Me me me!
July 27, 2007 6:28 PM   Subscribe

It's all about you I guess...

I'm the kind of person who takes a genuine interest in other people. I'm interested in what they do for work, what their interests are, etc. I never pry and am cognizant of people who don't want to talk about themselves. When I used to date I tried to keep me me talk to a minimum.

In the last 40 years I've started to take notice of people who never seem to ask a single thing about me. We have a mutual friend who I've known for 10 years now who has never asked me a single thing about my work, my family, nothing. Taking stock of other people in my life and people I meet, I notice just how common this is.

Am I asking too much of people? Am I wrong here?
posted by DieHipsterDie to Society & Culture (53 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Richard Sennett's book The Fall of Public Man.

People are narcissists. Since we no longer inculcate the idea that looking like you're sociable, friendly, and genuinely caring is the key to getting your way in society (because it's all about me: my self-esteem, my feelings, my lifestyle), it is no longer necessary to pretend not to be narcissistic.
posted by nasreddin at 6:47 PM on July 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son (1747):
Of all things, banish the egotism out of your conversation, and never think of entertaining people with your personal concerns or private affairs; though they are interesting to you, they are tedious and impertinent to everybody else.
"How to be Popular" (from WikiHow, 2007):
When you strike up a conversation, don't always be wondering what the other person is thinking ... Avoid thinking about whether or not you’re "cool" enough to talk to a certain person; rather, let that person see why they should want to talk to you.
Share something about yourself - it doesn't have to be big, just funny incidents or mishaps that will make people laugh (and not totally creep them out). Believe it or not, laughter often makes people feel more comfortable around you - making it more likely that they'll recall you as someone they'll like to hang around with.
posted by nasreddin at 6:54 PM on July 27, 2007 [6 favorites]

If I had a friend who never asked a single thing about my life or my feelings I wouldn't really call them a friend... So, no, I don't think you're expecting too much, I think you've just got too many self-absorbed people in your life.
posted by amyms at 6:54 PM on July 27, 2007

Thanks, Amyms. Do others here see the same behavior on a regular basis?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:55 PM on July 27, 2007

Am I asking too much of people?

Yes. Now stop asking.

Am I wrong here?

Yes. Stop shining a spotlight on people and then getting sad when they're not exactly like you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:59 PM on July 27, 2007

Your comment has been noted and forgotten, Mr. Blatcher.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

Never asking " are things with you?" is a bad sign. But coming from a family where intrusive questions are the norm, I prefer to not ask about personal affairs unless the topic is broached by them first. So if they never talked about their personal life at all I would only make vague "How's it going" questions and wait for them to volunteer more if they wished. And if they didn't I would assume that they were a private person and leave it alone. Sure, there are close friends that I do talk about these things to and do ask about, but if in 10 years you never opted to mention your love life I would respect your privacy on the matter. I see it as not being nosy, it has nothing to do with being self absorbed. I suspect many people are, like me, afraid of prying, instead of not curious.
posted by hindmost at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Do others here see the same behavior on a regular basis?

No, not at all. Everyone I know asks me about work, where I live, my engagement, my pets, etc. I agree with hindmost - if you never mention your work, personal life, etc., people are going to assume you don't want to talk about it.
posted by desjardins at 7:11 PM on July 27, 2007

I'm with hindmost. A lot of ordinary friendly questions expose some part of my life that I don't want to talk about and I then have to lie or prevaricate. So, as a kindness to others, I don't ask. I don't say "how's your partner," in case they've split up, I don't ask "what's that kid of yours up to" in case they're into WoW and failed all their grades, I don't say, "so how's that melanoma coming along," in case it's terminal. I say, "how's it going with you", and if they say, "my partner left me, my kid's a lazy bum and I'm dying of cancer", THEN i say, "crap, that's rough. Want to talk about it?" And you know what, I am a really really good listener, but I refuse to pry. I think my idea and your idea of prying are probably quite different.
posted by b33j at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Am I wrong here?

Yes, you are. You got a theory in your head, and then you went around looking for evidence to prove yourself right. And you did. That's not hard. (Not to mention that you're full of it- you say, I always think about others, how come no one thinks about me?!? But if you were really thinking of others, you wouldn't be asking this question). I think having a bad attitude and blaming other people is a bad way to live. Try this- instead of looking at others, look at yourself. Push yourself to live in the moment, invest yourself in relationships, ask others about themselves. It's a really hard thing to do; it's something I struggle with regularly. But I have devoted myself to love other people as myself, and so I carry on. I am lucky to have some very engaging, caring people in my life who I watch and model my behavior after. Make yourself into the person you wish to be. If you feel you've acheived that already, your bar was waaaay too low.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have noticed this a lot lately, too - especially with guys I've dated (note the past tense there). Haven't been able to figure out exactly why it seems to be such a prevalent phenomenon. These are all guys who, in my opinion, are old enough, smart enough, and well-brought-up enough to know better. For example, recently I went on a date with a guy who talked about himself the entire time (a few hours!). I couldn't figure out why he'd wanted to go out, because he didn't seem interested in me (other than as company to spend time with) at all. "Maybe he was nervous," I thought afterward; "I'll go out with him once more and see if the exchange is equal this time." No dice. Haven't seen him since, and I doubt he even realizes how self-absorbed he came off as.

