Welcome to ¡Hola Papi!, the advice column where John Paul Brammer helps people work through their anxieties, fears, and life's queerest questions. If you need advice, send him a question at [email protected]
I recently started dating after a number of years of being out of the closet but romantically avoiding men due to some personal insecurities.
I’ve mostly overcome that and have liked the experience so far. The dates are usually fun and the guys are usually nice! I’ve now been out with about half a dozen guys. I find the part I struggle most with is maintaining a good conversation after the first date or two. One of the guys lasted a bit longer and was a bit more serious than the rest, and after he ended it he told me the lulls in conversation had been a factor. I was sad and have thought a lot about it.
This is a bit of a common theme for me: apart from some close friends, I find it hard to keep conversations going for very long. I don't think I'm boring but I’m not a good small-talker, and it takes me a while to get over that hump in my interpersonal relationships (dates, friends, colleagues, etc.).
I’m worried that this will impair my dating future and that I could lose out on a great match because I’m not able to meaningfully connect as easily as some. It’s kind of anxiety-inducing!
Hey there, AL!
I thought about how funny it would be if I sat in silence and stared at you for a while before answering. But alas, this is a text-based enterprise.
Let me just say, I really relate to this letter. I, too, often struggle with not really knowing what to say on a date. Once you clear the bases of “where are you from, what do you do, how many siblings do you have, and how do you plan to atone for what you’ve done?” it can feel like there’s nothing left to discuss. And sometimes, well, there isn’t.
I don’t know how pregnant your pauses are. That would be helpful to know, as you could be like most people and just have a bad relationship with silence. It might be that the people-pleaser in you is telling you that if nothing is being said, it’s because you’re failing at entertaining or you’re not being interesting enough. But for all I know, you could be going full on “The Artist is Present” and just sitting there for an hour. You see what I mean? Knowing would help!
Based on what we’ve got, however, I will say that I found it a bit harsh that the guy you were seeing told you the lulls were a factor in things not working out. Regardless of how he feels, it doesn’t sound like something you need to “fix” and I wouldn’t overthink it. You said it yourself that you are fully capable of maintaining a conversation with people you’re comfortable with. So I think the trick is, well, dating someone you’re comfortable with and not someone you struggle to find the right words around.
I’ve been on a lot of dates myself, AL, and every single one of them has been different. That’s how it is with chemistry! You add two elements together and there’s a unique reaction between them. You’re not becoming an entirely different person, but you’re in an entirely different dynamic. I’ve been on dates where I’ve felt talkative and funny, dates where I’ve felt like a stick in the mud who didn’t have anything to add, dates where I’ve felt attractive, and dates where I’ve felt like I must be Shrek.
Over time, I’ve learned to like that about dating. I’m interested to find out what I’m going to get. Even if I don’t necessarily feel like it went where I wanted it to, I usually end up learning something new about myself and about other people. That being said, if you’re naturally reclusive or shy, it can be a real slog to get through a lackluster date where you’re reaching into the pits of your soul just to find a topic that will run down the clock because you can’t think of anything to say.
So, here’s my advice. For one, don’t be afraid of silence. Silence can be fine. You don’t have to project negative judgments about yourself onto it. We all have different needs and styles of communication. For two, recognize that you are a person who is capable of conversation. You do it with your friends. You just need a certain kind of connection. That’s something you can find in a romantic context with the right person. And for three, it helps to establish some fallback questions on dates that are a little more fun to talk about than the standard fare.
Here are some fun, memorable questions I’ve been asked on dates that push a little beyond “small talk” if you want them: What’s a movie you think about a lot? Not necessarily one of your favorites, but one that’s stuck in your head. What’s a job you thought you wanted when you were younger but grew out of? What’s your most recent obsession? Do you remember who I am? Did you really think I’d died back in Kyoto? Did you think I’d let you win so easily? Do you have any last words?
Don’t use the second half of those. I’m workshopping them.
Con mucho amor,