Married to our jobs, but seeing each other on the side
January 8, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I avoid shop talk on dates?

For the second time in recent memory, I'm going out on an OK Cupid date with someone who works in my field.

I feel like I botched the last one by falling into the trap of talking shop, as it's one of the main obvious things we already have in common and very easy to default into talking about that rather than other things. However, it just didn't feel like a date, didn't really set a sexy/romantic (or even baseline "datelike") mood, and obviously it didn't go anywhere.

Maybe the fact that we talked about workish stuff all night had nothing to do with the outcome of the date. A lot of internet dates fizzle out despite both people having a reasonably good time. But I don't want to make the same mistake again.

What are some tactics to avoid talking shop too much, or to at least try to set the mood as being a date and not a business meeting? Should I dress differently? Structure the date differently? Talk about specific other not-work stuff? How much work talk is too much?

Unfortunately it's a very "live to work" kind of field, and not something many people leave at the office at the end of the day. So it's so tempting to just talk about that stuff all night, unlike working in insurance or widget sales or something.

What the hell do people even talk about on dates, anyway? I feel like this is not a problem when I date outside my field, but I mean, I love my job, they love their similar job, how do we change the subject?
posted by Sara C. to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you both love that kind of work, it's a natural topic of conversation, and there's really nothing wrong with bonding over that...but that will likely keep you from learning things about each other, and that's what you really want to be doing on a first date.

Assuming the conversation turns naturally to work, indulge for a bit, then ask personal questions related to the work -- like "what made you decide to get into this business, anyway?" and "is this what you thought you'd be doing when you grew up, when you were a kid?" and "do your siblings have similar jobs?" -- as a way of turning the conversation to more personal topics. Show that you're as interested in learning about them as in talking about your shared passion.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on January 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do you have anything else that interests you? Talk about that. If you don't have anything else that interests you, then pretending to be interested in other things in order to avoid too much "shop talk" is going to feel constricting and weird.
posted by xingcat at 11:28 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ask questions.

1. Where did you go on your last vacation?

2. What's your favorite movie and why?

3. If you won a million dollars what would you do with it?

4. If you couldn't do the job you have today, what job would you want to do?

Stuff like that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:29 AM on January 8, 2014

My S.O. is in my field. As a rule, bitching about work/coworkers is ok, but I will not give my technical opinion about anything outside of office hours. I am off. the. clock.

I wouldn't even ask him what he does. (I never ask this even at parties; I find it kind of rude actually.) Be curious about everything about him outside of work. Make it a game to have his work be a complete mystery to you. Talk about immediate stuff around you, weekend plans, ask him questions to understand how he arrived at a decision rather than what the decision was.

You can avoid activating the "work" circuit in your brain by activating the "sex" circuit in your nether regions. Wear a nice low cut top, relax back in your chair. Feel relaxed in your heart like you want to mingle feeling-energy with this person. Channel your inner Scarlett Johansson.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:32 AM on January 8, 2014

I find MeFi useful for mining conversation topics. But I'm a big fan of "hey, here's a cool thing I read" conversations.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:36 AM on January 8, 2014

If you do find yourself talking too much about work, I think a simple sentence such as:

"hey - actually, shall we talk about something non-work related? What do you like doing in your spare time etc etc"

will probably do the job!
posted by JenThePro at 11:39 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I already know what he does, and haven't revealed exactly what I do, though he has asked. We both already know about each others' work-adjacent interests, which also substantially overlap. (We're both comedy writers with day jobs elsewhere in the entertainment industry.)

This is what inspired the question.

That said, yes, point taken, no "so what do you dooooooo" chatter about blah production company and foo Project You've Heard Of.
posted by Sara C. at 11:40 AM on January 8, 2014

nacho fries has a good point - it's not just because you talked shop that the date fizzled. I find on first dates there is A LOT of subconscious emotional energy getting communicated between parties, so the focus is really just how do you feel around this person, not so much what you say or do outside of obvious gaffes. It takes two to make it fizzle or pop.

And fwiw, even when my SO and I talk shop, there is still chemistry. That's how we met!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:42 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: What the hell do people even talk about on dates, anyway?

