We Need to Talk

12 Aug

Talking_lips wikiroxor

By Rhea H. Boyden

‘What size toothbrush do you use?’ My dentist enquired of me as I sat in the dentist chair. ‘I suspect you are using one that is too big with too many bristles, you need a smaller brush’ he counselled. ‘Oh, really?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, he said, you have a very small mouth, you need to use this brush here’ he continued, as he handed me a shiny new toothbrush. ‘I have a small mouth?’ I asked incredulously. ‘Noone has ever said that to me before, I have always been told that I have a big mouth, and I never seem to be able to keep it shut. Whenever I fly back home to Ireland for the holidays from Berlin, I am always bubbling with energy and excitement about seeing my friends and family and telling them all my stories. My jaw is wagging constantly. My dear brother is often the first victim of my motor mouth, as he is often the one who picks me up from the airport. As soon as we set off on the bumpy country road home I am yakking away at a hundred miles an hour which only has the effect of making him drive faster on the dangerous Irish roads, presumably because he wants to get home quicker and have some peace away from me. ‘Rhea, you are full on, you never stop blathering, you are wrecking my head’ he says, or ‘Rhea, you have so many interesting things to say, why don’t you say them once and then move on to the next thing’. My brother and I care for each other dearly and we get on well, but more often than not, we have had a slight argument before we reach home, and usually it is due to the fact that I am blabbering too much, and not only am I blabbering, but I am repeating myself too, making my presence a double torture to him. He is very good for picking me up from the airport, and for that I am grateful. I always bring him a bottle of rum or something else nice to drink as a reward for putting up with me. Usually within a day or two of being home, I have a similar run in with my father. All I want to do is talk and talk to my family when I see them. ‘Why do you always want to read the paper when I want to talk to you? I grumble at my dad when we are sitting at the kitchen table. ‘Rhea’ he says, looking up from his paper, irritated. ‘Why do you always want to talk to me when I want to read the paper?’ Good point. I leave him alone and go and sulk and read my book, alone, and wait until someone else wants to talk to me. I love talking to my dad, but I have to learn that he doesn’t always want to talk. When he is in a talkative mood, he is great. I don’t have to be in Ireland visiting him to bug him with my chatter though. I make plenty of use of my phone to call him up and natter on and on about my latest writing project. I recently phoned him up to tell him about my idea for this very essay that I wanted to write about talking. I told him all about it in great detail. When we were ending the phone conversation he then teasingly said goodbye to me with the following sentence: ‘Great Rhea, now you can stop talking about writing and start writing about talking.’ My grandfather was once visiting Berlin and he made the effort to walk up the stairs to my fouth floor apartment to visit me and see where I lived. I would have suggested he stay with me, but a ground floor apartment much better suited him at his age. He was huffing and puffing from the effort and I proudly led him into my kitchen and offered him a glass of water to provide him some relief. I then proceeded to jabber on and on about my apartment and my life in Berlin. After quite some time he finally got a word in and said: ‘That’s the problem with you single people who live alone. As soon as you have company you need to talk endlessly.’ That shut me up for a few minutes. Presumably this was his way of saying he did not understand why so many of us were choosing to live alone in single households and shun marriage. Of course, what he doesn’t realise is that I don’t only talk when I have visitors, I also talk to myself on a regular basis, and no, I am not mad, at least not any madder than the next person. In movies and popular culture, people are portrayed as mad and eccentric for talking to themselves, but many studies have shown that most people talk to themselves and it is, in fact, perfectly natural and not a sign of insanity at all. Talking to yourself helps relief stress and solve problems with yourself when you have no one else to talk to. And, indeed even if you do have tonnes of friends and plenty of confidants, you don’t even want to share everything with people. Simply talking to yourself is a good way to process things on your own. Numerous studies have also shown that consciously articulating something out loud to yourself actually does help you find a solution to your question. The problem arises when you start answering your own questions out loud or responding to ‘voices in your head’ which could be a sign of a mental health issue or even schizophrenia, but for most of us young and healthy people, a normal dose of talking to ourselves is no reason for concern at all. While watching the Olympic Games too, you can see lots of athletes muttering to themselves in deep concentration right before they begin a race or a match or a run. In psychology, this type of self-talk is called ‘verbal persuasion’ and it is a very useful tool for gaining self-confidence. Recently, a good friend of mine was visiting me from Ireland and I read him one of my short stories aloud. When I had finished he said: ‘You have to lop off the first half of this story and start in the middle, that’s when it gets interesting. You must turn your writing into a pearl’, he advised. ‘It must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is necessary.’ As I was absorbing this lovely metaphor of the pearl, he then interrupted my reverie by adding: ‘It comes as no surprise that you are now writing all the time and churning out stories and articles like crazy, Rhea, you talk so darn much it is good for you to get it down on paper. I took this as a compliment. It also made me think of Mark Twain’s wonderful quotes on being concise in writing such as: ‘If I had had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.’ Yes, everything is in editing, that fine act of reducing what you have written to what is essential. I have a wonderful book entitled ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by a poet and teacher of creative writing named Natalie Goldberg. Her book is filled with lots of fantastic creative writing exercises and she claims in one chapter that chattering and gossiping are the true friends of good writers. We have to talk lots and tell stories and be sociable as much as possible to get our fuel for writing. Only then when we are alone are we able to use all this useful chatter to help us write glittering dialogues and compelling stories. There are wonderfully talented writers who talk little and who are hermits, but there are also authors who are taciturn and talk little, who write scientific journals and other such dry manuscripts that are more effective than sleeping tablets, and not the bubbling, chattering and humourous writings of people who have more active social lives. A friend of mine once gave me a book of short stories entitled ‘Why don’t you stop talking?’ by a woman named Jackie Kay. Was she trying to drop a hint or simply giving me a great book? Regardless, the book is fantastic and Jackie Kay has become one of my bigger influences in my writing. In her short story that bears the same name as the collection of stories, her character, a young woman talks all about how much her tongue gets her into trouble constantly. She says that she gets nervous when she finds herself with a silent person who merely nods and utters one well-chosen word every so often when she is chattering on and on. She also said that she lives alone since she drove her boyfriend mad with her constant talk, making him pack his bags and leave. This I can relate to completely. For some reason, I find myself attracted to really quiet, shy, guys and I have also done a great job of scaring them off. Why do I want to be with these reticent guys in the first place? I really do not want to be the one doing all the talking, as I also get nervous with long, silent pauses in the conversation and so I fill them with my chatter. I once dated a fairly quiet guy here in Berlin and I would send him novel-length e-mails telling him all about my feelings and my philosophy of life. Generally he would respond with one or two sentences to my one or two hundred sentences, which of course had the effect of making me feel as if he didn’t care. The shorter his messages got, the longer mine got, until I finally realised that I had, in fact, written him a good five emails filled with yakking and chatter and news and he hadn’t responded to any of them. I was left with a hanging void of no words, a virtual shaft of nothingness to stare into. He had disappeared without a trace. My talk and words had sent him running to another planet. I finally left him alone, but it left me unhappy and with the feeling that something was left unresolved. It was long assumed that women talked way more than men, but a 2007 study published in Science Magazine put an end to this legend. Researchers placed microphones on 396 college students to record the amount they talked. The result showed that women speak a little more than 16,000 words a day and men a little less than 16,000 words a day which is no significant difference. The three most talkative subjects in the study were indeed men. Women have gotten the reputation for talking more simply because they like and feel the need to talk about relationshipsmore than men. This can all be explained by hormones. Men do not generally like to hear these four words from their wives or girlfriends: ‘We need to talk.’ When a woman says this it is because talking a problem through with her partner produces the hormone oxytocin which helps her relieve stress. Women often want to talk first about a problem and then have intimate contact afterwards with their partners when resolving an issue. Men, on the other hand, are wired completely differently. When there is a problem, testosterone is what relieves stress for them, so having sex is their way of reconciling a problem. Therein lies the problem. The talking/ having sex ratio is often way out of balance and sadly, many relationships end because couples are victims of their hormones. Knowing this fact may indeed help couples save their relationships. Many marriage counsellors have encouraged the more silent men to really make an effort to talk more to their partners, before thinking about having sex. The pay off is then better sex, so a little more talking is worth it. Talking really has been proven effective stress relief for women. How often do you see a group of girls out on a girls night out on the town for drinks? They have fun, laugh, enjoy each others’ company and yes, they talk about their problems with their boyfriends/husbands. They