Art of Conversation
There ıs nothıng more erotıc than a good conversatıon – unknown
The other day I came upon a clip from one of my favorites movies, Before Sunrise. Simple premise really. A guy and a girl meet on the train and agree to spend a day together. The entire film is the two of them, walking around and just… talking.
I remember seeing the sequel on a date. Captivating as it was to me, a complete torture it was to him. He endlessly complained about the film being overtaken by dialogue. “Nothing ever happens,” he exclaimed helplessly. Well, this is precisely why our first date was also our last.
He had completely missed the point. The “action“ he was looking for, the drama, was all underneath the dialogue. Like a beautiful fugue, two characters singing two different melodies, following one and other under one theme, with episodes of conversation taking them up and down the emotional octave, when all the while, harmonizing them into one.
Just like chivalry, the delicate art of conversation is dying. As our new language is emoji, our dating platform is online and our first dates are on our phones, it is no wonder.
In his hilariously frightening book Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari talks about an experiment he conducted. A selected group representing the age bracket of our generation is asked to bring their parents to the study. Then they are separated and told to wait. A few minutes later, a chipper chatter erupts from the old generation group while the younger generation is completely mute. You can guess why. Because while the parents introduced themselves and began a conversation with each other, every single person on the other side is stared at their phones. Instead of socializing with strangers in the flesh, they chose to connect with thousands of strangers on social media.
Being a good conversationalist is a skill and at the age of selfies, it’s a ra rare one. Because ultimately, the foundation of a good conversation is curiosity – beyond ourselves.
Curiosity about the world around us, which leads to an open mind and consequently to an open ear.
Curiosity about the person we’re speaking to, which leads to questions rather than self-satisfied monologues about ourselves.
Curiosity about things we do not know, which leads us to say, “tell me more,” rather than letting our egos interrupt the flow of conversation in the name of preserving the image on our facebook profile.
My friends ask me sometimes what I’m looking for in a man. My answer always starts the same way, “Above all, a good conversation.” The curiosity I mentioned before is in the end, a sign of a good character.
To admit we don’t know everything takes confidence. To have a discussion with a point of view that is different from ours takes intellect and versatility. The ability to sense the vibe of the person and to read their body language takes good instincts and tells of a deep inner life. To make someone feel heard and understood takes empathy and a lot of heart. A good character and a deep interest in life itself allows one to surf through the waves of various topics and emotions, Wisdom allows one to recognize that that wave is actually the ocean itself.
Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation. – Oscar wilde
Start from the outside to work your way in?
Now living in Istanbul, I was passing through New York, my old stomping ground, and met a dear friend for breakfast to have a proper catch-up session.
Our joy of seeing each other eventually ended up being weighed down by our #metoo experiences, our dissatisfied work lives and ambiguous relationships. We made a plan to lift our drained spirits with some cosmetics shopping. Who knew? Perhaps our desperate attempt at starting from the outside to work your way in approach would work. We raised our coffee to hoping.
An hour of browsing later, we were on our way to finally visit Glossier’s Showroom, which I was super giddy about. I’d been watching their Get Ready videos for months and I found them to be motivating on the harshest of mornings. I found the speeches of Emily Weiss inspirational and their products curiously empowering. In spite of my cynicism accusing me of being a fool for falling victim to strategic marketing, my girlish side prevailed. “I want to be a part of this all inclusive, pink haven of female-bonding damn it!”
Speaking of Female Bonding...
On our way there, I urged my friend that I needed to use the bathroom. It was the first day of my period and… You know what? I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Let’s get real. I was on my first day, which is when I get the heaviest flow and my tampon was approaching the 8-hour mark and I could feel it slowly leaking out… Our steps quickened as my friend reassured me that we were very close and the showroom had a bathroom.
Sure enough, there it was. Just as I was about to knock, I heard the flush. A couple of minutes later, the female security guard stepped out and immediately stopped me in my tracks. “Employees only!” she said sternly. My friend rushed over and confidently mentioned that she had used it without a problem just a few weeks ago. The guard didn’t care and instructed us to talk to one of the girls in the pink jumpers.
We approached a bright girl in her 20s, smiling at us widely. We explained the situation and without a blink she said, “No. The bathroom is not for customers.” I pleaded, “I understand, but please, it’s… really dire. Can you please make an exception?” In an attempt to make a case for me, my friend did her best to reassure her that she didn’t have to go but that only I needed to do.
The irony was palpable. Her harshness paired with her seemingly warm smile… Her indifference against the statement pink walls… The lack of empathy from a fellow woman in a place over-flowing with other women… I don’t know what disorientated me more.
I once read that the original meaning of kindness is sameness. Can you think of anything simpler and greater that makes one woman relate to another – no matter the age, body type, race, culture, class, marital and maternal status, sexual orientation… – than a period? So through my jet-lag, exhaustion and bleeding, all I could conjure up was, “That’s unkind.” To that she said the following:
WELL… people take advantage of our kindness.
