Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Prof. Mark Leary in his Great Course, "Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior", discusses what makes for rich, satisfying intimate relationships.  He said that a major factor in satisfaction is response.  He means that if he talks to her when she talks to him, responding makes for a good relation.

I am willing to use three levels: no response, dull response, genuine response.  If things have got to a point where one or both people in a relation have decided to always ignore comments, to let conversation die, you have an arrangement where nothing much is going on.  You can't expect it to be satisfying, any more than talking to a stone.  If you have a relation where there is technically some sound made in response, things aren't much better.  When one person is highly motivated and chattering on about the amazing score, the complete upset they just witnessed, that level of excitement might be so high that not only is a minimum response all that is needed, it may well be all that can be slipped in at all. That's when you see the role of the stereotypical psychiatrist enacted, where the doc just says "Wow!" and "You don't say" and "Go on".

But under normal, calmer circumstances, it works better for both people if genuine responses happen. That's when a response is crafted just for that occasion, a personal question or a honest and more or less unique comment.  A response might be about a memory that has been brought to mind or a surprise at some contradiction.  It might be genuine puzzlement at how the speaker can manage to feel that way.  When there is real engagement with the speaker and the message and the life of the responder, you are getting a genuine relation, whether between lovers, family members, seat mates on a flight or whatever.

One way to construct genuine responses on the fly is to avoid cliches and give what you might normally respond a twist.  It can be very truthful and focused on the moment: "I want to say "Not that again" but it seems that it did happen again".  Knowing what the off-the-top of your-head comment would be but modifying it or adding to it can brighten the talk.  Careful observation of the response to the response, the tone used, the body language can tell if further exchange is welcome or if the laundry or newspaper or the sudoku calls.

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