Talking about yourself
July 24, 2006 2:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I be more active in talking about myself with my friends?

I've always been a big subscriber to the idea that you shouldn't really talk about yourself except when you're asked. I don't really want to be a burden on anyone else. But sometimes I want or need to say something to a close friend and they just don't ask. The other day I told a friend I was feeling pretty crappy but when I saw her she never asked why. Instead she spent hours talking about herself and her own personal problems, and then realized she had never asked about me. She said that this incident made her feel self-centered, and I think she was. But it was embarassing to both of us, and I feel like it could have been avoided if I had been more assertive and communicated better.

Reading this question I know it makes me seem like a martyr, which I want to avoid. But I also want to avoid becoming someone insufferable who talks about themselves when no one is interested. How do I balance?
posted by rwatson to Human Relations (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
My suggestion is: be open. If you need to talk to your friends about something, just say "can you help me? I need to get something off my chest..."

As for balance, it is something you have to keep by yourself: no one knows your friends as well as you do, and only you can gauge how well they relate to you.

Best of luck.
posted by fsmontenegro at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2006

The other day I told a friend I was feeling pretty crappy but when I saw her she never asked why.

What does this mean? Were you not face to face when you told her you were feeling crappy?
posted by ludwig_van at 2:42 PM on July 24, 2006

Your friends will be willing to listen to you. I had a lot of the same feelings you're describing when I was depressed - I felt like my life/problems/whatever was uninteresting and a burden on everyone else that they would only put up with.

As a general tip, I've found people tend to feel more engaged if they perceive some sort of participation of theirs. It's always a good idea to force them to be an active listener, usually by saying something like "hey, can I get your input on something that's going on with me?" or "Dude, you have to hear this, I think you will totally dig it/not believe it/etc."

You can't expect anyone to be a mind reader. If you need to talk about something, talk about it.
posted by mckenney at 2:43 PM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: ludwig_van: We were talking online and when I said I felt crappy she said we should go see a movie to cheer me up. Then we had a long chat.
posted by rwatson at 2:47 PM on July 24, 2006

There's nothing wrong with wanting to talk about yourself -- even at length. I'd say that, with any of my given close friends (I refer to my SO and people I've been friends with for 10+years) about 70 percent of our given conversations are about either one of us or the other.

I'm not sure what your relationship with the friend you mentioned is like (though it's nice that she noticed that she was being less than empathetic), but it brings to mind something a friend of mine told me a long time ago: Sometimes you just want to be heard. Often people (like myself, in the past) feel as though listening to someone's problems means they'll have to fix those problems, or come up with some stellar piece of advice. It sounds like you just want someone to vent to. Being up-front about this would probably help quite a bit. fsm's advice is good.

I've found that, over the years, the friends I've kept have been the ones who know how to listen. They're also the ones who are a little more self-aware when it comes to talking my ear off about personal problems. There's an implicit contract there that I think works really well.

As for being assertive -- I'd say that "I feel crappy today" might not be enough. If a statement like that isn't followed by an explanation, many folks might take it to mean "I feel crappy today, and don't feel like talking about the details." If you have friends you trust to listen to you, don't be afraid to launch into those details.
posted by hifiparasol at 2:51 PM on July 24, 2006

If you're really desperate to get it out, just latch on to something they say and springboard into your own soliloquy.

Other person: "...oh, and the wait staff there is so curt -- you wouldn't believe it! Anyways... there I was waiting for my tomato bisque--"

You: "Ha! Funny you should mention tomatoes. I was reading up on those the other day, and it turns out they're related to hemlock! Yeah, part of the nightshade family... anyway, longstoryshort, I've entered into a suicide pact with my bowling team and we're aiming for this Friday night after Hell's Kitchen.

More seriously, I think it comes down to delivery. If you can, or can learn how to, tell a good story (and know which you've already told), time becomes less of an issue. Shit, if you're willing to sit there and listen to them, it's only fair. The only issue is really holding their tiny extrovert attention spans.
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:03 PM on July 24, 2006

If a statement like that isn't followed by an explanation, many folks might take it to mean "I feel crappy today, and don't feel like talking about the details."

Or even, "I feel crappy today, for no particular reason".

Honestly, this situation seems to me like the kind of thing that can't really be avoided altogether. In general I would say don't wait for people to ask but it's very possible that in this situation you weren't going to get any useful support from this particular person at this particular time and that part of you recognized this.

