Just curious

Yesterday on the way home from my 11th trip to the grocery store, Hannah began telling me a story about why sometimes she likes to have her jeans tucked into her boots and other times she likes her boots under her jeans. A deep conversation, yes. She was giving me all of the nitty gritty details as to what makes it a "tucked in day" or a "covered up day". Seven or so minutes into the story I decided to ask her if other types of pants also had to go through the same process as jeans when she makes the decision as to tucking them into the boots or leaving them out. I was just trying to show her I was listening and sincerely interested. I've had to remind myself lately to savor these silly little conversations and appreciate them because before long I'm afraid she may hit a stage where she keeps it all inside. I had barely had the chance to finish asking my question when she stated, "Mommy, If you could please hold all questions for the end, that would be really good."


I hadn't realized she had already taken Communications 101 and knew the ins and outs of a proper Q and A.

Sheesh. I lowered my head as she put me in my place.

Questions. I am big question asker. I'm one of those people that talks very little about myself but asks a ton of questions of other people. Especially if I'm meeting them for the first time and am feeling out whether they'd have any interest in my "story". I wonder sometimes if I overwhelm people with my questions. If it's too much too soon. I always assume they'd rather talk about themselves than hear about me. And I'm honestly, just a curious person. I like to understand what makes people tick. Why people do what they do and make the choices they make. It's the marketer in me I guess. I've been told by friends that I always have a million questions. That they know if they tell me something, they need to be prepared for the follow ups that I'll have in response. I don't like to not understand. I like to envision the whole picture. Doesn't everyone?

And the answer to that is "no". Not everyone cares so much about understanding. Many people ask questions to fill in uncomfortable silence or because it's the normal thing to do, but don't really care about the answer. And some people, don't even ask. I have been astounded by the number of people I meet who beyond knowing my name and what I "do", don't ask anything. Their world of conversation is talking about or telling stories about other people. Not talking about themselves and not curious about who they're talking to. And this makes me even MORE curious. I could spend an entire evening asking someone about their world, their family, their past, their job and have them not once ask about me. I have also spent countless hours in the company of people who sidestep questions about themselves, not giving any detail, and not giving me any window to get a picture of what is inside.

I've been thinking a lot about this as I continue to try to make new and better friends that fit into my relatively new world with kids. I'm always up for testing the waters with someone new to see if they're someone I could have a playdate with or even better, a glass of wine with once the kids have gone to bed. Maybe my frustration (or surprise) comes from the fact that most of the other women I meet, are not in that "friend seeking" place. They aren't opening up because they're not viewing our conversation as a chance to make a new friend. They aren't asking me any questions because they're feeling like they'll never see me again, so what's the point.

I grew up in a family of question askers. I remember sitting around the dinner table and my dad would ask, "Let's talk about what the first thing is that we notice in a person." Or, "Tell me what your earliest memory is." My parents were always about getting to know us better. I know they do these type of "question sessions" with their friends as well. And they've done it with Tim. I remember his surprise when my mom asked him, "So Tim, are you a butt or a boob guy?" That went over well. Much to my parent's and brother's chagrin, some people aren't comfortable being put on the spot to come up with a "good" answer. I know as a little girl, I wasn't. I would roll my eyes, get annoyed and say, "I don't know" to most questions. Too much pressure, too much curiosity. Because on top of the tough questions, if the answer wasn't something they agreed with, it often at best, received a puzzled look or a quizzical "Really??" or at worst, a debate, turned argument and someone leaving the table in tears or anger. I chose to stay quiet. I felt safer that way.

And now I'm the question asker. No, questions like, "If you could have any superpower what would it be and why?" don't come out of my mouth when I first meet someone but I do wonder whether the majority of people I meet, would rather not be asked anything. If people truly would rather just talk about what other people are wearing, what was in the latest issue of People, and how annoying that girl-over-there's laugh is. Easy. Simple. Am I in the minority in wanting to get to know more? I can't spend quality time with people who won't "Talk". I get bored. I actually feel lonely in their company. But maybe it's hindering my friend making opportunities. Maybe I need to ask less. Ask FOR less. Or maybe just not expect it to come so quickly. And not cross people off that don't "give it up" right off the bat.

I also wonder what I "should" be teaching my kids. I know I'm raising one question asker for sure. Hannah is not shy about putting her face right into someone else's and shooting questions at them. I never know whether I should tell her to back off or whether it's something she'll learn on her own. Should I tell her to not ask so much? That it might make people uncomfortable, just like whispering in front of or pointing her finger at someone. Is there etiquette in curiosity that I'm unaware of?

Just curious.