A lot of guys I've encountered seem shockingly selfish (talking about themselves, not taking an interest in the person they're with, and refusing to do something unless THEY want to do it). The women I know don't seem nearly as self-centered, however. I haven't figured out exactly why this is. Maybe it's more acceptable for men to live life "on their terms" than it is for women? Do we reward men for doing things "my way (or the highway)," but encourage women to demonstrate care and attention toward others?

I agree with what amyms said...people who act this way aren't being friends.

[This is not meant as man-bashing, by the way...maybe I am just running into the handful of self-absorbed guys who roam the planet.]
posted by splendid animal at 7:23 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know you're not saying, "What's wrong with them? Are they that self-centered?" A lot of people just aren't that comfortable asking questions -- maybe they aren't comfortable about initiating topics, period. Seriously, try just talking about yourself a bit and see what happens. (I just got back from Chicago; saw Ratatouille recently; been trying some new restaurants... etc.) Some people will be interested and will ask questions. Some will just wait for you to finish so they can talk about their stuff. And sometimes your statements will lead to a general conversation that's not specifically about you or about them.

I tend to ask people about themselves because it keeps the focus off me. I'm actually counting on them not to ask! So I think you're right: it can happen that one won't get asked about his/her life. I'm great at keeping a lively conversation going, but I know I'd be a better conversationalist if I contributed my own stuff.
posted by wryly at 7:26 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Full of myself? No. Not looking for someone to care for or about me. Not looking to have tons of attention lavished on me. Not interested in being the center of conversation. Just wondering why some people only seem interested in themselves.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2007

We have a mutual friend who I've known for 10 years now who has never asked me a single thing about my work, my family, nothing.

Not snarking, but do they consider you their friend, or just an acquaintance, etc? I agree with TPS that this sounds like a case of confirmation bias.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2007

I agree with confirmation bias, mostly because in my experience people (friends and casual acquaintances) tend to ask me more about my personal or professional life than I'm comfortable with. Saying that everyone is irritatingly curious about me would also be confirmation bias on my part, of course.
posted by frobozz at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2007

I'm surprised that people are calling diehipsterdie self-centered... I get the impression that he's the one expressing an interest in other people's lives (i.e. *not* being self-centered), and curious about people who don't reciprocate. Like DHD, I know people who don't ask anyone anything about themselves, and if there isn't any give-and-take, a friendship/acquaintanceship isn't very satisfying. Sure, some people are shy or polite enough to not ask about sensitive or overly personal topics, but I think that's different from what DHD is describing.
posted by umbú at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2007

Is it possible that you're a caretaker kind of person? In some relationships , I find it really easy to fall into that role, which can mean that we spend a whole lot of time talking about the other person's trials and tribulations, and not much time talking about me. These are all lovely, caring people; it's just our dynamic. I'm sure I get validation from it on some level as well -- maybe something similar happens to you? I also tend to be a little more private with acquaintances than some people -- not on purpose, just by instinct. I think this also makes it tough for people to ask about me much. Maybe you could try sharing a little more, even if it's not expressly invited.

I don't think that you're wrong to wish for a little attention for yourself -- even if you're a person who is very interested in others, it's natural to want a little reciprocation.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:43 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hey, DHD, I am very much like you. If we had a conversation, we would probably compete in who asks the most questions. But I can have a monologue here in the comments. :)

I realized something a few years ago, when someone complimented me for being "such a sensitive man." Being sensitive is a two-edged sword. The same trait that makes people like us sensitive to other people, also makes us sensitive within ourselves. We can get hurt easily by other peoples' insensitivity. We can take things personally that others may not even notice.

There is a way to balance the 2 sides. And I probably have to remind myself nearly every day (seriously) that people do things and say things for reasons that have nothing to do with meaning to be uncaring or rude or insensitive. We have set such a high bar for people that it's impossible to for them to reach. We will go through our lives seemingly selfless for a period of time, but then something will push us over the edge, when it becomes one too many things, and we feel hurt, or even crushed. For me, it takes a lot of self-talk to remind myself of the positive things people do, many times non-verbal that mean the sames things people like you and I may be able to put into words. By and large, people are not comfortable saying what they mean, or verbalizing concern or care. They would rather hint or do things, then let it be. Men especially are like this.

If 2 woman meet on the street, and they are friends and haven't seen each other in a while, they might verbalize it like this: "I haven't seen you forever! Your shoes are so cute! I love your hair!" All these things mean "I miss you and I care about you."

