Why I Suck at Being in the Audience & Other 1-sided Relationships

Part of the reason I have such a hard time consistently blogging is that it consists of me, alone in a room, typing my thoughts out.

Given the choice, I’d rather be in a coffeeshop somewhere, having a discussion with other interesting people over pontificating alone by myself… Part of the reason I loved teaching college was that I was at a level of education where there was a lot of dialog in the classroom.  I loathed those classes where I just stood up at the front and lectured for the majority of the time and was met by deafening silence when I got to the point where I said “any questions?”  I adored the ones where I could plan on at least 1/2 of the content to come from the class – whether in the form of questions, challenges, new ideas, or even just commentary.

So part of the allure for me for sites like LiveJournal, Usenet, Twitter, Friend Feed et al is the fact that I can post something short and conversational and most times start an actual conversation with other interesting people.

The reverse-side of the coin of ‘hating being the only one talking’ is also true for me too, tho.  Part of the reason I never really got enamoured of RSS blog feeds or podcasts was that as much as I dislike ‘being the sole voice’ I also hate ‘only having a limited voice, if having one at all.’  Sure, on most blogs there’s the comment section – but so few bloggers actually have conversations in their own comment threads.  And as for podcasts? Yeah, I always want to stop 3 minutes in and say “hey wait a minute what about…” but no one is there to hear me.

Every so often, I find myself in situations where I think I’m having conversations with people – or even having relationships with them based on meaningful and/or interesting conversations – and something happens that lets me know I’m not.  I realize that the other person doesn’t see me as a partner in their conversation, but more, as an audience member or as an ‘adoring fan’ to their starring role.

That always just about sends me into a fit.

Because it’s like being tricked into being someone’s audience or fan – and I really hate feeling like I’ve been tricked into a relationship I wouldn’t necessarily enter voluntarily.

Every now and then, I’ve wondered at the nature of my relationship with one person or another and thought “hm… am I here in this conversation because s/he thinks I have something to add? or is s/he just waiting politely until I shut up again so s/he can start talking and showing me how brilliant s/he is?”

The easiest way to tell, I’ve found, is just to shut up.  If I don’t initiate the conversation and that person stops talking to me entirely? Yeah, I’m perceived by them in the ‘fan’ role.  If I don’t assert myself and start replying only with ‘mm-hmm’ and ‘uh-huh’ and ‘yes, I see’ and s/he keeps babbling along like a brook and never stops to say ‘you’re being awfully quiet – what do you think?’ Yeah, that one has me slotted as audience member.

I suck at dealing with that.  As soon as I feel like any warm body or receptive ear will do, I walk away.  It’s kind of childish, I guess – but I’d like to think that people whose thoughts and ideas I value also value mine – and if not? Well, there are 6 billion plus other people on the planet so I’m probably better off putting my energy elsewhere and getting the return value.

Granted, I think everyone feels this way at times.

I know I’m horrid about ‘maintaining’ energy input into friendships over long periods of time.  Anyone who has managed to stay in my life more than about a year can tell you that there are always periods where both of us ‘lose focus’ and one has to reinitiate contact for us both to start interacting again.  But that’s different in my mind.  Usually, it results from having too little time to do all the things we’d like to in life and too few resources to spend trying to nurture all of the important relationships in our lives at the same time.  It’s not about not valuing the other person’s thoughts or time, which is what I’m talking about above.

I spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sure that I reply to people who talk to me, that I take interest in what other’s have to say, and that I don’t make them feel like I perceive them as simply an audience or a fan.  Because I hate it so much being treated that way myself.

Someday, I’m sure I’ll find a more graceful way to deal with the whole phenomena – but at present I find I simply walk away when someone seems to be putting me in the situation of being on either side of a 1-way conversation, and as you can see, I don’t blog often enough to feel like I’m talking to myself.  My way of coping is rudimentary, but effective for the moment.  I suspect I’ll have to change it though as I get deeper into “social” media.  Just a guess, but I figure I’d better get started figuring it out.

What do you think?


~ by Lucretia on May 27, 2008.

9 Responses to “Why I Suck at Being in the Audience & Other 1-sided Relationships”

  1. I quite like talking. Or typing. :) But I do LOVE the interactiveness that blogging offers – giving people the opportunity to wade in on the discussion.

    My biggest problem with social media is remembering I signed up for it. :/ Have just started on Twitter today. We’ll see how long I last!

  2. This is a fresh wound, I know. I speaketh your code ;)
    Hi <— waving. I’m learning that social media is like an onion. There are many layers that need to be peeled away before you get to the inner core. Some of the layers are flaky and unusable while others pack a punch with their flavor. Some even burn your eyes. Some would rather not manually chop their onion at all, and just toss it into the food processor.

