Pacing your conversation

By Wayne Elise

Imagine a coil of rope lies at your feet. Think of this rope as your personality, your history - the DNA of your life. Everything about you is imprinted on this rope.

Reach down and take hold of the end of this rope. This end is coded with the initial stuff people learn about you when you first meet. If your name is Chuck, you could tape a sign to this end that reads: To know Chuck, begin here.

At the beginning of your rope are usually 'safe' things such as smiles, comments, the initiations of feedback loops. But as you move down this rope, further away from the end, you find increasingly personal ideas and details.

Imagine a stranger next to you. They reach out and take the end of your rope from you. They begin reeling it into their arms. So long as you allow it, the rope passes from the floor around your feet, through your hands and collects in the arms of this other person.

This is the beginning of someone getting to know you. The details they learn about you in the first few minutes may be give-aways such as your taste in high-fidelity stereo speakers and the fact that your mouth goes crooked when you smile. But soon they could be exposed to a slice of your dead-kitten sense of humor. Then later it could be your feeling toward relationships. Eventually it could be your sexual preferences. And on and on.

Through this process of information transfer, you stop feeling like a stranger to the other person. You begin to feel like a friend or potential lover.

I think that's a helpful metaphor for thinking of the process of someone getting to know you.

So let's encourage people to pull out our life-ropes.

"Whoa. Slow down there cowboy."

"What?"

"You're missing important information Wayne. Life is never that easy."

"Sure it is. You just…"

"No, you don't just."

"But…"

"Shush."

"Wait a second. Who are you?"

"I'm the Ghost of Christmas Past."

"What? What are you doing here? It's mid-July."

"This is my summer job. I get paid to fact-check. I also work at Starbucks but that's not here or there."

"Are you sure you're qualified for this fact-checking thing?"

"Absolutely. I took a night course."

"Oh. Okay. Go ahead then. Check away."

"Thank you. I think in your rush to espouse your life-rope metaphor thingy you've forgotten something."

"What's that?"

"Tension."

"Oh yes, tension. That's right. Thank you. Good day."

"I can explain further if you'd like."

"No thank you. Good day."

"What? You want me to go away? I don't think you understand. I'm the Ghost of Christmas past. This is a super-natural event."

"Yes. All that's fine. But good day. See you in December."

"Okay. But when I return, I'm coming for your soul."

"It's already mortgaged."

"Ha. I bought that paper up for pennies on the dollar from the Chinese. Here it is. I own your soul."

"Oh shit."

"Yep. See you later Juggler. Muahahahahaha…"

Ahem. Sorry about that readers. Yes, there is a caveat. People won't appreciate learning about your life-details if you just give them up. That would make you sort of a life-detail slut. Nothing wrong with that of course - so long as you dig that sort of thing.

"Hey," he says. "Look at me! I'm fabulous. I worked with Ted Danson once."

"I'm sorry?" She says.

"I ride a fixie. Want to see my fixie porn?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about. Look. I didn't ask to know anything about you. Perhaps you can hold some thoughts back."

"I could. But I'm not going to. I'm an all out there kinda guy. I'm going to this fab party later. If you're lucky I might invite you."

"No thanks."

"Aww. You're playing hard to get. That's so cute."

"Whatever."

"I hear an accent. Where are you from?"

"Nowhere."

"Ha. Nowhere. That's funny. Can I buy you a drink?"

"Yes. I'll take a piña colada but don't even think about dropping a roofie in there. I'm not going to hook up with you."

"Whoever said anything about hooking up? You're more of the kinda girl I see as a friend."

"Good."

"Good. So what's your name?"

"Look, it's simple. I find you physically attractive but I want to be a participant in my seduction. I'm your best ally here if you'd be more patient. But you're pushing and pushing and not allowing me to want anything from you. You're not building desire. See my eyes? No sparkle for you. See my hair? Yeah, it's kinda messy. I don't care. You don't make me the good sort of nervous. You make me want to press the brake, not the gas. You're not doing this right."

"Says you. No girl has ever said anything like that to me before. I have always broken up. Never been broken up on. I'm in demand. No one has ever called me anything other than amazing."

"They didn't want to hurt your feelings and probably didn't want to increase an already embarrassing situation."

"Okay. It looks as if we're just going to have to disagree about that. Let me show you my high-five routine. You'll love this."

"Sheesh. Were you listening to me?"

"Yes. Okay, no, not really."

"That's fine. I got a game we can play." She leans in close. "Close your eyes."

"Sure okay. They're closed. This is exciting. What's going to happen? I can't wait. Uh… you've walked out the door haven't you? Shit."

People appreciate hearing the amazing things you have to say more if they desire them first. Don't push. Instead, counterintuitively, you should resist.

Returning to our metaphor. You want to keep your conversational partner in a state of wanting more - pulling on your rope, sort of speak. While, at the same time, YOU want to be in a state of resistance - keeping the length of rope between the two of you taunt. This tension gives you control over the transfer of your life-details.