If men meet on the street, one might say, "You still driving that piece of shit car? You ever gonna stop letting your mom dress you?" And it means the same thing: "You are my friend and I care about you."

What I found, even among friends that I have known a long time, is that if I want them to know how I am, I just have to tell them without waiting for them to ask. Nothing heavy to start, of course, but maybe just a story of something I did lately, or a project I am working on. Then they will tend to ask questions. Also be aware that if you are in a dramatic time of life, people may actually ask LESS how you are doing, because they may not want to upset you more. And sometimes people feel like maybe they are prying.

For me, I have to keep in mind that people have different ways of expressing relationship. Of my 2 best friends, one tends to ask very pointed and direct questions, sometimes to the point I don't want to answer. The other may call for advice on marketing or design. The second one may seem more selfish (she is asking for a favor) but in fact the meanings are both the same. The request for help is just a way to open a conversation.

So, learn to read and accept other peoples' ways of sharing and reaching out. Their way is not your way. When it comes to closer relationships, of course you have to decide whether you can invest your life into someone if you genuinely feel like it's a one-sided relationship.

Direct answers:
Are you asking too much? In a perfect world, no. But in reality, yes, because most people don't have the ability or the desire to express concern for people at the level you do.

Are you wrong? No you are not wrong, because you just expressing your own emotions, which are not wrong. When it can become wrong is when you close your eyes to the subtle ways that your friends reach out to you without verbalizing it. It can also be wrong if you get hurt or offended, then shut people out. That only makes things worse.

If you feel like this bothers you to the point it interferes with your life or your ability to maintain relationships, talk to a counselor. A good one will have some very practical things you can do to minimize the potential negatives.
posted by The Deej at 7:47 PM on July 27, 2007 [7 favorites]

It should be noted that there's a huge difference between not asking those kinds of questions and talking about yourself. In fact, the reason I'm not asking is that like b33j, I don't want to be talking about it. It doesn't matter how long I've known you, if I know you through work or the local mezzaluna collector's society I'm just not going to ask a question about your life except in the most general way unless you indicate a willingness to go there. Even if I will all of my mezzalunas to you after my death.

In the meantime I'll talk your head off about mezzalunas and even the occasional foray into ulu knives. If after 10 years you revealed that you had been silently stewing over the fact that our conversations never went deeper I would probably be confused and a little weirded out, especially if you made a conscious effort to "keep me talk to a minimum."

If you ask me about my life, I chat, and then ask about yours, I'm going to take any "but enough about me, now back to you" statements to be a signal that we're in forbidden territory and avoid asking in that vein again.
posted by hindmost at 7:53 PM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I don't understand the hostility that this question has generated.

Thq question is a bit chatfiltery, but putting that aside, it has sure seemed to touch a weird nerve with some of you. I wonder why.
posted by jayder at 7:53 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you are a new acquaintance, I may not ask about you because I fear you are a chatterbox. You might tell me about your Star Trek fixation, your granddaughter's wedding, your co-worker's sister's new baby or any number of other things that will cause a glassy stare that I cannot hide, embarrassing both of us.

If you are someone I have known for a while but not really intimately, I may fear that I will ask something that you expect me to already know, embarrassing both of us, just without the glassy stare.
posted by sageleaf at 7:58 PM on July 27, 2007

Often with folks like you, I can fall into talking about myself for ages (and then realizing after and feeling pretty bad). Like others have said, I can shy away from questions because I don't want to pry. Likewise, if you are interested in me and keep asking me questions, I am going to keep answering them. I think it is a little like ask v. guess: some people expect a dance of questions, while others prefer a dance of blurting out the me-related thing they are thinking of:

"I saw X, last night and PQR."

"Really? That reminds me of how Z LMNO'd and it pissed me off so much"

"Oh, right, remember how T was there? He is a monkeytrainer now!"

Which is to say, if you want to talk about yourself, talk about yourself. If you are interesting, your companions will take an interest, though it may not seem obvious at the time.
posted by dame at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2007

I can be guilty of this behavior, although not to the level of your friend of 10 years. I just don't think to ask people how they are.

I'm always glad to hear about people's lives, but it doesn't cross my mind to initiate the personal part of a casual conversation. (I feel bad about this, and try my hardest to remember to ask.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2007

New Yorker comic from the 1980s:

Man and woman having dinner at a restaurant. Man says, "Well, enough of what I think about myself. What do you think about me?"
posted by alms at 8:46 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Anyone here who says that it's perfectly OK to never inquire about another ("I'm tooo shy! I don't want to pry!") is full of shit and doesn't know how to communicate like a human being.
posted by tristeza at 9:02 PM on July 27, 2007 [5 favorites]

An 18-year-old incoming college freshmen walked into our office today, 25-minutes late for an interview with my boss.

