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Intimate Conversations

As you may have noticed by now, I have no problem expressing myself and my opinions. A lot of other homo sapiens-types share that trait with me. In fact, it could be said in this age of blogging that self-expression is reaching an all-time high.

There’s a lot to be said for that. I think part of the human animal is that we all have a need to be heard and I don’t necessarily mean just lip service pretending to listen while really tuning the other person out. I’m talking really listening, giving your full attention to someone and taking in their words. When we have someone willing to do that, it’s like gold. It’s amazing how much venting your frustrations to someone who is actually listening can make you feel so much better.

I tend to be a real good listener. I have always had a tendency, going back to my not-quite-adult days, to be a shoulder for my friends, particularly my female friends. That continues even today. I have a knack to make people feel comfortable talking to me, even people I barely know. It’s a trait I share with my wife. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had total strangers sit down with us and tell us more about themselves than they are probably used to sharing.

That can be a bit of a burden, but I look upon it as a responsibility. When you give someone the gift of your attention, you really are giving them something special. That doesn’t necessarily mean spouting your opinion and turning the conversation to yourself – that can be worse than ignoring someone. No, it’s all about listening and keeping your mouth shut as much as possible other than to acknowledge that you’ve heard what’s being said. Being an opinionated sort, I do have a tendency to give advice whether wanted or not.

Giving that kind of attention is a sort of love you give to those around you. It’s a means of letting someone else know that they are important, that they are listened to and that they are respected, and we all need that. It does take a little time, it does take a little self-discipline and it does take a lot of focus, but it is well worth it in the end for the good you do to another soul.

However, it should be said that there are times when it is appropriate to have a heart-to-heart and times when it is not. Carrying on a personal conversation should be done privately, where you can give your complete focus on the other person. Doing it in a restaurant or a movie theater is not appropriate, particularly where there are other people nearby listening to you airing out your dirty laundry. Chances are, they really don’t want to hear it – they’re there to have a meal or see a movie. Public places don’t make for great conversations, unless you are in a park or some other place where you can have a reasonable amount of privacy.

If you are going to provide an ear for someone, don’t lay conditions on it. Accept that the person may be talking about things that may make you uncomfortable – medical problems, marital problems, sexual problems you name it. Their frustration may take the form of anger from time to time and they may use language that normally might bother you. The last thing you want to do is inhibit someone from expressing themselves, even if it is in an angry or inappropriate manner. Be an adult about it. Let it go and remember it’s not just what they’re saying that is important. Generally speaking, you’ll probably get an apology later anyway; just chalk it up to the moment and move on.

Don’t be judgmental. People make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes can be catastrophic. It’s easy to point fingers when you are at a distance, a bit harder when you’re walking in that person’s shoes. If they’ve done something that bothers you, try to keep in mind that it probably took a great deal of courage for them to confess it to you and that in all likelihood they are fully aware they’ve done something wrong. No need to flog a dead horse; just give them your love and support and if they ask you what you think about what they did, reply along the lines of “I would like to think that’s not something I would do myself, but if I were in your position I don’t know what I would have done.” The important thing is to voice your support and let them know you don’t think any worse of them, even if you do lose some respect for them. Just remember that there is a person in pain in front of you and they need your help – not your judgment.

The temptation to voice your opinion is the hardest thing to get past, and I know I’m not always successful at it. I try to keep my responses to things like “Really?” or “That’s terrible!” but from time to time I can’t control my urge to put my two cents in. It’s an urge I really should resist and so should you. The best time to give an opinion is when it is asked for and just remember the reason someone is talking to you in the first place may be to ask for your advice about a predicament they’re in. If that’s the case, feel free to refrain from giving your opinion until you are satisfied they have told you everything they want to communicate about the situation. Nothing is more irritating than someone saying “Oh, well you two should try to work it out…have you seen a relationship counselor?” when the next thing they were going to see was “We have been getting counseling for months but it’s not working.” To use a lawyer-ism, let them present their case in its entirety before you pass sentence.

If you are physically in the presence of the other person, be present. Don’t look off into the distance, don’t answer your cell phone, and don’t give your attention to anything else but the other person. Be liberal with hugs and physical contact. Sometimes a hug can be a great healer. Don’t be stingy with your hugs but don’t be overbearing either. Bear hugs are inappropriate but so are weak half-hugs. One thing you don’t want to do is send the wrong message, particularly with someone of the opposite sex (or with your gay friends, the same sex). This isn’t about physical intimacy, although when someone is pouring their heart out to you there is an intimacy to it. It’s about being there.

That can be a bit of a drawback in some cases as that kind of emotional intimacy can sometimes lead to physical intimacy. In nearly every case, that’s usually a bad thing. It leads to resentment and the end of friendships, or at the very least the changing of friendships. It’s not uncommon for someone to feel like they’ve been taken advantage of. Resist the urge to bed someone who has just talked your ear off for the past two hours; be respectful but firm. If you’re attracted to the person, try to resist the temptation. If you’re really interested in a relationship with that person, let them know that after an emotional conversation like that, it might not be the best time for physical intimacy. Be strong for someone who is vulnerable; believe it or not that will generally deepen your friendship and it has been known to change the mind of someone who might not have been interested in you that way before.

Even if you are not physically there, tell the person that they are loved and appreciated. Give them the best advice you can if they ask for it, but even if you can’t help them in that regard, just knowing that there is someone out there who cares for them can go a long, long way in helping them heal. In that sense, just being there can be enough but being present can help turn the life around of another human being. So don’t be afraid to listen – or to talk. If you need me you know where to find me.


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