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Feeling Neglected

Dear Miss SmartyPants,

What do you do with friends who only talk about themselves? I ask a lot of questions of them, and wait patiently for them to ask a question or two about me, but it is usually very one-sided. I'm of the mind that if they don't ask it means they aren't interested.

Feeling Neglected

Dear Neglected,

The possibilities why these people don't ask about you are many (self-absorbed, not interested in you, socially inept ... it's also possible the quirk is on your end, maybe that you're too sensitive or prone to keep score). You may just have to accept that this is how your friendships go with these people - they talk, you listen - and if it's not doing it for you, it's time to pull away.

But that's not a very satisfying answer, is it? So let's consider some possibilities that may help you figure out why this happens with some people. I'll direct my comments to Feeling Neglected and also to those who neglect (in case a reader suspects they may be guilty of non-reciprocity in conversations and would like to engage more).

I think it's tricky; some people really aren't interested in others, and don't ask reciprocal questions. On the other hand, if these people are friends, not just cocktail party fellow attendees, I wouldn't assume they're not interested because they don't ask. Why would this person be your friend if they didn't care about you? Perhaps they are private people and assume most other people are like that as well. They may be waiting for you to speak up about yourself. A private person should give some thought to asking questions that probably wouldn't rankle anyone. For example, "So, why haven't you set a date yet?" is way over the line, but, "How has [fiance] been?" is well within the bounds of friendly interest. Granted, it's a bit generic and can solicit a one-word thud, but it's also a safe little conversational lob for people who 1. aren't sure what to ask 2. might be sensitive 3. are addressing someone they don't see often. If you're talking to people you do see frequently, ask about specifics: "Has the work crisis passed, or are you still dealing?" Or even better, draw people out without questions about their private lives: "Have you tried that new restaurant?" "Did you see the meteorite shower Sunday?"

Some people often don't ask questions of others because they don't know what's polite to say. They care, but they're afraid of appearing nosy, and might need a nudge in the right direction. Phrases Feeling Neglected could try: "Guess what I just did!" "Did I show you my new bracelet?" etc. It might help.

I've found things work out better for everyone involved if people are honest and proactively move towards what they want in relationships. If you want to talk about yourself then go ahead. I think this is a meet-in-the-middle proposition. Extroverts have to learn to pause and bring the conversation back to the other folks at the table. Introverts can learn to be more bold. Sometimes other folks are just waiting for an opening and if you give them an invitation they'll step right up. Often it's a difference in disposition and the same thing doesn't work for everyone.

So, before writing anyone off, how about trying to talk about yourself and see what happens? If they switch it back to themselves immediately, well, then you can reassess.

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