An old friend of mine, let’s call him “Sam” was visiting town and one of my local friends, let’s call him “Butthead,” was letting him stay at his place. Butthead told Sam, “I’ll bet the first thing Emma does when she sees you is talk about herself, before she asks how you are doing.”
I then proceeded to do just that. Butthead later repeated the story to me, saying that he believed part of the reason I was so unhappy was that I talked about myself too much, I was not able to focus on other people. (For the record, I am not unhappy.)
I did this same thing on my first date with my girlfriend. We met on OKCupid, and as soon as we had our first real world encounter, I went off on a long monologue about whatever various things were in my head. Months later, my girlfriend told me that the first thought she had was “oh good, she talks.” You see, my girlfriend is a little bit shy. Sometimes, when she goes on dates with other people who are a little bit shy, they sit there with a lot of silence going on and it’s uncomfortable.
I never have this problem. In fact, out of about 20+ OK Cupid dates I’ve had, I’ve only ever once encountered a person who didn’t want to go on a second date with me. Sure, these budding relationships frequently fall apart after my terrible personality becomes more apparent, but I am *killer* at first dates. I never get nervous about talking to people one on one. Often, I get nervous at parties where I’ll have to break into a group conversation, but once I get into a one on one conversation, I’m golden. I’m good at job interviews, and I am *great* with shy people. The reason is, I talk about myself.
I used to be very shy, painfully shy, when I was in grade school. Once, on the schoolbus, I was watching this girl who was more popular than me who was able to talk to everyone and I thought to myself “how does she always have something to talk about?” Then, I noticed – she talked about herself, and no one seemed to mind. If anything, they seemed to enjoy it.
Thing is, many people are shy, and for many shy people the #1 concern they have is in conversation is “is the other person judging me?” In fact, I’d guess most people – shy or not – secretly wonder this. And sure, I may be self centered, and this popular girl may have been self centered, but we’re always having fun in our conversations and we’re generally not judging the other person. By taking the focus off the other person, at least initially, this gives someone – especially a shy someone – space to be comfortable, space to be themselves.
Of course, my friend Butthead is not shy and he no longer worries about if I’m judging him, so he finds my self centered talk annoying (because, I’m talking about *me* and not *him*.) Yet, the fact that I like to talk about myself doesn’t mean I can’t listen to other people. In fact, it’s relevant to point out that he made this complaint over a dinner where we’d gotten together *specifically* to talk about his relationship issues. Despite my self centered ways, I have historically been the #1 person he has come to with all of his problems. Many of my friends come to me with their problems, actually, and every single person I’ve had a long term relationship with since I’ve turned 20 has told me they’ve found me to be very easy to open up to.
I am genuinely interested in people, and love to hear them talk about themselves too. I find talking about myself easy, and I find listening to other people easy. I asked my girlfriend if she’d felt comfortable talking about herself on our first date, and she said yes – more so than she’d felt on most of her other dates. She also made the comment “you remember things about me I don’t even remember telling you.”
I remember a lot about my first date with my girlfriend. I remember the clothes she was wearing, the expression on her face the first time I saw her (I thought it was bored, but later realized it was nervous,) how we sat down on a bench but we were both shivering, how she stiffened when I asked her if she was American, how emotionless she was when I told her I was bisexual (although, I realized she must know it because we met on OKC), how she laughed so openly at dinner and I could tell she liked me, how we had both bet on the super bowl (which was going on at the time) but just because of work, how she wanted to take me to the Lex afterward with her friends but I declined, how she walked me home with a cocky implication that I may be more threatened by the people on the street because I was femme, how she insisted on having me use her gloves, and how happy she looked after we kissed goodnight. She just couldn’t stop smiling.
Thing is, these things go together. I’m interested in people! I’m interested in me! I’m interested in others! These things are not mutually exclusive. It reminds me, actually, of how selfish lovers are better in bed. Because, here’s the thing – most people are selfish on some level. When you’re with me, you don’t have to hide your selfish side. I’m certainly not hiding mine. We can just get real about who we are, and if you’re my friend, I’m probably genuinely interested in *who you are*, not this idealized person you pretend to be.
But, don’t complain to me that I talk about myself. If you’re not also interested in who I am, go get yourself a new friend.