Weird miscommunication?
February 13, 2007 2:25 PM   Subscribe

How can I help or at least understand my friend who is closed-minded, but doesn't realize it and doesn't care?

Normally I wouldn't presume to even think about this, but she is a very close friend and I have never known anyone with this quirk. She is obviously very intelligent, which is why this bothers me - because she has so much potential.

But she never, ever uses it. She doesn't think about the reasons why she does anything; it's like she's just going through the motions and waiting for death. She'll talk to me for 10 minutes about how she couldn't decide which lotion to buy at the store, but is highly averse to talking about subjects that don't refer directly to our lives.

If I try to talk about art, for example, she'll have strange violent reactions, saying things like "thinking is stupid" or "I don't know, I guess I'm just one of those dumb people" and refuses to talk about it any further. She's actually given me the silent treatment for persisting. It's like I've been rude and she's trying to teach me a lesson.

I might just be projecting with my crazy questioning self, but I worry about her. She's happy, but she could be so much more. Does anyone even know what is happening?
posted by hypervenom to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe she just never uses her intelligence around you?

She might work hard all day using her brain and you are her friend for just chillin' and talking about lotion.

PS, no one is forcing you to be friends with her. If you don't like the way she is, break off the friendship.
posted by k8t at 2:28 PM on February 13, 2007

Well, she feels defensive about something.

Why don't you try to take her to something interesting that you both can check out and neither of you have any preconceived notions - an art showing, museum, play, opera, whatever. That way you guys can discuss it together afterward, and she can feel like she's more on a level playing field.

I like to think of myself as a pretty smart cookie, but often I can feel defensive and irritable when I am hanging out with someone who tries to goad me into having an opinion about something i don't know anything about or don't particularly care about. It's also that I can be made to feel stupid when I'm hanging out with someone who has tendencies to lecture. It comes off as condescending, and it's easier to shut them down by saying "yeah, it's because I'm an idiot" than actually try to explain that hey, dude, I'm not stupid just because I don't have an opinion on X,Y, or Z.

I mean, the whole "She's happy, but she could be so much more" comes off as pretty condescending to me, man. How do you know what makes her happy?

It could also be that the things you like to talk about (art, say,) are really boring to her. Just because she's smart doesn't mean she's in a position where she wants to examine her world around her. Sometimes it's easier to focus on the small things and leave the big things unexamined.

I have had friends who are always way into having deep, profound conversations, and they irritated the shit out of me.
posted by mckenney at 2:35 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Are you coming across as a geeky know it all art snob? I've had a similar reaction, but it was because my friend really was coming across as a complete know it all.

What can you guys talk about? Is she like this with her other friends?

Perhaps she's smart, but really just likes to kick back and relax when she's at work. Maybe she just doesn't feel like being smart all the time.

Could be many things causing this. :)
posted by drstein at 2:44 PM on February 13, 2007

You should try to accept her and let her behave how she wants to. Like k8t says, she most likely doesn't want to 'be intelligent' the whole time.
posted by welephant at 2:47 PM on February 13, 2007

Seconding other answers: you can't force this kind of thing. That'll never work, especially if she doesn't share your interest in art.

That said, what are her interests? What is/was her major (I presume, from the .edu email, that you are in or just out of college)? I noticed from your profile that you are an art history major; in your example you cite 'art' as a discussion topic. Why don't you do a little reading on one of her interests and engage her on her own ground? I suspect she will be much more likely to respond.
posted by taliaferro at 3:01 PM on February 13, 2007

Maybe she enjoys thinking and talking about more concrete things. Just because she's smart doesn't mean that she has to care about philosophy, art, or whatever you consider to be more meaningful.
posted by unknowncommand at 3:04 PM on February 13, 2007

Oh, okay. I really didn't want to make it seem like I thought I was smarter than her, but people took it that way.
I just meant that she never wants to talk about anything that didn't just happen to her/us or what's going on around us, wherever we are.
Also, we are roommates, I should have mentioned that.
Her major is elementary education.
posted by hypervenom at 3:14 PM on February 13, 2007

Also, we are roommates, I should have mentioned that.

HA, yes you should have. Boy, that's a horse of a different color. You need to leave her alone!

She's actually given me the silent treatment for persisting. It's like I've been rude and she's trying to teach me a lesson.

