On page 303 of The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, we read the following:
“[Ben] Stein never knew what to tell [Julie Nixon Eisenhower].
Throughout the spring and summer their frequent conversations had
followed a pattern. Stein always tried to think of something positive
to say. Partly to have something else to talk about, he had given Julie
a copy of Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem. She had liked it immensely. Tonight Stein counted himself lucky: he could tell her about Sandman’s and Wiggins’ arguments.”
Ben Stein was a speech writer in the Nixon White House. It’s interesting to me that his name comes up more than once in The Final Days, more than it comes up in later books about Nixon that I have read. The Final Days came out in 1976, and that was before Stein’s acting in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wonder Years, the “Moisture Eyes” commercials he was in, and the movie Expelled.
The passage on page 303 stood out to me because I could identify with
Stein in that situation. I’m often not sure what I should talk to
people about in social situations. Often, this is simply me not knowing
what to say. At other times, I don’t want to talk about a specific
topic (i.e., politics, religion) with someone, due to bad experiences in
the past, so I look for alternative topics of conversation.
Something that I’ve done in the past to form connections with people
is to watch a TV show that they like, or to follow their blog. This can
work. But conversations are much better when the person I am
conversing with likes the same shows I do, rather than me watching a
show just to have something to discuss with someone else. Moreover, I
have tried to research sports to have something to talk about with
people, and that usually doesn’t end up well, since I appear ignorant of
sports, even after reading scores. The reason is that sports just do
not interest me.
I’m happy when I come across something that I can share with someone
else. Otherwise, socializing can be a mundane, uphill-battle experience
for me. “How are you? How was your week?”