I don’t know what goes on in other peoples’ heads.
I mean, I’ve read articles on brain science, but I still feel like I don’t understand what’s going on in a person’s head when I’m talking to him/her.
Imagine a robot, who is taught human interaction solely by watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and Adam Sandler movies.
I would make that robot uncomfortable.
Basically, when I’m talking to someone, it’s a three-way conversation, between me, the person I’m talking to, and the voice in my head, which is coaching me on how not to make a complete fool of myself. However, that voice is also me. You can see how this might cause problems. A simple example:
Me: Hey, what’s up?
Voice: Good. Nice, solid opening. Neutral, but not boring.
Friend: Not much, and you?
Me: Not much. Life is good.
Voice: Oh no! This conversation is drab and unimportant. Make it a meaningful interaction! Say something interesting!
Me: I can fit my whole fist in my mouth.1
Friend: (awkwardly silent.)
And it doesn’t get much better from there. There’s a reason I started a comic called “why I shouldn’t date.” I was always shocked when girls agreed to a second date. Part of me wanted to say, “You know that the awkward nervous thing isn’t a first date thing, right? It’s a me thing. This ain’t going away, honey. It’s just going to get worse as we date more.” It’s to my credit that I never came out and said that, but I think they got it.
Yes, I am now happily married, and marginally more at ease with my wife of 2+ years, but there’s a world of people out there, just waiting to be made uncomfortable by me. The dialogue above was an example of how a conversation with very little at stake goes awry. When the topic is heavier, it only compounds the problem. For instance:
Me: Hey, how’s it going?
Voice: Good. You’ll get this one right. Just avoid mentioning your fist. Or your mouth. You know, just avoid mention of any and all orifices, ok?
Friend: Not great. I think I just failed my final in a very important course.
Voice: Ok, we know this script. This is where you commiserate. Let him know that you understand him.
Me: Yeah, I’ve been there.
Voice: Ok, now drive it home…
Me: I failed all my courses in college, and set fire to the Registrar’s office. Once, I cut a man, just to watch him bleed.
Voice: No! No! Overkill! Make yourself look good! Say something positive!
Me: I love puppies and marshmallows and jellybeans!
Friend: To eat?
Voice: Oooh, this is a tricky one. Tread carefully. Say you don’t eat puppies. Be very clear on that point.
Me: No, I only eat the puppies.
Me: Jellybeans and marshmallows! Ha ha! I mean, I only eat jellybeans and marshmallows. Well, I eat other things. But not puppies. I eat other animals. Um, dead ones. Only the normal-to-eat dead animals, prepared in a normal fashion.
Voice: I think you just barely squeezed by that one.
Friend: Riiight. Um, what does this have to do with my test?
Voice: I have no idea.
Me: I have no idea.
Friend: Yeah, well this whole thing has got me pretty depressed.
Voice: Ok, here’s our chance. Cheer him up! Say something happy!
Me: I can fit my whole fist in my mouth.
And that’s par for the course. Welcome to my life.
- Truth is, I can fit my whole fist in my mouth. But that’s a story for another time.^