My boss, who runs with a real tight schedule, had stepped away for a meeting, so I got hang with this person for about 30 minutes until my bossed returned to conduct the interview.

We talked casually for a little, she asked a few questions about what to expect in the interview, but mainly just talked about herself the whole time and never asked once about myself, my job, or education even though I was curious about her's.

Finally she started complaining that my boss wasn't there to interview her, even though she had showed up late (in her defense, she did encounter bad traffic and did call to say she was going to be late) but her shallow, suburban narcissism was really off putting. If she wasn't blaming my boss for making her wait, she was moaning about how sketchy the city is and how she didn't feel safe... ugh.
posted by wfrgms at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2007

Thank you for asking this. I am like you, and coming to terms with the fact that for whatever reason, the people I know are not, for the most part, very caring at all. Only a few years ago, I was completely confused as to the actual meaning of "support" in the non-financial sense, because as far as I knew, I had never experienced it. Immediate family members do tend to ask these days how I really am doing, although this is a somewhat new thing. In their case, and in the cases of some of my friends, I'm aware of the whys behind their behavior. As The Deej says, it rarely had anything to do with me.
In all but the situations in which the other person involved was undergoing some serious crisis or really anything that necessitated their focusing on themselves for awhile, the one-sidedness seems to happen because I make an effort (sometimes only half an effort) to be interested as well as interesting, and to draw my friends out- even though I'm probably the most naturally shy person among them. I'm a bit like Wryly; oftentimes I really would rather hear about them. And even when I don't, it's still fine sometimes if they only talk about their own lives... it really, really is. I'm not a caretaker, but providing a listening ear is something I consider to be one of the duties and sometime privilege of a good friend. But when it's all the time, it makes me feel completely wrung out and filled with their stresses in addition to mine.
My reasoning these days is this: if I am going to be turned into the unofficial therapist of these people, I am going to need payment of one sort or another in return. Either reciprocate once in awhile, or otherwise show they at least appreciate me as a friend by some other means than simply offering their marvelous presence when it suits them, or cough up at least $200/hr. I've withdrawn a great deal from most of my supposedly close friendships because of this. It's like a fairly amicable divorce; I still love them, but I can't live with them.
Sadly, this means that I have few close friends at the moment. I expect this to change eventually, but even if it doesn't, it bothers me far less than having energy-draining people around who are incapable of demonstrating in any real way that they give a flying fuck what happens to me apart from the inconvenience of having to find a new friend to pour out their tiny little hearts to in the event that I get run over by a bus. The people who understand that relationships involve giving in addition to taking are the ones in whom I invest my time.
I don't think you're asking too much of people, and am rather mystified that some would. The ones who take and take without ever giving are the needy ones, as far as I'm concerned. If I only wanted to know all about someone with ever having them show interest in me in return, I'd just turn on the television, for Christ's sake. I love to know people like you who ask these things of me. Good luck.
posted by Gingersnap at 9:43 PM on July 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

OMG, you caught me out! I admit it: I am not bad at asking questions, I have never come up with overly frank ones that go over badly, nor have I had repeated run-ins with people that make me think I don't know how to ask questions.

dame, seriously - "what's up with you?" was hard to ask or has gone over badly, ever?
posted by tristeza at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2007

I really feel like most people in the United States see themselves as narrator/protagonist/heroine of their own sitcom/soap opera/reality TV show. This fantasy has somehow made it acceptable for people to prattle on about their lives without taking a turn asking and listening to someone else talk about themselves.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:04 PM on July 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

People will get used to you never talking about yourself, and forget to ask you any questions.
posted by Zosia Blue at 10:15 PM on July 27, 2007

I've noticed this recently rather acutely too, namely as I was made aware that I was not asking as many questions about others as I would have liked. I wasn't refraining from asking out of a lack of concern for the other person, but rather because I had grown up in a social culture where if someone wanted to share something (it seemed), they would say it. I had been assuming that if someone didn't share a related story/opinion themselves, it was largely because he or she didn't want to talk about it then. Combined with a bit of shyness, I was nervous to intrude on my conversation partner's comfort. I certainly don't mean to imply that most people who doesn't ask about other folks are like that – certainly not after ten years of friendship! – but I've been able to become a much better conversationalist with people I don't know after coming to see that it's not inherently rude to ask people questions about themselves.
posted by Schismatic at 10:24 PM on July 27, 2007

In conversation I don't ask people about things they don't at least partially bring up. If they actually want to talk about it, they will. If they don't talk about themselves, ever, then I'm comfortable with them not sharing that information. If you're unhappy with the conversation, then why are you having it? You're half of it no matter what!

