Awkard question after awkward question after awkward question
June 11, 2016 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me learn to talk with someone who has a difficult (for me) conversational quirk?

My good friend/coworker (let's call this person Friend) is dating another one of our coworkers (let's call this person Q) who has a conversational quirk I'm not sure how to deal with. Friend is super-excited to be dating this person, and I am supportive- they get along great and are navigating the whole coworkers dating thing well. I am happy to see Friend happy, and have been hanging out with Friend and Q more lately in social settings and at work.

However. . .

I didn't know Q very well before they started dating. I noticed early on that almost all of Q's "conversations" with me were really a series of rapid fire questions, some overly personal. I was told this is because Q is nervous. Fine, I get that. I also know Q does this with other people, so it's not personal. I have done my best to respond/tolerate this in the hopes that eventually Q would relax a little and things would get a little better. I would like to get to know Q better. But now, Q has added a new kind of question:

Q: What kind of sandwich did you get for lunch?
Me: Oh, I got a turkey sandwich. It's from [great place] around the corner. Have you been there?
Q: . . .
Q: But I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches best?
Me: Sure, but I felt like turkey today. It's nice to mix things up sometimes! [???]
Q: Hmmm.


Me: [Drinks coffee] Yum!
Q: But don't you normally drink tea?
Me: Yes, but I was in the mood for coffee today! [I don't even know how to keep this going . . .?!?]
Q: Huh.


Q: How's your day been going?
Me: Such and such group came to [our work] today, and I really enjoyed showing them around!
Q: But I thought you told me groups like that didn't come to [our work] very often?
Me: O.o (internally panicking because I don't know what to say???)
Me: Well yes, groups like that don't show up very often, but they came this time! (O.o- even more panicking internally).
Q: Oh.

Friend MeFites, I am so frustrated! I don't really do things in absolutes (only roast beef, only tea, only certain kinds of groups), so I'm not sure why my actions seem to exceptional/questionable. Q is constantly putting me on my back foot in these "conversations" and forcing me to explain things. And when I say constant, it really is constant. I just want to have a chill conversation. What should my response be to Q when these kinds of questions pop up? It feels so awkward. It is exhausting and no fun. Now when Friend and Q want to hang out I am reluctant because of the question bombardment. I am kind of scared that the next time it happens I am just going to blurt out, "Dude, what the HELL?!?!?!!?" and be really rude.

I appreciate your advice! I really want to learn some skills to tolerate this or conversational tips/tricks you might have to help our discussions flow more smoothly.

(As a side note before you think I am crazy intolerant, Q has some other stuff they do that puts me off a bit. Q offered to "do me a favor" that really would have benefited them more than me that I had to decline repeatedly until I had to tell Q a firm no. I had good, practical reasons for making this decision which I was pressured to explain. I also had made plans with Friend and Q invited us to an event. When both Friend and I declined because we had made these plans in advance (and it involved other people) Q told me we should have changed our plans because Q's event was better/more special. So there is a bit of history where I feel Q is kind of pushy. Maybe I've just become hypersensitive? If so, you can tell me!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The truth is some people really want to solve people and there's not really anything you can do to prevent that. Anything you ever do or say is going to be taken and integrated into her current theory of "how anonymous works." Unfortunately, people aren't actually solvable by and large. The best you can really do is say something like "I contain multitudes".
posted by 256 at 5:09 PM on June 11, 2016 [31 favorites]

I don't doubt that Q is awkward, but what I'm seeing here is a lack of follow-up questions from you.

So, did you try things like:

"How do you decide what to get for lunch?"

"Sometimes a little extra oomph in a beverage is just the thing. But water's good other times. Do you like to drink anything in particular?"

"Have you dealt with groups visiting your workplace? I totally get it if it's more of an annoyance sometimes." or "...Well, I had a lovely conversation with one of the guests, who used to work at the same place I did in high school. Have you ever run into people from such a loooong time ago?"

Or even a topic change: "Sometimes I like tea, but you know, it's good to be flexible. How was your weekend?"
posted by amtho at 5:13 PM on June 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I don't think you're crazy intolerant. This stuff is incredibly exhausting. It's not just the interrogation, it's the constant challenging you. What the hell are you supposed to do, defend yourself against the charge of not ONLY liking roast beef?

