Friday, August 06, 2010

Social Contraction

I’d like to think that this happens to everybody.

Not that I’m wishing bad on you all but I’d hate to think it was just me.

Someone meets you in the street or visits your work place. A work colleague or someone you vaguely know. Not a close friend but you know them well enough to make polite conversation. So you make polite conversation. Talk about this and that. Do your damndest to be entertaining and witty ‘cos, you know, every situation is a selling opportunity, isn’t it?

And they’re listening, this colleague, this person you vaguely know. And they’re participating. Colluding. You’re having a dialogue. And they’ve asked you something – doesn’t matter what: how are the kids, how’s your latest writing project – and you begin to answer because, like, they’ve asked a question that requires a response. You're 40 years old and you’ve got the hang of this conversation thing by now.

And mid answer their eyes sweep away and fasten onto somebody else – possibly the person they had actually come to see when they met you quite by chance going about your business.

And then it happens. The rudeness. The ignorance. The disrespect.

As your voice peters out mid sentence, the words shattering like glass against a wall that nobody else knows exists, this colleague immediately and enthusiastically launches into a brand new conversation with the newcomer. Their words literally railroading yours into silent oblivion. All their attention is on the newcomer. You may as well not be there. So you don’t want to hear about my kids then, or my new novel?

And you shuffle your feet. And you get on with what you were originally doing. And – and this is what really riles me afterwards – you kind of hang around, kind of wait to be dismissed because you don’t want to appear rude by sidling off without saying goodbye to this person.

Like this person deserves a goodbye!

And after it’s all over you feel deflated, worthless and ashamed. Is it something about me? Something I do or say or don’t do or say?

Is it just me?

Is it?


26 comments:

Being Me said...

Awwwwwwww! No! It's not you. Or... perhaps it's just you and me?? No, there'd have to be scores of others *waiting for your commenters to back you up further*

You know what I do these days, though (newly invincible since 2004 as I am)? I say rather loudly but still politely, but definitely AT them: "Ok, so I'll leave you to it. Nice to catch up with you!" I really do. Honest injin.

Steve said...

Being Me: that's an admirable way of dealing with it. Wish I'd thought to say "well, been lovely to see you again..." as loudly as possible as a clear sign of my dismissing them...

Rol said...

That's an interesting post, Steve, I'd like to...

John! How are you mate? Great to see you. No, nothing important. Yeah, let's get out of this place. Bunch of losers! Ha!

Steve said...

Rol: you're presupposing I'd stop to speak to you in the first place.

Suzanne said...

Definitely not just you. There are some strange people out there. I love the comment by "Being Me", as I get older the less I suffer fools, but it does sort of make you feel like Mr/Mrs.Invisible.

libby said...

No its not just you....yes it is rude...and Being me has the right answer to it...

Steve said...

Suzanne & Libby: well, that's two votes for Being Me's response! Guess I'll be adding it to my repertoire of anti-arsehole tactics!

Gina said...

Oh crikey, no definitely not you.

I only ever let people do it once though. Those people who are always looking over my shoulder looking for someone more interesting to appear only get chatted to once. If they do that to me I ignore them.

It is very very irritating and yes, it does leave you feeling inadequate. Well, it leaves me feeling that way and I generally feel a bit of a social failure at the best of times.

Hope you are having a good summer. Love your new profile pic.

Steve said...

Gina: thank you for your kind words regarding the pic; you and Old Cheeser have been the only one's to notice... *sniff* You're probably right regarding giving rude people one chance and one chance only. I need to be more discerning and perhaps a little less forgiving.

Kelloggsville said...

it happens to me too. maybe it's not us, maybe it's that everyone is living in fast forward and they don't actually have time to be polite. still feels shitty though doesn't it.

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: I think you are being far too charitable. I think some of these people are just plain ignorant and are undeserving of the smallest amount of time we expend on them.

Gappy said...

