The Non-Expert

I’ll Tell You No Lies

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we guide a reader who peppers her friends with questions, but finds they won’t reciprocate her curiosity.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: I enjoy asking questions to get to know others better. Lately getting to know others has been one-sided. I do all the asking with my friends, family, and boyfriend, while no one seems to want to know anything about me. What should I do? —Nicole

Answer: Let’s get a couple of obvious possibilities out of the way. Are you sure your friends, family, and boyfriend are real? Think hard about this one. Is there any chance they exist only as hallucinations, dream-state emanations, or inter-dimensional beings?

If not, are you sure they’re actual, living human beings? This can trip some people up, so don’t be ashamed. Is there any chance your friends, family, and boyfriend are actually a family of badgers who have taken up residence in your kitchen? Do you live in a clothing rack at Filene’s Basement, and, if so, are you sure they aren’t mannequins? What are the chances that your “friends,” “family,” and “boyfriend” aren’t actually “stools,” “cabinets,” and “Maker’s Mark?”

Moving on: So they’re human. Any chance they’ve had experimental otolaryngological surgery in the last few months? Say, to replace their vocal cords with cherry licorice? Just checking. What about languages? Do they, in fact, speak English? Be careful: Depending on where in the country you’re from, English is easily confused with Bantu.

If you are still trying to “get to know” your boyfriend better by asking questions like “What are you doing in my living room?” this might not encourage him to respond in kind. We’ll assume you’ve answered correctly, and that your friends, family, and boyfriend are living, English-speaking homo sapiens. Next question: Have you done anything recently to make them angry? It doesn’t take much, and you’d be surprised how pissed some people can get over the tiniest things—you accidentally stab a friend in the hand with a fondue fork at the Melting Pot, you drive dad’s car through the garage wall at the end of a four-day bender, your boyfriend catches you making out with a badger. Normal mistakes, so normal you can easily forget they happened. But some people just can’t brush that chip off their shoulder.

OK. That’s the easy stuff. What are you asking them, exactly? For instance, if you are still trying to “get to know” your boyfriend better by asking questions like “What are you doing in my living room?” this might not encourage him to respond in kind. Likewise, if you’re still asking your parents why they left you overnight at the train station when you were eight with a note tied around your neck reading “Free Kid, Slightly Used,” get over yourself. It was a tough time for everyone, and mom and dad have moved on. You should too.

Maybe the problem isn’t with you. Maybe you’ve just got shitty friends and loved ones, who don’t really care about you and can’t pretend otherwise. An expert might tell you to get new friends and loved ones, people who will dig you for who you are and show an abiding interest in your life. Fortunately you came to me, and I’m telling you to stick with these people, because they might just be the only thing you’ve got. And some of the best relationships I know are built on one-sided expressions of empathy and love, glossed over by coke binges, alcohol-drenched Thanksgivings, and extended bouts of athletic sex (respectively, friends, family, and lovers—but not always in that order).

To help you make the most of these soul-sucking, meaningless bonds, I’ve come up with a few suggested questions for them to ask you. Feel free to share:

  1. Is this seat taken?
  2. Do we know each other?
  3. What’s your name again?
  4. That’s Nicole with an “N?”
  5. What are your hopes and dreams?
  6. Really?
  7. Are you crying?
  8. Why are you so sensitive?
  9. Can I get your number?
  10. Why are you here?
  11. Come again?
  12. Is that a badger?


TMN Contributing Writer Clay Risen’s first attempt to build a website fell apart after he learned that had been bought by a hardcore Christian rock band. Clay is a senior staff editor at the New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Clay Risen