I agree with earlier posters--you share whatever you're familiar with sharing. Someone asking questions wouldn't necessarily offend me, but I could see it being offensive. Also, why do you think that people not asking about you means they don't care about you? I don't show I care by asking, I show I care by being there when they need me.
posted by Phyltre at 11:06 PM on July 27, 2007

DieHipsterDie, wow, that sucks. Anyway, did I tell you what my brother said to me the other day? I just could not believe it!!! I was just getting ready to go and....
posted by salvia at 11:08 PM on July 27, 2007

I recently stopped contact with a woman I'd been friends with for over ten years. We'd been gym buddies, shopping friends and she also got a job at the same place as me, albeit in a different role, so I used to see a lot of her.

But I realised that she never, ever asked me anything about myself or what I was doing. This was even more so after her marriage broke up and she moved 250 miles away back to her home town. We'd have two-hour phone conversations where it was all her-her-her. In fact, after I realised that it all seemed to be one-way traffic, I even did a few 'test' phone calls where I deliberately volunteered not one single thing about what I was up to, just to see if she'd ask, and she never did, not once.

When my fiance died suddenly, she was one of the first people I called. She was out, and I left a message. When she returned the call, she could not even remember his name, called him "Bob" instead of "George".

Six months after that, I needed some medical tests followed by surgery and, again, no enquiries as to my health or well-being when we spoke, even though I'd told her by email what was going on.

The last time I spoke to her was in January, when I mentioned that I'd been to America for Christmas. "You kept that quiet" she said. Well, maybe if she'd actually bothered to ask me what my Christmas plans were when we'd spoken in December, she might have found out.

I long ago realised it was a toxic relationship, but it took me several months after I realised that to make the break with her, because, well, we were friends weren't we? And for someone like me who finds social interaction quite difficult, my own neediness can sometimes get in the way of seeing what's good for me.
posted by essexjan at 1:02 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

This isn't just an American issue - I am an American living in Australia and mentioned the same thing to my Aussie husband the other day - My US friends ask him all sorts of questions but his AU friends have never really asked me much. He said it can be a cultural thing - People here feel like they are being interrogated if they are peppered with loads of questions.

There are so many different ways to feel about this - It depends on your own personality, on how you were raised. I learned that if I wanted to be 'heard' in this culture - in my life -I needed to speak up, because ultimately I am the champion of my own life. Not exactly the most engaging or easiest way of life, but once you break down those walls, you can build some marvelous relationships. Good Luck!
posted by inquisitrix at 1:08 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is a difference between people who talk about themselves so you know what's going on with them, and those who talk about themselves hoping you'll have some input or feedback.

I think I'm usually good at asking questions, listening, and not rambling about myself, but with some of the things going on in my life lately, I've kind of found myself wanting to talk to everyone I know about them, but only in the hopes that they can help me out.

On the other hand, there are people who just like to talk. To put in a poker analogy, that's why "bad beat" stories are so annoying (where you should've won a hand but the cards defied the odds and didn't go your way). They're just letting off steam, but there's nothing you can say to that except "Wow," or "That sucks!" And that doesn't register with the speaker.

But in general I don't think you can do anything about it other than to be blunt and say "You talk about yourself too much." Do you ask mutual acquaintances about these self-talkers, and do they have the same opinion of them? If the third party keep saying, "He asks how I'm doing all the time," then yeah, it could be you, or how you approach conversations.

And for those who say they don't like to ask simple icebreaker questions lest they touch upon a sensitive topic, why bother talking to anyone ever? You could talk about the baseball game last night, and get a response like, "My nephew played little league, but he lost a hand in wood shop and he'll never be able to fulfill his dreams of being a major leaguer."

Sure there are some topics where you tread carefully, like a sick relative, but really, you shouldn't be afraid to just chat. What if everyone had the same mindset with you? It'd be a quiet world.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:21 AM on July 28, 2007

Some people are radiators, others are drains.
posted by essexjan at 2:28 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Your comment has been noted and forgotten

That's fine. But to further clarify, some people are just drainers. There's no fixing them or changing them, they're just being a particular shade of human. So move on from them and find people more to your liking.

Still, and I mean this in the nicest of ways, why did it take you 10 years to figure out your friend was like this? Did or do you have some sort of blinders on, where your're looking or expecting them to do what you would do, inquire about others? Perhaps food for thought.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:03 AM on July 28, 2007

Thanks, Brandon. The "friend" I speak of was one of those friends picked up when I met my wife, in the same way I gained a new extended family. Maybe friend is too strong a word.

Thanks for all your responses.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:11 AM on July 28, 2007

Randomly, I just had a conversation about this the other day after meeting someone with my partner. The person we met was sweet and kind of awkward, and didn't ask any questions at all about our interests or lives or anything. I thought it was a little weird and off-putting and showed self-absorption, and mentioned that afterwards. My partner said that she thought I was being a little harsh, because sometimes when you're shy you just kind of forget to do things like that and end up only talking in responses because it's just too daunting to do anything else. And I think she's right. I think it's easy to forget that there are piles and piles of reasons that people act the way they do, and maybe it's kinder not to always assume the worst about them.

