Nudging the S.O. toward the Pro-Social
July 20, 2013 8:41 PM   Subscribe

My sweet, slightly socially awkward boyfriend is about to meet my parents. When he's nervous or excited, he tends to talk a mile a minute and fill all silences with chatter, sometimes talking over others, or monologuing, or butting in before someone is really done speaking. Is there any way I can gently, er, make this stop?

This behavior makes me uncomfortable. I'm nervous it's going to make my parents uncomfortable. What I'd like to do is ask him to slow down, listen more, and be ok with silences. Wait a beat or two when someone is done talking to make sure they're really done. Ask questions. Talk more slowly. Allow space in the conversation.

I also don't want to make him feel bad, or more self-conscious, or defensive. I'm not sure he realizes that this makes others (or at least me) very uncomfortable.

What's the best way to approach this? Specific language suggestions appreciated.
posted by enzymatic to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Depends if he's aware he does it.

I do this when I'm nervous. Best way to make me stop when it's a problem? Some kind of prearranged signal (e.g. poke me with an elbow) that basically means 'oi, slow down.' I'm aware I do it - but when I'm nervous and/or excited, sometimes I don't notice I'm doing it.

As for approaching the topic, uh...
posted by Ashlyth at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you just tell your parents, "Hey, S.O. is really excited and nervous to meet you, and when he's nervous he talks a lot. He'll get more comfortable and be his awesome self with time, but I'd really appreciate your patience/understanding at the first dinner"?
posted by oinopaponton at 8:52 PM on July 20, 2013 [70 favorites]

As someone who is similar to your boyfriend in this respect, I second oinopaponton, but I would like to add that if he starts doing it, hold his hand or some other gesture of affection.

Also I'll bet you money he knows it makes everyone uncomfortable.
posted by capricorn at 9:29 PM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Tell him that over the course of almost any initial social engagement, it's 10 times easier to ask people questions, and wait for their entire answers to fill the awkward silences, than it is to try to keep things going himself. It's just amazing what being willing and able to just sit quietly, and obviously listening expectantly, for no more than 5 seconds at a time, will elicit from other people, after they've started to reply to a question you ask. The damnedest things come out of people, in just such circumstances, in only a little conversational space, if you can just avoid jumping in for a few heartbeats.

20 minutes after I first met him, the man who became my first father-in-law was telling me things about his WWII experiences in Europe, that he'd never told his own children or family. He'd asked about my draft status and I told him about it, and I just asked him (well, blurted out, really) if he'd been drafted in WWII, or Korea. And then I sat there, unable to believe I'd just asked such a question. Within 3 seconds, a 2 hour personal history of WWII from a then 27 year old family man drafted into the Army as an enlisted man in 1943 came tumbling out of him.

It's such a powerful interpersonal technique. Ask a question. Wait. Listen with just a bit of patience for the whole answer.
posted by paulsc at 9:36 PM on July 20, 2013 [23 favorites]

You you are not sure he's aware that it makes other people uncomfortable. But is he even aware he's doing it? If so, you really need to find a way to talk to him about it because, after all, if you are going to have a relationship, you need to be able to talk about pretty much everything and anything openly and honesty. If he's not able to have that kind of conversation, then he's probably not long-term relationship material for you. So you've got nothing to lose and only something to gain by having that conversation.
posted by Dansaman at 9:40 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there any way I can gently, er, make this stop?

No, not in the short term. I would suggest not bringing this up before meeting your parents, as I suspect it won't accomplish what you want and would likely backfire, making him more nervous and chattier.

If you have a decent relationship with your parents, then I think oinopaponton's advice is right on: talk to your parents about this, not your boyfriend.

In other words, for right now, treat this as *your* problem not his.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:35 PM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a very dear friend who's kind of like this. Instead of being put off by their initial awkwardness, I actually found it rather endearing because it signaled to me how invested they were in making a good impression.

Try reframing this as an endearing quirk, explain it to your parents ahead of time, and trust that they'll come to see the fine qualities that you see in him. Let him be who he is. It'll be fine.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:02 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the uncomfortableness hinges on the cringe-ness of those awkward situations and the forced pleasantries everyone wants to avoid. I think that's why the OP is uncomfortable. Also because s/he's worried it will cloud the opinion of the parents.

I'm not sure I'd tell the boyfriend -- if it's a nerves thing you risk making it worse. I'd tell your parents, saying, "my boyfriend is great, really. He's very friendly and sweet. But he's prone to nerves. He has a tendency to talk over people when excited, but he doesn't mean to be rude. If he does this, cut him some slack, ok?"

Then I'd just try reassuring the boyfriend a lot, "my parents are pretty easy-going, I wouldn't worry, I'm sure it'll be fine," just try to make it low-key. If stress is his trigger, then making it as stress-free as possible will help.

Also do not let him pick up on your worries/stressed/uncomfortable vibe -- he totally will. I find that things like that make situations worse because the anxious person absolutely picks up on the fear/uncomfortableness of the partner. It makes everything worse, and it makes things awkward.