12 comments:

Shell said...

I like curiosity. As long as it doesn't go into the territory of none-of-your-business!

It's how to get to know someone. I find myself at a loss for words when meeting someone new sometimes, so I'd appreciate the questions!

Melissa said...

I'm huge on asking questions and answering them, as are my kids. Most questions don't bother me, offend me, or make me uncomfortable. The ones I get upset over are "how much money do you make?" speaking of me and/or my husband. Or any question about my weight, only because I'm sensitive. Not over weight by any means, just don't wanna talk about it. Ask me where I'm from, I'll tell you all over...dad is a rough tough marine. Ask me about my family, and well you'll be sitting there for hours on end, listening to me tell you about my crazy, erratic, completely dysfunctional, out of control, loving, close knit, super fun, understanding, and supportive family. So teach her to be curious, teach her to want to learn about others, and let her fly w/ it!

lz @ My Messy Paradise said...

I think teaching kids to ask questions is great. I am always wowed by a child who has the basic courtesy to go out of their way to try to talk to someone and make conversation.
She sounds so sassy - hold all questions until the end...I love it. My daughter doesn't believe that concept yet.

Anonymous said...

often after meeting someone for the first time, i get the question from jeff- what did you think? too often, i think people are duds- non questioners- it drives me nuts. i often reference them as "vanilla"- which means not as exciting as chocolate. i was painfully shy as a child and have made a point as an adult, to ask questions, some because i am interested, some because i want to show i am an interested person because i think it is nice to make people feel like you care about their shit, and some to just get over my own shyness. last night i went out with a girlfriend and all the kids and between telling the kids to sit still, eat with a fork, etc. we managed to pepper away a million questions to each other. we did the same, without kids over pedis last week. it was refreshing to have that kind of exchange!

BigLittleWolf said...

This is a wonderful post. LOVE the story, love the questions, love the curiosity.

Some people are uncomfortable talking about themselves. Some people are afraid to ask questions. Some people are simply too self-absorbed to ask questions, or to be genuinely interested in the responses. Like you, I find it surprising, because people and their stories are endlessly fascinating. Their motivations, their humor, richness. And we get to that by asking questions.

Still, there has to be a balance. If only one does the asking, that seesaw tips and is no fun at all. As for holding your questions to the end (truly chuckling here) - that's classic! But no fun in real life, outside of a brief presentation in a professional context.

Corinne said...

My mom is a lot like you, she's always full of questions, and I believe that's why people are so taken with her. She also listens, so you put questioning and listening together and you get a person who is genuine and caring. I think it's wonderful :)
(thank you for the comment a few minutes ago... I so appreciate it!)

TKW said...

Mama was BIG on questions. And she always was able to put people at ease by asking questions, because conversation with new people is a lot easier if there are direct questions to answer. At least I think so! It beats TWO people fumbling for a topic to talk about.

Miss D and Miss M ask a lot of questions. And yes, sometimes it's an inappropriate or embarrassing question, but those boundaries will be learned in time.

I wish you lived in my neighborhood. I'd ask you over for wine any day.

Nicki said...

Questions and stories are what writing is made of so I love both. I find the stories of others fascinating. I love to share my stories, though I tend to be shy so sharing takes time. And, questions, I ask by the truckload.

I have taught my children - well, had to call them little with the baby being 15 - to listen, to converse and to question adults. They will be the children who are holding full-fledged conversations with the new adult in the room.

I can see Hannah becoming a speaker and politely telling everyone to hold the questions until she finishes when she will be happy to answer them.

melissa said...

I like questions, but I have a hard time thinking of good ones on the spot. Or else I can only think of mildly inappropriate ones. Maybe I should come up with a handy list?

Aidan Donnelley Rowley said...

Becca, life is about asking questions. Our society seems so focused on answers, but I think that as long as we are asking the right questions we are okay. I think raising your kids to ask questions, to explore curiosity, is one of the best things you can do for them. Cheerio!

naptimewriting said...

I'm with most of the other comments...boundaries will come with time. Society shames the questions out of us soon enough. Let them ask away.
Unless, of course, the monologue about pants and boots isn't over yet.

Sarah said...

"I can't spend quality time with people who won't "Talk". I get bored. I actually feel lonely in their company. But maybe it's hindering my friend making opportunities. Maybe I need to ask less. Ask FOR less."

You are brave for asking yourself if you should ask less questions and ask FOR less from the people that you are meeting. I, too am an asker of many questions--because truly truly I am interested in the people and world around me. I am saddened to find that so many many people are guarded and shy away from the questions, or from the honest answers that they deserve.

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