I don’t know about you, but there are some people I just seem to have a continuous conversation with. There’s never a “Oh hello, how are you, would you mind if I took up a moment of your time?”: you just weigh in with whatever is on your mind at that moment. Regardless of the medium in use: you could be texting, emailing, picking up the phone, it’s just a continuation of the conversation.
That’s how my mother and I converse. Same with my partner. If I had a sibling, I’d assume that’s how it would go too. It makes life so much easier. It’s apparently how Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell interacted throughout their time in office. Quite how I know that – or why I’m sharing this nugget of fact – is beyond me. Either way, to me it represents the conversational ideal: it just works smoothly.
It makes me think of bumping in to someone I haven’t seen for years – a relative, an old friend, a flat mate from university – and just sitting next to them and asking them about something inane. You know, we know each other so well that we can dispense with the pleasantries, and just launch back in to where we left off. Yes, we’ve both had kids since; yes, we’ve both got greyer hair. Fuck that.
There are some people with whom I rarely, if ever, have just one conversation going at a time. We’re discussing one idea, and another one crashes in every few minutes, just to get another topic covered off. We’re busy people. They may not be directly related, but they don’t need to be. We will discuss many things; we don’t need a moratorium on the first before we can move on to the second.
I mean, yes, it’s jarring. And yes, it can sometimes be utterly bewildering. I am a relatively perplexed person as it stands, so any non-linearity in a conversational scenario is more likely than not going to send me in to something of a tailspin. Especially if I’m doing several things at once, like watching TV, cooking a meal or trying to get a child to brush her teeth before it’s time for her to wake up again.
It’s true that these kinds of conversations normally come about with my partner. We have one hell of a lot to discuss – we’re having our entire house rebuilt from the ground up right now, while we live in it, so that throws up a lot of issues – and a lot of life is needlessly complex. Especially when a child is involved. Short-hands and short cuts are necessary. Just check I haven’t been drinking first.
I am scared by initiating conversations, and will do almost anything I can to avoid having to do so.
I fret about talking to shopkeepers about things which I want, and will plan a conversation to buy a bag of peas days in advance. It’s why modern supermarkets are so important to me. I only have to talk to my partner when I’m buying peas in Sainsbury’s, and that poses no fear to me whatsoever.
I know that most people are not quite as afraid as I am of conversations, and that some people are far more afraid. It doesn’t make me feel any better. It does make me want to take my mother-in-law or my sister-in-law with me whenever I need to do anything I find socially difficult. You can’t do that as an adult, apparently. A “well-adjusted” “adult” with a career doesn’t need a carer any more.
It’s why I find continuous conversations so comforting: crossing that Rubicon in to the new territory of starting a fresh interaction is utterly terrifying to me. It’s not like setting up a new conversation with someone electronically – that’s just admin – it’s approaching another person and navigating the disgust, the contempt, the utter derision that follows me having the temerity to say hello to them.
I have always thought that I was alone in this inability to manage the thresholds of social interactions – that other people are simply unaware of them, because they are just seamless transitions from one social surface to another – but I have started to get whispers that other people feel it too.
I actually feel that I take better to people who cannot interact properly with the world at large. Not in terms of trying to get inside a restaurant and asking for a table: that’s a nightmare scenario with more than one conversationally illiterate person involved. That’s why my partner and I made such a precocious child: she does the ice breaking for us: we just pretend we can’t get a word in.
I feel that the people who do just start speaking have a little less going on in their heads. I know that that is incredibly rude, and most likely incorrect, but the feeling persists. I have always taken the view that the empty can rattles the most. Some people cannot be in silence, so they have to talk. Always. That incessant babble breaks the ice like a bulldozer, and no one really knows what has hit them, even after it has passed. Either that or they’re unembarrassable, but that I have respect for.
I have worked with some people over the years with whom, while we were working, we have barely needed to have a conversation. The actions of the environment were the only communications we needed. Then, on the break, we could chat nicely. Either way, for the bulk of our interactions, the conversations – such as they were – were far more efficient than most I have ever been part of.
That is my ideal: conversational efficiency. I am always aware when I am talking: aware of the amount of saliva in my mouth; aware of my silly northern accent; aware of the clicking of my jaw; aware of the grammatical bear traps I am probably about to walk in to; aware of the fact that I sound like a drivelling milquetoast, with not one inch of spine in his pathetic excuse for a body.
I wish that I could become less self-conscious, even unembarrassable, but it’s not in my nature. It would make my interactions with the world at large so much simpler. Or would it mean that I had become a simpler person, to switch that part of my mind off? I’m not sure, but the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Especially when I am standing in the middle of the road.