Friday 30 January 2015

Talking Too Much?

My husband was invited to give the Immortal Memory speech at a Burns Supper last night. This was quite an honour, and B.A. duly bought a proper formal Prince Charlie jacket and waistcoat to go with his kilt. And although he has been blessed with the gift of the gab, he also took an afternoon off work to polish his speech.

B.A. is the kind of man who very much enjoys talking. I would put it down to his being Scottish, but there is another kind of Scot, which is the man who prefers just to sigh gloomily over his pint and make a noise somewhat similar to "Aye-up." In general, however, I would say that Scotsmen talk a lot, and all a woman--any woman--has to do to get one to talk to her is walk alone into an Edinburgh pub in the afternoon.

Like many men who love to talk, B.A. loves a good listener, which means I am incredibly grateful to the jet lag, culture shock and head cold which robbed me of my own silver tongue long enough for him to fall in love with me. Ah ha ha ha! Mostly I asked polite questions, and expressed sincere admiration for everything and giggled.

Some years ago kind friends--well, a college secretary--once interrupted me as I told the news of an impending first date to say, "Let HIM talk!" in a voice so agonized I wondered if I had been boring her senseless. After all, talking is my writing substitute. If I can't write--and you can't write while you are doing odd jobs in a college office or on a date--I talk. It's difficult to tell how much is too much, especially when there are men who think any woman who talks at all is talking too much.  Fortunately, such men have not asked me out on a date.

But the more interesting feature of the secretary's plea of "Let HIM talk" was that one should employ STRATEGY, not only on dates, but with men in general. It is not enough just to look as attractive as possible--according to your own standards*, show up, and talk to men as if they were normal human beings, i.e. women. One must consider one's audience with due care. Some girls know this from the cradle. Others never learn. When I was in theology school, a blunt and bluff male religious said what he liked about me was that I was "without guile". I think that meant he felt super-safe around me because I was clearly just one of the boys. Well, that was very nice for HIM.

I wish social life wasn't so based on chit-chat. How cool it would be if "first dates", should there actually be formal dates in your community, generally happened around a chess board or deck of cards instead of a table in a café. However, social life is indeed based on chit-chat, and as most men love to talk, it is a good idea to figure out ways to get them to talk. Let men be the ones who go home from a date slightly unsettled and wondering if they talked too much.

Even quiet men enjoy chatting about those things they find most interesting. Therefore if you find yourself sitting beside a man who is not already talking, it is kindly (and strategic) to ask him questions about his interests. "I understand that you are keen on skeet-shooting," you might say to the skeet-shooting chap. "What got you interested in that?" Since obviously what got the skeet-shooting chap hooked on shooting skeets was quite pleasurable, the memory and imparting the memory will make him feel good and therefore give you a borrowed golden glow. It might be temporary, but if he likes women, he will remember you as someone to whom he can talk about his interest/talent in safety and speak to you again.

Men also enjoy imparting information to women. I have yet to meet the man who does not enjoy teaching a woman something he knows about and she doesn't. Therefore, I do not feel shy about asking any Polish male acquaintance who happens to be on Facebook at the moment if I should write (for example) "Byłam" or "Staniłam" when describing something that happened to me in the past. Indeed, I do not flinch from asking the fiercest Pole of my acquaintance to read one of my Polish compositions and correct my mistakes, for I know the certain evidence that he knows something that I don't will give him great joy. Indeed, asking men to do some skilled thing for you that you cannot do is so incredibly kind and attractive, you must try not to ask a married man or a man with a girlfriend to help you out with anything domestic/sporty/intellectual or else their wife or girlfriend will suspect your motives.

Apparently there are men who take great pleasure in discovering that the woman sitting across from him at the coffee table is much, much cleverer than he. I have never met such a man. Indeed, I have strategically flaunted my intelligence to shut men up and chase them away. Men spend their  lives competing with other men and, at work and school, with women, too, and so they don't fancy the idea of spending their personal lives competing with women, particularly the women with whom they will share marriage beds.

This is not to say that intelligent men do not value intelligence in women. Of course they do. Indeed, I have heard a young man say that he wanted to ask out a very flirtatious and attractive woman to see if she had brains, too. Flirtatious and attractive piqued his interest, but brains would determine if there would be a second date. "Brains", I suggest, means asking intelligent questions and offering intelligent answers to any questions asked in return.  "Brains" do not mean boasting that you went to Harvard or got a First at Edinburgh University or scored a 3.8/4 at theology school.  As with the best designer clothing, you don't need to show off the label for people to appreciate the excellent tailoring.

