Dating filter: I like this guy - but he only talks about himself
September 18, 2013 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in dating and otherwise be-friend a guy. We have common interests and he seems to be "nice" and has a high level of intelligence. That said - Every conversation revolves around him. I love to ask people questions and let them "talk freely about their life or whatever"... but at some point you want to have a two-sided conversation. How can I politely make this point without coming across in the wrong way? This is not someone I have known longer then a couple dates.
posted by audio to Human Relations (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure you like him? "Nice" and "self-centered" aren't things I would call someone I liked.

Could you simply say, "oh, that's interesting, have I told you about my experience with x?" when he pauses at some point? If he's still not interested in hearing more about your experiences, I don't think there's anything you could say that would fundamentally change how self-centered he is.
posted by ldthomps at 2:21 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you have your answer. Unless you have the brass balls to say, "enough about you, let's talk about me," I'm thinking that this guy isn't so great.

I love to talk about myself, (see what I did there) but even I try to remember that other people like to say things.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

If it's only a couple of dates, you could give it one more try to see if he's less likely to monopolize the conversation when you're more assertive about speaking your piece. If not, let someone else be the one to hand him a Dale Carnegie book.
posted by asperity at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have noticed a certain conversational difference between people: some do it your way, where questions are asked and conversation is made in response to questions, so return questions are expected. I have also seen it done his way, where people talk about themselves and expect the other person to pick up on a subject and elaborate it to their own experiences and talk about themselves.

(I have also seen people use questions as a way to avoid talking about themselves, and people who completely monopolize conversations in a way so as to not allow others to speak, but let's pretend we're not talking about either of those groups for now.)

If you end up with people who do this differently, it can be very uncomfortable, for both sides: the askers think the other person is monopolizing the conversation; the expecters think the other person isn't contributing to the conversation.

If he is not giving you any room to speak at all, and truly just having a monologue -- well, there's nothing you can do about that. At least not just with a conversation -- some people are just like that and you and he may not be compatible. But examine whether there are places you could jump into the conversation and add things, and see if his conversational style allows that -- you may find you can resolve this on your own by being slightly more conversationally aggressive. Or you can try like... turning question asking into a game (I'll ask you a question, then you ask me a question. You only get 90 seconds [or whatever] to respond). I've had that be very successful on early-but-not-super-early dates.
posted by brainmouse at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

Oh, gosh, are we dating?

You keep asking me questions about myself, and I'm going to keep answering. What I expect is for you to interject your own anecdotes, or go off on a tangent and start a new topic. See, I've been advised that women don't like "20 questions," that they don't like it when I pry, or try to get them to tell me about themselves. So I try to choose topics that will elicit responses, that will, at least, let you know who I am, hoping that you'll follow the lead and tell me who you are. I ended our last date with "Well, mostly what I know about you is that you're into me. I'd like to find out more next time!" It was kind of a funny comment, but I meant it, too.

Or maybe I'm just a narcissist. Seriously, that's possible. Dump me, if that's what you think.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2013 [21 favorites]

....basically, you can't?

In order to be close enough to someone to be able to tell them, essentially, "You talk about yourself too much and sound really self-absorbed," you have to have known them for a pretty long time. They have to care enough about you already to understand that you have their best interests at heart, and they have to be invested enough in your relationship to want to overcome their initial defensiveness. Neither of these things are likely true about someone you've been on two dates with.

You can try to steer the conversation -- talk about your own thoughts, life, work and hobbies without being asked -- and see how he reacts. Conversation is a learned skill, after all, and it's possible he's a really nice guy who's worth dating but just wasn't ever taught how to interact with people. (Or rather, was taught differently.) But I don't really think that telling him explicitly that he talks about himself too much will go well.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:24 PM on September 18, 2013

(OP is a male.)
posted by Melismata at 2:25 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I dated a guy like this, and eventually broke up with him. He WAS actually nice, in the sense that he'd do a lot for his friends, and he was smart and fun to be around. However, yeah, it did get to be exhausting, trying and failing repeatedly to bring up anything about myself. It would go like... he talks for 20 minutes, I try to recount a related anecdote, he chimes in a couple minutes later and starts in again. I mean I could tell you his ex girlfriend's life story and recount his high school exploits, and I'm not sure I ever got around to even telling him anything about my past whatsoever! It took me a while to realize this was happening, because he was a good storyteller and I liked listening to him, but it got OLD. If you just met this guy and it's already an obvious problem, he's probably not for you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:26 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

brainmouse brings up a fantastic point: is he diverting every topic to himself any chance he gets, or is your conversational style -- asking questions and letting people talk -- putting the brunt of maintaining the conversation on him, while you respond?