Let's assume, though, that Q means well. Can you establish some sort of interest in common - is there anything Q likes that you like? Game of Thrones? Craft beer? Prince tribute bands? anything at all -- so that he won't be casting around in his mind for annoying trivia when he sees you? And you guys can always start off warm with a pre-established connection and topic of conversation?
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:14 PM on June 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think he's trying to show that he's paying attention to what you say and maybe fake being outgoing. Someone told him that if you ask people questions about themselves that they'll like you.

Can you get him started talking about one of his interests? That will keep him from asking you so many questions, he'll be put at ease, and maybe he'll realize he's getting an object lesson in conversation.
posted by momus_window at 5:20 PM on June 11, 2016 [21 favorites]

I have a friend like Q, been friends for 20 years now, and I think with her it's a combination of social anxiety and having a very rapid-fire brain (with no filter between her brain and her mouth). I feel constantly back on my heels when conversing with her, it's rapid-fire questions one right after the next with no pauses. I love her, she's lovely, but after 20 years I STILL find talking with her exhausting and I have never found a way to short-circuit this conversational habit of hers.

In my friend's case, her "but I thought you said/liked/did ..." isn't trying to catch me out, it's literally just her narrating her high-speed brain with no filter that suggests to her this might feel like a grilling. (If she happens to catch you when you're chewing, she'll often answer her own question -- "Oh, but I guess sometimes you probably like to change it up and have tea instead of soda.")

Anyway I have long since accepted that she would gladly give me a kidney but she will never let me tell a complete story and 90% of my thoughts in any given conversation will go unfinished because she interrupts with more questions. That's okay with me, with this one friend. My husband can't stand it because he has to finish his thoughts and she leaves him feeling like someone took a rake to his brain and he's frazzled for hours after seeing her.

I don't meet her for lunch dates, though, because there is absolutely no possibility of eating AND talking to her because of the rapid-fire nature of her conversation, and I'm a slow eater when I'm NOT under non-stop question barrage!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:25 PM on June 11, 2016 [20 favorites]

Okay, this is me being a psychologist here. But the common theme that runs through the three scenarios you described here is her(him?) trying to fully understand you through your preferences and choices. The questioning was all focused around trying to appreciate any deviations in what she(he?) had already decided were the pigeonholes (tea drinker, roast beef eater, etc.) into which you were already slotted. Whether that type of black-and-white thinker is what Friend is looking for in a long-term relationship remains to be seen.

This perspective may give you some clarity; it may not. But the suggestions about turning it back on her(him?) will do a great deal to assuage your discomfort. Whether Q's apparent discomfort also remains to be seen.
posted by DrGail at 5:26 PM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think it's reasonable for you to be annoyed, based on the overall pattern, but that doesn't really do you much good dealing with the big picture: Friend booked Q, and Friend is important to you. Q's annoying traits aren't going anywhere. Well, they may fade a little bit, some of it may be due to nervousness, but the overall pushiness is probably not going to completely disappear. Well, It may get better: I've known some people who, especially at first, had a hard time balancing "Oh I really want you there!" And crossed into "You must come!" But they mellowed with time...and some never did.

If possible, try to detach q little: think of Q as a child figuring out the world, it's not personal. And I agree with amtho, throw in your own questions. You can even keep it on topic: "Sometimes I feel like tea, what about you? Do you just like coffee?" I'd personally be tempted to be a bit snarky (Do you not understand that not often doesn't mean never?), but for Friend's sake that's not a great idea.

And whe Q is pushy, stay detached but firm: You may be right Q, X event would be more fun, but I like sticking to my plans.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:32 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This looks a lot like New York Jewish Conversational Style, which can include rapid fire questions, and persistence on topics, all of which are meant to show interest and friendliness, but can come across as interrogation and make people feel uncomfortable. Scroll to page 8 of the pdf for some examples; part of the paper focuses on how this style can go terribly, terribly wrong with people who aren't used to it.

If that's what he's using, one thing it to just try to reframe it in your mind as "He's just trying to be friendly and find common ground with me", and roll with it.
posted by damayanti at 5:35 PM on June 11, 2016 [21 favorites]

I'd try having a platitude at hand ( a friendly "It is what it is" ) for when you don't feel like answering.
posted by jouke at 5:43 PM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

My platitude is for this situation is, "I know, right?!" and if the questioner doubles down, I just smile enigmatically.
posted by jamaro at 5:51 PM on June 11, 2016 [30 favorites]

I would stop thinking about them as "forcing" you to explain, and instead conceptualize it as an opportunity for you to practice telling someone "no."

