The Art of Conversation

My wife is one of those precious people who can talk to anyone. It is a gift that helps her in her role as a Practice Nurse at a busy surgery. I am aware that I also have a propensity to be talkative but there is a notable difference in our styles of conversation.

The difference to which I speak can be characterised by describing what happens when one of us returns from an evening out. It goes something like this:

The Scene: I am horizontal on the sofa surrounded by empty crisp and chocolate packets engrossed in a crucial game on 'Match of the Day'. My wife returns from her jaunt with a spring in her step and the need to 'share'.

I dutifully put to her the key question that I have been trained to ask, over years of married bliss. 'How did it go?' This four-word question unleashes a several thousand-word response during which I am treated to a minute by minute replay of all that has happened. Missing the goals and the post match discussion, with the sound now muted, I try to take it all in and avoid glazing over. Who said what to whom. Who was there. What they wore. No detail is spared. To be honest I might as well recorded the football and gone out with her.

My wife is an extremely interesting person but listening to a replay of an event that I was neither invited to, nor wanted to be present at, is the marriage equivalent of watching a friend’s home movies.

Now compare this to what happens when I return home from an evening out.

My bride is sat watching a programme about dysfunctional teenagers from the Northeast visiting a boot camp in the USA. The whole room is tidy except for a half-full cup of copy and an apple core neatly placed on the lounge table.

'How did it go?' answer 'Great!'
'Who was there?' answer 'Most people'
'What did you do?' answer 'The usual'

As far as I am concerned that just about sums up the evening but my wife is not satisfied with such a minimalist exchange. She wants it all and she wants it now, so I try to fill in the gaps by describing who wore what. (Why is that important?)

My daughters have grown to share their mother's appreciation of conversation, so much so that they can several conversations on the go at the same time.

Mealtime in the Molineaux house is an event in itself and represents the family’s love of conversation. In fact it is more than an event; it is a whole soap opera. On normal days it tends to be the four girls, my wife and me all congregated around the pine table in the kitchen. If this were a scene from the Waltons or Little House on the Prairie then the food would be passed around with good grace and manners. Conversation would follow in which every child spoke about the highlights of their day. And the parents would look on with justifiable, yet sugary, pride.

Not so with us! No sooner has the food landed than six pairs of arms matrix across the table in search of consumables. This is followed by fourteen conversations at once. I have to confess here that only the girls in my house can manage multi-talk. The best that I can do is to nod in the right places and try not to make eye contact with any one person.

I still recall the joy of welcoming our future son-in-law to one of these meal times. He sat wide-eyed listening to the girls seamlessly moving form one subject to another whilst I continued to nod my agreement. He was quiet literally speechless and even if he did have something to say there were no moments of silence available to him.

So what shall we conclude from this example of communicative differences? My wife and I have tried over the years to make allowances for our peccadilloes. She tries not to ask me questions when football is on and I try to remember to tell her what all the men wore on my night out.