Unemployment has made me that guy

Who to talk to and who to avoid? This question has plagued humans since one caveman rolled his eyes at another grunting and pointing at a rock, and then tried to extricate himself from the conversation. “Look, dumb ass,” he was probably thinking, “I know what a rock is for. And when you shut up, I’ll go kill me some tasty woolly mammoth with it.”

Some people are funny and interesting, and some people are unfunny and uninteresting. It’s just a fact of life; don’t hate me for being special. Then there are those conversationalists – good and bad – who just can’t take a hint and shut up. I used to pride myself on knowing just when to end a conversation. Having a low tolerance for idiots (and sometimes people), I am usually the one to remove myself or subtly excuse the other person. My signature move is the slight shoulder turn combined with the cell phone time check and a vague grimace. When done right, even the most oblivious of talkers winds up their thoughts. These days, I never get to use it.

I’ve become the guy who traps people in conversations. Maybe it’s my imagination, the visions have been fairly vivid of late, and the voices loud. Maybe my grip on reality has slipped ever so slightly. Maybe my skills at interpreting people’s subtle verbal and non-verbal communications have withered from all the days shut away with two vocal and neurotic cats. Whatever the cause, I’m now the guy who keeps talking when other people have had enough. Unemployment… I blame you!

Wifey and I got together with some friends and their friends at a downtown bar early one Sunday evening a few weeks ago. One couple – good friends whom we’d not seen in awhile – was in town for an event of some sort. The group totaled eight, and people soon divided up into smaller conversations. I started chatting with the guy next to me whom I’d just met.

The conversation quickly moved to sports – us being guys and all – and then drifted into education. Before too long we were examining the current state of our country’s university system as compared to the German system (if I had a nickel…). He knew from experience, and I was curious, asking questions to draw out more information. I understand the American system on certain levels, having gone to (and paid for) college and grad school, and find European systems intriguing, if (ahem) foreign. The conversation continued on another ten minutes, maybe longer, and then waned. I was gearing up to change the topic – I may have even started my next sentence – when he, rather abruptly, said, “I’m going to talk to my wife now.” He turned away.

I wasย  taken aback and a tad embarrassed. This is how one ends a conversation that they have tried and failed to end more tactfully. That we were done hadn’t occurred to me. Was I too busy listening and asking questions to notice he was growing bored? Did I steamroll right over gentler brush off attempts, leading to this blunt and final brush off ? I went to find the bathroom and my pride.

This experience was new to me. But I realized after some thought that I may have become the guy who doesn’t know when to shut up; I do spend a lot less time these days socializing with other people. Since then, I’ve payed close attention to the dynamics of my conversations with strangers. The goal has been to gauge my natural inclination to talk or not talk. And sure enough…

I ran into an acquaintance at the gym last week. He’s an older, retired guy who tends to be there at the same time I am. We usually exchange pleasantries and move along with our respective workouts. On this day, he was pedaling a recumbent bike and reading a book; I approached on one side and made a comment about it. We went back and forth for a minute. He suggested another interesting book. I tried and failed to remember the title (stupid brain!). In the middle of my next thought, he turned to face forward, signaling that he was done. The conversation was clearly over. But I finished my thought and moved on to another one. This never used to happen.

There have been other instances since that initial realization. The scenario is disturbingly frequent. I could just be starved for human interaction and anxious to get what I can get. The social aspect of the office environment is missing from my life. I could also just be realizing that I’m that guy – the guy who won’t shut up. Either way, unemployment has revealed this less than appealing trait. And I don’t know how to fix it. So until further notice… avoid me at parties.

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11 Comments

  1. Tina wrote:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! For all you know the first guy’s wife may have been grabbing his gonads under the table and the rewards were better then what you had to offer. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  2. beni wrote:

    I do the same thing. We — the unemployed — just have more time these days to be more curious about stuff.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Grigg wrote:

    It’s not you, it’s them.