However, I realized that it touched a nerve with me because I've had a friend or two in my life who NEVER asked anything about me. Those people are no longer friends, because what that meant in my case is that they'd call, or I'd call, and the entire conversation would be about their lives. I'd know what they had for breakfast, their last sexual encounter, every detail of their relationship, and then I'd mention something about my life and would get something like "oh, right, you got divorced!" or "wait, when did you move to Baltimore?" It just wasn't okay, especially given that I'm really not the type to not talk about myself.

After thinking about this a little bit, I've decided that it's too much to ask of someone you barely know, because there may be any number of reasons why they're not asking questions about you. It's not okay when I consider someone a good friend and they don't know anything about me, but I suspect that I won't end up with friends like that again having realized it.

Thing is, I still think I'm being a little harsh, but I'm okay with that. It's all about what kind of friends you want and how important knowing people is to you. I am the sort of person who prefers to have a few friends that I like a whole lot rather than a whole crowd of people to hang out with. I know people who aren't like that at all, who wouldn't even notice that some of their friends never asked questions about them, and I think that's fine. Just not for me.
posted by hought20 at 5:17 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

dame, seriously - "what's up with you?" was hard to ask or has gone over badly, ever?

In the sense that there are loads of people who don't really answer or give you anything to go on once you ask it, yes. It makes me feel like a doof and leads to awkwardness. That is probably the last question I would ever ask, unless I was totally stuck.
posted by dame at 5:26 AM on July 28, 2007

I empathize DHD.

I recently had an experience where I was put in very close quarters for a month with about twenty people I'd never met before. It was kind of sink-or-swim socially and it made me very nervous because I'm quite shy and not at all socially adept. So in preparation I read up a lot on how to be charming, make friends, etc. and a lot of the advice was to be a good listener, ask questions and be interested in what the other person was interested in.

I followed the advice the best I could and I think I did a pretty good job of it. With most people it kind of just made me invisible. I swear to God there were times when my existence was completely forgotten even when I was sitting right in front of them. The few times I did make a comment or offer something about myself it was as if no one had heard. The dynamics seemed to boil down to loud = popular. Which is something I've suspected since kindergarten but have always been told is wrong.

The upside I guess is that there were many people who openly hated the loud/popular people whereas while I wasn't nearly as memorable I don't think I was hated by anyone. And I did eventually meet a small group of people whose company I genuinely enjoyed and who were actually interested in getting to know me.

Yeah so most people suck. Hold out for the good ones. News at 11.
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:33 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm pretty shy and I don't like to talk about myself. When I'm talking to someone I don't know very well, I tend to talk about impersonal things -- weather, movies that are out, etc. I don't ask personal questions unless I know the person pretty well, and I don't expect them to ask me any personal questions.

But then sometimes they do ask personal questions, and I answer the questions because I don't want to offend the person (although I think they are being really rude to ask such personal questions). Occasionally it occurs to me that they are expecting me to ask questions back, and I try, but I just end up feeling fake.

There are definitely people who I've known a lot of years who I don't know much about their personal lives (and they don't know much about mine), and probably even people in that category who I would call friends.

For a lot of people, that's just the way that they expect relationships to be. Nothing wrong with that; and if you don't want to have that kind of relationship, then just look for different people who are more talkative.
posted by clarissajoy at 6:14 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I like your question, and I know what you're saying DHD, but I'm also one of those people who become wary when someone I don't know well asks me how my weekend was. I think it's intrusive and none of their business.

Do I tell them so? No, of course not. I offer a terse yet polite response and steer the conversation into the open, where I can more clearly see where he or she is coming from and where they're headed with their thoughts and intentions. If I find they are genuinely interested in what I have to say, I have a hard time shutting up!
posted by JaySunSee at 6:36 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you're all self-absorbed. Why do I want to talk about either myself or the other person at all in casual conversation? Talk about the Simpsons movie or the recent election or a nice garden you saw. In other words engage in the art of conversation. There are many things in the world more interesting than either of you.

If it's someone who's known you for 10 years, they already know plenty about you. Is it possible that they find your interest in and conversing about them instrusive and don't want to inflict the same on you? Maybe they're sensitive, not egotistical.

Alright, that was a little harshly put, but something to think about.

The problem is that the art of conversation is dead. I don't know the average age on this thread, but I suspect younger-- we actually used to have to practice small talk in "home ec" back in the day, to avoid exactly this sort of thing (I don't think the boys had to do this, as they were segregated into shop class.) We also learned that talking about either oneself or the other person is rude.

But perhaps you're right, taken too far, and applied to old friends it becomes odd. I suggest your friend read Jane Austen "Persuasion" to learn the consequences of never asking a personal question.
posted by nax at 7:00 AM on July 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Do others here see the same behavior on a regular basis?