And now a word about "mansplaining". This is a word that women who wish to charm men should never, ever use. It is simply a way to denigrate the male love of informing women of things men think the women don't know. Making men feel bad about this impulse is extremely rude in social situations. I think at work and in the classroom, it is appropriate to correct--gently--their mistakes (if they are, in fact, wrong). But in a social situation, if a man eagerly explains to you, a neuroscientist, how brain chemistry works, it would be kinder just to ask him how he came by his interest in neuroscience. Maybe he is reading a blog you will enjoy making fun of later.

*If you happen to belong to a certain community, it is a good idea to dress according to the standards of that group. If you dress like a Goth, you are more likely to attract Goth guys than Catholic guys. How many devout Catholic men looking to start a family are Goths, I wonder. Hmm. Hmm. I wonder how many devoutly Catholic hipsters there are. Is there a Catholic hipster subculture I wonder? Big beards, excellent coffee, Sacred Heart tattoos?


  1. Yep, there's definitely a Catholic hipster subculture. I've seen them and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

    I'm not much of a chatterer myself, so I'm generally grateful to end up in conversations where the other person does most of the talking and I ask polite questions. That being said, I've been getting progressively more annoyed with these encounters, not because I want to do all the talking, but simply because the other person doesn't do the polite question thing in return. I'll ask them what they do, they'll chatter and then let the conversation lag. I'll ask whether they enjoy it, they'll chatter some more and let the conversation lag... I've been chalking it up to age and experience, since a lot of the time it's when I'm talking to people who are only a few years out of college. (Not always though. The last time he was over 30 and should have known better. I was stuck talking to him for quite a while and I'm pretty sure he didn't know a thing about me by the time we parted ways.) On the other hand, it's helping me hone my conversational skills by seeing what not to do. It's called the art of conversation for a reason, and I'm still practicing!

  2. Good heavens. You were expecting conversational reciprocity from men? When you're not even on a date? :-O Men asking you about yourself is often a clue that they are sincerely interested in you--as a friend, or as a potential work contact, or more.

  3. Do you mean as opposed to it seeming like just the polite thing to do? Because i feel i do a lot of that. There just seem to be so few men i find genuinely interesting to talk to, but i soldier on with the chitchat because it seems kinder.

  4. Hmm. Now that's interesting because I find most men I know socially interesting to talk to. I don't think I would hang around places where I was incredibly bored by the chit-chat. I would go home!

  5. I didn't know what skeet-shooting was, so I googled the word "skeet".


    Anyway, most of the men I know are pretty interesting, so I don't find that I'm bored when I'm around them.

    As for men who value high intelligence in women, my friend's brother is thirty and single and doing higher study in the UK. My friend thinks his brother is single because his brother only wants to date a woman smarter than he is. This will be difficult, because Older Brother is very smart. This girl will need, like, a PhD in physics or something.

  6. Julia, you should google "skeet shooting" instead - you will get quite different results than when you just google "skeet"... hahaha! Er, well. I first thought what could be so outrageous about skeet shooting, maybe that it sounds so boring...

    1. I had no idea that it meant anything bad! I thought, "Well, I know what shooting is, so I won't look that up, but I guess that a 'sk**t' is a sort of bird or something?"

  7. Here are a couple of Catholic hipster blogs (married couple) if you want to take a look. Tattoos are included.

  8. You know, I don't know what skeet-shooting is either. At the moment, I THINK it is the same as shooting clay pigeons. At any rate, shooting flying things that aren't actually alive.

  9. I imagine that many men in this situation are dealing with a sort of anxiety, as I've noticed myself dealing with when doing this (I haven't had an actual date in about six years, but certainly with first conversations on meeting women). We have a pressure incumbent upon us to "lead," while realizing that the real choice in the relationship (especially regarding whether it begins it will begin or not) in in the woman's hands. So, I know I – and others to whom I've spoken – am pressed too often to try to press in more information that I should (this ties in a bit perhaps with your next post) for the allotted time. As a result, there's an uneven split.

    Also, very simply, when anxious (many of us in our thirties and such, especially those who rarely actually encounter young women any longer, our married friends having years ago left), one doesn't realize until too late in l'espirit de l'escalair that one didn't let her speak – and, and the ladies here noted, she may well have played along. It's roundly embarrassing and not on purpose. Some of us are just pretty bad at this: we're we better at this dating thing, we'd probably be married guys, after all!


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.