What is a Pretend Listener? Let me explain. It happens to all of us at some point in time. Our significant other asks a question. We answer only to realize they haven’t listened to a word we’ve just said. Such an act is utterly frustrating and hurtful. Yet it’s really hard to throw stones because we all have done exactly the same thing, only in reverse.
This is how it usually goes for my husband and me. We go out to dinner because it has been a hectic day and we don’t want to cook or clean up after. Both our minds are buzzing with the day’s events. So somewhere after we’ve talked through those happenings, someone asks an unrelated question. That’s when the offense happens.
So the person (that would be me) starts answering the question unaware that the other,, the pretend listener, (that would be my husband) doesn’t even seem to know I’m talking. Then it dawns on me, and I think: He hasn’t heard a word I’ve just said … so why did he ask the question? I ask, “Did you hear what I said?”
He looks up with a guilty expression and says, “No, I’m really sorry. Would you mind repeating that?” So I answer with a Reader’s Digest version of what I had said before.
The worst part is the same thing will sometimes happen again. At that point, I just give up, or I get a little (or a lot) miffed. And when asked, yet again, to repeat my answer my response is “Never mind, it wasn’t important.” It makes me angry and gives me the feeling that I’m not important enough to pay any attention to. An uneasy silence falls over us. It sets an unintended tone and causes us not to enjoy the evening as we had thought we would.
Does this sound familiar? It’s not that we or our partner intend not to listen, but our mind has other plans. As soon as the question has been uttered, in a flash, our minds skip off to another thought or subject. So why did we ask the question in the first place? Was it to fill in space, to create conversation, to have something to do? I would ask if it was a question that really required an answer.
My belief is at the end of a very busy day our minds are still running at full speed and haven’t yet settled down enough to give our partner the full attention they deserve. We ask questions that really have little to no purpose, but are to show we are interested in our partner and what they have to say. The end result is anything but. The question is to fill space. The question is only to put some noise in the air because we aren’t yet comfortable with silence. So why do we do it?
What it all boils down to is we are not living in the present moment at the time “the question” is asked. Our heads are deeply buried in the events of the past day. We miss how we have frustrated or offended the very person who is willing to give us the “in the moment” attention. All this causes hurt feelings and the thought that we, the not very good pretend listener, really doesn’t care about our listener or what they have to say.
I find when the question has significance or true value to the person asking, their attention to hear the answer is front and center and the asker is fully engaged in listening to the answer.
Here is what I think would help. Before we open our mouths to ask a question that fills up space, take a step back and ask: Is this really a question that has purpose, and am I really capable of listening to the answer? If the answer is no, then we should talk to our significant others and let them know that our mind just doesn’t want to participate and be in the moment. We should tell them we just need a little time before we are able to have a meaningful conversation. This requires us not to find ourselves in a state of self- absorption. If we can find a way to be less self-absorbed we can make our, ever-so-brief, time with our partners much more impactful. By doing so we can avoid the frustration and hurt that occurs when we are not capable or willing to listen to an answer to a question we have just asked.
In the end, all we have are each other. While we are all busy with the minutiae of life, it is important to remember the most valuable thing we can give to our friends and loved ones is our time and undivided attention. When we are truly paying attention and listening, it is amazing what we hear, learn, and see. The best part is we are then given the same gift back in return.
Life’s journey continues…
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