I'm trying to remember what we talked about the last time I was on a date, but I'm pretty sure we talked about work for at least part of it. We also talked about where we grew up, what brought us to our city, the things we like to do, our families, and our pets. But those are just the things that we happened to like talking about. You just try to find a topic you both consider interesting, and if that's work, so be it.

or to at least try to set the mood as being a date and not a business meeting?

Once in a while, look this person in the eyes and smile. If they tell a funny anecdote look them in the eyes and laugh. Smile some more. If they seem open to it, touch them on the arm in a friendly way.

This is the way I still think about flirting sometimes. I don't know about you but when I was a tween I felt very weird and awkward. And I felt like if I liked a guy I should not look at him or talk to him, and I should stay away from him because otherwise I would probably do or say something creepy.

So, as it turns out, all the things I tried to avoid doing because they were creepy turned out to be natural ways to flirt as a woman. Like if you want to gaze into someone's sexy eyes or subtly admire their jawline, or smile at them or even get giggly, those are all ways to kind of take the mood from businesslike to datelike. If someone has agreed to go on a date with you then I think it's okay to overtly flirt with them.

If you find yourself naturally attracted to someone, and you start feeling the urge to be a little flirty, just let it happen.
posted by cairdeas at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Usually I end up realizing I've been jabbering about work midway through a sentence and end up sputtering a bit and saying something like "blech pah ugh no sorry I don't want to talk about work anymore" and smile and then change the subject.

This has never gone poorly.
posted by phunniemee at 11:52 AM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound like it's much weirder and stilted and much more Mr. Collins-y than it actually feels, but I used to prep for early dates by coming up with three topics -- like, an interesting news story, a cool thing/show/event happening in town, and a bar or restaurant that's nearby and I'd like to try. If there's a weird lull in conversation (as a opposed to a good lull, which is kind of a good thing), then I'd bring it up. It usually got the conversation on track again.

Maybe this would work for you if you veer into shop talk?

Then again, people are always more lovely when they are talking about something they love. If you genuinely love your work, and it's accessible enough for your partner to follow, then why not?
posted by mochapickle at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: Actually, the one time I dated inside my field, talking shop is how we initially bonded during our first date. (....Which then went on to result in us hooking up that night, but I digress.)

But - the bulk of our "talking shop" was more "I'm gonna whip out my tried-and-true craziest-onstage-disaster-story but this time I won't have to explain what the ASM's job is because you already know". I feel strangely like I've given this advice somewhere in here before, but - there's a difference between the "informational interview" kind of talking shop and the "omigod, you are uniquely qualified to understand this crazy story from my job" kind of talking shop. The latter gives more of an idea about how you personally tick, and is also more...anecdote-y? (Is that a word?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I love talking about work, because I have an interesting job! I also get crushes on people who like their jobs, are passionate about them.

I don't think it was the shoptalk that killed it.

But since you asked, a good segue out of shoptalk is by finding a little tangent out. You went out of town for work a few weeks ago? Tell a funny story about that, or how much of a hellhole the hotel was, or how beautiful the beach was. Boom! Now you're talking about travel, and you can keep down that tangent.

(Insert other tangent/topic for "business trip" and "travel" to suit your taste.)

Or ask them how they got to where they are. (School? Major? Grad school? Sheer luck? Used to work in advertising? Was a journalist? Start asking the what/where/why/how of these things.

Example: "Oh you used to write for CNN? What was Atlanta like?"

It's not about sitting awkwardly until somebody goes, "Well, uh, do you like dogs or cats?" or abruptly changing the subject... just feel free to talk about work until you find something that'll give you a way out.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
posted by ulfberht at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: I talked shop on my first date with my now-husband. I think it's not about talking shop, it's about /how/ you talk shop. Try talking with a more intimate focus - how you /felt/ about Foo Thing as opposed to "I did Foo Thing". What it meant to you when Farfle Thing happened, not just the fact that it did. This opens the way into talking about you guys, yourselves, not just you guys, as people who do the same thing.
posted by corb at 11:55 AM on January 8, 2014

