One of the hardest things to put into words is how someone’s apathy for you feels.
Apathy doesn’t feel completely accurate, but I’m not sure how else to phrase it. I think we’ve all felt that gut emptying feeling when you realize that the person you were talking to and sharing yourself with simply does not care. I think that might help clarify it better, that feeling when you thought what you were saying was meaningful only to have someone’s total disinterest hand you back that little piece of yourself. Like an unopened gift, not even given a chance.
Whether we want to admit it or not, most of us yearn for others to take an interest in what we enjoy. You can see it when people go on a date and find the other person disinterested or playing on their phone the whole time. They just get deflated. Like a bit of wind threatening to extinguish the flame in their heart for what they just shared. Let that happen time and time again and that flame will go out. Have endless conversations with people where the most engaging reply you get in return is “Huh, cool”, complete silence, or my favorite (he said with heavy sarcasm….) is a good ol pregnant pause followed by “So anyway….” and the person continues on with whatever they had lined up to say.
That’s what I mean by someone’s apathy for you. That you are simply there to be a receptacle for their words. If they could get satisfaction from talking to a wall they would, but it feels better with a person. Like speech masturbation.
Being a conscious participant in the conversation you are having, active listening, changes the dynamic completely. You listen to the person you are speaking with, make eye contact, and when they are done speaking you respond in a way that shows that you actually heard what they said. That may be furthering what they said or asking a question about something they brought up. Basically, don’t treat the end of their sentence as a green light for you to immediately disregard what they said and engage in “LET’S TALK ABOUT MEEEEEE!”
If it sounds corny and like something therapists force you to do…that’s cause it totally is.
Also a bit stiff in the beginning, but the more you do it the more it becomes your natural way of speaking with people. And it works wonders. Not only do you open yourself up to actually learning about people and things and perspectives you may not have been exposed to otherwise, but you can see their face light up when they hear you dig into what they were saying. If you show someone that you actually care what they think and say, it will make them feel validated. Like there was a reason for them to share something with you.
I don’t say all of this to encourage a bunch of you to feel bad or think ill of yourself when you blow people off sometimes. I mean for this to inform how you interact with people in a genuine way, especially those who are important in your life. To be honest with them if you have no interest in the topic they are passionate about or just let them know that today isn’t the day to have in depth conversations. As the speaker we have a responsibility to know when to stop or recognize if a conversation is DOA. It is totally fine to not want to talk, but when you feign interest long enough to regurgitate your own ideas while casting someone else’s in the garbage it creates a festering little demon in the relationships you share with others.
We don’t always have to be completely honest, but we don’t have to lie either. Sharing yourself is hard and receiving can be just as difficult. We owe it to each other to be genuine. We’re all we have.
Be mindful. Be present. Be kind.