experiences and stories from their lives, things they've cooked, places they've visited, documentaries they've seen, people they know. Instead of sitting at home obsessing about some idiosyncratic passion, they've been to most of the museums in town, they know good places to eat, they see movies, they keep up with friends. It's like they have another way of burning their fuel. Maybe they have some secret passions as well, who knows, they might just not be as pretentious as me. I do admire these people.

I feel like we might be getting to the core of it if we talk about something like being connected to your own curiosity. And our curiosities function in different styles. This connection requires some kind of confidence, whether that's a brash and boisterous confidence or more quiet and tentative or some other way.
posted by mbrock at 12:20 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Reading your update, it doesn't sound like you actually have much time for hobbies and passions. When are you supposed to have time to be interested in stuff if you feel like you only have a couple free hours outside of work, especially if what you do for a living isn't something you're passionate about? It's no wonder you feel boring but not bored; you are actually very busy.
posted by wondermouse at 12:36 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I remember reading a nice article about an historian whose 'thing' was Alexander Hamilton. Another historian, quoted in the article, said this was a little unusual and even embarrassing, because professionals didn't obsess over single topics the way she had--it was sort of the mark of an amateur, though her work was still admirable and professional in its rigor.

What I'd say about that is maybe obsessives get their weird, in-depth points of view without having to motivate themselves (though what they accomplish is still work). But insofar as pros routinely become experts on stuff more methodically, more patiently, and ideally with even-handed attention to things that are not initially engaging, that is an option for being in some respects even better than a typical obsessive at their own game.

You just have to pick and go deep. Or not, because I really think you sound fine as you are, and there will always be social groups in dire need of friendly, well-rounded folks who don't geek out about anything in particular.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:39 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You kind of sound like me. I don't really get "hobbies." They strike me as frivolous. I am very practical with workaholic tendencies. If I am watching a movie, odds are good I am either too sick to do anything else or tagging along with someone who likes movies. I am very socially oriented and struggled for a long time to figure out "who" I was other than wife, mom, etc. But, really, women are prone to defining themselves by their relationships, men are more prone to defining themselves by work, hobbies, etc.

I also had trouble picking a major when I was younger. I wasn't really comfortable with that until I had an AA in Humanities, a Certificate in GIS and was working on a BS in Environmental Resource Management with a long term goal of getting a Master's in Urban Planning. It turns out most Urban Planning programs are master's degrees. Most people in that field have an undergrad degree in something else. For a time, I felt I had finally found "my people" or something. I felt a lot less like an unfocused oddball.

I have, historically, done well with social things. I was a moderator for a time. I was an excellent military wife and did great at things like bringing the most popular item to the potluck dinner. I was equally comfortable talking to the new recruits my husband was in charge of or gabbing with a General and his wife at a military ball or something.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to make "me" the center of my life instead of other people. I concluded that I basically need to figure out how to make helping other people my work and source of income. Like someone else kind of said, trying to make my husband "my life" felt pretty empty. My goal is to have a larger audience, so to speak.

As for interesting, there is a Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." On the one hand, you can get good at sharing stories about your personal dramas. Those things are "interesting" (I am reminded of a line from the song "Dirty Laundry"). Or you can be the person who is a calming influence and relief from their own dramas. That has value too.
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on May 6, 2013

Response by poster: @michele in california, on the contrary, I feel like the passions and the hobbies are the REAL stuff, and everything else is just mere necessary evil. Rather than frivolous, it seems essential in some way. I just don't identify strongly enough with anything that I've come across to make it more than another necessary evil, something that one does to while away the time.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:43 PM on May 6, 2013

There are things I am very "passionate" about and have sustained interest in for years. But I don't view them as hobbies.

Perhaps one difference is that I haven't spent a lot of time doing paid work. I was a homemaker for a long time. I am currently independently poor and working on solving the "poor" part while keeping the independent part.

Existential crisis is an old and common human thing. I got past that a long time ago by realizing it is all "pointless" in the grand scheme of things. We are all dust in the wind. You aren't obligated to do anything. You could stop doing a lot of the things you do. (Perhaps you should try that?)

I hope you find your bliss.
posted by Michele in California at 2:00 PM on May 6, 2013

I feel like the passions and the hobbies are the REAL stuff, and everything else is just mere necessary evil

For the record, I don't have "hobbies." I have various ways that I blow off steam (exercise, athletic pursuits I can do as an individual, computer games, watching the occasional movie, hanging out with friends). I read a lot of history and do a lot of travel to interesting places, but I wouldn't call them my passions. I happen to love my job which I am good at and pays me well, but the payoff is the intellectual stimulation and the possibilities it allows me to explore, professionally and intellectually. But let's say that job is being an actuary (it isn't); I wouldn't say "I'm passionate about actuarial science!" Honestly, someone who told me that and started regaling me with the minutiae of his job he was passionate about would be the very definition of "boring" to me.

