One Word Shy of Mute

Her IM status was a bit desperate. She needed things to talk about on a date.

“What you’re doing, what he’s doing. Why. Where you went to school. If you’ve been to Israel, what you did there. If you’re going back and why. Summer plans,” I rattled off.

“We covered all that,” she complained.

“I thought you said he hardly said a word?”

“That too. He answers in monosyllables.”

“Dump him,” I suggested.

“Because he’s shy?” she was scandalized. “He seems nice and he matches up on paper but I can’t get to know him because he won’t talk!”

She was a tad distraught. I understood. Dating a non-talker is one of the more stressful tasks in life. I’d rate it slightly above being asked to entertain the Premier of Turkmenistan. At least the Premier doesn’t expect you to speak… whatever language they speak there. But with a selective mute you’re saddled with someone you should ostensibly be able to speak to, but can’t. Nothing on the planet seems to get them talking. They seem to have no interests that get them enthusiastic, no hobbies they can say more than a word or two about.  And nothing you say seems to intrigue them at all.

“…So, what do you do for fun?”

“Learn.”

“Really? What do you learn?”

“Gemara.”

“Which one are you learning now?”

“Sota.”

“Anything interesting?”

“It’s Gemara.”

“Really now… … … well, for fun I cook up kitchen explosives.”

“Mhm.”

“Yup. Last week I got some muriatic acid from a pool store. It reacts with aluminum foil. I built a time bomb in a plastic jug. The timer hands would drop the foil into the acid, setting off the reaction.”

“That’s nice.”

“I left it next to the garage, because I didn’t want to store it indoors, and the neighbor’s dog tunneled under the fence at night, picked it up, and went to play in traffic. Maybe you heard about it on the news?”

“No.”

“I guess you don’t listen to much news?”

“No.”

“Well. My neighbor is really upset about his dog. They couldn’t find enough of it to fill a Ziploc.”

“Interesting.”

“About four cars were damaged, too. I hope they don’t trace it back to me.”

“I hear.”

From the few times I find myself responseless I can guess about why a guy doesn’t have an answer. It’s like when a guy tells me “I play basketball.” I really don’t know what to answer to that. Should I ask about his preferred position? I don’t know the difference between them, or if yeshiva guys play positions on pickup games. I could make a comment about exercise, but that’s totally wrong. I could ask who he plays with and where, but that’s just prolonging the dead end by one exchange. And then, by the time I settle on some response that builds on “I play basketball” there’s been an awkward pause for a good few minutes and any follow-up sounds even more awkward.

So sometimes the other person just doesn’t know how to respond. Maybe they’re tongue-tied with the effort of making a good impression.  But if you find that you can’t respond to each other on a large variety of subjects, it’s likely a sign that you’re on different wavelengths. Give up. Go home.  There is no hope.

I’ve only dated one non-talker, thank goodness. I really don’t know how I’d handle multiple dates with a non-talker.

So, open forum: how do you draw out a quiet date? What do you talk about to stimulate conversation? How do you fill awkward silences? What’s the sign that it’s just not meant to be?

22 thoughts on “One Word Shy of Mute

  1. I actually posted recently asking for date topics of discussion, because people seem to be asking me about it lately. Obviously, I can’t help them, so I turned to my readers. I posted the results here.

  2. if the guy is quiet, i’ll try asking him direct questions designed to stimulate conversation, such as “what’s your favorite book and why?” if that doesn’t start him talking within 20 minutes, then i am out the door. if he’s so shy or tongue tied that he cannot elaborate and show some enthusiasm when asked direct questions, too bad. i’m loud, outgoing and a fast talker and if they can’t keep up, then i’m not interested. i was on a date with a quiet guy once. i spent an hour straight talking, then thought maybe i was talking too much and he couldn’t get a word in, so i tried to slow down and give him a chance. the next hour was spent in awkward silence. i was so out of there. not here to coax shy boring butterflies out of their cocoon.

  3. This has nothing to do with me, right?
    You just happen to have had a rather similar experience, right?
    Because there are that many painfully shy boys on the market, right?
    Because if that’s not the case,

    Anyway, a word of caution to all you quick to criticize: Dating is rough, it might not be fair to give up based on first-date reticence. Some people are just not used to talking to the opposite sex and don’t realize that you’re actually not that different. Do some talking until they get the picture. Also, there’s no need to fill every awkward silence — wait and see what they do. It takes two to tango.

  4. I also was reminded of Ezzie’s post on quiet people when I read this. Some people take a while to warm up, and some are not into small talk. So I would say to give the guy another chance. I’m very happily married to a very quiet guy. Many people who have the gift of gab are actually very shallow and inconsiderate, so give the quiet guy time to reveal more about himself.

  5. If you’re feeling like that I say you bail. Non talkers get married probably not because the girl feels like she should keep dating the poor shy guy.

  6. SD,

    Parents and siblings personalities? huh?
    Like, “My sister is amazing. She is so kind and consdirate such a sweetheart. What are your sisters like?”

