BORES CAN’T HELP IT
By Ruth Minshull
“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.” ~John Updike
One of our most intolerable cruelties is boring one another. And no label socially condemns a person more thoroughly than: “He’s a bore.”
None of us means to be a bore, but due to occasional misguided reckoning, we may all become one from time to time.
Perhaps we’re enthralled by the feeding habits of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, but if we start rambling on about the subject, we may fail to notice that our companion’s eyes have glazed over.
I think of a man who used to work at the local library. He was a pleasant person who loved books and enjoyed his job; I doubt if he ever committed an unkind act in his life. But he was a mind-numbing, colossal, unmitigated bore—not just occasionally, but always. Five minutes with him seemed like an hour in the dentist’s chair.
As he pushed the books across the counter to me he would begin his drone. Before long my legs would start to turn numb, my back would ache; I could hear my brain cells whimpering as they withered up and died. I longed to sprint outside and watch the grass grow. At the first deep breath he took, I would escape, smiling as I weakly mumbled an apology. (“Excuse me. I think my car is on fire.”) He never seemed to mind. He probably assumed that it was natural for all library patrons to be attacked with sudden emergencies as soon as they had checked out their books.
What makes a bore? Many people are simply trying to converse, to entertain us, to be amusing or engaging. The hard-core, chronic bore is different. He (or she, of course) is totally self-centered and convinced that his discourse is far more interesting than anything you (or anyone else) could ever offer. Thus he never wants to hear about you; he never asks for your opinions, never notices that you have fallen asleep.
Furthermore, even the most fascinating raconteur becomes tiresome to those who have heard his stories a hundred times. The very fact that a person feels compelled to tell a story at every opportunity can become tiresome in itself.
It’s easy to be entertaining to a new acquaintance, but how do we keep the interest of a friend or spouse over a prolonged period? Many couples don’t make it. You see them in restaurants sharing meals across a cavern of silence.
Some marriages fail because the partners bore each other to death (well, if not to death, to divorce). They never utter a novel witticism, an original observation, a provocative thought. In many cases, they recycle a limited grab bag of clichés—proffered with numbing predictability.
A friend told me, “I left my husband because he bored me. I don’t tell this to most people. It sounds so flighty and snobbish. If I complained that he beat me, everyone would empathize. But if I say he anaesthetized my brain, they wouldn’t get it.”
I know one man who found the perfect mate. Once when he and his wife were visiting, he saw a newspaper headline that said, “CAT OWNERS LIVE LONGER.” He pointed it out to me and said, “That’s not true. It just seems longer.” Since his remark was meant to taunt me, I ignored him. His wife, however, laughed heartily, punched him in the arm and said, “George!” in sort of a mocking scold. His remark was not original. Actually I had often heard him use the same punch line. “Vegetarians don’t live longer; it just seems longer.” Dutifully, his wife always laughed. So, he doesn’t bore her because she seems content to be his foil. She’s the ideal second banana. Maybe that’s what we all need: a partner who will promise to “love, honor, and laugh at all our jokes.”
Having been somewhat of a nerd most of my life, I’ve always had difficulty making small talk (and most social encounters don’t allow room for large talk). So I understand the problem of a bore: What should I talk about? How can I be interesting?
None of us wants to be the person that others avoid. If people cross the street when they see us coming, if they stop asking “How are you?” because they’re afraid we’ll tell them, it may be time to examine our conversational habits.
Well, I’ve heard that the best way for any of us to avoid being a bore is to ask questions, then listen to the other person. People love to talk about themselves, and when you encourage them, they’ll think you’re a most engaging conversationalist.
In other words, quit trying to be interesting. Be interested.
So, what happens if you are interested, but the other person turns out to be a humongous bore?
Well, I say: always have an escape plan ready.
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©2011 by Ruth Minshull