I went on a first date tonight.
We met on-line and had exchanged messages. This was our first occasion meeting in person so we kept things easy -- drinks at a great little bar here in my neighborhood followed by a little dinner and dessert.
It was OK. But, there most likely won't be a follow up.
The experience convinced me of something:
Journalists (or former journalists such as yours truly) can sometimes find themselves at distinct disadvantage on first dates.
Reporters are by training (or just nature) people who know how to build a good conversation. It's a necessity of the job -- you need to know how to get high-quality information and keep a dialogue going.
As an undergrad at NYU Journalism, I even took a class called "The Interview" in which Professor Pamela Newkirk schooled us in how to ask the kinds of questions that elicited interesting details -- and good quotes.
For instance, if your subject just saw a movie, you would not simply ask, "Did you like the film?" No, you would ask, "What part of the movie made you laugh the most?" or "Which character did you really hate?"
If your subject just returned from a trip to China, you would not ask, "What was China like?" No. A journalist would ask, "Were you intimidated by the Great Wall?" or "Were there any signs of unrest in Beijing?"
It's all about details and emphasis. Good journalists know how to ask probing questions that show extremes and coloring and biases.
So, on a first date, a reporter (or, in my case, an ex-reporter) will by habit ask questions in conversation that will get one's date to easily open up and tell personal stories.
But, here's the rub. Unless your date has a similar background or is just a naturally good and interested conversationalist, you don't get to say much about yourself -- or tell any of your own stories.
Tonight, I learned in-depth information about my date. I discovered details on ancestry, parental occupations, career preferences, political leanings and the location of vacation homes. I could write a book.
But, at least three times, I had to make a point of providing some of my own background or insights. I had to do so because I was never asked questions in return.
My date learned I work in publishing but never asked what kind of magazines or books my gig releases.
After I volunteered the information, my date found out I grew up in Pittsburgh -- but never asked if I was a Steelers fan.
And, it's fine that I'm commenting on my date in this space. I mentioned I had a blog. But, I was never queried on its title, contents or address.
For the record, my date had superb academic credentials, including an undergraduate degree earned at Harvard and a pending doctorate in a medical specialty from NYU.
So, the stunted conversation wasn't from a lack of intelligence -- but perhaps simply a deficiency in curiosity ... or a difference in training.
The image above is cribbed from here.