“What I really need is somebody that I could have what I like to call that ‘comfortable silence’ because, you know, sometimes you’re with somebody that’s run out of stuff to say and there’s this uncomfortable silence? Well, sometimes you’re with somebody and y’all vibe so well that you could just be in the same room not saying anything and it’s just cool because you vibe so well that you don’t have to fill the silence all the time. It could never get awkward.”
His description of the ‘comfortable silence’ resonated with me for a number of reasons. One, I was raised by someone who is actually extremely shy; anyone who has met my mom would never believe that because she’s so charming. Nonetheless, her ‘coping mechanism’ is to chatter…about anything and therefore I inherited the trait of filling silence with sound. For a long time I didn’t know that there was such a thing as comfortable silence. The other reason, and this is really the crux of this entry, is that when people are silent or quiet, if we aren’t used to silence we often equate silence with a problem–and that the problem is directly related to us.
I don’t know about you but, without fail, there has been a ‘special’ person on every job I’ve ever had. Whether it be a man who rotates the same two pair of pants every single day, maybe has a special affinity for a particular red stapler or a woman who wears extremely short or tight clothing, that is totally age inappropriate, not to mention office inappropriate. Or that person who has an explosive temper that everyone ignores and works overtime not to trigger. Whatever the idiosyncrasy, the person has typically been with the company forever and everyone is just biding time until he or she retires. Ringing any bells?
I moved to the DC-area when I was in my early 20s and I worked at a great non-profit organization. I learned a lot and made friends who are in my life to this day. We had a receptionist who was one such ‘special’ person. She would curse you out in a second and just as suddenly be sweet and helpful. Her behavior was erratic at best, but when she was lucid she was great. You never knew what you were going to get. I was recently called a SourPatch Kid because I sometimes am mean and then immediately sweet—not a great trait, trust me. And as I write about her I realize how horrible that can be. As I always say, I’m a work in progress. Anyway, I digress.
One day I felt our special receptionist was particularly icy toward me, and by the end of the day my little naïve 22-year-old self decided to confront the crazy. I figured she may be crazy, but damn that, I’m from New York—What? I inhaled and just asked her point blank, “Did I do something to offend you?” I will never forget that exchange. She looked me dead in my eye and said, without missing a beat, “Michelle, don’t think so highly of yourself.” Wow! I was like what? I must have looked at her quite quizzically because she took the time to explain. “Why do you think that my attitude today has anything to do with you?” I had no answer. The reality was that she was probably equally icy toward everyone. It was me who felt that she was singling me out for extra freeze. But in actuality neither her attitude, nor her behavior had anything to do with me. She was just off and was having a particularly bad day. One day she never returned. There was a collective exhalation in the office.
Over the years, I’ve tried to keep that lesson in mind. When I’m with a new guy friend and we’re quiet I try to let it ‘breathe’ by not having either internal or external chatter about all the reasons why he may not be talking. The reality is that when we meet someone we like we really want to feel connected and get to know him and understand what makes him tick. We think that this is done through verbal communication, but it’s important to keep in mind that closeness can also be accomplished through non-verbal communication.
I take it as a compliment when someone can just BE with me. One of the nicest things a guy has ever said to me was, “I just feel like I need to be around you. Just be in your presence.” And, I know that I’m comfortable with someone when I too can just BE with him. That doesn’t mean that we never ask one another “what are you thinking?” But it does mean that if we have nothing to say and are not speaking we won’t search for something to say just to fill the air. Because, to be honest, I’ve noticed a trend with myself, and that is that when I force a conversation I usually stick my foot in my mouth. And what’s worse than uncomfortable silence? Uncomfortable silence caused by a stupid or ill-conceived remark.
Additionally, I have learned that when someone is quiet with me it doesn’t mean that I’ve done something that they didn’t like or that they’re unhappy, quite the opposite, it often means they’re content. As a writer and a lawyer and by being just a naturally talkative person it’s been quite a lesson for me to learn. I feel that if someone isn’t speaking I don’t know what they’re thinking and if I don’t know what they’re thinking how can I possibly know how they feel about me? Actions speak louder than words and sometimes silence speaks volumes—positive and negative. If the person is in your presence and enjoying just BEing with you, that’s an excellent sign that it’s the former. Therefore, exhale, relax and enjoy. Quiet your mind and if you have nothing to say then say nothing. Because if there’s no tension in the air, then it’s likely he’s just letting the experience of being with someone whose company he enjoys wash over him.
So, why blow it by yammering on about nothing just to feel comfortable? The next time a new or newish friend is quiet remember, it probably means contentment and that silence, in that case, is definitely golden.Tweet