Or she wants you to leave her alone. Sounds like she has outside interests, a life, etc- when she's at home, she wants to relax. I'm the same way. Don't be obnoxious. Leave her alone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:19 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you want to help her in some way, but she may not really wanna be helped. Have you told her that you want to understand her? Or how it bothers you that you think she doesn't use her potential? Maybe she can help you, instead of you trying to help her. If you can make "I" statements and share your feelings about your relationship with her, she might enjoy your honesty and openness.
posted by hz37 at 3:25 PM on February 13, 2007

Her desire to focus on the concrete and immediate and her discomfort with abstractions could indicate that you are experiencing neurodiversity and that one or the other of you is not neurotypical.
posted by alms at 3:34 PM on February 13, 2007

Have you guys done the Meyers-Briggs test? Maybe she's a sensate and you are an intuitive.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:56 PM on February 13, 2007

"thinking is stupid"

This is an absolutely bizzare statement from some one working (or at least majoring) in education. I could completely see her being tired from thinking all day, prefering concrete discussions over abstract discussions, or even just finding you a terribly dull and annoying conversationalist, but considering the act of thinking as unworthy of her time? And she is a teacher? I can't parse those two things at all. I think there is something else at work.

Maybe she is much more drawn to observation of the here and now, and you to introspection and discussion of potentials. You are both equally intelligent, but you just talk past each other because you don't look at the world the same way. This isn't terribly unusual, and she is not in any way weird or lacking for not thinking about the world the same way you do. In fact, the dichotomy between observation and introspection is part of the Myers-Briggs (and by extension the Keirsey Temperament) system of personality typing. You really can go on for quite a ways researching down that path if you're interested, but in summary it seems to me from your question that she would be typified as S for Sensor, with you being N for iNtuitive. Here is a very basic run down of the differences.

Basically I'm trying to say that she's just different from you, and her outbursts are probably in reaction to feeling hounded and judged for her lack of enthusiasm for your chosen subjects. It's alright for you to think that she is missing out on part of the human experience for not engaging in the more ethereal considerations, but in the end if she's not in to that kind of thing then that's her choice to try to step outside her personality type.

For what it's worth, I'm N too (as part of the INFJ type) and I try very hard to widen my own scope of conversation and perception to strengthen my Sensing side. No reason to be a one-trick pony!
posted by nelleish at 3:58 PM on February 13, 2007

She doesn't think about the reasons why she does anything; it's like she's just going through the motions and waiting for death. She'll talk to me for 10 minutes about how she couldn't decide which lotion to buy at the store, but is highly averse to talking about subjects that don't refer directly to our lives.

Sometimes thinking about things you can't do anything about (and that don't affect you) can seem futile and pointless and self-indulgent. And if you feel that way, you're sort of reinforcing that sentiment in your own mind if that makes any sense ( I know of which I speak) and it creates a kind of weird feedback loop. I don't know how you break it, but coming on judgemental or know-it-all is ill-advised.
posted by jonmc at 4:24 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

"thinking is stupid" doesn't sound like something someone would say. Are you paraphrasing? Could she be saying something closer to "overanalysing art that someone else drew is a waste of time"?

I'm reasonably intelligent, but I find many "deep" discussions about stuff that is pure speculation to be pretty pointless.
posted by krisjohn at 4:28 PM on February 13, 2007

I like long, drawn-out conversations sometimes. But only in certain contexts. Someone trying to talk to me outside those contexts, especially about certain things, is not going to get a warm reception or my real opinions.

("Certain contexts" = talking with close friends, or posting anon/semi-anon online. Like now! Different for everyone, I'm sure.)

You said you're roommates. Were you friends before, and you asked for the assignment? Or is it a case of getting assigned by lottery/whatever and just being friends with your roommate to make things easier? If it's the latter, she might not consider you the kind of close friend she wants to share her opinions with--just an acquaintance she tries to get along with.

Those quotes sound to me like something someone would say in order to end the conversation.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 5:10 PM on February 13, 2007

You are trying to connect. She isn't.

That doesn't mean anything is wrong with either one of you.

She's just not responding to your probe.

You have only a few options. Keep trying or stop. If you keep trying, realize you may never connect in the way you want to with her.

As far as the reasons... who cares? It's hard to explain why people do what they do. The question is... is this negatively impacting you to the point that you can't work with her/live with her? If not, accept her oddity and hope she accepts yours, and connect with someone else, hopefully someone who appreciates your oddities and what you have to offer.

Pushing a rope is a waste of time. It's kind of nice, IMO, that you seem worried about her, but until she's at a moment of readiness for change, and actively solicits input, you are fighting an uphill battle.
posted by FauxScot at 5:53 PM on February 13, 2007

Her major is elementary education.

The really mean part of me, the part of me that dated an el ed major throughout college, thought: Well, that explains it.

I'm going to be charitable and assume you're NOT a condescending know-it-all (jeez, people!), but 23skidoo's comment about student teaching is, I think, apropos here. She might be spending so much time teaching other people to expand their minds that, at the end of the day, all she has the energy for is Chinese food and Ugly Betty.

