Compatibility without conversation
September 12, 2013 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Can you build a successful romantic relationship without conversational "flow"?

I've been seeing a great guy for a few weeks. We have great physical chemistry and a healthy respect for each others' intellects, and we enjoy going out and doing things together. But we don't have the talk-for-hours-about-anything-or-nothing conversational flow I've been accustomed to in previous relationships.

Part of this could be that we're moving slowly and haven't really built a shared social circle yet, and part of it could be that he identifies a bit more of an introvert. But I keep getting this nagging feeling that it points to some sort of incompatibility, even though I RILLY RILLY like him and would be fine with more silences if I weren't worried that I was boring him!

I'm a textbook extrovert with two modes of operation: nattering on in stream-of-consciousness about my feelings or commenting on the surroundings with my closest friends, or asking questions and trying to draw out people I don't know as well. The first feels uncomfortable here -- it makes me feel vapid, because he tends to talk about ideas vs. himself or our surroundings -- and the second is just exhausting, because I spend more time with him than I would with a typical acquaintance and I can't keep it up for that long.

Are these just the typical growing pains of an early relationship that I've by chance avoided in my previous relationships? Has anyone successfully overcome this dynamic and created good conversational flow? Is this even something to be overcome or am I completely overthinking this?!

(um, my sock is misspelled en francais. apologies.)
posted by chausette marionette to Human Relations (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Just shut up and share the silence with him. I mean that in the nicest way possible. Just enjoy being, you don't have to fill it with chatter.
posted by phunniemee at 8:38 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Find things to do with each other that don't require a steady stream of conversation. Sporting events, museums, mutual reading.

Some folks just don't need all that blather. Chat with your friends, cuddle with your guy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Verbal discourse isn't everything - hell, sometimes people who don't even speak the same language fall in love with each other. If you can become comfortable with it, why not? Practice being ok with it - it may even be good for you!
posted by gohabsgo at 8:48 AM on September 12, 2013

Part of this could be that we're moving slowly and haven't really built a shared social circle yet, and part of it could be that he identifies a bit more of an introvert. But I keep getting this nagging feeling that it points to some sort of incompatibility, even though I RILLY RILLY like him and would be fine with more silences if I weren't worried that I was boring him!

It does point to an incompatibility. You like to talk, he doesn't like to talk. Is that a bad incompatibility? Not necessarily. There are going to be plenty of other things you like that he doesn't or vice versa. So you learn to deal with that difference.

But here's the thing -- we have no idea what he thinks about this. Does he inwardly roll his eyes when you start yammering but puts up with it because you're good in the sack? Does he secretly love how much you yammer and would hate for you to shut up? Does he barely even register that you're talking because he spends most of his time thinking about his motorcycle? We don't know. Nor will you, unless you ask him.

And so, first and foremost, talk to him about this. Not all the time, not as part of a yammering flow of conversation. Sit him down and say, "Honey, I dig you the mostest, but I worry that I'm being an asshole by talking more than you seem comfortable with. I like conversation. Do you see this as a problem?" And then you have a conversation about it and figure out mutually how you want to go forward.
posted by Etrigan at 8:50 AM on September 12, 2013 [23 favorites]

I agree with Etrigan, and also, after you've gotten your guy's input, ask yourself honestly, really, truly, if you are comfortable. If he says that everything's fine for him and he feels great with this level of chat, you still need to ask yourself honestly if it's ok with you or if it makes you feel bored or insecure.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a friend that's a lot like you and I really like having her around because I can bring her to things with me and she'll do all the talking which allows me to lurk but not seem unsociable. Seriously, when I'm rich, I'm going to hire her to go to social things with me so I don't have to talk.

However, I don't think we can speak for him.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

If there is physical chemistry I wouldn't really worry about the conversation part. I don't like to talk much and could be called a misanthrope but Mrs. Panda Bear married me anyway and it all seems to be working out. We are both more introvert than extrovert and it is possible to argue (a la Etrigan) that a relationship might work better w/ one intro and one extrovert.

A side wife tells me that during courtship she would think things were on the rocks b/c I would end a phone conversation abruptly and hang up. But really I just don't like to talk on the phone. Its all a matter of getting to know each other and their weird things.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first feels uncomfortable here -- it makes me feel vapid, because he tends to talk about ideas vs. himself or our surroundings

Just for the record, many guys like hearing women yammer about themselves. They like the woman, and the talking is part of that woman. And in all the yammering, they just might get some useful tidbits, like what kind of flowers they like for their birthday.