I also work in 'live to work' industry (advertising), and i actually tend to prefer going on okcupid/tinder dates with guys who work in my industry, because at least it gives a starting point for other conversation.
- Oooh, there's a good lunch place near where you work (turns into a convo about food)
- Hey do you work with so and so ? (turns into a convo about people or relationships)
- Hey we work so much i can't wait to go on my next vacation (travel talk)
- I travel for work a lot, this hotel was amazing/terrible (travel talk)
- How did you get into this? (school talk, random other job talk, life-choices talk)

And by then you've had a couple of drinks and it's easier to talk about anything.
posted by Kololo at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've had good luck, in situations like this, with talking about things that're tangential to work but not actually WORK. I'm in comics, so for me this could mean, "Hey, I read this really great book!" or "Man, I went to an awesome show a few months ago, here's some funny stuff that happened there!" or "I've been watching ALL OF THE TV on Netflix while I'm inking, so I now I have all these opinions about season five of Bones! It's so weird!"

Or whatever!

I've found that trying too hard to dodge talking shop entirely just makes me act like a crazy person. And hey, if I'm going to successfully be in a relationship with someone, they have to like me as a person who talks about her industry all of the time, so avoiding it too aggressively is likely to backfire in the end anyway.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:57 AM on January 8, 2014

Yeah, the only good thing about drifting into shop talk is that it is about the one avenue of conversation where it is totally acceptable to cut yourself off and say, "Nope, let's not talk shop anymore. So where did you grow up?" or whatever.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:59 AM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: I feel like it's perfectly fine to talk about work, that talking about work will not cause a relationship to die on the vine.

I mean work, for you, is probably the thing you are most passionate about so why try to rule that conversational topic out? In fact, you both may "shine" the most when talking about work.

I think the atmosphere of the dates may be important ... if you go, say, to a dark romantic bar, there's little chance it's going to feel like just another work conversation no matter what you're talking about.

The thing is ... Work may be a common ground for you two that helps you negotiate the initial awkwardness of the getting to know you stage. Once you've been on a few dates, you can naturally segue into more substantive non-work topic that have come up in your prior dates.

My girlfriend and I worked together until a few months ago, and usually (sadly) work was the most interesting thing we had going on. So we talked about it. But we also had some shared history and experiences so we could talk about other things too ... but it never really seemed necessary to steer the conversation away from work if that was interesting.
posted by jayder at 12:13 PM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: I kinda think the flow is more important than the topic; if you're trading work stories and it's going well, why shove the conversation in another direction? I'm a single parent, and when I go on dates with other single parents sometimes Let's Talk About Our Kids is the only piece of driftwood we can cling to in a frozen sea of awkwardness, and sometimes it's just a natural thing to have a really wide-ranging and enjoyable discussion about. So I wouldn't worry about purposely avoiding talking about your work.

As for what else you can talk about, observational, in-the-moment stuff seems to be pretty good for sussing out whether you're on the same wavelength as your date. Riff on the fedora styles of the guys at the other end of the bar, the particular choice of fake plant d├ęcor, how the hell did that couple two tables over ever end up together, etc. Do they roll with it, pick up on your cues, laugh at your good lines? Maybe you just get a blank stare, maybe they try to play along but their jokes grate on you. Good things to find out, and you don't necessarily get at this stuff with interview-style questions.
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:15 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think in this particular instance talking about comedy would be good - since it's not your "day job" it wouldn't be this heavy "shop talk" exactly. Like talk about different styles of comedy you like and avoid complaining and I think it would be fine.
posted by sweetkid at 12:18 PM on January 8, 2014

What the hell do people even talk about on dates, anyway?
Hobbies. I want to know what you do when you're not working. If all you do is work, or work and watch TV, I really want to know that upfront, so I can not date you. I wouldn't consider it a "dating mistake" or a failure if that's all the two of you talk about; I'd consider it a successfully-avoided bad relationship. My life outside work is rich and interesting and full of colorful characters, so I always have a story to tell.
work, for you, is probably the thing you are most passionate about
This is absolutely true for many people. Lots of folks here in DC live for their job, are consumed by it, are unapologetically, and often admirably, dedicated to their work. Sometimes this work is truly world-saving stuff, and sometimes it's just about being the richest lawyer in town. These women (since I date only women, that's my frame of reference) want nothing less to engage in shop talk all the time--why wouldn't they, if they've dedicated their lives to a cause?