Yes! And it's been driving me crazy in the last few years. I no longer hang out with a girl who was my best friend for several years because her utter self absorption was driving me batty., all the time. And when I piped up with whatever dramas I was going through, you could see her eyes glaze over or, if on the phone, she'd start grinding coffee or something. Nice girl. Big heart. Smart. Interesting. But I couldn't put up with the narcissism anymore.

When I was doing the online dating thing, I met several guys I found attractive in every other way, but who spent the whole night talking about themselves and never asking a single goddamn thing about me. I was mystified. Isn't a date supposed to be about getting to know each other? With the first one, I just assumed "ah well, he didn't like me and was just entertaining himself to run out the clock" but he called several times for a second date. And then it kept happening with other guys.

I've met plenty of interesting women in recent years who could be friends, but after a few evenings of listening to them yammer on and on about themselves and showing zero interest in you or any other human on the planet, you just don't call them anymore.

I've been putting it down to a New York thing.
It makes me value my real friends more, though, people who keep track of me the way I do them, and who want to know how the date went, or what happened with that showdown with the boss or whatever.

On preview: "how was your weekend" is intrusive? Jesus, maybe the flipside is paranoia?
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:11 AM on July 28, 2007

Am I wrong here?

No, and ignore the people going "OMG how dare you expect people to ask about you!" Who knows what's going on with them, but the kind of interaction you're hoping for is perfectly normal.

Here's the thing: if it were just a few people, I'd say "Well, some people are just self-centered." But if you're correct that it's common among people you know (and you do have to watch out for confirmation bias here), you're presumably doing something to attract those people, and it sounds like being sensitive, always asking questions (when it seems appropriate) and never talking about yourself is a good candidate. So I suggest you start working remarks about yourself and your life into conversations; if people pick up on it and respond, they're real friends (or have the potential to become such). If they don't, they've just been sucking up the free attention and you might want to disengage from them. It's like people who always borrow and never pay back.
posted by languagehat at 8:09 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm really surprised at the "most people suck" vibe that about half the posters have. How could it be that we're living in the same world but interacting with two vastly different populations - one sucky, and one just regular?

I have two close friends of the "most people suck" variety and it's amazing how much bad stuff (mostly rude customer service people) they run across. Yet this almost NEVER happens to me, despite dealing with the same companies in the same city/state. I am nothing special whatsoever, but I think there is a tangible improvement in results when you assume that if the other person makes a mistake or is rude, it isn't personal.

Of course, I am the kind of zen weirdo that doesn't mind sitting endlessly in traffic jams or letting people cut me off.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think it's an intelligence thing. I'm related by marriage to a person--let's call them Pat--who's the nicest person ever--loving parent to their kids, even-tempered, funny, excellent storyteller, and with a super-appealing quality of utter innocence that makes them almost glow with a pale, corruscating light. But, though I've known Pat for seven years or so now, Pat continues to lack all curiosity about me. I've never heard Pat say, Hey, how's work going? Or even, Hey, how are you? It's extremely disorienting at first, because you're not sure what's wrong. And then gradually you realize--this person is utterly self-absorbed.

In Pat's case it's not so much lack of interest, as a clear inability to make the mental leap to imagine what the world is like for other people. I think it's called a mental model. Some people just don't have a mental model of others' reality. It's not that they can't imagine what life is like for someone else. It's more that they really don't get that there's a separate entity living in your braincase that perceives life independently, has different opinions, etc. People like this are almost like infants, perceiving life oceanically. It's nutty. (I've also noticed about Pat that they have confusion about what happens in movies. I once tried to express my admiration for the skill of an actor who very effectively played an unlikable, but extremely funny character in a television series. Pat just looked blank and exclaimed, "I hate her!" No ability to separate actor from role.)

Is self-absorption a trend, somehow getting worse because of the overall cultural tone? I don't know, but you could write a book on something that vast...Most people are self-absorbed, but have the basic social smarts to make small talk and convey an appearance of caring what another person thinks and has to say. I always appreciate it when the effort is made, even when I know the other person's apparent interest is mostly a getting-along tactic and doesn't actually spring from deep concern. All I ask is that you make the gesture, and I'm happy.

So I agree with you--I miss it when it ain't there.
posted by frosty_hut at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

To define terms: I don't think DHD is (and I certainly am not) talking about sudden, probing, personal questions that make people uncomfortable. I am thinking more along the lines of perhaps you had a week off, and went on vacation, and you return and no asks how it was. Or, as said above, "How was your weekend?"

frosty_hut has good insight: In some peoples' world model, that just doesn't exist.

languagehat as well has a good take on it. People who are curious and give attention can, without even trying, attract people who need attention and have much to say about themselves. By definition, this kind of person won't be so curious about you.

In the end, since we can't change anyone else's behavior, we must address our own. Although it may go against your instincts, you may need to be more deliberately "selfish." By that I mean, don't waste your time on people who don't seem to have anything to give back. This is not being evil or rude or mean.

