Friday, February 19, 2016

On social niceties

During this lull in my professional life while I wait to hear from job applications, I am spending some extra non-research mental cycles going on dates. Other people might just say "I was lonely" but my self-rationalization has long since surpassed such a simply summarized state. Welcome, this is my blog, have we met?

A frequent remark I hear is, "I felt so natural and relaxed around you! Like I could just be myself." This comes, I think, with an subtext (conveyed by delivery, framing, nonverbal cues, etc.) of "this was so special and unusual, we really got along and are a good match!" If this were a movie,it would cue some emotional, peppy music the viewers would be swept into a montage of cutesy date things: riding the merry-go-round, pointing at something together off the Eiffel Tower, sipping drinks at a cafĂ© while illuminated by the soft glow of sunset. I'm pretty sure it is intended as a compliment to me.

But what I hear is, "You were successful in your cognitive and emotional labor to set me at ease, and I am completely unaware of how much effort goes into social niceties! I think everything just happens."

Because of course we had an easy casual conversation. I worked hard to make it so. Rather than tap my feet, or shift uncomfortably, or fail to make eye contact, I redirected my anxious energies and spinning brain to the Jane Austen circuits: I spoke calmly, I set you at ease, I redirected us from unproductive topics and smoothly suggested interesting topics. I did not comment on your awkwardness, unless I thought it would help. I put a lot of meta-thought into the first date, and I have the conversational skills to show for it: my statements are precise, and clear, and friendly, and pleasant, with a flair for the bizarre, sarcastic, and intellectual to avoid actually appearing anodyne. I'm myself, but the nice version that goes on first dates. If you are fluent in English, you might also appreciate my wordplay and the careful phrasing --- again inspired by Austen --- by which I express both a nice idea and a smirk. If you're not fluent in English, I did all those things anyway; there's no "off" switch.

Then I probably went home and typed up a report and sent it to my Date Review Committee for feedback.

It's interesting to receive so many of nearly-identical compliments. It reinforces that I actually do have some consistent skill, as witnessed by independent observers.

It's also interesting that the meta-level deduction "That date was good because the conversation was so easy and relaxed" doesn't go one level higher. Or, you know, maybe it does, but perhaps my interlocutors' social niceties are preventing them from conveying something more than the simple compliment to me. (That would be neat. If you're one such date, who found this blog and read this far, I'm interested to hear more.)

Lest this post appear to brag, I apparently lack this skill and aura in the workplace. Today I was eating lunch alone at the communal default lunch table, and a colleague came in with his lunch. We know we have two languages in common, as well as a common workplace and intellectual interests. He chose to sit at another table, by himself, rather than joining me. So my appeal as a conversationalist has limited context.

This post's theme word is ugsome, "dreadful, loathsome." The ugsome interlocutor is not to be endured.


G said...

How does the date review committee work?

Lila is a complex system. said...

The workings of the committee, when it meets and where, as well as its entire dossier of reports, minutes, and deliberations, are secret. Proprietary, even.

alice grimm said...

I am certainly aware of it as a skill. A date with a woman who did a lot of improv (more than a show a week) particularly stands out and I wondered at the time how much of her date skills she had honed on the comedy stage. I don't think I mentioned it because I think implying that it is a skill could be seen as insulting.

I know that I like to explicitly say that I had a good time (1) to be sure that this information is conveyed, and (2) to provide a conversational opening to discuss how good a time and if a second date is mutually desired.

Lila is a complex system. said...

That's a good point. I definitely favor explicitly stating information! I think most of my observation here was simply how SIMILAR all these comments are; perhaps I've reached some date-saturation-point where my brain is focusing on similarities across many interactions rather than differences.