I feel like the passions and the hobbies are the REAL stuff, and everything else is just mere necessary evil

Here's the thing: you sound like you gave up on things like pursuit of achievements and passions because you regarded that culture as frivolous. But now you've found yourself years later without much going on in life because you are not engaged emotionally and intellectually with the process of goal setting and working towards those goals. That is going to have psychological and intellectual consequences down the road, and now it looks like you're realizing what the result is. And yet I suspect you are kind of tied to your identity as, "The person who went through Serious Shit In Life that those other people I grew up with Just Don't Understand."

Maybe the answer here is to stop worrying so much about whether something is your "passion" and just set a goal to do something and do it. And then do it again. And before you know it, your track record of simply doing stuff and engagement gives you something that makes your life interesting.

Maybe a good place to start is copiloting for a while. Hang out with someone who is passionate about, say, hiking and go do some trekking with him or her. Find someone who's passionate about the local music scene and go with her to some shows you wouldn't have known about. Have some drinks with the local concertgoers. What makes someone interesting is that vibe they send off of, "I have had some engaging experiences. I am looking forward to having more of them. Hang out with me some more and maybe we will do some of that together, or get some new ideas."
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 2:12 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not to badger this question, but I have some time to kill ... I realize it's partially a side-effect of the context, but your past AskMe comments suggest you're passionate about human relationships. That is a thing. It's not uncommon, but hang around here for long and you'll see that, even among people who enjoy observing and commenting on social dynamics, there is a lot of room for getting better at it. Random, non-expert starting points: Dale Carnegie, John Gottman, Salvador Minuchin. Three books and you're past any advice I personally can offer beyond personal experience.

If that's not the thing, try just validating something else minor about yourself and seeing what you can do with it that others around you aren't doing. You mentioned something about enjoying reading pretty much whatever. Great--sign up with Net Galley, Shelf Awareness, or some other ARC source, and be the person in your social circle commenting on random things no one else could have read yet.

I don't mean to pick on books as an example, but it happens to be a thing I notice and remember. My wife and I met when we were pretty young, so I had the privilege of seeing her go from having one favorite author (Carl Hiaasen) to discovering that crime fiction was a generalizable interest for her. She literally hadn't thought of that one little favorite thing as a thing she could go on to spend 22 years on as a hobby. And it started from a casual observation that she might like to go to a crime fiction bookstore and find some more books kind of like Carl Hiaasen writes (though that's hard in some respects).

I suspect you have plenty of little things you could pick from like that--childhood experiences, single instances of a genre, things that seem common but where there's room to grow, etc.--and take the minor clue of a positive feeling about it as the principle reason for investigating it with a purpose, at least as a limited-time project.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think "if you're bored you must be boring" thing is specifically about people who are constantly bored by everything, and it means basically that it's not up to the world to become more interesting for you, it's up to you to find what interests you and seek it out.

Which doesn't seem to apply to your situation, if you're not bored.

Honestly I know some pretty boring people who have some intense passions. Ever listen to a sports fan talk on and on about a game you have NO interest in? Or a musician talk about a highly technical aspect of a piece ... I'm sure I bore people when I ramble about some of my interests.

Anyway. Hobbies and passions are for you and not for anyone else. They should be fun and/or rewarding for YOU, whether that's reading up on 16th century art or regrouting the tub or taking a language class or yoga or singing.

Look around for some stuff that sounds interesting to you, and try a few things. See if anything really lights your fire. Be prepared to accept being an amateur.

(FWIW you can do a LOT of interesting things as a co-pilot.)
posted by bunderful at 8:35 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I highly doubt you're 'boring'. I think you're talking about public, project-based achievements that have tangible, formal outputs, or act as social signifiers. Those feel more important if you're single, too.

But: you spent x years grappling with the dynamics of basic experience. I can relate. With luck, that kind of time offers less visible things, which relate to relationships and processes, rather than outcomes - like, insight, empathy, a wider perspective, maybe a lived sense of the absurd. I think you're right that the kind of social capital generated by those things is precarious, and its worth is decided by the responses of people who already know you. But what's good is, all that has the potential to make you a really great friend and partner. Who doesn't want to be attended to, cared for, charmed, challenged?

Another thing: Real Life can also burn you out, and make it a trick to get enthused about embracing the game and formality of most brandable, Twitterable passions.

I think many of the people gifted with 'obsession' - drive, a certain commitment to public self-realization - maybe didn't get caught up in worrying so much about basic stuff. Maybe they were protected from that by other people, who did it for them. Or they just never got thrown off-track. It can be tough to take the necessary gamesmanship seriously, if you have.