In other words, if you don't want to explain, you don't have to -- practice not explaining or justifying yourself.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:13 PM on June 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

Can you, like, talk to Q about this? In a friendly way I mean, and ideally not in front of Friend since this isn't really about Friend and you wouldn't want them to feel like they're being asked to pick a side. (If you have to do it in front of Friend then OK, just be careful not to drag them into it.)

Just, you know, next time Q starts hitting you with a barrage of questions, say something like "Q, buddy, I appreciate that you care and all, but all these questions kinda make me feel like I'm being put on the spot all the time! Can we just chill a bit? Nice day, isn't it?"

No judgement, no anger. An explanation of your issue, couched in friendly exasperation. An invitation to continue being together, but in a less intense way. Q might even appreciate your directness—some people aren't very good at reading people and taking hints, and find it easier when people can just tell them what the deal is (in a nice or at least neutral way) so that they can adjust their behavior before resentment sets in. I, for example, am one of those people.

The idea posited above—that Q may be asking you so many questions because they've absorbed the advice that showing an interest in people helps them like you, but for whatever reason they're implementing that advice clumsily—really resonated with me. It sounds like something I would do myself. I'm not saying that's the dynamic here for sure, but you should at least consider it a possibility.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:29 PM on June 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, I feel like this is a bit of an Ask vs. Guess situation. That is to say, Q may be assuming (not unreasonably) that if you have a problem with them you would say so explicitly and that since you haven't, there must be no problem. Whereas you might be feeling (again, not unreasonably) that you're dropping all kinds of polite hints that you would like to have a different kind of conversation, and you can't understand why they're not taking those hints and shifting along with you.

To you, their conversational framework may seem alarmingly confrontational. To them, yours may seem as though it relies on them being some kind of mind-reader. You may be able to cut through that, if you can shift your own mode to something that meshes with their conversational assumptions. It's work, but sometimes you have to work at relationships, especially ones that were not of your choosing. You want to keep the peace for Friend's sake, right?

(A note to other answerers: anonymous has apparently been very careful to use gender-neutral language throughout the question. There is no reason to assume that Q is male, or Friend female.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:40 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is Q on the spectrum?
posted by brujita at 6:51 PM on June 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

Here I usually deploy my friendliest smile and an "I don't know what to tell you" and just let it hang there. Puts it right back on them.
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:59 PM on June 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

It sounds like Q isn't the only one who's awkward in a conversation. I'm having a hard time understanding why these conversations are so stressful for you. Why doesn't your third example look more like this?

Q: But I thought you told me groups like that didn't come to [our work] very often?
Me: (responding calmly to this neutral observation) Well yes, groups like that don't show up very often, but they came this time!
Q: Oh.
Me: (seeing a further remark from me would help to continue the conversation) One of the guys in the group told me [interesting thing.]

I get that Q's questions and comments aren't great at helping the conversation along, but I don't get why they're inspiring panic in you. Are these actual examples of conversations that bothered you, or were the real conversations about more emotionally charged topics? "But I thought you liked roast beef best?" isn't an accusation or a demand that you justify your actions; it's just an expression of mild surprise and interest. Q may think that a statement like this that recalls things you've said in the past is a nice way of showing interest in you. Saying "Sure, but I felt like turkey today" is a perfect response and is all that's called for. Then you can say something else about a different topic.
posted by Redstart at 7:51 PM on June 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

I knew two people who asked questions like this. One was on the spectrum, and it was what it was. The other was a young guy who had never had a job before, and he grew out of that quirk.

Q sounds awkward, but it might make things easier to just take a (figurative) deep breath and to behave as if this has nothing to do with you. Q is just a strange person who will keep on asking strange questions to all the various people in his life. This is Q's quality, not your own. There is no need to take it very seriously, or to put much thought into it.

When Q says "but I thought roast beef was your favorite", consider shrugging and saying "I'm full of surprises" before either leaving or changing the subject. Don't put any malice or force or fake smiles into it. You're just letting a strange thing bounce off of you.

(Hell, I wonder: what would happen if you said, "I like more than one thing. Don't you?" No sarcasm. I'm officially curious about Q's stance on liking things. Or: "I can't keep up with my favorites - would you make a spreadsheet?" Maybe he will! Wouldn't that be convenient.)