rarely find any concrete solution to their problems, but just sharing their stories is immensely useful and helpful when processing relationship issues. Knowing that they all share the same problems and trials in relationships forms strong bonds and gives them strength and hope. Unfortunately, women have gotten the reputation of being loud-mouthed gossips because of this fact. But, most women are not evil gossips and it is not their intention to spread evilness. Men should not be too threatened by this at all. If anything, these girly nights out make relationships stronger in most cases. Men talk just as much, but they talk about different things and in different situations. Men talk more at the workplace, and they talk more about sports, gadgets, data and numbers. They don’t generally talk to their male friends about their relationships unless they really are having a crisis and need advice and support, a fact women find hard to understand, but what can you do? Men should be happy when their girlfriends are talking to them as it is a sign that the woman cares about the relationship. Men should worry when their previously talkative girlfriend stops talking and becomes withdrawn. This is often an alarm bell that the woman has given up and is thinking of terminating the relationship or considering cheating on her man. All a man can do in this situation is to talk to her. Talk is her stress relief. To go back to Jackie Kay’s short story again, her character talks about how she regrets having such a big mouth, because as she looks around her she perceives that it is the silent people who have the power in the world. They choose their words carefully and when they speak, people listen because they are not yakking constantly. Some of us who talk a lot watch these people with a mixture of admiration, envy and contempt. I realised at the end of my relationship with my quiet guy that I really didn’t know a whole lot about him at all, and it made me pretty angry. And it was not only because I was talking all the time, it was simply that he did not want me to know more about his life. I can only wonder what it was he was hiding from me. His silence was, I now surmise, a way of retaining power. It ended badly with us and I never got the level of communication from him that I desired. He is probably like this in other relationships too, so it’s not all my fault for talking all the time. I admired him greatly too though, for his calm, quiet and organised work ethic. He was an introvert and he got a lot of intense work done on his own. I recently read a short article in ‘The Atlantic Monthly’ by Susan Cain that proposed that introverts should be hired and left alone to work. She quotes research by Wharton management professor Adam Grant who claims that ‘Introverts are persistant-give them a puzzle and they will stick at it longer. They are careful risk-takers, and are less likely to get into car accidents, participate in extreme sports, or place out-sized financial bets than extroverts. Introverts are also comfortable with solitude-a crucial spur to creativity.’ I remember saying to my shy and quiet guy how I envied him being so comfortable with solitude. He certainly didn’t seem to get as lonely as I did, that much I could see. I need constant interaction and chatter with people. And as much as I enjoy my solitude at times, long stretches of it do not suit my extroverted, sociable and talkative nature. Recently another longer term online friendship with a shy and quiet I quite liked ended. Here again, when I review our chats I was the one using way more words than him. It was a nice correspondence while it lasted, but it ended when I told him my feelings for him-I am a girl driven by oxytocin, remember- and how I would have liked to meet him again in the real world. He was unable to reciprocate this and he said very little at the end which has left me disappointed, of course. Again, I am left staring into a void of nothingness and silence with no more response from him. I talked a lot to him, and I miss his presence now intensely. I know from my chats about relationships with my girlfriends- that’s what we talk about- that I am not the only girl who gets bitterly disappointed and frustrated by mens’ silence on emotional and relationship issues. Men do seem to communicate in some kind of unspoken language that we don’t often pick up on when we are nagging or talking to them. But can we always be expected to just understand what it is they are trying to say to us without words? Of course not! We can try, but it’s not easy to decipher silence. Silence can be more irritating than talk at times. There has to be some compromise between the sexes. I do want to learn to curb my tongue more, but I also hope the next guy I date will open up a bit more. I have experienced special moments with guys I have dated where I have kept my mouth shut and the whole moment was fused with goodness and understanding, and not the awkwardness of trying to fill a void with meaningless chatter. The same pearl that my friend proposed my writing must be condensed to, could also be used to good effect perhaps, when I am next sitting with a man I admire or hope to date. Maybe, just maybe, I could cherish that moment of silent communication and unspoken chemistry between us, as he had suggested when he spoke to me about the pearl. Talking, like writing ‘must be condensed beauty of the only thing that is neccessary.’

Talking Lips Image by Wiki Roxor

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