Are you worried about basic stuff right now? Is your job or commute draining? It's hard for a single person to sustain a household, as you say. Cut yourself some slack, if so. Or find ways to eliminate some of the drag of the day-to-day (e.g., move closer to work or a better transit line, or if the job's leeching at you, maybe look for a change?). I mean, it's nice to have the energy and time to enjoy knitting or what have you, but it's not easy to do that if you're tapped out.

I think it's absolutely fine to be a dilettante though, lovely even, as long as you're getting value out of your life.

One of the most charismatic people I've met had the job-hopperest work history ever, and was proud of it. I'm not sure she'd turn heads as a job applicant, but this woman had presence. Genuine bon-vivant. Rarely without a date.

(Also though, if you were looking for a career change, people who like short-term outcomes and variety are apparently fairly rewarded by certain human services and health professions. No one expects a nurse to knit.)

Sorry all this is badly organized, have a cold.
posted by nelljie at 9:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Work absorbs most of my time

That may be part of your problem right there. If you barely have enough free time outside work to eat and do errands, then the problem you're facing isn't that you're boring - it's that you're tired.

Try taking a good look at your work-life balance and see if there's anything you could do to get more time back for yourself. Or, if you really do want to be devoting that much time to your job, then...well, then that's an interest, isn't it?

But if you carve out more free time for yourself, and let yourself simply catch up on sleep for a while, in time you'll actually be rested enough to start paying attention to what's around you, and something will catch your interest. But only if you give yourself time for it.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:24 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to jump in (sorry, a bit late!) and say that this thread (my question), reminds me a lot of yours, although we used very different words to describe the situation.

It's been a couple of years since I posted that, and I've learned a bit since then. I think nelljie's comment above is the closest to my experience. For a long time, my identity was as someone who endured Serious Shit and I didn't have the emotional bandwidth to do anything else. I spent a lot of time thinking about psychology, analyzing myself, and (frankly) wallowing in my feelings. I still do this some of the time, but I have learned better ways of soothing myself now.

I also had a really terrible fear of failure and didn't have the habits of someone who knew how to manage the risks of success (like how to apologize if you make a mistake or overpromise, how to negotiate for better terms, or how to recover from having a bad day or give myself room to relax.).

Being single made it worse because there's this weird competition among single people to be "awesome" and having a twitterable/branded identity is very important to promoting yourself and being cool and "winning" in a certain kind of dating market.

What helped me? Honestly, I'm in a relationship with someone who doesn't have these problems and I am doing a project with him. I would not have learned this stuff without him and the opportunity to observe up close what it's like. It also helps not to have to do those mating displays that make everyone feel like complete shit.

Some observations:

Basically, I think nelljie is right that people who had other people cover for them or who never had anything really bad happen to them have the time and mental space to develop these sorts of identities and practice and sustain them.

Also, the answers above that suggest that you try consuming new things are missing the mark (I think). This isn't about knitting or reading crime books. It's about being a novelist or a stand-up comedian or a scientist or a world-class athlete. It's about producing "cool" things that give you an identity as a producer of those things. This is a good thing, actually, because it motivates you to bring things into the world, to stretch yourself, and to make things happen.

So, what should you do?

1. I think you should find people doing projects or with identities that you think are awesome, and make something happen. You are friends with Titans of Industry and Visionaries of Art. It's time to use that social capital to launch your own thing. You are actually in a better position than people who don't know this type of person (and struggle to meet them) in that you can learn from people you know already. Take their latest project to the next level, or invent something that they might be interested in and ask them to join you. Don't be too attached to any one person or thing. You might need to throw 20 projects against the wall before something sticks.

2. I'd also think about what kinds of skills you might need. They probably aren't what you think. The skills I needed mostly focused around making excuses (well, that's how I saw it -- being able to move forward even if not 100% and not be afraid of making a mistake and apologizing if something went wrong and fixing it), cutting myself slack (allowing myself to take a day in my underwear and not worry that my life was totally pointless), and asking for favors and help (asking for expertise, love, support, cuddling, etc.). I never would have guessed that. Lesson: You are not inadequate in the ways you fear.

3. Make friends with people who (like nelljie said) have a spotty work history or no professional identity but DO NOT GIVE A SHIT. There are people who have the same or worse background than you, who don't have a dollar in their bank account, but who think they are the most amazing creature to have ever lived. Befriend some of these people, and let their self-confidence be infectious. Feel free to ask for their love and support (and give as good as you get, of course).

Feel free to write if you have more questions!
posted by 3491again at 8:00 PM on May 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

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