In conversation, I ask people open-ended questions, and I really listen to what they say. I try not to interrupt or shift the focus onto myself. I also try to remember what I learn about people. My problem is that I don’t know how to inspire others to reciprocate. I want people to know me, but instead I go through life feeling painfully lonely. I’ve recently made a new friend, and we spend most of our time together discussing her past, her family, and her emotional and professional challenges. Now and then I toss in some information about myself, hoping it will establish common ground and encourage her to ask me questions. Recently, we were talking about her experiences growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian family, I said, “I was raised by my wonderful gay dad, who also grew up in a Christian environment.” She rarely responds to these offerings, so I just let them go, and we continue talking about her. As usual, I’ve ended up knowing her way better than she knows me, and I feel lonely. I know I could call her on it in the spirit of clarifying my needs. But when I do that, people usually say, “Oh, sorry! OK—what were you saying?” After which it feels like they’re just giving me air time out of politeness rather than because they’re actually interested in what I have to say.
If this pattern were confined to my interactions with this woman, I might blame it on her for being self-involved. But it happens all the time. I’m the common element, so I know the problem has to be with me. Am I boring? Am I so weird that people can’t relate? Am I somehow putting people off? Or am I just being hypersensitive about a problem that everyone has?
—Enough About Me, What’s New With You