Last thought: the fact that you're asking this question means that you're pretty unlikely to ever be the kind of person who does bang on about themselves too much - don't worry about it.
posted by teleskiving at 3:10 PM on July 24, 2006

I agree with some of the above comments - if you value and trust your friends, and want to build the friendship, it is worth reaching out very clearly when you need support. It's difficult, but please do try it!
Also - perhaps not what you need right now - but there's a good book called People Skills by Robert Bolton on the topic of listening and assertive communication skills. Good luck.
posted by 8k at 3:19 PM on July 24, 2006

I have a similar difficulty in conveying what's on my mind to the people I'm close with. I've discovered that my reluctance to talk about myself stems from them not querying me about my life, i.e. "how are things going at work, etc." I interpret this as disinterest and as a result tend to become the listener rather than the participant in a conversation.

The way that I've discovered to get around this obstacle is to frame the topic I want to discuss in the form of a question to the friend I'm speaking with. Everyone likes to have their opinion valued, and everyone definitely likes to have their opinion respected by their friends. It's called confiding in someone, and it pulls them into your "story" in a way that makes them relevant and interested.

For example, if you meet your friend for lunch looking pensive and withdrawn and say, "I'm having a bad day at work" then you're putting the pressure on them to begin asking you questions about an ambiguous topic. If you say, "I'm having this problem at work and I think I know how to solve it but I'd really like to get your opinion" then you're pulling them into your story as a participant in which they can potentially affect the outcome. They get to listen, offer advice and see the reward of adding dimension to your friendship.

I'll add that I sometimes ask a friend a question about a problem which I've already ironed out. This isn't manipulative. It's a way of introducing friends to my life in a way that is comfortable for them to address. We live in a very self-centered culture and there are certain tricks one has to employ in order to get noticed at times.
posted by quadog at 3:47 PM on July 24, 2006 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That is a very creative solution quadog. Thanks for all the responses so far.
posted by rwatson at 4:31 PM on July 24, 2006

I often wonder why my friends are rarely as curious about my life and situation as I am about theirs... Personally, I'm hoping to find more friends who actually ask ME questions. Years ago I had a friend say to me over lunch, "Do you realize you haven't once this whole conversation asked me how I'M doing?" and it taught me a good lesson. I've not had to pull that one out with other friends but have gotten close. I believe friendship really has to go both ways, and if you care for someone as a friend, your honesty, especially about having need of support, is a gift.
posted by rleamon at 5:16 PM on July 24, 2006

It's been my experience that most people care, but they don't really ~think~. They'll go on and on about their lives and problems, but unless there's something visibly wrong, or unless they really know you very, very well, it won't occur to them that there may be something you need to talk about, or that something may be wrong.

If you want to talk something out with someone, easiest way to do it is to broach the subject. If you can't do it voice/in person, then do it in email or in chat. Just tell them that you really want to/need to talk to them about something. Most people will be concerned if they care about you, and if you're not the type to open up and spill all the time, they'll probably be flattered that you've chosen ~them~ to talk with.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 6:14 PM on July 24, 2006

There is no need for 'balance' here. You just have an inconsiderate friend.

That said, being a good listener is a million times more valuable in the long run that being a good talker-about-oneself. Cultivate friendships with good listeners, and be one yourself.

Or (comedy option): take cocaine.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:12 AM on July 25, 2006

I sometimes have this problem. I swing between "talking too much about myself" and "closing myself off" - one overcompensates for the other.

One time I was feeling rather lonely - I was in a study abroad group, it was midpoint, and I was feeling very exhausted yet frustrated that I couldn't really find anyone to talk to because everyone else had their own problems and I didn't want to bother them. One person sensed this and talked to me about it - initially it was about something else, but then it came to this and I just let it all out. Such a RELIEF!

She then told me that sometimes it's better to allow yourself to be vunerable - then people would be willing to help. She told me that she's noticed me alone many times but was never sure if she should start talking to me or if she should wait till I make the first move! This surprised me, because I have the same thoughts about others but never realised it applied to myself!

After that convo I talked to another friend about it and he said that often people are actually honoured to hear about yourselves (especially if you need help) because they feel needed.

Ha! Talked about myself to help your problem! I hope things work out for you. Basically - be yourself, be open, and don't be afraid to ask.
posted by divabat at 4:32 AM on July 25, 2006

I agree with quadog; pull your friend into the issue by giving her a reason to be involved.

It's possible that your friend's reaction to your having a bad day was to try to help you get your mind off it by talking about herself. If that's the case, you can steer her back to you via evil holiday magic's suggestion of finding a segue - any segue - that comes back to you.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:21 AM on July 25, 2006

I often wonder why my friends are rarely as curious about my life and situation as I am about theirs...

For every friend I have that wants to spill every detail about their life, there's a friend who wants to keep every detail private and doesn't like it if I even ask about it. Weird, but true.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

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