Monday, July 5, 2010

"But The Silence Was Unbroken, And The Stillness Gave No Token"

Bonus points to whoever can tell me where the title of this post comes from without Googling it.

I think one of the most dreaded moments on any date - especially a first or second date - is the moment of awkward silence when conversation grinds to a halt for one reason or another.

The question to ponder is: do these bits of silence mean anything negative?

I’m not referring to the prolonged silence that lasts for minutes upon minutes with both people squirming and wishing to be elsewhere. Rather, the occasional pause where you just can’t find any words to bring forth into the conversation.

I’ve read/heard very different perspectives on exactly what these quiet moments mean. The general consensus is that sitting there dumbfounded is not the best thing to happen. A more yeshivish dating advice book that I was perusing recently basically said to avoid silence at all costs, and that quiet spells indicate DOOM (yes, all upper-cased).

I’m not so sure I can agree with that. From my own experience, it seems that there are quiet times where discussion fades off and that occurrence is totally natural and normal. Such silences are not necessarily harbingers of death (for the relationship that is).

But then again, sometimes they are.

I was once on a date where these pauses arose a few times toward the end of the evening, first at the very end of our meal, and then slightly more extensively when I was walking my date back to her apartment. I reported back to the shadchan that I was a little concerned that she might not be interested in another date. The reason this idea even arose in my mind was based on two previous experiences where such little moments of silence appeared during a date (in one case a second date, and the other at the conclusion of a first date) wherein the girl ended things in an abrupt fashion immediately thereafter. I had seemingly developed a sense of paranoia for these bits of quietude. However, even in spite of those two short-lived shidduchim, my fears were for naught, and I was granted another date.

In retrospect, I’m surprised at myself for losing sight of the fact that short, quiet moments are not inherently bad.

I once was going out with someone who was quiet in the extreme. Almost every outing made me feel like I was having a one-sided conversation. The typical short periods of silence were rather extended, very much akin to the real ill-natured, awkward silences that indicate a lack of connection. I was initially frightened by this, also taking it as a sign of disinterest, but the shadchan assured me this was just her nature. I grew to understand that the shadchan was indeed correct. The person I was going out with was simply a very thoughtful, intelligent person who took time to measure her words carefully and very rarely said anything that was half-processed or simply thrown out to continue the conversation.

I learned that moments of silence can be quite natural and not disconcerting one Shabbos morning when I was walking to shul with my father. Coincidentally, this happened to occur during a school break that interrupted the aforementioned “silent type” girl I was going out with. Of course, my father and I chat a good bit whenever I’m back in town, and when we’re walking to shul for shacharis, is a time when we can have some father-son bonding time. The cool morning air, sunlight shining everywhere, and birds flitting to and fro chirping from the nearby trees creates a peaceful atmosphere conducive to conversation.

As we walked along, I realized that our dialogue was beginning to peter off, and momentarily worried about the silence that would follow. When we actually ceased talking and simply continued walking side-by-side, I realized that this quietness wasn’t really awkward at all. I was perfectly fine simply enjoying being in the presence of my father and observing all the flora and fauna around us. I simply took a deep breath of fresh morning air and released all the built up tension I had been expecting.

I knew then that the same thing applies to dating. Not every minute has to be filled with words, especially if you have to spout meaningless dribble to maintain an ongoing conversation. When the break was over and I went back to my shidduch, the quiet spans no longer bothered me as much, and sometimes not at all. Granted, this girl was definitely far less talkative than pretty much any other person I went out with, but learning this lesson during a more “extreme” case of recurring moments of silence certainly helped later on with other dates. After that point, I began to appreciate the bits of quiet that cropped up here and there during time spent on shidduchim.

Even in marriage, you won’t be talking constantly, and it is a pleasure to simply enjoy the other person’s presence, knowing that he/she is there beside you. There is a sense of comfort and belonging knowing that you can be with that other person and not need to continually throw out conversation starters merely for the sake of preventing gaps without any talking. If you can be at ease with a person in these moments, and learn to properly appreciate them, especially as the relationship develops (and excusing the few awkward ones at the start of a courtship) I think you’re on the road to discovering how well you really enjoy merely being with that person.

That is definitely a necessity for marriage – since interesting and engaging conversation isn’t going to happen all the time in real life anyway.

So I vote that we should welcome bits of silence, quash feelings of awkwardness, and see if we can appreciate the feeling of being accompanied by someone we can, and should care about. That unspoken emotional connection is very important.

May we all find that special individual for whom silent moments are not a burden but a pleasure!


  1. Great Post!
    Though the title brought back traumatic memories for me (I am NOT a fan of Poe).
    Silence can be awkward, but it can also be something very special: it depends on who you share it with.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Mia: Don't you hate that?
    Vincent: What?
    Mia: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it's necessary to yak about bulls*** in order to be comfortable?
    Vincent: I don't know. That's a good question.
    Mia: That's when you know you've found somebody special. When you can just shut the f*** up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.


Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.