Ask me no questions
February 18, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I have recently connected with an old friend and I am curious to see what Mefites think of this behavior and see if you have any tips on dealing with it.

I haven't seen this person in about 10 years. When talking with him, he is often evasive about answering seemingly innocuous questions such as what his dogs names are or what kind of side job he's working. Or he will answer a question with a question. There are many more instances but those examples are what came to mind. I never ask anything extremely personal or inappropriate. I'm not grilling him for info - it's just a normal friendly conversation. When I ask what's up with it, he says he's being "mysterious". He was like this back when I first knew him, and it seems to have become more intense over time. What is your opinion of this, and how do you respond to this kind of behavior?
posted by random thoughts to Human Relations (42 answers total)
If it annoyed me (and it totally would) I'd back away from the crazy slowly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on February 18, 2014 [17 favorites]

"I'm being mysterious" = "I'm intentionally being a dick". Mysteriously lose his phone number.
posted by Koko at 11:52 AM on February 18, 2014 [90 favorites]

My totally non-expert opinion is that this is tedious and annoying, and I would respond by saying "Oh..."

I have a friend who is difficult to talk to - it feels like I have to drag answers out of them. What I've found in that situation is that I was being consistently overbearing. Letting them take control of the conversation got them to open up a lot more.

I myself have had a pretty big personal problem with what has been alternatively labeled by myself as "creative joking" and by others as "being full of shit." I recognize that this is an issue and despite that, it's been very difficult to change. One of the most helpful things that my friends can do is to say "Wait, is that for real or are you joking?" I'd be more than happy to never lie again, but old hobbits die hard.

So i guess it depends on the person and the situation, and how much effort you're willing to put in, and why they are actually doing what they are doing.
posted by rebent at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I ask what's up with it, he says he's being "mysterious".

Yeaaaaah. This is a personality type I have very little patience with; I associate it with fedoras and other facade-of-interestingness paraphernalia. My response would be "no, but seriously, what's up with that?" and if he continues to evade I would just disengage at the earliest opportunity. Life's too short.
posted by ook at 11:54 AM on February 18, 2014 [42 favorites]

At first I was like "eh, I know people like this who are really really resistant to talking about anything in their daily life, it's annoying to make conversation but whatever" and then I got to where you said he claims he's being mysterious - WTF? No. Total narcissistic whackjob.
posted by celtalitha at 11:55 AM on February 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

How do you respond to this kind of behavior?
I shrug when someone responds like that, and don't bother to contact them again. If I see them in social settings I'll be civil and polite but nothing more.

Life is too short!
posted by barnone at 11:55 AM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chances are good he's unhappy with his life.

I went through a really long period of being unemployed and broke a few years ago and it was super embarrassing for me. (In hindsight not so much, but at the time it was just awful.) I was reallllly evasive when people asked me stuff, even basic questions, just because I didn't want to have to get into a smalltalk back and forth that would inevitably lead up to the "what do you do" question. I was especially evasive with people I hadn't seen in a very long time.

If you really want to continue to try to be friends with him and get him to open up, maybe share stuff about yourself, things about your life and world that are kind of shitty, so that he doesn't feel like he has to be on the defensive.

But mostly if I were you I'd take this as a chance to just back off and be friendly with him but not friends. Him saying he's trying to be "mysterious" is weird and obnoxious.
posted by phunniemee at 11:55 AM on February 18, 2014 [15 favorites]

Others have advised you to just stop talking to him. If you'd rather not, though, I have another idea - whenever he is evasive about a topic, just shrug and go along with it, and never ask him about that topic again. Cheerfully go along with it.

Now, you're probably thinking that "but that will eventually leave us with nothing to talk about." And that's exactly the point - you will be pointing out to him that by complying with this stupid policy of evasiveness, you will eventually end up with nothing to say to each other, and so either a) he should drop it if it's an act because it's stupid, or b) he should drop it if it's a real thing because he has no reason not to trust you. But either way, he will get the message he should drop it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

My opinion of this behavior is that it is annoying and arrogant and I would respond by not pursuing a friendship with this person.
posted by dahliachewswell at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

oh, my god, what a crystalline nugget of annoyingness. Terrible. Back away, move on.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:57 AM on February 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

When talking with him, he is often evasive about answering seemingly innocuous questions such as what his dogs names are or what kind of side job he's working.