    Some of the things on your list would’ve sent me running for the hills.

  7. BFS –

    I’m a talker, I know when to shut up, but usually I’ll figure out whether or not he’s talker by being on the phone with him. I don’t really take it to date-level if they can’t talk to me on the phone. Sometimes I’ll see how confident they are by saying “So, you’re awful quiet, you the quiet type?” That usually renders a chuckle and them saying “Heh, yeah…” or “Heh, not really…just…[insert excuse here]”

    And not all people with the gift of gab are shallow – I personally think a guy who is too shy to talk to me doesn’t have enough chutzpah to get shit done in life – get that promotion, strive to do better.

    I mean, OF COURSE there are exceptions, but jeez, grow some balls is all I have to say.

  8. Several years ago, a woman was describing a girl available for shiduchim, and she mentioned that the girl had a speech problem that made it difficult for her to talk, so she didn’t talk very much. Nebech. My male cousin and his teenage son looked at each other in shared lack of understanding: why in the world would that be considered a problem, they both wondered? (They are both very taciturn people.)

  9. I once dated a girl whom i couldn’t make conversation with and ended up talking the whole date while she listened. she thought she talked a lot. needless to say, we didn’t go out again. there is an art to date conversation which i think is just associating something the other just said with a thought or story of your own to keep it flowing. those conversations are the best ones- the ones where you don’t know how you got there, and you can’t recall what you talked about.

  10. That’s why you need some activity to be going on around you: museum, gallery, park (not sitting on the bench), river bay (if you have one around your place of living) – anything neutral you could switch to if don’t have anything personal to say at this moment. “Look at this beautiful crab crawling in the water and this grey rat who just picked up a piece of dirt!” may give you much better response than “I like violet keds. What kind of shoes do you like to wear to release your stress?”…. And you can tell a lot about the person by their replies to these neutral topics. Seriously.

    On the other note, i wanted to let you know I tagged you in the meme

  11. This post reminds me of a quote from the movie “Pulp Fiction”.

    “That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the **** up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.”
    That statement couldn’t be any more true. Although I have never dated (yet), I think there is something to be said for being able to feel comfortable with a lull in the conversation. Obviously, if the guy is a total deadbeat with nothing to say, it’s not going to go anywhere, but I think the quality of the silence can be a better yardstick than the quality of the conversation. Having said that, I’m a 20 year old guy who has never dated. Does this make sense to you, or am I way off the mark?

  12. I get it, eyekanspel. I came to a point where I decided that if conversation falls flat, I won’t jump in with some jabbering convo (and I can jabber) to fill it up. I smile pleasantly, take a sip of my tap water, gaze out the window. I’ve found guys are more nervous when this happens, and begin to quickly fill the silence, even when they were not keen on talking before.

    My bro and siter-in-law dated primarily in silence. And that itself can provide plenty of communication.

  13. I also ask questions. Asking pointed questions are risky though because then you’ve already done the talking for him.

    I asked one guy a question I thought would elicit a long response, but he eluded with an “I don’t know.” (It was, if you like TV and movies and things like that, why did you consistently choose very intense yeshivos from high school and on?) You’d expect perhaps a conversation about why that bothers me, but other people don’t care, hypocrisy, or the perception of hypocrisy…I could have seen this lead to a long conversation in many directions. Nope.

    But what I think it comes down to is if someone is not interesting in continuing a conversation, they will not continue it.

  14. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a first date you are talking about? A date where two strangers are in forced proximity, with, I am sure, clear instructions from their parents, friends and shadchan to be polite, find out the “important” things, make a good impression, don’t say anything controversial and, of course, decide on the basis of a few hours together in such circumstances whether this is going to be shayich or not? This is a male and a female, with differing conversational styles attributed to the two sexes, who may or may not have much experience in speaking with strangers of the opposite sex and who may or may not be petrified to give the wrong response so gives almost no response? And just a little fairness here: not all girls are scintillating conversationalists either. Plenty of them for whom one word answers are the rule, not the exception.

    If this were after a third date I’d say there seems to be a lack of commonality, so give it up. But on a first date?!

  15. I think I agree with Professor K, considering I was once the one-word-shy-of-mute person on a date…and it shocked me, too. I just didn’t know what to say.

    The icebreaker was the bookshelf- he started talking about the books and took one of the shelf to look at and show me something. Another time the icebreaker was some halachic topic that I happen to have an opinion on.

    But if the “hes” hadn’t done that, I would’ve barely said a word on any of the dates.

  16. Just to throw two more cents in-

    1. sure, taciturn-ness can be a trait of both men and women
    2. Silence can be nice and comfortable between two people who enjoy each other’s company
    3. But you are on a date to discover things about each other – (some nonverbal things like behavior in certain situations, for sure, but) mostly these things are revealed in conversation. Even quiet people need to talk to their spouses, children, parents, etc. It is counterproductive to go out on a date and then answer questions with monosyllabic answers. There may be “differing conversation styles” but answering “I don’t know” or single words to every question is not an acceptable style – it’s avoidance.

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