    Despite it all being a bunch of ones and zeros, it’s still driven by humans, some of which can be very fickle. We’re all guilty of it at one point in time or another. “Treat those how you wish to be treated” still applies, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), some enjoy being “rode hard and put away wet.”


  3. This is a very interesting and thought provoking post. I don’t really want to be “just” an audience member or a fan tgo anyone but I am often too shy to speak up. I might assume other people are too busy to talk or that my blog comment is just a shade different than what someone else wrote. So, I am suggesting people may be quiet or non-responsive because they are intimidated not just because they are on transmit rather than receive.

  4. You Nailed it. I have a friend, and about a year ago this friend called me and literally spoke non stop for 2 hours, yeah…120 FKN minutes. I am not exaggerating when I say, she never stopped to breathe or pause or even acknowledge someone was on the other end of the conversation, doing nothing but listening. She could have just as easily had a conversation with herself in the mirror. I spent 2 hours saying nothing but ‘uh huh………….’ and I recall I said that maybe 2-3x. Then after 2 hours she asks “How are you, listen to me babble” Yeah for 2 freakin hours!
    We’re still friends, but email works better than the phone in her case, haaa, and of course there are always those people that just think wherever they stand, there is a stage and whoever is around is the audience, and due to their own simple insecurities or maybe just plain arrogance, they go on and on and on….as if I ‘need’ to hear this…as if I WANT to hear this. Thank god most of this happens on the phone…if it were in front of me, I’de simply walk away too, I don’ tthink tha’ts Childish At All.
    The other thing is when ‘these people’ go on for hours just to go on for hours, the MOMENT they ask you ‘Hey, how have you been….’ it’s usually 2 min before they need to leave.
    Like you said….it’s nice when the person who is sucking all your energy out and mentally draining you til you feel like dry toast, when they ask “What do You Think?”…
    that’s what it’s all about. Because I like to think the person that is talking at me like I’m a tape recorder, taking notes, actually wants to hear my thoughts as well!

  5. I enjoy relationship which are interactive as well. However, sometimes I struggle with the listening part. I am getting better. I think it comes from loneliness or a need to be heard. Other days I am very good at listening. I do find it hard sometimes to feel a connection with blogs or twitter, but I keep going so there must be something to it.

  6. Do you suppose the reason so many folks feel the need to chatter endlessly or take center stage is because there seems to be a deficit of communication in the world? I often wonder if it isn’t that so many TV viewers feel that they either need to be entertained or doing the entertaining…
    The funny thing is , you say your not good at maintaining friendships, and yet one phone call and 25 years melts away..I don’t think you are the type who ever stops caring.
    color me, your adoring fan!

  7. @lightening – I found Twitter sucked me in much faster than most online media. Hope to see you over there! :)

    @TheMacMommy – actually, it’s an old wound – it just got reopened recently and had a bit of salt poured in it… it’s one of those things I find wherever I go, not just in social media. I’m just not interested in monologues or soliloquies. I know that you’re more than aware of the incidents prompting this post at this time – but it’s a lifelong experience. :)

    @chestnut – a very good point. I suppose I wasn’t that clear about the fact that I’m referring to those people who are more than willing to talk, but only perceive you as an audience/fan – or those who would readily converse, but not with you. Very nice to meet you!

    @JueL – 2 hrs? Sounds like a woman I used to know. I had one that was what I call a ‘foul-weather friend’ – she’d only call me when everything was messed up in her life, and then, it was to prattle on to me as if I were a free therapist… but whenever things were going well, I wouldn’t hear from her. Because she never wanted to include me in the good times or celebrations in her life. Eventually I caught on and started using caller-ID to just avoid her.

    @Marsha – I think we ALL struggle with it. But I’m talking more about the extreme cases – those where I find the other person doesn’t value your participation as much as you value theirs :)

    @Sorrow – You may be right. We are very used to 1-sided entertainment. I suppose that’s why I spent my nights as a youth in coffeeshops rather than in front of the TV. Too social.
    You *know* I’m horrid at maintaining friendships unless somebody cuts me the sort of slack over the years that you have!! I care deeply about my friends and that never goes away – but I’m mail-phobic and now phone-phobic and generally intermittent in my communications – but I adore you and always will!!
    It’s a mutual fandom – I will always be one of your biggest fans! :)

  8. This resonates. I spent three years in a relationship where I played the role of adoring fan. Very tiring, time-consuming, and soul-sucking. But since I work at home and have done so for some 16 odd years, well, I’m used to the one way conversation. Social media takes on where listservs left off… but sometimes it’s so tiresome as well! I don’t like small talk – I like relationships and I’m also long-winded (as you can probably tell). So, twitter…limited to 140 words with strangers? It’s challenging!

  9. @Liz – yep, the 140 character limit was a huge challenge for me at first! I’m not exactly ‘short-winded’ myself. But learning how to get my point across quickly and concisely is helping the rest of my writing, I hope! :)

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