Unless he's working for Interpol and/or his "dogs" are, in fact, undercover revolutionaries or something, I expect you're dealing with a pretty shallow pool. I would be annoyed by this and, therefore, would certainly not attempt to engage him in conversation, let alone spend time with him.
posted by she's not there at 11:58 AM on February 18, 2014

You know, there's a lot of stuff that most people consider normal chit-chat that I really don't like talking about and will try to deflect rather than answer. And I know my partner, who's struggled with underemployment the past few years as he's been dealing with mental health issues, is exhausted about being asked about his job or his hobbies, and sometimes embarrassed to answer, because the real answer is basically "I spend every minute of every day trying to survive my own brain", and that's not a conversation he necessarily wants to have with everyone who's trying to make small talk with him.

Which is to say, there are legit reasons that things you may consider harmless questions are not actually harmless questions for that particular person, and they might prefer not to answer it.

That said? "I'm being mysterious" is a stupid and annoying response, and suggests to me that you've got a drama queen on your hands rather than someone who may simply be a private person or a person dealing with stuff they don't necessarily want to share with you.

That is probably someone I'd either cut back on discussions with, or stick to whatever frivolous topics you CAN talk about, but would not invest a ton of emotional energy in because they are playing games with you.
posted by Stacey at 12:08 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who is sort of like this. But he's my best friend, I definitely want him in my life, and at the very least I'm allowed to riff on this behavior.

For someone I wasn't close to, I would probably just not work very hard to maintain the relationship. If I can't know your dogs' names, how close are we really?
posted by Sara C. at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

This type of behavior drives me crazy. I've known people who did this and we are not friends anymore. My response is to disengage with the friendship.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:12 PM on February 18, 2014

I would just be direct. "Hey friend, I'm happy to try to reconnect with you after all these years, but you seem to not even be capable of telling me the name of your dogs. What's. Going. On?" And take it from there. If he's still not answering directly, then I would directly tell him that this kind of friendship isn't what you're looking for.
posted by vivzan at 12:18 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

This sounds like the sort of affectation people have in high school or college, but outgrow at some point in their twenties. Instead of outgrowing it, though. he's let it take root. I'd take it as a sign that this person probably hasn't matured in other ways, either.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:19 PM on February 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have dealt with people like this, and at a certain point you just have to laugh and say, "well what DO you want to talk about? How about you pick something you passionately want to talk with me about in detail and we'll go from there." If they aren't willing to engage you in that way then just walk away because they are being manipulative and controlling, all while expecting you to somehow carry the conversational burden. Those two don't go well together.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:25 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you reconnecting in person, or on something like Facebook? Some people are really resistant to sharing any personal info over social media. Or, could you possibly be phrasing questions more intrusively than you think you are? Or just asking too many questions, even if they're unimportant ones?

Failing that, my instinct would be to say this person is:

A) Poorly socialized

B) Extremely paranoid

C) Really uninterested in reconnecting with you.
posted by kythuen at 12:26 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, the 'mysterious' thing I cannot even imagine, but apart from that, I think I'm a little like that.

I am DEFINITELY not trying to be mysterious or compelling, but I am often pretty annoyed by small talk, and I can come across as being evasive or sketchy sometimes because of it. I'm not trying to be, but I just don't really like small talk. I don't like talking about mundane things, especially mundane things from my personal life.