So take a chill pill yourself. So what if he does a couple of social gaffes? He's a great guy and your parents will probably love him to bits, and see what you see. If they don't at first, they will in time as things get easier. It's not the end of the world just because he accidentally seemed a little excitable or rude on the first impression.
posted by Dimes at 11:24 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, you could tell him about it a little, "You seem to get a little excitable occasionally. It's not a problem, just when we're with my parents, be careful you give people time to respond to you, honey." Make it soothing and nonchalant and not as if you care or it makes you uncomfortable that he does this.

But it really depends on his personality type. Does he learn from his mistakes? Is he mindful or good at corrective behavior? Or does he internalize personal criticism? You do risk at making it worse, or him blaming himself, or think that this is something 'bad' about him. Being nervous at first and awkward isn't 'bad' -- it just is what it is. It can be misconstrued as rude, but most people won't think that.

The problem tends to be that he gets nervous about things that are a big. deal. If you make it a big deal by pointing that out, it can definitely make it worse instead of better, so tread carefully about mentioning it.
posted by Dimes at 11:32 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Alcohol! A shot (or two), before they arrive.
posted by ipsative at 3:28 AM on July 21, 2013

For him, that is, before your parents arrive.
posted by ipsative at 3:55 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am going to suggest that you prioritize this - not necessarily just for this dinner, but overall. Like, if you guys wind up getting married and you to premarital counseling, make sure it gets dealt with then, if it hasn't already. This is the sort of thing that gets worse with time, and will eventually impact your own social life more than you think (saying this from unfortunate personal experience.)

For this meeting, you could maybe try phrasing like "about this dinner. I'm really looking forward to it, I know my parents are going to love you. It's going to be so nice. There's one thing I wanted to ask you before we go --" etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:22 AM on July 21, 2013

Best answer: This is something that takes years of practise/ training to overcome. Nthing that bringing it up to the parents, rather than to him, is the best way to go right now for the short term.
posted by windykites at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2013

I'd tip off your parents, and if he gets too wound up in his monologue, kiss him.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seeing what answers you've marked best, and as someone who has dated people with similar hang-ups in the past, I am worried that you're going to make him more nervous than he already is. The supportive route is to talk to your parents, because it's too easy to make it seem like he needs to change to be 'good enough' if you place the onus solely on him. That's not really fair.
posted by kcm at 8:21 AM on July 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Best answer: You and your parents need to love your partner for who he is, not who you're trying to make him into to be. I don't disagree that his behavior is irritating, but the timing of this intervention sucks and I think you are setting yourself up to really hurt your partner by making this the opportunity to "fix" his behavior and his being.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:17 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd have a quick talk with the family and let them know that your boyfriend gets a little wacky when he's nervous, especially meeting new people, but you think he's adorable anyway and can't wait for them to meet him.

And Ideefixer is right on - kiss him if he gets going too fast.

I agree that talking to him about this will likely do nothing except make the nervousness worse, and I really think that this should be an extremely minor part of your focus. Who cares if he babbles when he's nervous? If it bothers you a whole lot, you have the wrong boyfriend.
posted by aryma at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2013

And Ideefixer is right on - kiss him if he gets going too fast.

For what it's worth, I would find this strange and off-putting, if someone stopped me from talking by kissing me. I'd recommend simply placing your hand on his arm, saying "excuse me, sorry to interrupt", then ask him to help you with something (or offer to share some delicious food with him, or something else that doesn't involve just covering his mouth with yours in front of your parents for the first time.)
posted by davejay at 1:19 AM on July 22, 2013

I was so nervous to meet my first boyfriend's parents that I couldn't keep any food down for about 3 days beforehand. When we all went for dinner together the first day I met them, I ordered a lasagne and half way through eating, my tummy started doing flips and I let out this almighty burp that I didn't know was coming until it was too late.
We all looked at each other, burst out laughing and then my nervousness was gone.

My point is that even the most confident people (Like myself) can get extremely nervous in these situations and do things they wouldn't normally do. my body betrayed me on that day and I'll never forget it!

Give your parents a heads up that he might talk too fast, too much, too long etc and maybe you could work out a gentle body-language signal with your boyfriend? For example, squeeze his hand to give him a gentle nudge that he needs to take a breath. I think a physical gesture like this can be more effective than a verbal cue (which he might not hear if he's talking a mile a minute!)
posted by JenThePro at 8:51 AM on July 22, 2013

I recommend kind humor from personal experience.
I don't have your bf's exact problem, but I have similar socially awkward quirks and can get carried away. My wife has a way of teasing me in a certain fond, slightly exasperated but amused way that stops me in my tracks and leaves me feeling good (if a bit sheepish). Something about realizing how much she knows me and likes me I guess.

I'm not the best at figuring out how to say things, but as an example of how it could play out:
Before the dinner "I know you're probably nervous, but try to let my parents get a word in here and there, hm?" (in a genuine jokey tone)
During the dinner "You're getting a little carried away sweetie" (with a real smile and maybe gentle hand on the arm)

Could just be what works for my relationship dynamic, but thought I'd suggest it!
posted by Gravel at 12:00 AM on July 23, 2013

« Older Petro-carbo: too toxic to be good to be true?   |   Re(le)nting in NYC Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.