I’m learning how to be comfortable with silence in conversation. Traditionally, this goes against my natural chatty instincts, so it’s a work in progress for sure!
I began this lesson with my ex husband years ago. My daughters and I actually often fondly refer to him as The Pauser. He is the King of Pauses. He knows how to utilize the effect a moment of silence can bring to many situations, as an employer, a father, a husband/bf, etc, etc… He is so effective at this, that he doesn’t ever need to actually say words to make a person doubt themselves or start to worry and get paranoid… even if the paranoia is about the phone signal (Umm…hello??? Are you still there?) or gets as awkward and disconcerting as frantic paranoia about the underlying thoughts in the conversation (OMG… ummm…WHAT???! Did I just make an ass out of myself? Did I just say the most ridiculous thing ever? Is my foot in my mouth? Umm….Why isn’t this man saying anything at ALL?).
Over years of dealing with the ex husband and his excessive pausing-business, I’ve realized how truly priceless it is in many situations and I almost envy his confidence and genius to both utilize this simple technique to his advantage and to just pull it off in general. I mean, he is gooooooood at this! In difficult or serious conversations, it’s unnerving to say the least. In everyday casual conversations it’s frustrating and annoying. But either way, I have to give him fat kudos for being a literal genius at this conversational method of staying one-up (or two or three “up”?) on his conversation partner of any given situation or moment.
As a result, the man rarely needs to apologize or bother to explain his words (ever!), because he simply chooses them so carefully, it’s almost painful at times to be on the other end of these conversations and his “pauses”. For the person who has just said something of utter importance (to them), the pauses feel like horrific awkward silences…that dreaded empty space you suddenly feel frantic to fill in to further explain, throw in comedic effect, plead for a response…whatever…anything will do; while to him, this is merely a very effective pregnant pause. So you can gather how successful mastering this technique can be: while he’s slowly and silently contemplating his every carefully chosen word, you tend to start babbling ridiculously, filling the space with chatter that offers even more information before he has yet responded at all! It is truly a brilliant conversational tactic in all situations and relationships for him.
I am not this person by nature though. At all. I’m a very open and expressive type, much to my frequent dismay in situations when I’ve said too much or said something easily misunderstood (yet again) or any of the bazillion faux pas that can arise from being extraordinarily open, chatty, and honest. I’m training myself (via so much regular conversation with “the master”) though, to sit quietly through the pregnant pauses, see them for what they are, and not start nervously rambling.
However, I deal with this conversational silence master-mind on such a frequent (and frustrating) basis, that I no longer can adequately decipher the difference between a pregnant pause and an out-n-out awkward silence. I can appreciate the value of a moment of silence in a conversation and leave it at that. I’m a ponder-er type, so pausing to reflect on either what has been said or what you’re about to say is, in theory, always a good idea. Awkward silences on the other hand are still dreadfully uncomfortable for me and I feel a responsibility to fill that space asap either to put the other person at ease (my strong southern breeding) or perhaps merely to put myself at ease… Either…or…both…and…all of the above! Thankfully, I’ve not had many cases in my entire life of “awkward silence”. I’ve a number of natural tools in my conversation toolbox to either avoid this altogether or, at the least, work my way through it quickly and painlessly. It’s just not something I’ve had to deal with much….for whatever reason…
Talking last night for the first time with Gabe, I discovered this phenomenon: Lots of awkward silences! How truly odd to experience this with a person whom I can write to with such total ease, at such length, and about so many different things!
Was this a “normal” first-time conversation thing? Or was this a strange and difficult to decipher possible conversational “issue”? When you add my chronic dealings with the master mind of intentional pregnant pauses to the mix of experiences with first conversations and dates and meeting new people in general, it’s truly hard for me to tell exactly what’s going on…. I certainly want to honor the prgnant pause types, but still don’t care much for the awkward silences… Hmm..how to differentiate in these situations?
It was a delightful conversation with gabe for the most part and yet, I kept wondering if maybe I was ridiculous both for what I was saying and/or maybe how I was saying it. Yeah, I babble. I do. When getting to first know someone, I just don’t hold anything back really. Well, I try to be in good taste and only discuss appropriate topics of course… but I don’t carefully ponder my words; I just talk… about Vegas weather, Vegas energy vibes, my love of peace frog stores, my fascination with the human psyche and the development of the conscience…and I ask questions..where did you grow up, what’s your family like, what are your thoughts and opinions on *this* or on *that* or whatever…and I always try to listen as much as I talk too.
I’m currently of the opinion that it’s often humor which stands smack-dab in the middle to differentiate between preganant pauses and awkward silences.
Ahhhh humor….. Humor is often so difficult to convey or translate via the written word, yet rarely so difficult in verbal conversation with the added benefits of tone and inflection. However, I arrive at three possibilities here regarding my conversation with Gabe: 1. He just doesn’t share my (admittedly odd) sense of humor, 2. He doesn’t “get” my humor, or 3. He just doesn’t think anything I’ve said was funny, while I think it’s hysterical. Or perhaps any combination of the three…?
It is the very definition of awkward when you tell a funny story and a person you don’t know that well anyway just sorta sits there in silence.. Ummm…again, we can blame cell phones for this: Hello? Are you there? And when we’ve determined that the signal is fine, then the silence from before and after this determination becomes excruciatingly awkward… Ohhh…okay, so you heard me but I guess that just wasn’t funny to you…? Ummm… Okay…well…ummm…
Then suddenly it’s no longer nearly as funny to me either…. Hmm…… oooohhhhh-kayyyy then…
This was definitely awkward and happened a few times. Seems that while emailing was a simple thing for Gabe and I, actual conversation was considerably more difficult… Ughh…
Add to this, that I shared a personal “experience” with Gabe that perhaps is not a gem of a situation from my distant past, but was merely in theory and therefore not actually any kind of issue past or present. Not to mention, in my humble opinion it wasn’t some kind of dreaded confession of horror either… nothing all that horrifying overall and merely a conceptual thought at that. Ohhh gosh, never mind..why am I being so mysterious about this? It’s really not a big deal! Here it is:
Once during my senior year in college, while newly married and struggling to catch up on my husband’s (now ex) difficult credit card bills, I contemplated
stripping (yeah, as in removing my clothes while dancing and accepting money for said effort) for a few months just to get the money to help pay off those bills which he was behind on when we married. Yeah, I did.
I actually thought about it enough that I discussed this possibility with my husband. Of course that idea was tossed out almost before I got the whole thing out of my mouth in a conversation with the husband, but I confess, I did truly and sincerely ponder doing this once. I was pretty much laughing at this little confessional story…or starting to…. When I get the….DA-DA-DUMMMMMM…
Big fat silence.