Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905
Last night I ran into an acquaintance at a holiday party. I will call him Peter. Peter is tall, muscular and handsome for his age (I’d clock him at 45). He’s an artist. He’s a mountaineer with several major expeditions to the world’s highest peaks under his belt. He’s into MMA (mixed martial arts for you sissies). He’s lived in New York City for most of his life, but has traveled throughout the globe. Peter is also a complete bore.
I was already tired when I ran into him last night (see yesterday’s post about burst pipes), but the moment we started talking, my fatigue blossomed.
For a guy who has so many interests, he talks about nothing. All of his monotonic ramblings were about the accessories of his lifestyles—the real estate deal for his new artist’s studio, his pickup truck, the gear for his expeditions. He divulged almost no information about himself, about that which was being accessorized.
Peter also did something called “qualifying.” This is basically when someone gives reasons why you should find him or her interesting. The reason I know about his rarefied art, his heroic expeditions, his down-home pickup truck and his manly mixed martial artistry is because he talked about them. But he didn’t talk about them in an organic way. They didn’t just come up as if they were extensions who he was. They came up as if each interest was a part needed to construct a specific impression.
I was trapped with Peter at the end of a long table in a narrow, packed room. There was literally no place to go, no way to shield myself from his wet-blanketry. Peter had trapped another guy sitting nearby into his well of boringness. Fortunate for Peter, this other guy seemed pretty boring too. He was swilling Peter’s inanity, the two of them blabbing dispassionately about real estate and traffic—beside weather, two popular go-to topics for the unoriginal.
When you live in New York City, if you’re talking about cars and buying real estate, you’ve immediately made some socioeconomic statements about yourself. Car insurance, parking and tolls are ludicrously expensive in New York, so having a car means you have some dough. And with a median price of home in New York City being $1.2 million, to entertain such thoughts makes an obvious statement. I happen to know that Peter’s wealth comes not from his art or prize money from UFC bouts (Ultimate Fight Championship), it comes from his wealthy family. But that’s neither here nor there; he’s boring without family wealth.
I had little or nothing to add to this conversation. I was tired because a frozen water pipe burst in my unheated, glorified-squat-of-an apartment the night before. I have trouble paying my health insurance premiums, much less buying real estate. I ride my bicycle everywhere, so traffic patterns seldom affect me. I felt a tinge self-conscious talking about these things, feeling myself unworthy of these dullards’ esteem.
Then I realized that I was perpetrating the same impression manufacturing Peter was. My few moments of engaging their conversation were an attempt to let them know that I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t. That I cared about the things they seemed to care about. I don’t. I was being completely disingenuous. I was being a bore.
“I’m so tired because I spent the night sopping up water from a busted water pipe in my unheated apartment,” I blurted out.
I went onto describe my living situation, my spiritual perspective on how to deal with the cold and the overall splendid shabbiness of my life. I perked up and started to breathe. It was good to be interesting again.
Then what does Peter do? The fucker competes with me. Rather than show interest in my life or relate to it, rather than being authentic himself, he made pathetic attempts to outdo my experiences. Without missing a beat, he launched into stories about the cold on his expeditions and in his first loft in Tribeca. Ninja, please.
Peter is a great case study in boringness. If you think you might be boring like him, here are a few things to watch out for:
- Boring people are inauthentic. They talk about what they think you want to hear, not what they find interesting. The reason Peter could talk about so many ostensibly interesting things without being interesting was because he didn’t seem to find these things interesting himself. I’ve seen grocery baggers display more passion about their work than he did about the things he does. Peter seems like the type of person who would climb K2 just so you might think he’s interesting. If you find yourself doing such things, stop. We’re on to you. Then ask yourself, “What’s important to me?” When you find that, and are willing to share about it, I guarantee it’s going to be interesting, whether it’s cosmetology or astrophysics. When people authentically share what interests them, it’s interesting.
- Boring people talk about stuff, not themselves. How much can you really talk about your phone or your apartment or a good meal? Okay, a bit of that is fine, but eventually (i.e. really quickly) it becomes a total bore. You want to be interesting? Start talking about the user, not the thing used. Share a bit about yourself. The reason Peter, like many of us, talked about his stuff is because it’s safer than talking about himself. What if the expeditions and the MMA were just masking his feelings of impotence? I didn’t want to share that I live in a dilapidated apartment because I thought they might judge me for my choice of lifestyle. I was more interested in being safe and accepted than interesting and alive. It’s always more interesting to share about our lives than the stuff we use to facilitate living.
- Boring people try to be interesting, not be interested. Peter babbled on and on about his exploits but showed no interest in the lives of the people around him. For my part, I made a few feeble attempts at showing interest in his endeavors, but the whole conversation was fucked because it was rooted in his disingenuousness. It was tough to be interested about things neither party finds interesting. This is why I circumvented the whole thing with my exposition. But then, just to cement his boringness, rather than take an interest in what I was saying, he tried to outdo me and bring it back to his own interestingness. It didn’t work. At this point I started throwing out seeming non-sequiturs about my inability to connect emotionally and class politics. I thought explicit nonsense was preferable to the covert shit he was doling out. You want to be interesting, be interested in others.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being boring. Peter had found a partner, his girlfriend, likely a bore herself (though I didn’t talk to her). The other guy seemed content enough to talk about real estate and traffic (I think he even brought up the latter topic).
But if my personal experience is any indication, I don’t think it’s fun or interesting to be boring. Your whole world is asphyxiated by doing and saying the right thing. You don’t get to know yourself or other people because everything you do is seen through a lens of borrowed values, not a genuine interest in what turns you or others on.
So start being interesting now. Find out what turns you on and share about it. Stop talking about stuff. Take interest in others, but don’t live for their approval. After all our lives are too short to be lived as someone else.