When conversations disappoint

July 9, 2011

I’d “e-met” someone through email, when I added him as someone belonging to a e-group that I moderate. I found that he had a sense of humour, was very atypical of his general demographic (I can’t be more specific), seemed to write well, and be interested in many unusual things. So, when I came to the US, I was looking forward to talking to him.

When I called, he was in the middle of a long drive, and he called me back today. And…the conversation…just didn’t go as I hoped. He talked and talked and talked….about why he was buying/moving into another house, about mortgage rates in the US, how they had to be careful or real estate people would overcharge him and his wife….as if that is not something that exists everywhere in the world.

He never talked about the things I had told him on email interested me about him; and though he did say he was out of touch with India, I found his attitude towards India very negative indeed. But I was determined to overlook that, and continued listening to him.

Somehow…it was boring and pompous and I was steadily losing interest. Where were the topics I was sure we’d talk about, and laugh or debate about? Why were we sticking to these extremely stuffy areas of conversation? I tried cracking a couple of light-hearted jokes, but they fell quite flat; did he not hear them at all, I wonder. There was no sign of any sense of humour at all as he droned on.

I waited for either some questions about myself, or some break in the conversation so that I might introduce other topics…both never came. Instead, he went on to talk about how things had changed for the better in India, with so many malls coming up. Now, this is something I feel very strongly against, and was curious enough to ask him if he felt this was really a good thing. His response? “Oh, when we visit, it feels so familiar now…my daughter can have a burger if she feels like it. the malls are so nice….” This, I thought, was the conversation-stopper of it all.

We (yes, I am sure it was mutual) increasingly found each other very non-interesting (he asked me why I was not travelling with KM, and when I said I wanted to spend more time with KTB, it was obvious I had sort of put him off. He has no clue about my usual propensity to jaunter around on my own, and didn’t bother to ask any more, though I told him I had planned to visit Vashon Island, and spend time with a bell-designer and an interesting journalist.)

I’d thought that the earlier remark was a converastion-stopper, but then he delivered the complete coup-de-gras: “I had a list of things to do when I got back from the long drive, and one of them was calling you up, so I called you.” The fact that he had to explain the reason for calling me says it all. Duty-bound! Should I have made any more conversational attempts after that? I certainly didn’t.

Just when I was feeling that I must end this conversation, and wondering how I could do so politely, he told me that his real estate agent was calling on the other line. I do not think two people were ever so relieved to have an estate agent ringing up! We parted with mutual expressions of polite leave-takings, with the message very clear…neither was going to call the other up again. It actually took me a few minutes to get out of the stifled feeling that I had developed over the time of the phone call.

It is very, very rare for me to exchange emails with someone, and have an experience that is so different from my interaction on email.In fact, it’s very rare for ANY first conversation that I have to go so badly. So why did this happen? Did both of us not communicate properly? Should I, after all, give him the benefit of the doubt for a bad beginning, and make another phone call and see if things are better?…I don’t really know…let me muse on this for a while.