But on the other hand, I agree completely with nelleish's comment about how unbefitting a teacher such an attitude is. Unfortunately, the long and short of is is that you're not going to change her mind by addressing the topic with her. It sounds to me as though she may be the kind of person who'll perceive you as a stuffed shirt no matter what you do. And, frankly, when you're visibly making an effort to make someone more open minded, looking like a stuffed shirt is less of a risk than a near-certainty.

The best you can do is to set an example. If you have fun expanding your mind, show her how you do it, but don't tell her how to do it. She's your roomie, right? Invite friends over for foreign film night. Leaf through an art book with someone. Hang inspiring posters up. Whatever you do, don't do anything to make her feel like this is something she has to do. If it looks like fun, she'll come around, and if not, she'll stick with the fried rice and America Ferrera, and will probably not be the world's greatest teacher to boot. But, hey, that's not your fault. And I know lots of bright, curious people who had brainless teachers in elementary school. Hell, half of my teachers were nuns, and I like a good Godard festival as much as the next NPR-listening latte liberal.

Good luck.
posted by hifiparasol at 6:18 PM on February 13, 2007

I should note that I gave the really mean side of me a stern lecture after I thought that horrible, horrible thought. BAD hifi! BAD!
posted by hifiparasol at 6:19 PM on February 13, 2007

She's happy

Then be happy for her.
posted by justgary at 6:29 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Re "thinking is stupid" - if she actually said that and you aren't paraphrasing - is it possible that she has a really, really dry sense of humour and you are taking seriously statements that are meant to be jokes?
posted by joannemerriam at 6:46 PM on February 13, 2007

I can imagine all sorts of potential reasons why she doesn't want to talk about the things you want to talk about- as a pretty introverted person with a demanding job and (last living situation) twenty two housemates, there are a zillion reasons to give responses like your roommate has. In the end, it pretty much boils down to wanting to be left alone. Take the hint. Don't try to force the conversation. Some people just don't feel like talking about the things you do, and that's OK.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:20 PM on February 13, 2007

Some people don't like to talk about stuff that's very important to them, especially when, like art, it's based on visceral reactions. My friends can go on all day about how they looove Mondrian or Pollock, and I'll nod and smile. I'll readily admit their skill, influence, effect on many people, you know the drill. When I'm interested, I can even discuss Mondrian's use of color or whatever -- no problem.

But at the end of the day, my favorite artist might just be Norman Rockwell for no explicable reason.* If people kept needling me about my taste for Rockwell and asking me to justify it, I might snap and say, "I don't know, okay, I guess I'm just a freakin' idiot" and hope they realize the damn conversation's over already.

If the person pulling "But surely you understand how Rockwell's paltry array of shallow clichés pales against Pollock's masterful grasp of composition" were my roommate, it would go at least five times as poorly -- ten times if I were trying to get homework done or trying to ask if she knew of a good hand lotion.

*Just examples. It could be lit (T. S. Eliot vs. Robert W. Service) or music (The Decemberists vs. '80s pop) or whatever.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2007

Could it be that she doesn't care about the types of abstract topics you're trying to engage her in? I don't really care about abstractions that much, myself. I think they're kind of silly. I'm more interested in the concrete, measurable world of the real. But if you want to engage me in a discussion of my profession, which I do care about, we're going to start talking about semi-abstractions and hypotheticals that have a bearing on my reality. I can get pretty engaged.

Maybe you should try different subjects? Start with, "What did you do today?" And then lead into questions that may spur discussion based on that.

Jay Mathews has a great column in The Washington Post, in which he touches on specific education issues as well as broader issues of education policy. Maybe if you read up on it, you'll know a bit more about the concrete and abstract your roommate is interested in. Don't present yourself as a know-it-all -- she's the one actually in the field -- but you could ask her what she thinks of this thing you just read, and see where she goes from there.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:03 PM on February 13, 2007

She's happy...

We should all be so fortunate.

...but she could be so much more.

More what?
posted by pardonyou? at 8:01 AM on February 14, 2007

I think you just have to accept her as she is. Some people don't like "thinking about stuff". I'm the opposite; I like thinking, analyzing, ruminating, discussing, etc (though not a debater). In fact, one of my favorite pastimes is Game Night™. And I even had one friend (who sounds like your roommate) say about Game Night™, "I don't want to think. I do that at work."
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:41 AM on February 14, 2007

She's your roommate.

You will be in each other's company at times that she might not feel like talking to or being around anyone. Trying to bring up a weighty topic at these times won't have the results you want. (Not to say it would work at other times, either.)
posted by yohko at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2007

"thinking is stupid"

that sounds exactly like something I'd say if I didn't feel like talking.
posted by footnote at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2007

the concrete, measurable world of the real.

That, my friend, is an absraction in its own right. In fact, every time you use words you are engaging in serious abstraction from "the real" you would describe.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:04 AM on February 16, 2007

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