The social pariah

It’s generally accepted that men and women are good at different things. Their skill sets are different. Maybe it’s easier to say that certain skills are emphatically more masculine and others more feminine, bearing in mind that we all have a degree of each. Men claim spatial awareness as their own, and I think they’re probably right. It’s certainly easier to drive a car with the A to Z open on your knees than it is to get a woman to try to navigate. They’ll spend much of the time rotating the page as they try to decide which is left and which is right, before you find out that the blue wavy line wasn’t the motorway, but a nearby river. When the roles are reversed, things usually progress more smoothly, though never assume that a woman will be able to understand a satnav. The instruction to ‘turn right in 400 yards’ will be met with ‘how am I supposed to know what 400 yards is?’ before the inevitable turn of the wheel about 25 yards from where the instruction was mentioned. Multi-tasking is almost exclusively the domain of women. They can generally manage to cook, feed a baby, push around a hoover, tune the radio, order ocado online and read a book at the same time, whereas men will accomplish only one of those tasks, usually with the tongue hanging out of one side of the mouth, and with a furrowed brow that lets everyone know just how tricky the task is.

There’s a whole host of other things one could go into, but they’re all pretty lazy stereotypes, and are almost bound to offend someone. However, one thing that I find women far better at is conversation. If one ends up talking to a woman at a social gathering, you generally have no idea what topic the conversation will turn to. Whether it’s an old friend, a semi-known partner of a friend or someone you’ve just met, you’ll be chatting through books, food, Art, travel, films etc, with scarcely an pause for breath. With men it’s all so very different, although I should put a disclaimer in here that I have a small number of excellent male friends, most of whom I’ve known for a long time that do not fall into this category. The category I’m talking about is the men that you know, but not all that well. Maybe they are ‘work friends’ rather than real friends, or boyfriends of good friends that you spend little time talking to unless you have to.

I get a sensation that approaches dread when I end up stuck at a party (not that I go to many) talking to a male that I don’t know all that well. I consider myself to be a reasonable conversationalist, but somehow I know that the chat we are about to have is going to be the most awkward thing that’s ever happened to either of us. Why should this be the case? It’s not like I’m trying to pull. Maybe I’m subconsciously worried that he’s about to jump me? This would certainly explain the opening line I tend to use to dampen any homosexual advances: ‘so how did you get here tonight?’. Why do I care? Why does anyone care? The options generally tend to be via public transport, or via some form of owned vehicle. Either way, it’s not much of a conversation starter. And yet I always feel the need to kick things off with this gem. This will generally be followed up with a ‘what do you do?’. I don’t care what he does either, and until the day someone says astronaut or premiership footballer, neither will I care. This is bad enough, but it always provokes him to ask me the same question. I always say ‘teacher’, though by now some kind of latent, desperate alpha-male switch has been flicked, and I’ll somehow try and crowbar in that I teach at a very successful School, and I’m part of SMT. What a tool I must sound like. He doesn’t care, and I don’t even know why I’ve mentioned it. Maybe I should just challenge him to down a pint, compare size of car engines, or just flip it out there and then. I genuinely have no idea why I behave this way, other than some kind of inner desire to appear a person of quality to a total stranger.

The worst is yet to come. As if I haven’t appeared enough of a conversational dunce, I’ll then always turn around the chat to football, with a jolly ‘so who’s your team then?’. I hate myself for doing this. I have so much more to talk about, and yet I can’t go 5 minutes with a stranger without mentioning football. If the chap likes football, it’s then turn in to a kind of fencing stat-off, and if he doesn’t, what then? Rugby? The conversation always tends to improve after a while, but it’ll still be one of those conversations that both of us are just waiting for a chance to move away from. And when Victoria comes back with the G+Ts, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Maybe I just need to try harder. Maybe my brain just takes over, and I click onto a sort of crap chat autopilot. I think this must be it; I had a really good idea about time and perception to write about when I sat down, and now I’ve wasted 15 minutes on this drivel.