The nervousness of a date plus having to find something to talk about makes a lot of people talk about what they know, and that may very well be themselves. Other people will ramble on in equally inane fashions about movies, books or their favorite website.

Instead of asking questions, just talk about a thing that is interesting. If he keeps finding ways to revert the conversation to himself, then, well, probably not the dude for you. Otherwise, what you've been seeing is just a dude floundering for conversation and picking maybe not the best topic just so you're not just staring at one another in silence.
posted by griphus at 2:28 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Start with acceptance. Accept this guy for who he is, what he is and how he behaves. Then decide whether or not you want to be around that. It just seems a little presumptuous to me that you've decided he has to change, when you've only met him a couple of times.

I highly recommend starting with acceptance for pretty much every situation. You often can only change your response to a given stimuli, not the stimuli itself. Does this guy think that you're fantastic enough to warrant changing for?
posted by Solomon at 2:37 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be less concerned that he likes to dominate a conversation and more concerned that, with all the interesting things there are to discuss about life, what he finds most interesting is -- him! Not a good sign.
posted by markcmyers at 2:47 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the big difference between someone who just talks a lot and someone who actively monopolizes the conversation is less about how much they talk and more about how much they listen. If whenever you are talking in a conversation they just zone out and wait for a good time to interrupt you and steer the conversation back to themselves, then that's something that is going to be a problem in general. And if you bring it up to them I would frame it more in that way of wanting them to value your side of the conversation more than framing it as him talking to much about himself. If he's already listening, then like others have said he probably just expects you to talk more if you want to talk more.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:51 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe he likes you and wants you to know more about him. Try hanging back on the next date and see how he rises to the occasion.
posted by rhizome at 3:08 PM on September 18, 2013

I think people need more information to answer this properly. Does he interrupt you when you try to talk about yourself? Do you talk about yourself? Do you have a lot to say, too, but feel that you can't? Or are you letting him do his thing and seething about it instead of contributing?

In terms of politely making the point, it's kind of a conditional answer: if he interrupts you while you're talking about yourself, tell him that's rude. If you aren't talking about yourself but want to, talk about yourself (and then refer to the previous sentence if necessary).
posted by destructive cactus at 3:27 PM on September 18, 2013

I have noticed a certain conversational difference between people: some do it your way, where questions are asked and conversation is made in response to questions, so return questions are expected. I have also seen it done his way, where people talk about themselves and expect the other person to pick up on a subject and elaborate it to their own experiences and talk about themselves.

I came here exactly to say EXACTLY this. if someone asks me something about myself, I answer. I then expect them to ping-pong it back and talk about their experiences without me having to re-ask the same question with the pronouns backwards.

When I realize someone isn't doing this, I'll explicitly ask, but in the past I could have been seen as "going on about myself" simply because I assumed they didn't want to volunteer anything.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:37 PM on September 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

What is his conversational style? Some people do the question-answer-question-answer thing, other people like to discuss topics and chat about why they agree on them. And if he's like me, he gets by on sharing stories and anecdotes, which people with differing styles of conversation can sometimes find narcissistic. Next time you hang out with him and he's not asking questions about you, pick up on his conversational habits and share your own stories. Pong to his ping. You might find a common ground and a good rapport.

Or don't, because you have no obligation to match someone else's behavior. He could also be a jerk!
posted by theraflu at 3:54 PM on September 18, 2013

(Oh for anonymous answers ;-) You may be looking at someone very like a person I'm close to, who is simply not able to have a two-sided conversation. It's painful! They're not a jerk, though. For the person I'm thinking of it's as if they are disabled in some way: they really don't have that ability, and no amount of asking, explaining can enable them to.
posted by anadem at 4:31 PM on September 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

This could be so many things (he's trying to impress you, he's self-centred, he's nervous, etc) so it's difficult to give an answer.

Unless he's really, really otherwise awesome, I would suggest looking for someone more closely aligned with how you think. Asking someone questions about themselves demonstrates interest in that person. I get how people are all "I expect people to pipe up with bits about themselves if they want to" but that's not really how a potential relationship works. If someone doesn't make some kind of effort to demonstrate that they give a shit about you as a person, why the hell would you stick around?

If it's too difficult, find someone else.
posted by heyjude at 4:53 PM on September 18, 2013

I've had friends like this. I've subtly brought the conversation back to myself or I'd make some sort of declaration that was obviously begging them to ask me a follow-up question and prompt me to share my own thoughts or my own story. But in the end, I've always found these sorts of relationships exhausting. I even had a friend where I specifically told him I felt like a sounding board for all his feelings and he didn't take enough of an interest in me. He tried, but it was strained -- it didn't feel genuine and I give him credit for trying, but I couldn't take it anymore. I simply stopped talking to those sorts of friends, or I only connect with them in very small and sporadic doses. If this guy doesn't get it by now, he never will. He should be interested in you, not in the interest you show in him.