In my experiences, anyway.
posted by Melismata at 9:02 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worried about this for the first couple of months that I was dating my now-husband -- I felt like there were lots of awkward silences, and I really wanted someone that I could be comfortable with and talk about anything with. I later learned that he was worrying about the same thing -- it was just taking us a while to get to that comfortable stage. We now talk pretty much non-stop.
posted by cider at 9:16 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was ready to come in here and say "no" based on the title, but I don't think this is so much an issue of "flow" but rather volume. I've had relationships in the past where I can stay up all night talking about anything and everything and nothing ever seems to get old. My current relationship is not like that. But, our conversations flow just fine, and when we have them there's no difficulty communicating. It's just that they tend to be shorter and cover smaller sets of topics than in previous relationships. I'm actually ok with this, I feel like part of it might just be me getting older and not needing to have an opinion on everything, or at least, not needing to have my opinion on everything validated externally.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:23 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar situation. My husband is more of an introvert and I'm more of an extrovert, and early on, even though I liked him, I couldn't always tell if we were "clicking." We lived about 40 minutes apart, so we tended to see each other on weekends. I always used to ask him about this lunch event he had at work every Friday, because I knew that would give us about 20 minutes of conversation.

Over time, it became more natural. He got into the habit of telling me about his day (and asking about mine). We both follow the news, and we talk about that. And we talk about whatever comes up. It's not non-stop, soul-bearing conversation, which is fine with me, because that would be exhausting. At breakfast, we both read the newspaper. Occasionally, if we've spent the whole day together, we'll read at dinner, too.

When I get together with my close friends, it's really a gabfest, and my marriage isn't like that. But I don't think I'd want it to be. It's very comfortable, very trusting. I can count on him 100%. And although it's less chatty than my friendships, we know what's going on with each other; we talk about important events in our lives or in the world. We talk about the books and articles we read, our work, art, movies.

So as far as advice, mainly my advice is to relax. On dates, I used to use conversational flow as a gauge of how much fun we were having, or how much we liked each other. That meant that if conversation was slower, I'd get anxious that it wasn't going well. It sounds like maybe you do this too. It's an imperfect gauge. The fact that you "RILLY RILLY like him" is more important. Just relax and enjoy the (slower) ride.
posted by pompelmo at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are incompatibilities in every relationship. You'll never find a person who is 100% compatible.
That being said, this is one of the incompatibilities that is easiest to overcome and/or work around.
An introvert will open up more and more over time and with patience, which can feel rewarding to an extrovert.
An introvert will greatly appreciate that someone took the time to get to know them.
You can always get your chat sessions in with a friend.
Everyone's happy.
Much easier to deal with than say, a sexual or intellectual incompatibility.

You're probably not boring him at all, I'll bet that he's worried he's boring to you.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 9:45 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think we (as humans? As members of industrialized nations?) have a tendency to want to declare absolutes in order to deal with the discomfort of uncertainty (a tendency with which I am in consist battle). But, sadly, there is no formula, no checklist that can determine incompatibility or predict the outcome of any relationship. This relationship is still very new and I’ll echo the others in advising you to give it more time. Don’t worry about analyzing everything. Certainly, take note of these things, but don’t waste your time and energy trying to answer a question that really has no answer. Enjoy yourself. Your compatibility will reveal itself over time.
posted by nerdia12 at 10:21 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

My partner and I just celebrated 20 years together. I remember early on finding conversations over dinners awkward--I'm super-chatty and he's not. He was recently surprsied to hear me say this because he didn't find them awkward. Eventually we got used to each other. I got confident that he likes hearing me talk, he got comfortable enough with me that his chattier side came out, and everything has been fine.

We were doing other things together that we really enjoyed (the sex was amazing!) and we did a lot of not-chatty things together, like see movies, as well as dinners out and the like.
posted by not that girl at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, I have found that this is not that big a deal. If I feel weird because we're not talking and I need to natter, I just tell my honey that. Whether we have stuff to say or not, we like being around each other because we like each other. I'm learning how to be comfortable being silent with him as we grow closer- for me, being silent together is intimate and scary when it comes to a romantic relationship, so I don't rush it. It comes with time.