It just makes my teeth itch when someone presses me for boring little details of my life when I haven't brought them up myself. When I have a known chatty friend coming over, I'll actually scour my house for evidence of activities so I can remove them. If I'm reading a book, I'll put it back on the shelf temporarily. If I have a project I'm working on, I'll put it in a drawer. I even sometimes erase the grocery list I keep on my whiteboard so I don't have to get in some discussion about grocery shopping, because UGH it's like having to do my boring household chores twice. Plus, half the time, telling people boring things about my daily life leads to boring unsolicited critiques about things I don't really care that much about anyway. I guess they're innocuous topics, but sometimes, the innocuous topics are the worst.

There are lots of things I enjoy talking about, and I even like hearing mundane little stories from my friends when they want to share them, but it feels intrusive and annoying sometimes when someone persistently asks me to recount the boring things I'm doing.

If you're not OK with that, of course it's OK to disengage, but I don't think it's necessarily the huge red flag that some are making it out to be. The 'trying to be mysterious' excuse could just be a diversion. It's really hard to explain to people who like talking about themselves why you don't, so sometimes you just say something.

Which reminds me: I'm making dinner for some friends tonight, and I have a bunch of embroidery floss to hide.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:31 PM on February 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

I was going to say something similar to kythuen - giving your acquaintance the benefit of the doubt, maybe they're freaked out by what seemed to you normal questions and, being unable or unwilling for some reason to answer them, are trying to deflect by rather clumsily referring to themselves as mysterious as an excuse.
Or perhaps they really are an International Man of Mystery.
Or maybe they really like you and can never think of anything meaningful to say.
Or it's like ernielundquist says, on preview.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A live version of an internet troll. What ook said; buh-bye.
posted by Melismata at 12:40 PM on February 18, 2014

Not worth your time! He may think that he'll get more attention from you if you have to cajole an answer out of him. But that's the height of arrogance and you have more important things to do.
posted by Ostara at 12:56 PM on February 18, 2014

I was close to someone who was like this. While I'm sure it didn't amount to a diagnosable psychological disorder, he definitely had a thought pattern that was flavored with something like paranoia. He came from a family and a culture that built strong walls around their personal lives. If someone asked him his dog's name, his visceral reaction would be to wonder why they wanted to know. He gave personal information away as if it were money -- you had to earn it, or have some special reason to be entitled to it. If someone asked him a personal question, he would reflexively become wary, guarded and suspicious. It made him feel unsafe. It was annoying as hell to deal with, but he was a good person who had his own reasons for being strange in his particular way. We're all strange.

Your friend has his reasons. He may not understand them well enough himself to give any better explanation than "being mysterious." To him, this may just seem like the right way to be, just like talking about stuff seems like your right way to be.

One way to deal with this would be to treat it like a difference between cultures. While you're fretting about why he's so secretive, he may be wondering why you're so nosy (I'm not saying you're being nosy, just that that's how things might look from the perspective of a more guarded person). You might just not be compatible as friends, or maybe there's enough there to be worth building on.
posted by Corvid at 1:00 PM on February 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

I can't tell you how many website password retrieval questions are "what is your dog's name?" Luckily, I have a fake dog name and even a fake maiden name for my mother to counter that. He may not.

So he may be annoying or may be just a little paranoid about someone coming back into his life after 10 years and finding out STUFF. Maybe he wants you to earn some trust back before relaxing with conversation.

I've read enough AskMes from people who don't like small talk to say give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by kimberussell at 1:11 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something is wrong. There is some deeper issue. Either back away - or brace yourself for increased crazy drama.'
(Personally, I would back away - I got enough on my plate to not want to deal with any extra crazy)
posted by Flood at 1:47 PM on February 18, 2014

Seconding that it's possibly cultural- people of certain cultural backgrounds are sometimes wary to answer many personal questions due to being wary of information being used against them.

However, I think even if he is from one of those cultures, his behavior is annoying and extreme. I lived in one of those "wary-of'questions" cultures for a long time, and made many friends who were friendly and reasonably open.