I think this is something that happens to everybody occasionally. It is bloody rude though. I never know quite what to do afterwards either, whether to leave or hang around, shuffling my feet.

It's a subtle sort of power trip for the person doing the dismissing I think. Not nice.

Selina Kingston said...

It's rude and ignorant and shows huge arrogance......and I think I may have been guilty of that sort of behaviour !!
But I've been on the receiving end of it too and that feeling of not knowing whether to stay or go is just toe-curlingly awful!

Steve said...

Gappy: I agree. I think they're certainly aware of what they're doing and must get off on it - even if only in passing.

Selina: hmm. I'm now trying to think if I've ever been guilty of doing it. I think the only times are when I have pigeonholed for hours by a real bore and I grab the first opportunity to escape. Does that make it better though?

Nota Bene said...

Happens to all the best people...

Steve said...

Nota Bene: I'd certainly like to think so...!

Val said...

No, it's not you. And people like that have a name. They're called 'shitheads'. (Actually they also have another name, but I'm too polite to use it in mixed company).

Steve said...

Val: yes, I'm more familiar with their alias too...! ;-)

The Crow said...

First, Gina and Old Cheeser are not the only ones to notice the new picture. They are perhaps the only ones who've mentioned it to you here. I noticed right away! My first thought was, "Oh my gosh, he's much younger than his other photo suggested!"

My other thoughts, inappropriate for a woman of my age toward a man young enough to be my son, are best left unsaid. I wouldn't want to upset or worry your wife.

On the other issue, you are not alone. A girl in my senior high class, who thought she was all that, but was mistaken, used to do that - marking time - to a lot of us less popular (read unpopular, invisible) girls, usually until a good-looking boy came along or until a girl of higher standing approached. My cure, one afternoon, was to say to her, loudly enough for the boy she insulted me for to hear, "Sure, I have a tampon you can have, just come by my locker when you've finished here." (This was in the late 60s, when we didn't mention such things in front of boys.)

She never did that to me again...mostly because she avoided me like the plague.

Being Me has the better, more genteel response. I guess I wasn't feeling too polite that day.

TheUndertaker said...

No, it's not you, it's me!
Very few people actually listen, or have the attention span that is required. Frankly, some people just pretend and most just don't give a shit.
Sad, isn't it. Pick your 'victims' or say loudly, "Hey u (or asshole) I'm talking to you, are you listening?" : )
Steve, we, your trusty internet friends, are listening, however!

The Sagittarian said...

Yup, Being Me has the right approach. It's really rude isn't it when people do this. You can get them back by being really vague and off ahnd next time they try it...(or find out where they live and call round late at night and throw stones on their roof)

Steve said...

The Crow: thank you. Now that my ego has been restored to its hugely inflated former state I can go about my business as usual once again. I love your response and wish I could have used it. Sadly I don't think the person in question would ever come to me to borrow a tampon... but I may keep one in my desk just in case I ever get the opportunity to whip it out and embarrass her.

TheUndertaker: thank you - it is a comfort to know that there are people out there who do take the time to listen and respond thoughtfully. Nice to see you back.

Amanda: can't find any stones but we've got a few odd bricks lying round at the bottom of our garden. More or less the same thing, right?

Heather at Notes From Lapland said...

Nope not just you, and yes I too do that pathetic hanging around waiting to be dismissed thing. I wish I didn't, but it's like witty retorts, you only realise that you should have left after it happened.

Steve said...

Heather: I'm beginning to see that I need to have a stock of witty retorts learnt off by heart ready for such situations. I wonder if that's how other people do it...?

vegemitevix said...

Definately not just you! I've noticed this a lot recently. It's incredibly rude. I cannot believe people can be so disrespectful.I think Being Me has the right idea. Shame them into embarrassment by being polite.

Steve said...

Vegemitevix: yes, I've come to that conclusion myself... to be "cuttingly" polite seems to be much the best response!