When Q is puzzled by your coffee-drinking, consider shrugging and saying "I enjoy a wide variety of beverages". Maybe you're teaching him that people don't just drink one thing all the time. Maybe not. It doesn't matter. His confusion is not your problem.

When Q doesn't understand why you didn't change your plans for him, let this continue to be his problem. So he has a pushy personality - so what? So do infomercials. And just like an infomercial, he can't force you to do anything, and he'll continue his pitch whether or not you're listening.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe I'm an asshole, but if you and Q are otherwise on good terms, this seems to me like a good time for some good-natured messing-with.

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You (having presumably eaten roast beef in Q's presence before): I hate roast beef sandwiches. Who told you that?!

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You: That's what I wanted you to think. Bwahaha.

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You: I do. Turkey sandwiches are awful. (Takes bite of turkey sandwich.)

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You: Actually, I'm a vegan. (Takes bite of turkey sandwich with cheese and mayo.)

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You: That's so two days ago. Omg!

Q: I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches?
You: What does it matter? We're all going to die anyway.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:32 PM on June 11, 2016 [27 favorites]

^I'm being serious, by the way. I think some good-natured humor will get your point across better than a direct confrontation. It'll certainly make your interactions with Q more enjoyable.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:36 PM on June 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was going to post some possible replies similar to kevinbelt's above. I also want to add that I feel you, OP. This type of conversational "quirk" drives me batshit and makes me absolutely hate someone, spectrum or excuse or no. It's cool that you're trying to be nice about it (not sarcasm), but you also don't have to deal with it. Make yourself unavailable when they come around to chat, etc.
posted by ElectricGoat at 8:43 PM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm also not getting the panic part. I can see how you could interpret these questions as someone not seeming to believe that you can have two things you like to eat, 2 things you like to drink, etc. Or you could choose to interpret it as someone who means well, who's conversational style is different but it's worth it to your other relationships to get used to it. I think your responses are perfectly appropriate. If you don't know how to "keep going" about a conversation about liking tea AND coffee change the subject.
posted by bleep at 9:09 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Although it can get old and frustrating I think the light clever quips are one of the best strategies. I thought you drank tea? yes but they were out of rum, or International man of mystery, or boycotting china this week, or didn't you hear it causes blindness, or tea shmee gotta live on the edge. In the right private venue it's probably ok to just say "please, calm, slow down a bit" but the results of that will likely only be temporary and situationally specific.
posted by sammyo at 9:22 PM on June 11, 2016

You could just shrug after answering the first question, instead of answering the secondary challenges. (So annoying, especially if it's a predictable patten.)

Shrug, pause, change subject/ask a question about something else. Train the subject to change their conversation challenges to you.
posted by honey-barbara at 9:48 PM on June 11, 2016

Nthing the possibility that Q is on the spectrum -- the lack of awareness of personal boundaries plus the need, implied in their questions, that your behavior should always be consistent points to this pretty strongly for me. You should find out if this is the case, since if it is, strategies like "good-natured messing-with" will only make things worse.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 10:28 PM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think this sounds like a spectrum thing too.

Several relatives of mine, including my dad and two of my kids, are on the spectrum and this is the sort of exchange I have a lot.

If it IS a spectrum thing then Q is not trying to trip you up or contradict you, they just remember all the things you have said previously and are probably trying to re-contextualise/memorise "you" in live-time using the stuff you say about yourself (which sounds exhausting, and is). The best thing to do is be honest and open. Answer as if a toddler was questioning you (as in if Q was a toddler you wouldn't second-guess their intentions, or feel threatened or panicky about their questions, and you would just answer or not as you felt at the time and not worry about having a "good" conversation or the "right" answer to hand). If you want to change the subject, change the subject. If you want to end the questioning then say, "I felt like a change today." and fall silent. You can even literally say, "no more questions, tell me about your weekend". If it is a spectrum thing it is unlikely Q will feel "shut down" by that, (in fact they may not notice).

