I was a child athlete; a first string catcher until high school when I got too tall for the position. I watched a lot of baseball and collected baseball cards. I used to lay out two teams of cards on the floor and watch a game, creating a baseball diamond with the cards. But as I moved away from sports into music, I lost interest.
Although there was baseball, I didn’t grow up in a basketball/football house so I knew very little about it. I attended OU, but I only went to one game and it was primarily to watch the band. I just didn’t get it, and didn’t really want to get it. But as I became an adult and made friends who were not musicians, I learned that the primary topic of discussion for most men was sports. I really wanted to fit in. And I did try for awhile
When I wore my OU hat or shirts, people often mistook me for being a football fan, but I didn’t wear it to show my school spirit for athletics, I was simply proud of my alma mater. I was proud to have a degree from OU. I was proud of the School of Music. So many times I would stand around with guys and try to conceal the fact that I knew very little about what they were talking about nor did I care. To be honest, I resented it a little. How about let’s talk about faith, parenting, current events, music, books, film, or cooking?
I found myself having much more in common with the wives. It’s not that women don’t like sports, but very few of them, in my experience, are obsessed with them. They talk about more of the things that interest me. I’ve always found it easier to talk with women than men because I don’t have to pretend.
But then one day, I was at Louie’s with friends, standing with the husbands, listening to them talk about their upcoming Fantasy League Football draft, and I realized that I didn’t want to pretend anymore. Someone asked me a football related question and I answered, “Are we talking about European or American football?” I wanted to communicate that I was done pretending. They laughed and we’re all still my friends.
From then on, I decided I was no longer going to be embarrassed by this. I accepted that I was no less of a man because of it. But what does a man like me do?
I learned a trick from a preacher friend of mind, something he learned in seminary, and it’s made my life so much easier in social situations. He taught me the 80/20 rule.
The 80/20 rule is a conversational technique that solves almost all conversational issues for me. When I’m at a social event, I ask a person about themselves and I allow them to talk 80% of the time while I talk only 20% of the time. Then it doesn’t really matter what they talk about. I don’t feel that I have to assert my interests at all. Perhaps I can’t talk about sports, but I can listen to someone who really wants to talk about it. I can say things like, “Wow. That sounds like a very exciting game. What was the highlight for you?” or “Man, he must be an amazing athlete.”
I learned something about people when I started this. I learned that 9 out of 10 people don’t care about what you have to say. They think they’re having a great conversation, but really, most people really just want to talk about themselves and the things they’re interested in.
The conversation begins with me asking “So what’s new with you?” And then they talk and I listen. Fortunately, I love listening to what people have to say. I say 9 out of 10 people because there is that rare person that turns the conversation around to me and asks, “So what’s new with you?” You’d be surprised how rare a person that is; the 50/50 conversationalist. It sounds like a sad fact, but it’s really not. It’s totally natural. Just as it seems to be totally natural for men to be into sports. But it’s ok. Don’t sweat it. It takes the pressure off me. I never go to a party anxious about having anything to talk about with people.
When I do find myself talking to another artsy person, well that’s just gravy. It’s a pleasure to talk with someone about something I understand. But what I’ve learned is that more than anything, I just love being connected to people. I’m glad to have a way of doing that.
One of these days I’m going to run into one of you face-to-face, and you’re going to wonder if I’m pulling some sort of conversational trick on you, but it’s not a form of trickery or manipulation. Nor is a method to find out if you’re a narcissist. It’s just a way for us to connect. And who knows, maybe it will open up the possibility for us to have a more balanced and substantive experience.
So, go ahead and tell me about the sports game, and your favorite sports players. And if you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you what’s on my mind.