But not me. I have a good, interesting job, but I'd rather talk about the parade float I'm building in my back yard. If a date talks only about her work, I assume that's her whole life, and that we are not, therefore, compatible. But, again, it's good to find that out. Disappointing, yes, but good to know early.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:43 PM on January 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since you are a comedy writer, I think the most romantic rom-com ever is His Girl Friday. The spark between Rosalind Russell and Carey Grant is what's kept that movie vibrant over most of a century. Of course they're talking a mile a minute about work the whole time.
But it's not earnest, colleague, interview talk. It's flirty banter. And it's real because they're married to their work and it's what they have in common.
For me, having planned "date" topics to ask about would make my conversation go dead. YMMV, but for me it would drain the life out of the conversation.
In short: I agree with folks who say it's not about the fact that "work" is your subject matter. If you're super into your work, own it. But not in an "interview" way, in a fun way. Then -- if you're feeling romantic energy towards this guy -- put that energy into it. If he's also jazzed about work and flirting while discussing it, there you go. Nothing could be more fun than that, really. If it doesn't spark, it might not be because you talked about work but because there just wasn't the spark to begin with.
posted by third rail at 12:47 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

What the hell do people even talk about on dates, anyway?

What do you talk about when you AREN't out on a date? When you are with your friends? Same stuff.

Men are not such a different species that you can't talk about your interests with them!

If you were out with your girlfriends, would you spend all the time talking about work, or would you also discuss more intimate and personal stuff? Or, going the other way, would the conversation revolve around more light-hearted things, jokes, stuff that just came up because of where you were and what you were doing? Talk about that stuff.

Additionally, you might have a little more getting-to-know-you discourse, of course. But a lot of that also comes up in discussion. You tell a family anecdote and he asks if you have any siblings. He talks about his best friend Jay and you ask how they became friends. Stuff like that.

The only caveat is that, of course, if you spend your time with your girlfriends joking about how lame guys are, that's probably not going to go over too well with a new guy on your first date!
posted by misha at 1:16 PM on January 8, 2014

Best answer: I think you're directing your attention to the wrong side of the equation. It's hard to "not" talk about something (like the old paradox, "try not to think of a pink elephant!"). Much easier to direct attention into talking about everything else.

Before a date, scan your mind for things that currently interest and/or impassion you. Not in an organized way; just to prime the pump and coax your mind out of its lazy habit of focusing on work (which is understandably reinforced when hanging out with a co-worker, whom you naturally associate with work). If you strain and edit to remove work references, you'll have an awkward time every time you have an impulse to go to that topic. Lousy date (in fact, you'd probably do better to just go ahead and discuss work, rather than project that awkwardness and fits/starts hesitation)! So the attention has to be directed toward stirring up other facets of your brain, your life, your experience, your curiosity.

If it's not just a matter of mental laziness, and you're really super-focused on work, it might take a bit more effort than that. Fantastic: this is an excuse to address that, which might be a good thing for you above/beyond the dating communication issues. Consider making a conscious ritual of clicking your mind off of work when you walk out the door. Eventually it becomes natural. It's a good thing to do.

Finally, if all else fails, why not start a date out by noting this propensity, and trying to make an agreement to try not to discuss work? Maybe make it a drinking game (the offender must do a shot each time the topic's raised). This removes some of the awkwardness and distraction and makes it a team effort. "Team efforts" are always a good way to go with dates! And it will take sole responsibility off your shoulders.
posted by Quisp Lover at 1:18 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you should try introducing a little distraction to the date.

I live near the Pier, so for general meet-and-greets I would suggest that instead of meeting at Starbucks we meet by the Promenade where we could get a coffee or something to go, and then grab a bench at Palisades Park. Sitting next to someone is more forgiving than having to stare at them from across the table, and there were plenty of people and things around to talk about if there was a lull in the conversation. It also let me initiate a Sorkin walk-and-talk if I started getting bored or antsy. Bonus: If you're feeling it you can inch closer together, and if you're not you can still define your space.

