December 11, 2005
Sounds of silence
I'm noticing more and more lately that silence is difficult for me. It isn't the calm I mind. In fact, most days I am in search of contentment in the quiet. But silence is another story.

I can't stand to watch a couple at a neighboring restaurant table eat an entire meal without conversation. To me it is diagnostic of a dying relationship rather than a choice steak. There is always the intricate design of the silverware, the vivid blue of the hostess' skirt, the bit of cork that make it into your glass of red. There must be something to say.

I find silence in public bathrooms to be excruciating. Someone lingers at the group mirror while there is silence from your one closed stall. Why can't I go already? I bet she can hear that I can't go. Maybe I should flush just to make some noise. Why isn't she running the water or something? Doesn't she know I'm dying in here? I'll just take more toilet paper off the roll so it sounds like I'm doing something. Now I'll blow my nose. Oh, come on! FTLOG, HOW LONG CAN ONE WOMAN LOOK AT HERSELF IN THE MIRROR?

And scene.


I'm undecided as to whether it is worse to be the caged urinator or the neurotic at the spigot.

I cringe thinking of the last time I watched someone tell a long-winded story or joke. You know the one. And whether it's a druncle at a family reunion or a coworker at the last staff meeting, people begin to dream about today's Lean Cuisine and check out the cracks in their fingernails long before a punchline is in the cards. This is the whole reason drinks are served at open mic nights and improv. It's to get us through the absence of reaction.

Try being the silent one during your next small talk encounter. Perfect timing; a seemingly never-ending string of Christmas parties will provide you unenviable fodder for such an experiment. Go ahead, see if you don't cough up pictures of your cat during long pauses between you and a holiday-themed-sweatered stranger. I'll give you 10 bucks if you don't break in a minute or less.

The void that follows asking a question in therapy.

The cricket-laden I think it might be time for us to move in together.

An unsuccessful exercise in fishing for a compliment.

In context, you can always reliably translate these silences into their real meanings. Discomfort, disappointment, rejection, confusion, anxiety. Even Art and Paul muzak would be more palatable.

Don't get me started on the silence that follows sending out 35 resumes.

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62 Comments:

Blogger Cheryl said...

I hate silence too. So much so that when I meet new people, I tend to babble to fill it up.

Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Also not a silence lover, even tho I'm a hermit. The scenarios you describe, dinner and bathroom, are the two that bother me the most.

Fortunately I'm an extrovert with no ego at all. So I'll start making noise/talk if no one else does. Flushing, joking, questions...at 53 you have absolutely no shame...

Blogger nabbalicious said...

I always know I'm truly comfortable with someone when we're able to just sit there and not talk, and it isn't remotely awkward.

But I'm the worst babbler in the world when I'm not ready to be silent with someone yet!

Blogger Jackie said...

Hey,
I also feel sad for couples that I see sitting and not talking at all. Matt and I can go little whiles while we are enjoying our steaks and wine, etc, but usually enthusiastically talk to each other over dinner at a restaurant. That's why you're out. To have fun.

I am that girl who flushes to break the silence and then pees while its flushing.

Heh.

Blogger just thinking said...

lol... i'm a flush pee-er too !

Blogger Asian Mistress said...

Silence speaks volumes.

I talk a lot, but sometimes, it's good to just sit and listen. Or, sometimes, there is just nothing to say. I think a comfortable silence is good for a relationship.

I think the ability to be silent sometimes is a good thing to have.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh God. And I thought I was the only flusher-cover-upper...

Blogger NARDAC said...

I like silence. It makes people uncomfortable, when really they should just walk away. As for dinner, when I have a quiet moment between friends, it's actually quite sweet. We're comfortable with each other. But, I have to confess that I prefer silence to pointless yammering.

Between this post about silence, and the other one about people thinking you're forgettable, I get the feeling you're going through a rather rough period right now. Jeezus woman, small talk is just small talk. No measure of your greatness. That's in the size of the chin! Woo, that puts you and Clinton on the same map.

Blogger Megarita said...

First, "FTLOG" is the best abbreviation I've seen in weeks. Second, "Caged urinator" sums that feeling up nicely. Finally, I will make conversation about people who can't make conversations (a.k.a. Table 5) any day!

Blogger lizzyjane said...

I simply canot pee when someone else is in the bathroom. Many times, i sit in the stall and wait for everyone to leave. And I KNOW they all think I'm pooping in public.
Which is SO not the case.