    He is probably one of those employed types. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink
  4. Chloe wrote:

    Very interesting blog, I’m French and I LOVE it.
    I like your sense of humor, but I think you are too obsessed with your unemployment. Of course, the society we live in wants jobless people to feel bad about themselves. Why? because you have to work to buy stuff. THat’s how billionaires become billionaires : they make a lot of people work and a lot of people buy.
    How come productivity was multiplied by 10 through technology but we still work full-time?
    We are brainwashed to feel miserable if we don’t have a job, but I’m not falling into that trap. I’m worth more than my job, than my economic value.
    I have spent 6 month in LA (internship for Guess jeans) and I have met the most stupid corporate-brainwashed people. I mean, these people were so proud to be Guess employers! It was such an achievement in their lives. I think it’s nice to have a job and work for a company you like, but they acted like their marketing campaigns were going to help cure cancer! I just don’t get it. I couldn’t help but wonder : are all American workers the same?
    In France I’ve met a few job-obsessed people but it seems there were far more of them in the US.
    This society makes you feel you are worth something when you have a job and lots of money and don’t get me wrong, I LOVE money and nice things, but I don’t get the feeling of fulfillment people have when they work for a company? I can get it when people are saving lives or teaching things, but being proud of a marketing campaign???! I just don’t get it.

    Society makes everything so people don’t have time to think and to ask questions. The more they work, the more they buy, the less they have time to wonder. That’s how I’m coming to the subject of your post : most employed people are boring. They don’t have time to read and to learn new things, they only talk about work. Since I was unemployed, I have been reading a lot. Everytime I want to share something with my friends, some of them find a not so subtle way to tell me I have time, NOW. Yes, sorry, I have time and I try to grab some culture, isn’t it a nice change from people who talk only about their children and their work?
    I know it might sound stupid, but sometimes, people are jealous of somebody being jobless. For a few seconds, they are jealous of the time we have, because time hasrifice and can look become as precious as money nowadays. Only those who have both don’t make any sacdown on everybody.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:43 am | Permalink
  5. Chloe wrote:

    Sorry there was a bug with my ending :

    “For a few seconds, they are jealous of the time we have, because time has become as precious as money nowadays. Only those who have both donโ€™t make any sacrifice and can look down on everybody.”

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink
  6. Imee wrote:

    Aw, don’t be down on yourself. I didn’t have a job for about two months and all I did was either eat, sleep, hang out with friends watching free events, or… THINK. Too much, I guess. Things’ll be okay soon enough ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  7. lgt wrote:

    I find that now that I am unemployed I am very self conscious of being a burden on anyone in any way. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, so I hesitate to even enter conversations with them, unless they initiate the conversation. I live in nyc too and when I was employed, I never took the time to converse with people I didn’t know about new topics, or at least I didn’t do so regularly. I was always stressed out and on my way somewhere or trying to get my errands done, etc and I would have seen such a conversation as a burden. This is sad really, because one of the reasons I love nyc is the opportunity to meet interesting people. But in my stressful, busy, alienated work life, I pretty much threw those opportunities away. Now I am unemployed and starved for human interaction and would welcome such conversations, but I am afraid to burden busier people by infringing on their time. I think part of the problem is that unemployment is isolating. I am isolated and alone with my thoughts which start to feed on themselves and make me more self conscious when I am around other people. Blogs like this help. It helps to see that others feel the same way I do.

    lgt

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Elizabeth wrote:

    I haven’t had a problem being the one who won’t shut up, but I think I’ve turned into Debbie Downer. I can make everyone feel sad and uncomfortable with just a couple of mistimed facts about swine flu, my own unemployment, good places to commit suicide…I need Paris Hilton to do something stupid so I have something to talk about at parties again!

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink
  9. ROZ wrote:

    I equate your feelings to the stay-at-home mom of little kids who craves adult conversation and when her husband comes home she babbles on incessantly and can’t see that his eyes have glazed over.
    Maybe you could do some volunteer work and get that human contact you need.

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  10. Dalilama wrote:

    I love how you felt you had to go to the bathroom to find your pride… Just what are you implying there Mr. Elrod?

    Anyway, I do recognize what you are talking about overall, the real challenge comes in trying to stop being that guy once you’re employed again. Bad habits and all…

    Friday, May 1, 2009 at 10:45 am | Permalink
  11. Frustrated wrote:

    This overextended unemployment has really been digging into my self-confidence. I’ve stopped hanging out with some friends for lack of funds for $6-$8 martinis, or $40-$50 dinners. I feel so isolated from the usual social circle because I feel I have to save every penny for bills. This is tough, used to a six-figure income. I hope I haven’t caused my last few listeners extreme grief with repeated tales of unemployment woes!

    Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 10:20 pm | Permalink