Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. Myself, well I hardly listen at all. Why should I? You walked in here 10 minutes ago with mud up the back of your raincoat and bought yourself a drink without checking the tide-line inside my glass. And now you’re telling me about your week in the Canaries as if I gave a damn. Who do you think you are?
Don’t take offence now, it’s just the way I am. You see, I’m the universal ego – little interest in others unless there’s something in it for me. And we’ve already established that I won’t be inviting you back to mine. Oh, hadn’t you twigged? With that paltry banter, you must be joking. I expect a little more sparring with potential partners, especially on a first date.
Let’s start by examining the facts. A conversation takes two or more participants, does it not? So while you’re merrily contributing your thoughts on out-of-season Atlantic resorts, I’m contemplating my counter-argument. It needs to be well-rounded, smooth, light on the tongue. A little frisky perhaps. Like the whisky I would’ve ordered, had you asked. The art of debate is in the charisma of the speaker, after all. Not so much the logic of her argument.
So I inject a little wit. Not so much as to appear flippant, but a modicum that demonstrates playfulness. Then I craft my ill-researched thesis around a barely relevant incident, thus holding a mirror in which to reflect back the foolishness of your proposal. “Well, you may say that Fuerteventura is preferable when the tourists are sparse, but I once spent a rainy Easter in Barcelona and made lifelong friends with a delightful couple from Southend,” et cetera. “What a shame to have gone in February and missed them.” Ergo, you are wrong, and I have a mind of my own.
You see, I need to counter you, otherwise I am merely agreeing, and there’s no space for passion, playfulness or fervour in concord. Therefore, each of your postulations must be de-postulated. Each conjecture contended. Every last deduction turned into a disputation. How will I otherwise exhibit personality, individuality, eccentricity?
So you pick up on my rebuttal, and the dance goes on. “Oh but I prefer the solitude of an empty beach, the choice of tables in a seafront bar, the hotel upgrade to an empty suite.”
“Not I. The thrust of human company is my sustenance.” What’s it to me if you’re an ascetic abroad? We’ve established already that I am the only one who is of interest to me. My tales, travels and tribulations are by far the most fascinating, because I was there. The sights, smells and sunburn are palpable. I lived my story; yours is a two dimensional cut-out. A greyscale backdrop for my performance.
That’s fine, I don’t expect you to find my stories remarkable either. But I do expect you to find me contrary, intriguing, slightly beyond your reach. My maddening insistence on contradiction forces you to come back each time with a more powerful argument, more vibrant examples, more naked emotion. I listen to counter you, to develop my identity in contrast to you. We exist in opposition to one another. Fill up my glass, won’t you, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong about everything.
Learn something from you? I doubt it, my dear, although I’m warming to you, finally. You give me the space to create myself. I hang my persona onto the end of your sentences, confuting your evidence to create a new reality. Building a costume for the character that I will inhabit. Don’t you see? I don’t want to learn from you. I do not respect you, expect anything from you, detect anything within you. I am a vessel to be poured out into your ears. I create myself in your gaze. I am incomplete except in response to you. You are the mirror in which I appear, a reflection of a version of you. And so I listen, only with the intent to reply.