Pacing is the rate at which you chose to dole out your life-details and the rate that your interaction moves towards a more personal outcome.

People may not consciously be aware of pacing but they respond to it.

Pacing that's too fast deflates the tension out of an interaction. Imagine throwing all your rope into someone's arms. There's no more for them to want or seek.

But pacing that's too slow makes people feel bored and as if the interaction isn't going anywhere.

Finding the proper pacing for the situation is a fun challenge. Sometimes we get this right and sometimes we get it wrong. But it's always an adventure.

At an 80's night.

"I noticed you're wearing a lot of black."

"Yeah. I love the whole thing. I borrowed this from my sister."

"And wore spangles and topped it with a headband. Well, I think it looks… good. You rock the 80's. I thought my outfit was the 80's but it turns out I'm 1978. Perhaps it's the wooden tennis racket. It's a John McEnroe autographed edition."

She looks blank.

"That was a famous tennis player," he adds. "He - got - mad - at - people. Probably before your time. I was just trying to guess your age."

"How old do you think?"

"I'm afraid I can't answer that question."

"Why can't you answer that question?"

"Because if I do then all the tension will leave the conversation. As it stands, you want to know my guess and if I give that up I'll lose your interest."

"I promise you won't lose my interest."

"Fine. But first, let's sit down and make ourselves a bit more comfortable, if that's alright. Then I'll tell you all about yourself. I've been told I have an intuitive nature."

They sit down on the couch nearby.

"Where are your friends? Perhaps they should join us."

"Don't worry about them. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."

"I bet you can. Okay, I think you're twenty eight."

She hits him in the shoulder.

"Okay. Twenty six?"

"You're really bad at this."

"I know. My credentials might have been over-stated."

"How about you? How old are you?"

"Older than you. Let's just put it this way. I'm your real father. I remember your mom. She was hot back in the 80's."

"She still's hot."

"I'm sure she is. People of any age can be sexy. But personally I end up dating girls who are uh..."

"What?"

"Younger, mostly."

"Why do you do that?"

"Well, there's a long answer to that question and a short answer."

"What's the short answer?"

"They're hotter."

"Okay, what's the long answer."

"I can't really tell you. I'd have to show you."

"Is that some sort of ploy?"

"Maybe it is. Nice use of the word 'ploy' by the way. That's an archaic one. I bet you're educated."

"Not formally."

"Well, now I'm fascinated."

"I grew up in Belarus. My mother was an economist. But she made some enemies in the government. We spent my teens traveling from country to country. I was educated in libraries around Europe and by experiencing things. I didn't read about the Yugoslav Wars. We went there."

"I bet you met a lot of interesting people."

"Oh yes. Heaps. You have no idea."

"I'm sure I don't."

"How about you? What do you do?"

"Thanks for asking. I like that you're curious. But it's not that interesting to most people and takes several minutes to make anyone understand."

"I got time."

"And a Powerpoint presentation… I'm kidding of course. Okay, if you really want to know."

"I do."

"I'm an orgy planner. Ha. Just kidding. You should have seen your face. I'm not saying I haven't thrown together an occasional orgy but it's not my main gig. Which reminds me of why I like younger women."

"Do tell."

"Well, first do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Um, sure."

"What sort of guy or girl do you find attractive?"

"I like a person who's fun. Who can laugh at themselves and not take everything too seriously. I've had enough of serious people to last a lifetime. I like guys with tattoos."

"You know, almost every girl I've dated in the last few years has tattoos. But I'm not that into them."

"What are you into?"

"Well, I look for specific things."

"Yes?"

"I don't share this with everyone but since you asked. I like a girl who's tall but not taller than me. I like a girl who has read Hemingway but thinks it's garbage. She loves Death Cab for Cutie but realizes that music is sentimental crack. She's blonde with green eyes. She's not Chinese but she's excited about the idea of having a threesome with me and a Chinese girl. She likes dive bars and can cook a mean quiche."

"That's very specific."

"Yes."

"Why are you talking to me? I'm not blonde with green eyes."

"Growing up in Eastern Europe I think you'd understand that in life compromises have to be made."

"You're a bastard."

"I know. I was thinking it would be fun to get out of here together."

"And do what?"

"Cab back to my place and spend the night making love to each other. I know exactly where I want to start with you."

"And where is that?"

"On the kitchen table. Duh."

"Hmmm… Let me think about it."

"Sure. Take all the time you want."

"Can I give you my number instead?"

"I don't take numbers."

"Give me yours then."

"I'm not that big on the whole numbers thing. I always think that if it's meant to be we'll run into each other."

"God."

"We'll start slow. You'll be in control. You can use the accelerator and I'll use the brake. You pull me into the bedroom and I'll resist."

"You're a weird one."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"Are you inviting your Chinese friend?"

"I don't have anyone specific in mind but we can find a girl later together. That can be an adventure."

"I like adventures. The unknown. I'm a bit addicted."

He smiles.

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