I've had yet another friend (from yet another "wary-of-questions" cultural background) who drove me crazy by being extremely evasive. Yet, she was nice a lot of time and fun to talk to about things not related to her personal life, so I still hung out with her. We never became that close though, and sometimes it really bothered me. I eventually kept a bit of a distance but tried to appreciate her good aspects.
posted by bearette at 1:54 PM on February 18, 2014

I have an ex girlfriend who pops up every 7 years and wants to start a conversation on email. I don't really want to talk to her at all, and don't feel like she needs to know anything about my life. However, since we did used to date, I feel compelled to reply with something. I'm sure I sound like your mysterious friend. (although I've never said "I'm mysterious")

It could be that he doesn't like you enough to want to chat, but also doesn't hate you enough to ignore you or tell you to buzz off.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 2:06 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is this all online? If you're trying to establish some kind of friendship over a chat program with someone who hasn't heard from you in 10 yrs, maybe he simply doesn't want to reconnect but tries to stay polite?
posted by travelwithcats at 2:25 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you a woman? He might have a crush on you.
posted by smoke at 2:28 PM on February 18, 2014

I know someone like that. When we realised he always evaded our questions, we started answering them ourselves. He is an international spy and has 8 passports, like Jason Bourne. When a helicopter flies nearby, it's his ride. He knows 50 ways to kill a person, etc.

He accepted it in good humor and now even complements our stories. He is a very reserved guy, but a really nice person.
posted by clearlydemon at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't like telling people in person things about myself because my life is weird and I feel judged and hurt when people react strongly. I could also see answering in a flippant goofy way if someone tried to pin me down about it.

He might be a jerk, or he might just have a hard time opening up. If sharing personal details is important to you, I'd not hang out with him, because it sounds like he's always been this way.
posted by winna at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe he's had mental health problems and isn't ready to share that with you, but it means he can't explain about his side job because it's somehow related.

Maybe his dog has cancer and if he talks about the dog, he will start to cry and that's, like, such a downer.

Maybe he senses that you don't really care about the answers and are just making small talk to fill in a silence.

I hate running into people I haven't seen for a long time because they inevitably ask some big, general, unanswerable question like "how's it going?" or "what have you been up to?" (in the past 10 years? where to begin!) I would love specific questions like "do you have a pet?" or "where do you work?" as a conversation starter, so you and I would probably have great conversations if we were long-lost friends. But not everyone is like that. Try asking him some big, general questions and see what he does with them.

But ultimately it all depends: do you like him enough to put up with this somewhat odd and annoying behaviour? If not, maybe there is a reason you haven't seen each other for 10 years.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:37 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm in the middle of changing careers from something that makes decent money and that I was was relatively good/successful at, to something I love which may wind up making NO money at all. Its hard to keep my nerve up during this transition and the bewildered questions I get from former co-workers don't really help. I try to deflect most personal questions these days. I never liked them all that much to begin with except from my very closest friends. Maybe this guy has somethong similar going on and when you called him on the deflection it caught him off guard and he blurted out the horrible "being mysterious," answer.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:41 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try the truth, and smile as you say this so you give him a way out. "You know, I'm not really interested in your dogs' names. I'm making small talk. It's what people do when they are trying to get reacquainted. You're not leaving me with anything when you're 'mysterious'. Now, my dog's name is Fido -- what's so hard about saying that?"
posted by Houstonian at 4:10 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

"You know, I'm not really interested in your dogs' names. I'm making small talk. It's what people do when they are trying to get reacquainted. You're not leaving me with anything when you're 'mysterious'. Now, my dog's name is Fido -- what's so hard about saying that?"

Oh, hell no. That's not an appropriate way to talk to an adult.

Nobody owes you an explanation for their personal preferences, particularly not a casual acquaintance; and haranguing a casual acquaintance for not disclosing enough personal information is way out of bounds.

If someone's personal boundaries are that off-putting to you, maybe you don't have enough in common to be friends. And that's OK. You don't have to be friends or even maintain contact if you don't want to. There's no need to get all hostile and demanding about it.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:35 PM on February 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

Um, I an seriously wondering if he is some kind of drug dealer.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:49 PM on February 18, 2014

It sounds like he is paranoid, perhaps of people knowing too much about him and being able to use the information against him or something. He sounds like he suffers from mental illness. I'd probably avoid him.