PS going for walks is nice because then at least you're doing something, and you can point out clouds or cute doggies or stuff.
posted by windykites at 11:01 AM on September 12, 2013

You've gotten a lot of great answers here already, and I would agree that it's possible for two people to be have a good romantic relationship without a lot of conversation. However, it's also worth bearing in mind that if this isn't working for you down the road - if you find you prefer to have those "hours on end" talks with your partner, if your discomfort really stems from more than just a fear of boring him - that's okay, too, and doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. Personally I feel like I would really miss that element of a relationship if I didn't have it with my partner (and we're both introverts!) - but then again, I've known couples who were deeply happy with one another even though neither was very fluent in the language the other spoke.

It sounds like things are going well for the two of you now and that's so awesome, it can certainly work - but please don't think it makes you "vapid" if you ultimately decide your ideal mate is more of a talker.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:32 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best advice so far - talk to him about this, and let it develop over time. Your frequency, content and comfort of conversation will change as the relationship matures. You're only a few weeks in so it's a little early to get too detailed in your discussions, but a nice throw away "oh man I feel like I'm doing all the talking here" is a good start.

I am amazed at how much relationships grow and change in the early phases. They are so different from the 1 month mark, 3 month mark, 6 months, 8 months, 10..... I have a tendency to drop into silences that border on "checking out" since I am thinking SO deeply. This used to bother my partner, as he thought he did something wrong or that I was upset. Now he knows I'm thinking about stupid shit, like how often they re-paint the lines on the road, and who calls who at city hall to organize it all. When he sees me check out, he says "and where did St. P disappear to this time?" and then I tell him whatever nonsense I'm puzzling out. Calling things out in the moment has been fabulous for me & my partner.

Also, some people don't need to talk in order to learn about you. This one is mind blowing for me since I am fairly verbal, but really they observe more than words, and this helps them get to know you. They actually feel that they know you without knowing your autobiography. I find this kind of knowing very deep, actually, and the relationship that grows from it quite intimate. "Looking at each other from across the room" intimate.

Finally, I've known a number of introverts who lurve themselves some bubbly extroverts. And with time you could find yourselves growing to deeply appreciate the different strengths that your two personalities provide. Just give it time. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:47 PM on September 12, 2013

a quick clarifying point -- I actually have NOT been talking much thus far, out of a fear that I'll come across as vapid and also because his natural tendency isn't to move the conversation along. so we end up with short exchanges of thoughts punctuated by periods of silence, followed by another brief exchange, as opposed to the ongoing conversation with twists and turns that I'm used to. maybe I'll just start talking about whatever I'm thinking about, and see what happens.

a lot of great food for thought here, and yes, I'm definitely planning to talk to him about it. just wanted to get some different viewpoints. thanks, all!
posted by chausette marionette at 1:23 PM on September 12, 2013

but then again, I've known couples who were deeply happy with one another even though neither was very fluent in the language the other spoke.

Ha! Sometimes, I swear, I think every single person speaks an entirely different language. Once I dated someone whose perception of the world was so thoroughly not-mine that the two of us had literal, typed-out-and-evolving-in-google-docs glossaries for each other. We were both native English speakers. Just with utterly foreign brains.

OP: I am joining the chorus to say, see how this plays out. As I get older it seems less like a case of "Find a relationship that looks like XYZ, now I shall see how this person stacks up against that."

Lately, it's more like "This relationship that I am currently in: how does it function? What are its gears? What are my gears, what are his, well isn't that interesting how THAT goes..." But mostly, it consists of making tasty foods and being really kind to each other and wandering around together and not overthinking things.

Every now and then, focus very intently on how you feel when you're with him, and when you're not with him, and ground yourself in the moment. Take stock only of the moment, not what it means for 10 months from now.

But mostly just hang and be really very kind and try not to think too much :)
posted by like_a_friend at 3:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, yeah, totally been there. I would add one small question, implicit in other advice but maybe worth pointing out: How important is conversation you as an experience? By which I mean, how high does a good conversation rank for you in the hierarchy of awesome things in the world? Some people love it. Others would rather be fishing, so to speak...or reading, or rock-climbing, or knitting, or basking in peaceful silence, etc. What about you? Do you chat with your friends because that's what you love to do, and because you find conversation enriching and inspiring, or do you do it because you're afraid of silence, or out of some sense of social obligation? Your answer to these questions might help determine whether you want to prioritize it as a quality in your partner.

That said, if you really like the guy, that's coming from somewhere, so maybe don't sweat it and just enjoy the new experience...
posted by vecchio at 8:17 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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