Friday, January 27, 2012

From the Date Files: ARE YOU INTERESTING?

Miss O’ had a date last Saturday—a very unusual occurrence for Miss O’, and in fact it should not happen to her at all because, as it is for Project Runway's glorious mentor Tim Gunn, it is only in celibacy if not cloister that Miss O’ can do her work, live her calling, which (let’s face it) is drinking (related?)—and this man (the aforementioned “date”) expressed curiosity (fear?) as to whether or not she would blog about it (he only learned of her blog habit on this date—and it's really ironic considering the week before she'd done a whole blog on Performance). “No,” she assured him, “because Miss O’ has no sexuality,” and yet here she is, blogging about it, so while she still has no sexuality she clearly has no scruples either, but really she does because she’s not telling you ANY details (maybe one) (later).

Completely annoyed by her use of third person yet?

I am.

This is a man I’ve known for several years in New York, who sort of emailed one Friday back there and sort of proposed we get together for something. He shared with me, on this date of ours, that he knew he had often sought my company in the past only so he could tell me things or ask advice, and he liked my feedback. “But I always walked away self-conscious,” he admitted (and self-knowledge is deeply attractive), “because I knew I had been saying uninteresting things.”

He was not wrong. Should I tell him? You’d think I’d be less of a douche, and I was, saying (not without sincerity), “But they were interesting to you.”

So in the period of utter silence that has followed, from his end, Miss O’—I—we—have had a series of internal dialogues/self-flagellations and external conversations that brought home to me this revelation: He is not interesting, because he is not interested.

It’s not a question of being interested in me. That’s a matter of personal taste. What I’m getting at is more to do with how we fulfill our social lives and heart lives in the day to day. To be interesting, you must be interested: in life, in the world outside yourself, in others, in their responses, their feelings, in their responses to you, your life, to the world outside themselves  . . . I’m getting dizzy.

And by interested, I do not mean interested merely in telling your own story, performing a charm show, being delightful. I mean being genuinely aware and engaged and curious about what you see, where you fit in, what could happen next, what is happening now. 

Now about me...

I feel I have to stop already and apologize for the seeming set-up of myself as anything like a role model of all things interesting. I am, of course, not. This is about how I respond to other people, and what I think those responses elicit from them.  Some of us are introverts, some extroverts, some loud, some quiet. But whatever your style or way of breathing with the rhythms of the world, there is no substitute for someone saying and feeling, “Really? Why?” when you speak. I had a playwriting teacher at Bread Loaf who would say, “Say more about that…” and you found you did in fact have more to say, that there was a reason you started talking out loud in the first place.

So there are good listeners, good engagers, who hear what you say, listen to your view, and say, “That makes me think about…” and before you know it a conversation has started.

Then there are the assholes, those guys who ostensibly “listen” to you, who “hear” you, but instead of asking in the way of an engaged person, “Really? Why?” instead challenge you, “Really? Why? Because I think you are fucking wrong.”

At my bar once, a regular about my age had overheard my support for Obama, and he swaggered up to me with his beer, uninvited, to tell me why I was wrong for supporting him. I looked him in the eye. “You are about to become an asshole,” I informed him. He froze, and got angry, and said, “Well if I knew that another person was more informed than I was, . . .” and I leaned in: “Wow, you just became an asshole, and I am now moving, with my beer, down there.” And I moved down there, and he muttered stuff aloud to the bartenders all night until I left. (Emma the manager said, “Lisa, if you keep this up, we’ll have no regulars left.” I’m a charmer.)


I haven’t dated at all in over 5 years ("Really? Why?"), and before that it was 15 years (for what you can now see are obvious reasons), so I don’t do this much, but I got more or less turned off of it permanently by repeatedly hearing the following when I might confess—finally trusting—my deepest dreams, spiritual longings, loves, passions:


The other “response” is the condescending one, the one from the men who pretend to engage while they wait for you to finish so they can judge you.  


I exaggerate. No I don’t.

Dating—the very prospect of it—fills me with waves of nausea. On the other hand, getting the courage to meet and talk to new people? No courage required, I just do it, though I have been known to have anxiety attacks at large parties, such as weddings. But generally I can just walk up to people and say, “Hi, I’m Lisa,” and I have a city full of friends to show for it. And in point of fact, I am not an extrovert. On the Myers-Briggs personality test scale, I split the difference on the Introvert/Extrovert index. I’m just interested in people. I watch them, record them, and I rack up a lot of great stories. Oh, and I write about them, humiliating them for placing their trust in me. And tell them to fuck off when I never asked for their opinion.

Why am I so alone?

I chatted up a man once, of Irish descent like me, who remarked that being at ease with people and making not merely small talk but real conversation seems to be part of our DNA. “But I was met with a real conversation-ender once,” he said, and continued, “but maybe you could have done it. After the introduction and pleasantries, I told her I was a sound designer in the theater, and she said, ‘I work at weigh station on the turnpike.’ And I was stumped.”

I smiled, I laughed, and he grinned: “I knew it.” And I told him about a novel I had read recently, The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich, whose chapters all stand alone as short stories, and one of the stories is called “Scales.” It’s about a woman who works at a truck weigh station, at a crossroads in her life, with a new baby, wondering how she will handle it, and decides to put her baby, this burden, on the truck scale, “and he weighed nothing at all.”  We both just beamed.

But this kind of exchange is not for everyone. Many people find this kind of engagement exhausting. I know that.

Am I fun to be with on a date? I would say, based on my track record, no, I am not, unless it's "yes" because maybe I tell a good story. (I say "track record" though I've only gone out on about four second dates. In my LIFE. Possibly I exaggerate.) I’m too much myself. I just jump in and engage as if we are two people who might make discoveries, rather than assume a gentler pose, a kinder air, and build to the truth. “There’s such a thing as too natural, Lisa,” a man told me once. And was he wrong?

Doubtless the other week I exhausted that poor man, or terrified him, or repulsed him, date-wise, though I’m sure we’ll remain hearty acquaintances (unless he reads this post, and I feel pretty sure he won't).  To his credit he asked me questions, and to my credit I answered them and added questions, too, but I don’t think my responses were interesting to him.

Sometimes people just aren’t interested.

Whew. And now, back to work!

All art by the incomparable Anne Taintor, who is just a goddess, so no copyright infringement is intended, but rather, promotion. Look her up.

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