Edit: Looks like most people attribute this to a certain assholey personality type of someone thinks it's cooler if no one knows what they are up to. Huh. Never heard of that. Certainly possible. But what is mysterious about not revealing his dog's names? Maybe it is a game for him to always be coy. Or maybe his life just sucks and he's embarrassed by it or self-conscious of it. Who knows. Very strange.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:44 PM on February 18, 2014

Thanks Mefites for all the great answers! You've given me something to think about. I've never really encountered this to such a great degree before, so I didn't know what to make of it. I mean, I've encountered people who are evasive about certain things, but I've always had a sense of where they're coming from - whether they're really private, or shady, or we just don't click. On the surface it seems he's just being a dick, but my gut feels there's something going on there that's just kind of sad (though I could obviously be wrong).

Just to fill in some blanks, I'm female. I don't feel it's a cultural difference as we grew up in the same town and went to the same high school (but I didn't know him then, I met him after). I'd seen him a few times at a cafe I frequent so I friended him on facebook, content to make contact, not expecting any real interaction. He sent me a message and said to text him if I wanted. I did, and we've texted back and forth, with him initiating contact just as often as I do. I've also seen him in person. He finally told me the side job was working on cars, not because I kept asking him, it just fit into another conversation we were having.

I do like the idea of just answering the questions myself and making up a far out story.
posted by random thoughts at 9:05 PM on February 18, 2014

Any chance he thinks you have a romantic plan? I hate hate hate saying anything about myself to someone I suspect may use any little tidbit to try and feign intimacy (the type of closeness that leads to at least sexy thoughts if not full on sexy time.)

Don't think I've ever said "I'm being mysterious" but if I did it would mean effing
stop with the questions I will not answer and your questions about why isn't my personal life completely available to you. Let's talk about your fascinating job and travels in northern Europe because that's why I'm talking to you.

Not talking about pets caught my eye - that's exactly the kind of thing that people angling for ersatz closeness want.

You don't sound like a creep so if he thinks you want him in that way, you'll just have to work around his ego until he figures things out.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2014

> Not talking about pets caught my eye - that's exactly the kind of thing that people angling for ersatz closeness want

Yabbut it's also exactly the sort of things that people who want to be friends talk about.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:32 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone I've known who does this equates information with power/ control, and has issues around power/ control. I don't like being around these people.
posted by theora55 at 10:03 AM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I dated a guy for 2 months who was like this. He was initially very vague on his personal details when we met, and then it came out he was a medical school resident at the time, so he didn't want to have girls all ($_$). Then it became clear he's very reserved and controlling, normally. Very hesitant to share any info of any personal nature (and I'm an expert at prying info out of introverts). Very controlling in bed (and I didn't like that) so that aspect of our relationship died quickly. In the end I broke it off with him because it felt like we were decent friends who saw each other regularly, nothing more. But apparently this was exactly the way his last relationship of 2 years was.

Nowadays I hear from him once in a blue moon on Facebook. He sends me short messages of "hi, how's it going" and the conversation dies pretty quick because he only replies with short, closed-ended questions or redirects the conversation. I deduced he had had a new girlfriend for several months from his letting info slip over time, and he admitted it was true. But months after that he's only ever referred to her as his girlfriend, never any names or details. Same thing with his finishing up school and getting a job in some small town near me. He's confirmed he's gotten a job but hasn't told me where or shared any details.

I just don't care to care about this person anymore. I don't spend effort on friends that don't reciprocate, and this guy lacks reciprocation skills on such a basic level.

If you want to stay friends with your person, don't expect much from them or hope he'll "warm up" to you. People are usually exactly who they appear to be, in my experience.
posted by lizbunny at 8:05 PM on February 20, 2014

« Older Booze Gift for a Stag Weekend   |   Help me navigate the basics of the mental health... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.