I would not advise "messing with" Q if this is a spectrum issue. To regular people contradicting what you previously said or playing verbal games might be seen as fun, or annoying. I know if i did that to my daughter it would be like going into the home of a blind person and moving their furniture around. She gets most of her social info verbally and can remember word-for-word things said to her years and years ago. She lacks the ability to read all the other cues we rely on, and it would throw her into a complete spin if someone did this to her (and in fact they do, all the time, at school, a place she hates), it makes her question her sanity as it undermines everything her mind has carefully memorised to help her navigate interaction with a given person.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 12:57 AM on June 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

I get the "be kind to Q" impulse, but don't forget the "be kind to yourself" part, too --- whether Q is on the spectrum or not, you are never required to answer every single nosy question you're asked.

I'm not saying to mess with their mind, just deflect:
What kind of sandwich are you eating? Hi Q, nice to see you!
What did you do this morning? It's been busy, busy, busy!
What are you drinking? Coffee --- would you like some?

The point is, no detailed explanations UNLESS YOU WANT TO explain further: you are not required to make yourself uncomfortable just so Q can be happy. Q's comfort level does NOT trump yours.
posted by easily confused at 1:15 AM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I came in to say what Redstart says.

I don't find Q's questions stressful but it is your perception of them that makes them so. Have you tried shooting back questions at her? How does she respond?
posted by Kwadeng at 1:32 AM on June 12, 2016

That article about New York Jewish Conversational Style is so interesting! And it's by Deborah Tannen, who's written bestsellers about how people communicate with each other, but it appears to be a scholarly article from when she was in school or teaching.

Anyway, I agree with not answering followups. My technique is to just say, "Yup." Don't you normally do X? Yup. What's different about today? Shrug. You don't really want to keep this particular conversation alive, so don't.
posted by chickenmagazine at 4:30 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh man I would make this awkward right back.

"I thought you usually got the roast beef?"
*Pause, study* "do you know what 'usually' means?"
"Oh, uh, I just was wondering why you went for that one."
posted by Lady Li at 4:37 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a super caring friend who is exhausting because this friend is exactly like the person you describe. I'm pretty sure my friend experiences it as showing an active interest in me and my choices whereas I perceive it as an exhausting interrogation in which I am asked, in essence, to justify every single choice I've ever made. My friend is also fairly judgmental and happy to volunteer when they think I am doing something wrong. So the combo can be intolerable and I limit our time together precisely to protect myself even though I adore this friend and this friend has demonstrated how much they care for me in a variety of ways. I get that it's not personal, also my friend happens to have ADHD which does not respond to medication and essentially zero filter between thoughts and words. So I just have to limit my exposure for my own health. Feel free to do the same if need be.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:05 AM on June 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

A: "Why do you want to know?"
posted by Wild_Eep at 6:00 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is an awkward but relatively common behavior, and it is almost definitely not intentionally hostile.

I know people who do this sort of thing, too. A good friend of mine does that sometimes, and so does the rest of her family. Some people interact like that. It is their way of being friendly and expressing interest. But I have a directly clashing thing where I haaaate it when people are all nosy, asking inappropriate questions or grilling me on what I'm doing all the time.

Fortunately, she's a good enough friend that we just talked about it, and we both try to compromise some. And when she's being too nosy for my comfort levels, I just make little jokes as a reminder and a deflection. I'll tell her to direct her questions to my attorney or something.

I don't think it's appropriate for anyone to be speculating about Q being "on the spectrum," particularly not based on some anonymous third party account of a single behavioral quirk. And it's not really important, anyway. The issue is that specific behavior. That can be addressed on its own.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:21 AM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

A number of people (perhaps including the OP) seem to be interpreting Q's questions as challenges: "What you just said/did is inconsistent with your past statements/actions! Explain yourself!" It's hard to tell without being there and hearing the tone of voice, but it seems unlikely to me that Q's questions are intended as challenges. To me, they sound more like invitations to tell more. Anonymous mentions/does something that seems a bit unexpected so Q imagines there might be a story there and invites Anonymous to tell it. Q may be envisioning conversations like these:

Q: But I thought you liked roast beef sandwiches best?
A: They were all out of roast beef! I was so annoyed! But that turkey sandwich turned out to be so awesome it made me think I should branch out more and not just eat roast beef all the time.

Q: But don't you normally drink tea?
A: Yes, but I was up late last night studying for the class I'm taking and I need coffee to keep me awake.

Q: But I thought you told me groups like that didn't come to [our work] very often?
A: They don't, so I was surprised when I heard they were coming, but my boss told me [interesting story explaining the visit by the group.]