Keep us posted on the resumes.......

Blogger JJ said...

I'll take silence over small talk any day. Blah, blah commute. Blah, blah weather. Blah, blah vasectomy. Blah, blah. And it's the season for blah, blah what with all the organized fun of xmas parties.

Anonymous Jorge said...

Sometimes the cliché of silence speaking louder than words is actually true.

However, I am not really always silent, so who am I kidding.

Perhaps the silence afer 35 resumes being sent out is due to people being knocked unconscious by how awesome you are?

Or maybe the perfume you sprayed on each copy caused deathy allergic reactions.

Either way, we'll never be silent, mama.

Not you and me.
:)

J

Blogger Sugarmama said...

I always thought that the hallmark of a comfortable relationship was not having to talk to the person. Rather contrary to your point that silence equals discomfort. But I'm one of those people who prefers the house quiet rather than have the t.v. or music on. I even turn the radio off in the car more often than not.

Blogger DC Cookie said...

Personally, I like to alleviate the washroom silence by bursting out into a loud and pitchy version of the Diarrhea Song from my stall...that usually gets the loiterer away from the mirror and out the door pretty quickly.

Blogger Anisa said...

i'm having the same post-resume silence issue as well. :(

Blogger Washington Cube said...

For the most part, I am comfortable with silence. It's just a matter of personal preference/taste, I guess.

There was a 1960's movie with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn called Two for the Road . The movie focuses on the lives of a married couple as it passes through the decades. In one scene, they are in a French bistro and see an older couple not speaking, and she queries, "Who can do that?" Finney replies, "Married people." Later along in the film, when they have been together a while, they are in a restaurant and not speaking and they pose that same question/answer to each other again. It's a huge "ouchie" moment to show how relationships can shift and drift.

There is definitely good silence and bad silence.

Blogger Poppy Cede said...

For the most part, Hay and I don't converse over dinner at restaurants. When we were first together I was very frustrated by this, but now I just enjoy his company and the time to think. If I want to talk with him I just do.

Blogger Egan said...

I didn't read this post, but I wanted to be the 18th person to comment on this. Now continue chatting amongst yourselves.

Blogger Egan said...

Okay, I just finished reading this post now. And I am happy to report I just pissed in the urinal directly in the water to make the most noise possible. Noise is golden.

Blogger Dave said...

Caged Urniator will either be the name of my first book or my post mid-life crisis band.

Blogger Lefty said...

And I was just noticing this weekend that being quiet seems to be a lost art. No less than six people at the grocery store (yeah, I counted - says rather a lot, doesn't it?) were unable to shop unless they were blabbing away into their cell phones.

I think I'd prefer an awkward silence over mindless prattle just about any day.

Blogger Egan said...

And then there are those that have no verbal volume control. You know, those that can't talk quietly to save their lives.

Blogger Wicked H said...

Silence following the sending out of resumes is torture, not to mention RUDE. Can’t they send an acknowledgment? FTLOG!

Blogger missbhavens said...

I am physically incapable of silence. Sometimes I catch my boyfriend looking at me funny and I ask him why and he says "...because...it just won't stop. Words just keep coming. I don't get it."

When I see those silent couples in restaurants, I offer them unsolicited chatting.

Post-resume silence makes me cry. It's sad the way a broken jingle-bell is sad.

Blogger Sizzle said...

why does the silence in the public bathroom make the pee crawl back up? such a strange phenonmenon.

i hate chit chat but am surprisingly good at keeping up the banter. i, too, don't understand the silent meals and cringe at watching the demise of a relationship. i know that some people find that kind of silence comforting. i think it is the kiss of death. sitting at home reading together silence = ok. sitting out in public at a restaurant not saying a word- not ok.

you are right. we were separated at birth.

;) sizz

Blogger PseudoIntellect said...

Silence is fine...until someone doesn't like it. It's a mutually agreed upon thing. If two people are comfortable in silence, sit me next to them! It beats the hell out of the Hoboken Parkway screamers I usually sit near. I'd like to piss on them to break the silence of my screams for them to SHUT THE F*CK UP AND RESPECT SOMEONE ELSE!

Now, where was I?

Anonymous Sanora said...

Silence has a place and a time and it's not in the Ladies Room - for chrissake pipe some damn music in for us! "Caged Urinator" made me laugh....great, great term.