The best first date I had we decided to meet at Union Station and ride the rails around town, checking out the public art at the stations. We ended up having lunch in Chinatown, going to Dick Blick's in Pasadena...and with little more effort than sitting at a coffee shop.

I never had anyone reject the idea or say they'd rather just sit in a coffee shop; I think the key is to frame as a more relaxing and casual alternative to a coffee shop and not, Let's DO something! like it's a formal first date. And maybe it's just me but for me, if sitting on a bench in the park instead of at Starbucks across the street is a deal breaker for someone we probably aren't going to be a match anyway. I also thought of meeting people at the farmers market or Taco Truck Tuesdays but never got around to it.

My specifics may be too casual some people, but the concept is the same. Before joining OKC the thing I dreaded most was the awkward first meeting and I can tell you that after the very first date (which was the biggest dud of all) I was never nervous again.

FWIW, it just so happens that the Metro Rail date was the only guy I connected with and we would have gone out again but something off-line popped up unexpectedly so I decided to focus on that.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:26 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I met my wife at work. We both knew everything we needed to about each other's jobs, so conversation flowed naturally away from work topics. Now that happened because we had spark, were genuinely interested etc, but it's definitely a thing that can and does happen without prior agreement.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2014

Ask questions.

1. Where did you go on your last vacation?

2. What's your favorite movie and why?

3. If you won a million dollars what would you do with it?

4. If you couldn't do the job you have today, what job would you want to do?

Stuff like that.

Most of these sound absolutely agonizing and I would not enjoy a date in which they were asked (at least in such a straightforward manner).

I actually think talking about your work is no bad thing, because hey if it's common ground why not? I talk about work with my wife; I would think it weird if I couldn't talk to my partner about what I do. That said, if you REALLY want to avoid it you can playfully bring it up at the start - hey I know we're both in x field, but lets make a deal for tonight and not talk about it, ok? And then just let the conversation proceed naturally. Dates that come across as 'twenty questions' are always terrible, so really, please avoid doing that.
posted by modernnomad at 8:50 PM on January 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

When it comes to the guys that I'm genuinely attracted to, I don't think there is any topic of conversation that could possibly change that feeling. I would even say that when I'm really turned on by someone, whatever he's talking about automatically becomes a sexy topic, just because it's a sexy guy who is talking about it. I also don't think you can force chemistry by being more interesting or saying the things that you think someone wants you to say. I don't think attraction is a rational thing. YMMV, but in my experience the particular subjects you talk about on a date are not very important.
posted by sam_harms at 1:35 AM on January 9, 2014

Also, perhaps the reason you and your previous date ended up only talking about work was because you two didn't have any natural interest in each other. If that's the case, then the work-talk was the symptom, not the disease.
posted by sam_harms at 1:40 AM on January 9, 2014

Best answer: Talk about how you go to where you are and how you were formed - favorite things you did as a kid, places you remember, what you were teased about, your goth phase, drugs you used to do, people who died, people who are really old, habits, superstitions, fantasy dreams(win lottery, open doggy rescue ranch, rescue all the dogs, wake up kisses), goals, former achievements, stuff that was fun about school, stuff that was lame, corny nostalgia, new kids on the block bed sheets, stuff that is hard because you only tried it once, stuff that is foreign because you never tried it, stuff that is so vanilla cause you do it all the time, the bids on ebay for your American girl doll accessories you're finally parting know, whatever. Ask your date questions to learn the same from them.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The date finally happened!

There was some shop talk, but more about comedy/shows we like and less about our day jobs.

Mostly we talked about presidential assassinations, hunting The Most Dangerous Game, and alien life.

I am hoping for a second date, but I still had trouble bringing things to a sexy/datelike/flirty place. Also it's possible this guy thinks I'm a psychopath. Very much an "I carried a watermelon" sort of experience.

But thanks for all the advice!
posted by Sara C. at 12:27 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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