I’ve been with two types of men: the ones who asked me questions, and the ones who didn’t.
I tend to fall for the ones who don’t ask me about myself. These are, of course, the ones who do me absolutely no good.
A recent example:
“Clive” was a Renaissance man who wined, dined, and weekend-getawayed me for a few months. He was frighteningly erudite, Hugh Grant charming, and often gasped with smitten-ness when I walked into the room. He was also, as you might imagine, a rock star in the bedroom. Being with him was like mainlining romantic heroin.
I was so intoxicated by Clive, in fact, that it was weeks before I realized I knew a lot about him, and he knew virtually nothing about me.
“You don’t really ask me any questions,” I said over dinner one night, bolstered by a glass of wine.
“I prefer to gather information by observing,” he said, reaching for my hand across the table and fixing me with his smouldery, laser gaze.
All the smoke he was blowing obscured the red flag flapping in the evening breeze. Don’t we all observe to gather information, I asked myself?
Well, yes, and so do sociopaths.
The Clives of the world gather information in order to exploit women. They have no genuine interest in the women they date. They don’t ask questions because they don’t actually want a relationship with anyone other than themselves. Women do this too, but I think this behavior is more typical of men, who aren’t trained to privilege relationships to the point of self-abnegation.
This idea — the role of questions in relationships — must be in the zeitgeist because I read two first-person essays last weekend about just that. Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote about the kinds of questions she and her husband learned to craft in order to save their relationship. When you replace the banal “How was your day, dear?” with “when did you feel loved today?” you make your partner feel seen. You also stand a greater chance of getting close to that person, instead of keeping her at a safe distance.
Entertainment journalist Benjamin Svetkey wrote a lovely, funny Modern Love piece about the perils of rubbing elbows (literally, in the case of Angelina Jolie) with celebrities. His takeaway from a career spent interviewing women is this:
“Most men try to impress women by talking about themselves. Thanks to my job, I learned a better way. Ask a lot of questions and — this is critical — listen to the answers. Even unfamous women, it turns out, really like that.”
Interviewing glittery women for work gave him a high that, for a time, stopped him from pursuing genuine relationships. When he realized that the same women who made him feel like the cat’s meow when it suited them also ignored him when he had served their purpose, he was finally ready for a meaningful relationship with the woman who became his wife.
Of course, not every relationship requires that both parties ask each other meaningful questions. Consensual casual relationships often go swimmingly without them, and are perhaps contingent on going without them.
In the past year since I was re-singled, I purposely chose to date a lot because I felt that I hadn’t done enough exploring between my first and second marriages. And what I learned was that my own behavior was the litmus test of a man’s relationship potential.
The men with whom I shrank were inevitably the ones who didn’t ask me questions. The men with whom I felt the most empowered and appreciated not only asked me questions, but more important, also were interested in my answers.
I still don’t know if I’m ready for a significant relationship. But I do know I’m ready to meet someone who will ask me questions, and listen to my answers.