It's A Pleasure

Why Don’t Men Ask Me More Questions On Dates?

I don’t think it’s just me — my friends have this problem, too.

Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; fizkes/Shutterstock
It's A Pleasure

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Q: I’ve been on a few dates recently with a guy who’s knowledgeable and opinionated about a whole range of subjects, and shares a lot about his work life, his upbringing, and his friends. All good stuff! I enjoy our conversations. But I’m realizing that unless I interject with relevant thoughts or stories from my own life, the conversation is pretty one-sided. He’ll ask me one follow-up question and then move on. The thing is, I have met so many guys like this, and so have my friends. I know I could do more to speak up, I could ask fewer questions, and I recognize that people sometimes get nervous and just ramble. I’ve tried to address this in different ways over the years: jumping in with the wildest stories I have to grab their attention, not filling the silence and waiting for them to break it, and even point-blank asking “So, is there anything you want to know about me?” I like listening, but this pattern gets boring. It also just sucks to feel like you’re more interested in learning about your date than your date is interested in learning about you. What’s going on here? What should I be doing?

A: Not asking questions is, to me, a deal-breaker. Not because it’s impossible for someone to change their behavior, but because you shouldn’t have to walk a fellow adult through basic conversation tips. That takes up way too much of your time and energy, plus it sets up an odd dynamic, one that casts you in the often-gendered roles of either “nag” or improver. (I don’t think nagging is a real thing; if you have to keep reminding someone to put in effort, they are the problem.) I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to simply cross someone off the list because they can’t be bothered to find out information about you! That isn’t even a low bar or the lowest bar. It’s not even the floor. It’s the very foundation of the building.

What does it say about a person if they feel they’ve discovered enough about you from you sitting there listening to them talk about themself? They want an attractive captive. They want someone to brainlessly and breathlessly fawn over them. That’s gross! As singlehood expert Shani Silver says, just because he’s not an *sshole, that doesn’t mean he should be your husband.

That said, if you’re really, really, really into this guy outside of this one issue — which I find hard to imagine because he isn’t giving you much and isn’t showing that he cares about you — I think it’s fair to give it one last shot. I think you can say, “Hey, I don’t mean this to be critical, but you haven’t asked me much about myself, which is kind of reading like you aren’t interested in me.” And then see what he says in response. Notice I did not put a question mark at the end of that. He can claw his way out of that if he wants to! He can make some effort!

Research shows that this lack-of-men-asking-questions problem is real and it’s common, and frankly, it’s embarrassing for them! (To all of the 13 men who date women and who do ask questions on dates: This isn’t about you, but please send this article to any man friends you have.)

Part of the issue is how all of us are socialized to speak to one another. According to Deborah Tannen, sociolinguist and author of You Just Don’t Understand, men use conversation to negotiate their social status in a group while women view conversation as a way to connect. In reporter and linguist Amanda Montell’s fascinating book Wordslut, she says that men tend to compete in conversation while women tend to collaborate. (All of these are generalizations, of course, but how we’re socialized is real.) There’s been a push for women to adapt to male preferences of behavior and communication — not apologizing too much, not using exclamation points in emails, being direct — and frankly, I think it’s ridiculous. Women are phenomenal at communicating! More men should learn to engage with others, especially when the whole goal is getting to know a person they might date or sleep with or even marry. (Oddly enough, there’s one place in which men seem to have no trouble posing questions: work conferences.)

You should not have to trick a person into caring about your day or your life or your hobbies. The very job this person is auditioning for is caring about you!

I think there’s a subtle expectation that women and femmes are responsible for making conversations with men flow. That might look like being an engaged listener and asking questions while he just gets to, like, sit back and cruise, talking nonstop about himself. Alternatively, I think that if a lull comes in a conversation between a woman or femme and a self-centered man, he might read the silence he should fill as a failure on his date’s part. These dynamics are usually subconscious; it’s not like men are thinking “Hmm, I’d like to be treated like a brilliant podcast guest today.” But many of us — on both sides of the equation — have been socialized this way, and these patterns might take a little effort to break.

The question (ha!) is: What can you do about that? It’s very easy to take on massive social patterns as a reflection of yourself, and I need you to do everything in your power to resist that. This is not on you and your five best female friends to fix. Because honestly? You can’t. But you can decide how you handle this situation in the future.

Now, of course, it’s OK if someone doesn’t ask quite as many questions as your best friend might. A date might drop the conversational ball a bit out of nerves or excitement, or simply be a different type of communicator — someone who expects people to cut him off and talk over him. Perhaps, also, there is a cue that you’re giving off that isn’t reading like you want to share as much, and so the other person is taking the lead out of a misplaced sense of kindness. I think it’s fair to give people who aren’t total mismatches a second date and see if the no-ask pattern continues.

I know I’ve been a little harsh here on the interpersonal skills of men (as a generalized group), but I do believe that sometimes you have to be blunt. I had a friend once who was very critical of men (fair), and I had to remind her that not everything is done out of cruelty; sometimes it was done out of cluelessness. So, a little grace is welcome, but if he isn’t showing you conversational interest after a couple of dates, or if it seems like he’s just waiting for you to wrap up your story so he can talk about something else, it’s time to address it or end things.

All of the approaches you’ve employed sound great. But also, it kind of sucks to stop asking them questions because then you’re modifying your behavior into something more hostile and less authentic to match someone else’s. It’s warranted, for sure, but it reeks of game-playing, which is a waste of your time and energy. You should not have to trick a person into caring about your day or your life or your hobbies. The very job this person is auditioning for is caring about you! Honestly, the “So, is there anything you want to know about me?” is probably the best bet; it’s an elegant solution to someone else’s lack of decency.

If you’re like “Sophia! That is bleak!” — yes, it is. But also, anyone at any time is welcome to Google “How can I be a better listener?” or “How do I become more likable?” (I know — these are questions. It’s good practice.) And they will be told precisely what to do. You know how I know this? Because I did it when I was in high school; I had anxiety and I was very insecure and I was tired of feeling like I didn’t know how to talk to people. Guess what the brilliant Internet told me? Ask people questions! Retraining myself into being a better listener and conversationalist was not difficult.

It’s a huge bummer to think that a good chunk of the already-small dating pool is disqualifying itself with dipsh*t behavior. At the end of the day, though, you do not want a partner who is good enough. You want a partner you’re excited to talk to. Who is genuinely curious about your life. Everything else waxes and wanes, but being a good, kind, conscientious person is lifelong. It’s worth being ruthless about. It’s worth waiting for. Don’t you think?