When the husband and I go out to our favorite place, we invariably sit at the bar to eat and we end up talking about politics, about the bartender's tie, about the NE Patriots, about the poetry I worked on that day, about his latest shoot... Anyway, what's funny is that when the regulars stop by to say hello (indicating we're sort of regulars too, once a week, actually) they always apologize for interrupting our conversation and then invariably get drawn into whatever the subject is...

silence is great for sitting on the couch together but you can't beat solid conversation with folks when you're out.

Blogger Stef said...

Oh, I am often stuck being the "Caged Urinator" in the bathroom at work. And you know it's coworkers there loitering at the window, but there's still no way you could ever say "just leave, please!"

I have to make a lot of small talk in my job, and it's often my responsibility to make people feel comfortable and welcomed, and I usually have to draw them out. So I do a lot of asking about kids and vacations and thinking about all the things I have to do at my desk and the places I'd rather be. So I have the curse of being good at chit chat but really hating it. And yep, the holidays make it worse, cuz that's when they're wearing themed clothing! ;-)

Or when you have one drink too many and start your next sentence with, "So I was crying at "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" the other night . . ."

Blogger SugarHigh said...

silence is the reason for many unhealthy habits like smoking, biting your nails, drinking, and bladder infections. Bad silence, bad.
actually I am a yoga chick and do have a great appreciation of silence when it is meditative, but otherwise agree with you completely.
another brilliant post. :)

Blogger MemeStream said...

Followed a comment on another blog just because of your profile photo. I'm stayin'.

Silent married couple dinners are the worst. I try not to obsess, but I do, because we used to wonder how older couples could eat in silence. Now we do it too.

And HR people are sadists. How hard is it to set up an autoreply so you know that the resume was received?

Blogger KlevaBich said...

"Caged Urinator" would be a good band name, but so would "Neurotic at the Spigot." Dontcha think?

I agree about the couples sitting with nothing to say to each other -- that's truly sad. I hope the Spousal Equivalent and I never reach that point. However, those who feel they have to fill every silence drive me freakin' nuts. His ex is a perfect example. When you first meet her, she talks EVEN more than usual because she's nervous, and has nothing, NOTHING to say. Still is that way, but at least the frantic rush of words has tapered off...

Anonymous Beau's brother and Dirty said...

We are silent at dinner because we are too busy stuffing our faces. Then when the table next to us gets up, we start talking about them and their situation.

Then you see another diner in the bathroom and you begin hacking up pflegm. It's fabulous. Say something about the duck or the chicken you just had and mention the bird flu.

Blogger Marissa said...

I am the worst offender of filling in silence with nonesensical rambling or saying ultra dramatic things that I really don't mean. For instance, I once told a 10 minute story about my a scar on my right hand to fill the silence gap, and on a different occassion I blurted out "I love you" to a boyfriend (whom I didn't love) because the akward silence was killing me.

Not good. My therapist was not pleased.

Blogger LBseahag said...

Hahhh....I loved the bathroom part...so true....

Blogger JordanBaker said...

Try being the one at the front of the classroom, standing there silently, waiting for 25 idjits to come up with one remotely sensible thing to say.

Blogger Danielle said...

Yeah, I hate bathroom silence... but I also hate when other people stand and have conversations in the bathroom, or are on cell phones in the bathroom, it makes me too self-conscious to pee.

Blogger Egan said...

I guess you could always chat on your cell phone while crapping. It's a great way to break the silence and allow others to eavesdrop.

Blogger Slade said...

I am so glad you put the bathroom scene in your post!!! That annoys the hell out of me when someone is obviously primping in the mirror and I'm the only one in the stall--and I have to go #2!!! Come on, get the hell out of the bathroom lady! I too try to make noise--unzip my backpack loudly, move my feet, blow my nose, cough, ect...

Blogger MKD said...

You not posting is just another form of silence.

Your description of the awkwardness of public restroom silence really hits home. This happened to me today. But in true UC fashion, I couldn't just live it out. I had to make excuses as I continually played with the toilet paper... "uh, I guess I'm just shredding toilet paper in here."

The words hadn't even left my mouth before I wanted to take them back. It would have been less awkward without my lame commentary.

Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

You know what I think is weird? When two guys will be walking right next to each other and not talking. do they think they're cool or do they have nothing to say? Either way, if I were a chick, that would be three strikes.

Blogger Patsy Darling said...

