Have you ever had a friend who lacks curiosity? They don’t inquire about topics you drop into the conversation? “I’m taking a workshop today.” you might say and they don’t ask, “Oh, a workshop? What’s it on?”
It kind of feels like the house that has the big sign on the front door that says “NO SOLICITORS.” They don’t care what you have to offer, they’re simply not interested. I’ve had that experience canvassing. It’s a horrible feeling, a slow, death by 1000 papercuts self-esteem sucker.
It’s hard not to take that kind of categorical disinterest personally. It feels bad. When it happens to me I wonder, am I sharing too much? Do I need too much affirmation? I try to model questions, “Where did you go out to dinner?” “What did you have?” “Did you like it?” But sometimes even that doesn’t inspire them to reciprocate curiosity.
Like most things, the aspects of another’s personality that bother me the most are the ones that I share. Having this observation about one long-time friend recently invited me to look at my own active listening skills. I have often gotten the feedback from my partner that I’m not a great listener.
I have a lot to say and sometimes I get over-excited, missing the opportunity to hear what my co-conversationalist has to share. The truth is, I know when I’ve been a bad listener. I can feel it. The other person’s eyes get a little bit dimmer. The energy starts to fade. When I’m all in and they’re all in there is a spark in the air, twinkles in our eyes.
When I sit on the other side of the uncurious conversationalist I realize how lonely that place can feel. I don’t want to make anyone else feel that way. When I am a poor listener it is usually because I am irritated or otherwise occupied — either in my head or with another task.
I have another friend who, when I call them on the phone, robotexts me back within five seconds of the phone ringing — “in a meeting” or “can’t talk.” I know the iPhone has that auto-response but it makes me feel so bad! Like I’m driving down the road to see my long-lost lover and just as I’m about to arrive, there is a giant ROAD CLOSED sign.
I would rather stay on the open road, hold the possibility of talking to that friend eventually than to see that sign. For me, not answering the phone would be an invitation for me to try again, but the robotext feels like a hard stop decline of my intention to connect.
It’s good for me to have experiences that show me the other side of the story. Last night after an arduous two-day writing workshop on Zoom I declined an offer to go with my partner to sit by the fire with some neighbors. I was fried from the weekend. I had a crate of apples waiting to be peeled and chopped for apple sauce and I opted to watch bad Netflix and engage in that mindless task instead.
When my partner got home she was happy, rosy cheeks, excited to talk. These neighbors are adventurers and, even in COVID, they always have creative stories and experiences to share. As my partner started to tell me about her evening, I felt my NO SOLICITORS sign go up. Then I stopped chopping for a moment and peeked through the peephole. I saw her cheery face, her bright blue eyes, and I unlocked the door and invited her in.