Sometimes there isn't a story, though, and that's fine. You don't have to feel like you've failed an interview question. Just move on to another topic.
posted by Redstart at 8:43 AM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I know it's tempting, but please don't go into this assuming that some kind of autism spectrum disorder is in play here, based on the speculations of a bunch of internet people who read a couple of paragraphs about this person wherein you happened to say that they tend to ask a lot of questions during conversations.

That kind of amateur internet diagnosis is super irresponsible and I wish people wouldn't do it, but there's not much to be done about it. Just please don't loop that circle back around by letting it color your thinking about this person—it's not helpful, and it's not necessary. Treat Q as you would anyone else who had an annoying personal quirk, by kindly asking them to cut it out. If Q then discloses to you that they are on the spectrum then by all means ask if there's anything specific you ought to do in light of that, but unless they volunteer that information it's really harmful and othering to be going in with the assumption that their behavior is pathological or disordered.

Even if you were armed with a qualified diagnosis given to you by Q's healthcare provider (which would be a gross breah of privacy, and yet better than the diagnoses being speculated on here in that it would actually be coming from someone who was wualified to give it) what good would it do you to see Q in terms of a disorder instead of as a person? It might provide a framework for interacting with them—an incomplete framework, one that reduces their human complexity to a set of characteristic symptoms—but you can get a better and more complete framework even more easily by interacting with and talking to this person.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Your response kinda depends on what you want to get out of this situation. Caveat: all the people I know who do this are on the spectrum, so that might be skewing my suggestions.

That said:
If the key thing is to help you relax
1. Try to internalise the fact that they are not doubting you, and that they are not interrogating you for malevolent purposes, and that they are not trying to trip you up. That's a big deal, because half of the stress is that you're an honest person trying to give honest answers, but the responses you're getting are not the normal ones you, as an honest person, would expect, and it's driving you to work super hard, which *is* upsetting and disturbing and exhausting.
2. because of #1, you are not obliged to give an answer. You have nothing to prove. You don't have to cover, or explain, or justify any sort of choice or behaviour. Therefore it is totally OK to use deflection - "I know" "Weird, huh?" "just one of those days I guess". In fact, you don't have to answer at all. A non commital 'mmmhmm' or a shrug is also fine.

If the key thing is to stop them from doing this, or shift the conversation pattern
1. You will have to be more direct; people who do this don't suddenly stop doing it, because this is how they communicate. You can try returning with a question (remembering that you don't have to justify yourself, so it's OK to respond to 'but don't you usually have turkey' with 'what do you like for lunch'). If that fails you can, if you can stomach it, be more assertive 'why are you asking me this' 'why are you so concerned about my lunch'.
2. You can approach the issue absolutely directly 'Hey, Q, I realise you probably don't mean to do this, but you always seem to ask me strings of questions like that and to be honest it's a bit intimidating. It makes me feel like I'm being tested rather than that I'm having a conversation. Could you back off a bit, or tell me something about yourself instead?'

My experience is that 2 is unlikely to work. The only scenario in which it does is with a close friend, and even then it's only a temporary fix, and it's with someone I can just say 'back off with the questions now, I'm getting annoyed' because we've had that conversation enough times before.
posted by AFII at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2016

I think this is a good opportunity to internalize "just because someone asks, doesn't mean I have to answer." You can't change Q, only yourself. The good thing is, a lot of the stress Q's questions cause you are actually due to your internal thoughts: the feeling that you have to answer them in a satisfactory way. And if you manage to stop feeling that, it'll reduce the pressure you're under.
Try shrugging with a friendly smile and saying a platitude like "that's how I roll" or "I contain multitudes" to shut down the topic and move on to a different topic. You won't exactly enjoy future conversations but you won't have to panic anymore either.

(My assumption is that you want to continue seeing these people and you don't want to be seen as rude. But you also don't want anymore interrogation.)

(Honestly, I'd probably stop seeing them if I wre you.)
posted by Omnomnom at 1:11 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good natured exasperation. "Dude, why do you CARE?"

Exaspiration and redirection: "Dude, why do you CARE? Anyway, are you and Friend going anywhere this weekend?"

Pure redirection. Literally ignore the question. "Are you and Friend going anywhere this weekend?"
posted by DarlingBri at 2:44 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh shit, I think I do this to people all the time. It would never have occurred to me that someone would see it as annoying!!

I think I do it because I want to get to know people better. I enjoy learning about people and remembering facts about them, and if they do something that appears to contradict what I've learned about them, I want to know more so I can understand them better.