I hate quiet when I'm trying to pee, it just won't come out unless I'm totally hammered.

Blogger Miladysa said...

lol - so well observed!

Blogger Sub Girl said...

hahahaa. especially true about the silence in the bathrooms. am i extremely immature to have to stifle a giggle if there's like a looong silence and then somebody lets out a loud fart?

Blogger Namaste said...

hysterical.

I find myself saying "crickets" now because of you.

:)

Blogger Egan said...

Bathroom meditation is key to a health work/life balance.

Anonymous Jacynth said...

Ab fab. Druncle is my fave. :) I, too dread the echoing slow-flow tinkle in public bathrooms (especially work ones). I feel ya, sister.

Blogger Amanda said...

haha, this is so funny, and apropos for me. i just went to the bathroom and someone peed on the seat so i spent like three minutes wiping it down. then started peeing and i think the woman in the stall next to me giggled. i was just making a tinkle. nothing more. yet, still, a giggle. haha...peepee makes me giggle too sometimes.

Blogger Complacent Chase said...

I must admitt that I rather enjoy silence on occasion when I am with friends. I think when you know someone really well...you don't have to fill up silence with random talk.
I like the sounds of silence...it's very comforting to me.

Blogger Penny said...

I completely agree with you about the bathroom silence. Run the water already! How about the silence that follows when you ask the person next to you if they can "spare a square"?

Blogger Egan said...

In the men's bathroom, there's never any silence because the following activities occur too often: farting, burping, ruffling the newspapers, nose picking, cell phone calls, video games, beat down of the paper dispenser/hand dryer, talking, and the sound of zippers.

Blogger Finn said...

When I was in sales, they always told us to make our pitch, then shut up. Whoever spoke first lost. In other words, if the customer spoke first, you made the sale.

This is also a great trick if you're in a heated discussion. Make your case, then shut up. Do not say another word. Just look at the person. They'll talk themselves right into the wall. It's hysterical.

Anonymous mrsatroxi said...

Ah, potties.

I used to work at an interesting place, with equally interesting people.

Once, a co-worker in the stall next to me suddenly began talking to her urine.

"Come on, pee! Let's go! Come on pee! That's great!"

I left. In a hurry. Pee-pee pep talks should not be overheard.

At least....not in my opinion.

Blogger playfulinnc said...

I am a silence filler. Sometimes I hum just to see if they will hum with me. Sometimes I just smile right at them. Sometimes I may tap dance.

But I am so happy when I find ppl I feel comfortable being silent with. Those are the keepers.

Anonymous sandra said...

Is it concerning that I'm a silent bathroom "out-waiter"? As in, the silence freaks me out to the point where I find myself wanting to wait until the other person leaves...and I think to myself, "I'll outwait you, bitch".

Blogger Mel said...

... ... ... ...

{Mel isn't commenting at this time because she now knows that silence irritates you. And it makes up for the crap-ass job your Seminoles did to the Hokies last week, and that makes Mel feel better.}

Blogger mrsmogul said...

About the jokes, longwinded....yeah I always feel like I HAVE TO LAUGH at the end.

Blogger Kate said...

Really, when you're a parent who works full time, you rarely have ANY silence, and it makes you want it so bad. At least, that's my experience.

I actually hate listening to people chattering on sometimes and I wish they could just be comfortable with a few minutes of silence once and awhile. Even if I like them, why do they need to talk all the time? If there's not much to talk about, why can't we just relax? Is it a crime to be quiet? I feel there is a lot of pressure to be entertaining to others. I'm not a TV, I'm a human.

Sometimes my husband and I eat out and don't say too much. We live together, we sleep together, we see each other all the time. We've been talking together in the car on the way over, we've ordered our food, he's heard all of my stories and I've heard his. I'm not going to comment on the waiter's tie or whatever just to fill up the space. Does that mean our relationship is over? No way! I love the guy, and I know he loves me too. Sometimes it's ok to just chill.

I actually go to the bathroom at work or at a party sometimes, just to have a few precious moments alone in the stall with no noise. I don't even have to go, I just want to have some quiet! Inevitably, someone comes in and makes noise, or worse, talks to me.

I like people, but I wish I had a little more time to myself too.

Blogger Aimée said...

you hit it out of the park AGAIN! What a wonderful post! It's all so true ... except I do like the couple silence - I look at it as a sign of intimacy. But then again, I'm not known for successful relationships ...

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