The letter request:
Donna, my best friend’s wife, always says something nasty/creepy/passive aggressive to me every time we socialise. Recently, at a friend’s party, she cornered me and started talking about golf – about going on vacation to play golf, about how cute her little girls are when the play golf, about how her little boys fight when they play golf… She has three subjects she talks about: doctor things (she’s a physician), at which time she uses really big terms so if you’re not a doctor you won’t understand what she’s talking about; golf, which bores me to tears; and her kids. So I came up with a plan (big mistake). I purchased a couple of books on cocktail party conversation, and a magazine subscription called Mental Floss, and suggested we meet to devise a plan where we could talk about things worldly and not about golf (did I mention I hate golf?) as a way to connect with each other on a more personal/friendly level. I sent her a text message. No response.
So the other day I was reading an article in the New York Times that made me pause and think. It was about conversation and one particular sentiment leapt out at me: ‘In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.’
If this is indeed true, this is how I see your world after a conversation with you: You’re a committed medical practitioner who enjoys playing golf and adores her children more than life itself. True? Win!
The trouble is, after one of our conversations, this is how I imagine you see my world: I am a committed medical practitioner who enjoys playing golf and adores your children more than life itself. What? Uh-oh. Fail. Your kids are great, that’s not to be doubted, but medicine and golf I know nothing about. British cars and bikes, now they’re my thing. But somehow our conversations never seem to veer off your well-worn path to stray onto mine. Strange, that.
There’s an art to conversation, that’s for sure, and by no means am I claiming to be an expert. I’m no Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker but, like most John Does, I do have a vague sense of when a conversation is going well – when it’s keeping both participants engaged and involved – and, alternatively, when it’s a bloodied car wreck out of which nobody escapes with limbs in tact. I’m sure you must share this same vague sense which is why I was surprised and, frankly, a little hurt when you didn’t respond to my text message suggesting we meet up, just the two of us, and nut out a way to make our conversations zing.
I’m psyched about this, I really am. There are plenty of reasons to believe it’ll work – we’ve got social events galore that draw us together and seat us side by side; we’ve got the fact that you’re my best friend’s wife and I’m your husband’s best friend; and we’ve got a tried and tested conversation foundation (of sorts) in medicine, golf and your kids. As Yazz so eloquently put it: The only way is up…
So here again is that plan o’ mine: you peruse these quality publications that are a gift from me to you. Keep them; they’re yours. Savour them, devour them, underline key words and sentiments, dog-ear them, scrawl notes in the margins. And when you’re ready, let’s the two of us meet up. Let’s meet in a café with good coffee, friendly waiters and unobtrusive music. Let’s meet in a café where we can talk. Perhaps we’ll ease into it by commenting on the cover image of Mental Floss. Perhaps that’ll lead to a discussion about the article on old-timey slang terms. We’ll springboard off that onto monarchs who were crowned while still in diapers and from there we’ll dive into a debate about which is Steve Martin’s all-time finest movie. My guess is that we’ll find ourselves so deep in conversation that we won’t even notice when the afternoon saunters by – the waiters will be sweeping the floors and stacking chairs on tables and, finally, one of them will reluctantly make his way to our table, clear his throat politely and say, ‘Boy, you two sure do enjoy your conversation!’
See how well thought out this plan is, Donna? See how it can’t help but succeed and make us, and those we love, happy?
I’m going to be honest with you now. This is what interests me about golf: While the modern game of golf originated in 15th century Scotland, some historians trace the sport back to the Roman game of paganica, in which participants used a bent stick to hit a stuffed leather ball.
And this is what doesn’t interest me about golf: Everything else.
You: ‘But what about when my kids are playing golf and they look so…?’
Me: ‘EVERYTHING else.’