DEAR MISS MANNERS: I can’t make small talk. At a gathering, if I have nothing to say, I say nothing.
If someone asks me a question, I will certainly try to answer to the best of my ability, but that’s it. People will actually come up to me and ask why I don’t talk, and I simply tell them I have nothing to say.
Around women, it’s worse. I tend to be intimidated by women in general, which probably comes from being raised by a domineering mother. I once sat next to a woman in a class, and I was so intimidated by her mere presence, I didn’t say one word to her for the duration of the class (about seven hours). I’ve never been able to understand how most guys can just walk up to a woman and start talking. If I walked up to a woman, I would just be standing there looking like an idiot and not saying anything.
Another problem is that I don’t introduce myself to people. I have never liked my name, so I don’t offer it. If someone asks my name, I’ll certainly tell them, but they have to ask. But the main point is, around men or women, I’m just not a talker.
GENTLE READER: You put Miss Manners in mind of a father whose daughter’s college application asked whether she was a leader. His advice was to admit that she was not, but to state that she was a hardworking follower when the cause was just.
An admissions officer wrote on the young lady’s acceptance letter that the school was especially glad to have her, because the entire rest of the class -- indeed, all the applicants -- were leaders, and badly in need of a follower.
We are a society of talkers, badly in need of a listener.
You do have to learn to introduce yourself -- it is a simple formula, but the failure to do so is unfriendly -- and then to ask easy, non-intrusive questions. Don’t worry about making these clever; the most banal inquiries -- about the occasion, the weather, the location -- work best, because the other person is not challenged to come up with something original. Once you get others talking, you can be charming just by listening.