I have ongoing problems with depression (even though it's being treated) and I am very much subject to black-and-white thinking that someone mentioned above. I have social anxiety, also being treated, so I often have trouble thinking through the most appropriate social response—this results in a tendency to just blurt out awkward things.

It sounds to me that Q really wants to be your friend but just doesn't have the social acumen to express it in a “normal” way.
posted by a strong female character at 7:15 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would make jokes- pretty sincere jokes- to signal they should stop. Ramp them up in intensity if you need to, samples below, in order of directness:

"Wait are you working for the FBI?"
"I feel so exposed!"
"I'm a very complex person and I won't be parsed by your algorithms!"
"Did you plant a chip in my gums that's recording my sandwich preferences?"
"How did you even remember that, do you have a spreadsheet about me?"
"I'm gonna have to start eating lunches I hate just to throw you off your spy trail!"
"What do you mean this is different from my usual... Are you telling me what I like to eat?"
"Hey quit memorizing my preferences, Inspector Gadget!"

Make these kinds of jokes quickly and nicely, not meanly and not in public, and then change the subject and keep being kind to the person, use their name, touch their arm, etc. The joke cues them that they should cut it out, the niceness hopefully mitigates their guilt/anxiety/bad feelings at being called out. Then change the subject to something nice.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:33 PM on June 12, 2016

It sounds to me like Q is a very rule-driven person. Q probably learned the rule that showing interest in other people is a healthy and positive way to interact with them-- but Q's attempts to implement that rule involve trying to understand which precise, logical rules drive your behavior. And because you (like most non-Q humans) are not governed by a short series of easily definable rules, this ends up feeling less like friendly interest, and more like an assault on your very nature.

It also sounds as though Q is not very good on picking up social cues, because otherwise, it would be obvious how uncomfortable this approach makes you. For this reason, I don't think you'll have any luck with trying to address this jokingly or indirectly. If your panicked, speechless expression hasn't conveyed the message, adding in additional subtle social cues is unlikely to help.

Fortunately, this is one of the cases where the problem contains its own solution. Q is driven by rules -- so help Q learn a better rule for interacting with you. Next time it happens, say something like, "I think I'm less rule-driven than you are. When I make a general statement like 'I like roast beef,' it's more a rough guideline than a universal rule." You might need to supplement that with specific guidance on how you would like them to interact with you.

And if that doesn't work -- and it might not, because Q might just not be capable of switching off this conversational style-- you might want to talk explicitly with Q about what rules you should implement. As in, "Q, like I mentioned, I get uncomfortable when you point out ways in which you find my behavior contradictory. Is it OK if I just tell you explicitly when that occurs?"
posted by yankeefog at 6:37 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is totally a thing with some socially awkward people. It's not you being intolerant. I know one person who does this and it feels like being interrogated. The vague statements that lubricate conventional social conversation and interactions, and that people do to make chit chat and avoid over sharing are suddenly examined in minute detail. The realisation that they don't stand up to close scrutiny leaves you feeling like a pathological liar.

This is not you, it's a problem Q has with being over literal and socially inept. People who love them need to explain this to them so they can improve. The only way I found to manage this infuriating habit was to avoid the Q in my life and eventually sadly, also my friend. It was worth it though when I consider all the wasted time I spent infuriated over our interactions. Such a relief to be free of all that.

People like this tend to be massively over sensitive to any criticism at all so confronting the issue directly with them, while it sounds dreadfully sensible, will likely provoke hostility from them and cause issues with your friend. Gently bringing it up with your friend and seeing if they are willing to address it with Q is probably a good first step.
posted by Stephanie_Says at 6:16 PM on June 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hope your friend is ok. I was with someone like this for a few years - every possible thing I did, every human inconsistency, was constantly up for debate and scrutiny and if I did anything differently, they felt like it was evidence that I was a liar and a dangerously whimsical person. I had to monitor every word I spoke. It was damaging, and it chipped away at my self-esteem. It was exhausting to be with this person, and painful, too. I had to leave them.

I suspect that in Q's case, s/he has stuck on the idea that you have to make small talk - I'm guessing that they're socially awkward and at one point, never made small talk, then got called out on it over and over. Now they make small talk, but they don't know how to let small talk stay small.
posted by mousesinger at 6:33 AM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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