Silence is golden, as they say. And in a conversation, silence can create a vacuum which you feel necessary to fill – sometimes with inane facts and sometimes with snippets of your life, or even all of it.
I’ve been noticing this fact with several men I’ve met recently. I wasn’t deliberately baiting them with being mysterious and cryptic, although this is a pretty good game in itself, but rather that was how events played out – they were more than willing to talk all about themselves, and I let them.
In Brunei, I went out with a guy who picked me up in his SLK200. Good start, if he were trying to impress me. Better if he were rich and still humble. But, over one course of dinner (no starters or dessert), I found out practically everything about him. His days of glory as a national footballer who helped his team win the Malaysia Cup in the late 1990s, his marriage and subsequent divorce (blamed on his wife’s supposed infidelity), the family business he’s running (and how successful it is) and the contracts they got, his education, his (various) cars, his (expensive) hobbies, his family… Seriously, practically everything. Since I got a meal out of it and a ride in a convertible, which he drove round a bit top-down, it was not such a hardship to plant an interested look on my face and urge him on and on.
After that I mocked him mercilessly to some of my friends, of course. But for him, it was a great date! Why wouldn’t it be? Here was a girl hanging on to his every word. Oh joy.
Then there was the guy I met up with in KL who expounded on the theory of a winning form in bowling, and his own expertise, naturally.
And another who confessed part of his past, about which he had never even told his wife.
And just yesterday, I met a guy, who sat down at my table because we had shared a chuckle over the fact that his Harley had set off a car alarm. In just an hour or so, I had learned all this about him, without much prompting necessary, just some silence: Where he’s from, where he’s working now, why he is working where he is working now, what he does in his job, how much he gets paid as this product manager of a hypermarket, how much he gets paid extra because his boss wanted to uproot him from JB to KL, where he is staying, how he gets to work, his special-edition Harley and how much people are offering for it, where he went on his Harley rallies, his Harley ring, T-shirt, jacket etc, his other car, his biking history (Kawasaki Ninja to the high-handlebar Harley to this one), his ex-wife, his daughter and how his daughter often complains that Mum doesn’t take her out “jalan-jalan” because she’s so busy going out with Uncle S. That is a lot to take in, from a perfect stranger, no less!
I let them talk, sometimes because I’m not in the mood to share everything about my life. But most times, it’s because they don’t ask.
The guy I met yesterday only asked where I’m staying and what I do, in general. He wasn’t even interested in the answer. And the bowling expert? He didn’t even ask if I had ever bowled before, so I pretended to know nothing about curve balls or wrist flicks, and let him wow me with his knowledge.
This is a bit of a double-edged artform. On one hand, I played the game with this one person I wanted to get to know. Sitting back and listening to him talk with someone else, I noticed how this woman jumped in to cut him off mid-story with her own anecdotes, and he’d patiently wait till she’s done, then continue with his story, which had not reached its conclusion and point by the interruption. So when I had the chance, I asked him questions, and let him tell his story to its conclusion, without butting in. But that’s because I sincerely wanted to know. And I wanted to impress him with my listening skills.
As for the others, letting them talk negated the need for me to share my life story. And, at the same time, suss them out for who they really are. Men who are very proud of themselves, and want you, the little woman, to know all about it.
And by the time they are finished, there is no point, really, in telling them anything about yourself. They don’t really want to know. They might not be able to handle the fact that you're more successful or more interesting than they are.
They just want you to be impressed. And fall all over them. Not a chance.