The people who say it's your job to pipe up about yourself is wrong. Yes, generally conversation will flow by people mutually offering up their thoughts or talking points. But someone should ask you questions -- any questions, at least sometimes. If I ask you how your day is and you go into how your day was and then then we talk about your mini-drama and we finish talking about that but you don't ask me how my day was, then fuck you. I've literally known these people who never ONCE will ask anyone anything about themselves, even when it's appropriate and expected.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:10 PM on September 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Timer ran out, but I'd also add that if when you do pipe up about yourself and he brings it back to him or doesn't show an interest in what you're saying, that pretty much seals it. In my aforementioned examples with my former friends, I'd respond with some of my own experiences or thoughts and was never met with a comment on my situation or idea specifically... I was never met with a follow-up question... I was always met with my friend going back to himself. If that's what you're experiencing OP, I'd say you can try but if you find it's not natural and the guy doesn't show genuine interest, I'd move on.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2013

I've been on both sides. I (male) want to express myself and show my date who I am, but I often end up taking over aggressively. I've also been on the other side, when my date, being afraid of revealing things that may be embarrassing, puts the pedal to the metal and roars through, not letting me ask questions that might lead her into insecure areas.

Pick a neutral topic. The weather is one of the best. Tell him "I love these beautiful fall days. I just want to walk forever. It's so romantic." If he can't bring himself to respond in kind, particularly when you drop in cues like "forever" and "romantic," then he's not quick enough on the uptake to be right for you. And if it's raining cats and dogs, bring up Gene Kelly's famous "Dancing in the Rain" scene.

Remember that even if two people have a lot in common, they may not click. If you can't get the conversation balanced by giving openings, then he's not comfortable enough with himself to be right for you.
posted by KRS at 7:53 PM on September 18, 2013

This is something that really pushes my buttons. Previously, having already decided there was not going to be a second date, I've just directly called him out on it: "So, we've talked quite a bit about you tonight. What do you want to know about me?" There's no bitchiness needed when you deliver this with the tone of, "Of COURSE you want to know more about me because I am interesting and awesome."

Last time I had to do this, I was with someone that I liked and wanted to give him a chance to get right with me. So I gamified it. "Okay, right now, I will give you the chance to ask me two questions, about anything you want to know about me, and I will answer them honestly." If he had gotten too personal, I would have said, "My honest answer is that I'm not comfortable going there with someone I just met, so ask me something else." If he hadn't taken me up on this opportunity, there wouldn't have been another date, but this guy wasn't a jerk, just a little socially awkward, and he seemed to appreciate my framing the opening for him like that as well as the nudge that he had been monopolizing the conversation to that point.
posted by deliciae at 10:40 PM on September 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people are truly self-centered, and others are just bad at asking questions. You have to figure out which one he is. Try interrupting him or offering up conversation topics about yourself; if he'll take the bait and start asking you about yourself, things might be salvageable. If he really could care less and just loves to hear himself talk, well, things might not be.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:33 AM on September 19, 2013

I don't think you can... And nobody is perfect, but he does sound super boring.
Maybe he is used to a communication style where he expects other people to volunteer information? Maybe try bringing up stories of yourself without being prompted? Or ask for advice for an issue that you have. Or just vocalize your musings.

Alternatively, you could ask him to talk about parts of himself that you are legitimately interested in. If you are interested, it will be infectious and he will be more open for your ideas to bounce off each other. Or steer the topic towards the obective. E.g. '(he shares story about his mom)' then make a general observation about moms, 'I wonder why moms always... My mom...'

If he really refuses to treat you like a person who is equally interesting as he is, then just say 'that is very interesting, but I have some stuff on my mind too.' Do this shamelessly! Out of self-respect.

If he refuses to loosen his grip on the spotlight after you have tried volunteering information, subtly steer the conversation, and even confront him, then move on!

I find it hard to believe that he has any friends at all if he is legitimately this self-centered. How do his friends talk with him? You could also take hints from their behaviour.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2013

I've been reading this thread and working hard to incorporate some of what's been said. I do think some folks just don't like talking about themselves, and would rather sit back and listen to my stories; also, I do learn a great deal about people by watching their reactions to what I say. But I will add that the biggest smile I've gotten recently was when I said "So, I need to hear more of your stories."
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:53 PM on September 24, 2013

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