Finding friends or romantic interests who are a good match really does require that both parties are looking for someone that they enjoy being with. That requires self-interest: "What's in this for me?" If both people are seeking what's in it for them, and they mutually agree that the relationship with the other is fulfilling, then you have a chance at a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. A relationship in which one person does all the giving, all the caring, all the asking... well, that will eventually lead to problems. For those of us who tend to care about others easily, it's satisfying at first because it fulfills our need to "be caring." But eventually you feel drained and begin to resent the person you once cared for.

So, be selfish, but in a good way. Don't become hard-hearted, or become an ass. But learn where your boundaries are, and learn how to say "no." You are not responsible for making everyone else feel good. There is no shame in needing things for yourself. It will require some judicious "editing" of whom you involve yourself with.
posted by The Deej at 10:01 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you're all self-absorbed. Why do I want to talk about either myself or the other person at all in casual conversation? Talk about the Simpsons movie or the recent election or a nice garden you saw. In other words engage in the art of conversation. There are many things in the world more interesting than either of you.

Okay, talk about the Simpsons movie. How can you talk about it without including your own opinion of it? "It's animated, and it's in theaters only"? It still becomes about you or the other person... Whether either of you are going to see it, whether either of you liked it, etc.

And if you're stuck with a "me me" person, they're just gonna end up talking about what they thought about the Simpsons movie, or the election, or a garden, without caring about your opinion. Doesn't get you any further.

There's a reason you decide to converse with a particular person and not some random stranger on the street. You want to learn about what's happened to them or what they've done. And hopefully they want to learn the same about you too.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:09 PM on July 28, 2007

Some people are radiators, others are drains.

Yes, and in the case of voluble extroverts - who seem to think they are some kind of full-time self-appointed freelance entertainment professionals - the radiators themselves are drains.

Getting back to the point, though, a lot of questioning that goes on is purely phatic in nature - that is, the question & answer are almost irrelevant, but the act of asking & answering serves a social function of connection: "How was your weekend?" "Fine, and yours?". It's like a handshake, and nobody really expects any significant information to be exchanged.

What might be troubling you is that - at least in part - you're doing the phatic thing, and some people aren't reciprocating. One interpretation is that some of them might simply see those kinds of exchanges as meaningless smalltalk, which is a fair enough position. All the more so if they are longterm friends or acquaintances who already know a lot of what's going on in your life, either through the grapevine, or by listening in on what you are otherwise saying in conversations with or around them: "We almost lost a patient in the theatre last week" pre-empts any need to ask "Soooo, are you still working at the hospital...?"

Anyway, it could be worth asking yourself whether they really don't know or don't care about what's happening in your life, or are they just not doing the generally mandated social butterfly dance that requires an equal exchange of essentially pointless questions & answers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:41 PM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Hought20: I think it's easy to forget that there are piles and piles of reasons that people act the way they do, and maybe it's kinder not to always assume the worst about them.
I really liked all of Hought20's post but I could only quote so much so I quoted one line that resonated with me personally. It's something I need to remember.

I'm much like you DHD. I'm really interested in people, most of all the people I care about. And I am sometimes let down by the realisation that they rarely or never express any interest in my life or point of view.

This came to light for me recently when I met someone who I really liked instantly and felt very curious about. In these situations I always feel like the one who is more interested, more curious and more caring. It blows my mind that he asks me questions. It was surprising in a really lovely way when he emailed me to ask how a certain aspect of my life is going, out of the blue. It really made me feel like he cared. In contrast lots of the people - even people I love dearly and consider close friends, and people I've been romantically involved with - just don't care about me that much. I don't think it's necessarily malicious, they just may not care for me as much as I do for them.

It makes me sad to read some of the comments here to the effect that it's offensive to ask about someone's life or their view on something. As the asker, the questions are a strong sign that I care. I would never ask if I was not interested in the answer.

But there are people I interact with whose personal style is so different it becomes impossible to truly share and have a 50/50 relationship. This I learned recently when a friend I love deeply told me that she could be friends, but only if I didn't talk about my love life. That's because (I have sorted out) she doesn't ever talk about herself, and I can't get much out of her. She doesn't want the closeness that I want with her. So she's a wall and I'm always talking at her. So she thinks of me as needy, I guess, and doesn't have time for that in her life.

I guess I should have picked up on this sooner, because I could've spared myself that conversation. But I'm not going to try to change her mind about me. That's just the way she sees me and sees friendships and sees the world and she's entitled to it. I guess what I need to take from it is to be sensitive to people who don't *want* to be close to me, or close in that way.

I have no real answers for you, DHD, but I wanted to say that I relate to this feeling, and to remind us both to consider this the differences between people, or maybe thoughtlessness, but not necessarily malice. We both need to be nearer to those who DO care about our lives and experiences and views, and don't waste our efforts on people who don't need or desire our caring.
posted by loiseau at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2007

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