Thursday, May 7, 2015

What Happens When You Ask People a Lot of Questions About Themselves

I just started reading a novel by an Australian author— Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James.

It's pretty good so far...though I'm only on page eight.

I've come across something in the book I disagree with. It's not that I think James is wrong in what she says. It's just my experience has been vastly different.

The narrator of the novel says: I want to ask her a million questions. Where are her parents? How does she afford her own apartment? Is she ever afraid? Is she lonely?  But I keep quiet. I have secrets of my own. I've learned that asking questions only puts me at risk for being interrogated myself. It is safer not to be too curious about others, safer not to ask.

In my personal experience, it seems to be the opposite. The more I show interest in someone by asking questions and listening, the less they show interest in me.  I do have a few relationships that contain a nice balance of give and take. But often my relationships are more like interviewee-interviewer types, or shrink and patient. I get emails that make me feel like I'm the sender's personal diary rather than a flesh and blood person with my own life, interests, happenings, etc.

Now...the narrator in the novel talks about interrogation. I would define that as asking questions that might make someone uncomfortable—trying to get them to talk about things they don't want to talk about.  I try not to do this. I think I usually try to ask questions about subjects I imagine the other person would like to discuss.

Maybe if I asked more uncomfortable questions, people would have more desire to reciprocate.

Sometimes the self-absorbed people in my life DO try to make an effort and ask a question. But it's hard for them, because they know so little about me. I think they've been paying too much attention to themselves. So their questions are either extremely general—How are you?  Or their questions are merely used as a segway to talk about their own lives. I remember doing this when I was a child.  What are you doing this summer? And that's a way to start my section about what I'M doing this summer.

Of course generalized questions are fine when we've just met someone.  We don't know enough to ask specific questions.  But when someone knows you a long time, they should have enough to work on.  In my case, they could ask How's your blog? Are you planning a trip to Australia?  Have you been to Disney World lately?  What's Jack into these days?  How's Tim?  How's your pet crickets? (Actually, now it's no longer plural, because I lost another cricket yesterday).

Now that I write down all those questions, it makes me realize it's not as bad as I think. I remember hearing and seeing some of those questions recently.  So...I AM blessed to have some generous give and take people in my life.  There are people who ask me about my life, using specifics to show they know at least a little bit about me.

That being said...I think for the past several years I've been a magnet to the self-absorbed. Why? I don't know.  It's getting better, though, BECAUSE I'm making an effort to stop such relationships in their tracks.  If I get an email from someone new and they talk about themselves without showing any interest in me...I give them only a quick email back. I don't ask them questions about themselves. I don't send back the type of email that invites a response.  For the people already in my life who are self-absorbed, I continue corresponding with some of them.  I'm quicker to write back to them if they at least TRY to act a bit less self-absorbed. There's one person who doesn't even try to make an effort. I've stopped writing her back.  But If she changes her tune, I'll definitely give her another chance.