I can’t tell you how profoundly this startled me. I wanted to say so much in that moment. I wanted to ask her why I was the one being punished. Why would you abuse your power (in this case, access to the bathroom) and be unkind to someone who had nothing to do with the person who might have indeed taken advantage of you?
At the same time, I could relate to this unfledged and very human propensity to use unkindness as a defense mechanism. It takes experience, growth and self-awareness to differentiate between protecting your boundaries and being completely closed off to the needs and feelings of others.
The thing about having your guard up is that when it’s up, you don’t feel like a victim. I walked in there, feeling completely safe with the assumption that I was going to be understood, and that they were going to be able to relate to me… as WOMEN. I thought I was in a safe zone and I was completely blindsided by my own kind. And I froze.
Being a Warrior for Someone Else
Seeing me incapable of a response, my friend rushed to my defense like a warrior and soon enough the manager, a woman (again, I’d like to make this clear), approached and evidently annoyed asked, “What’s the problem?”
My friend was gracefully assertive while I was pretty much begging, shrinking as I admitted that I was feeling it leak, to which the girl’s frozen smile turned into a full giggle. The manager, putting my urgent need to use the bathroom in quotation marks, instructed me to walk 3 blocks to a food-court that had public bathrooms, which I sheepishly did. As if I was the one who was abusing the store and getting kicked out.
On the way to the damn restrooms, I continued the battle. This time, with myself. Why didn’t I stand up for myself like my friend did for me? Why did I, a 36 year-old woman, turn mute at my own expense? If the tables were turned and my friend was being treated that way, I would have become the lioness protecting her. Why couldn’t I summon my grounded, wise, eloquent self when I needed her in that moment?
``You are Pathetic!``
I stared at my red soaked panties… Streak of dried blood on my thighs… Dark stains on my jeans… I felt like I was a walking wound. I felt embarrassed, small, ugly. “Luckily I’m wearing a long coat to hide the stains,” I tried to console myself. But really I wanted a coat so big and puffy that I could hide under it. I felt like a victim. And yet a part of me kept insisting that I had no right to feel like a victim. That part of me kept saying, “You’re pathetic.”
My friend wanted to make it all better and convinced me to go back to which I reluctantly agreed. While she was asking for the names of the employees to put in an official complaint later, I was being chased by that voice inside my head, -“pathetic.” When the same girl ran over to scold me about not sanitizing the lipsticks (which, I did by the way!), I had to go. No amounts of stretch concealer could conceal my tears, and no amounts of cloud paint could paint over my feelings.
It wasn’t just my inner voice chasing after me though, but the manager as well. To confront me that I had no right to ask for her name or to complain. My friend confirmed that she was the one who inquired and that she had every right to do so. But she was standing so tall and strong that the manager didn’t even look at her. Instead she got extremely close to me as I asked her to step away. She did not until my friend yelled, “Stop bullying her!”
Life is a Mirror
Life acts like a mirror sometimes. I realized after I came back to Istanbul that in that very moment, when I was already feeling weak and exposed, I was also being the bully. By telling myself that I should feel shame, not only for having bled through my jeans, but also and mainly for being so incompetent to defend myself. “Pathetic.” That girl and the manager were merely holding mirrors. People tend to treat you the way you feel and treat yourself.
I love the lovely Ellen Degeneres’s daily reminder to “Be Kind to one another.” I was thinking maybe that should say, “Be kind to one another, and yourself.”
Kindness vs. Right & Wrong
I was telling this story to my sister, emphasizing how kindness was lost on all of us when she noticed a contradiction. “You keep talking about kindness and yet you are still not allowing yourself to be the victim here. You can’t be kind to yourself until you stop minimizing what happened to you.
You are minimizing it because you still think you could have defended yourself like your friend did. But she wasn’t the vulnerable one who felt attacked. You were. And you couldn’t have summoned your stronger self because your limbic brain was on “freeze” mode. It’s biology. When you realize this, only then you can be kind to yourself.” She continued, “And let’s get something straight…”
There is a distinction between kindness and doing the right thing. They had the power to make a judgement call to help a woman ın need and they chose not to. That’s not about kindness. That’s just wrong!”
Women Supporting Women
In the climax of sexual harassment exposures, there is naturally and rightly a lot of talk about the male patriarchy and abuse of power. Yet we must also remember that women do not quite possess the solidarity that we hope and expect. Women can be harsh, tyrannical, even vicious to one another.
Unkindness, confused with toughness, cannot be our armor. At this pivotal moment in time, it is vital that we become self-aware of our actions and consciously choose to support one another more than ever.
The Smallest Deed
I hesitated to write about this Glossier incident because I thought in the big scheme of things, my stained panties and bruised pride wasn’t a big deal. But you know what, no. Even the smallest deed matters. Even if it is just choosing to help a woman in need to use the bathroom. Do not underestimate the power of the small deed.
I know and feel with my full heart that the tiniest gesture on an ordinary day has a ripple effect. No matter how small and ınsıgnıfıcant ıt may appear, ıt wıll escalate. that supportive energy will flow and echo. And ladies, now that’s power.