I have a friend – let’s call him ‘Jim’ – who never, ever gives a straightforward answer to any question. Regardless of how many times and how many ways I rephrase a question posed to him, I do not get a satisfactory reply.
Now I could understand his reluctance to respond if my questions were of a sensitive nature – “Please tell me all the intimate details of your difficult sex life” – for which I would, understandably, be rebuked by being told that that is none of my business.
I could also understand his hesitancy to admit that he did not know the answer to a question:
- Me: “What exactly happened that caused your oven to explode?”
- Jim: “Well, you have to understand that ovens are complex…”
I could even understand that he might be long-winded and needs a long time to wind up before throwing the delivery pitch that answers the question:
- Me: “How did you end up in Malta when your vacation was supposed to go to Japan?”
- Jim: “First of all, let me start by describing my previous three vacations …”
But, since NO question comes with a direct answer, much less a satisfactory answer, I suspect that my friend – ‘Jim’ – is a practiced professional in the art of purposeful obfuscation. I pose several reasons for this behavior:
- If ‘Jim’ answers the question directly and succinctly, he is fearful that others will not regard his life as complex and deep as he wishes it to appear, so an indirect answer gives his life much deeper and richer meaning;
- ‘Jim’ has found that he holds peoples’ attention longer by giving a non-straightforward answer and requiring them, through repeated questioning, to extend their conversation with him;
- ‘Jim’ loves the sound of his voice. By elongating his answer, he listens to his voice longer;
- He doesn’t listen to your question;
- He doesn’t realize that he is long-winded;
- All of the above;
- All of the above except number 5.
My personal preference is number 7. I am of the opinion that, early on, ‘Jim’ knew that he was long-winded but, enjoying the sound of his voice and desiring to hold peoples’ attention to his (imaginary) complex, rich life, he found that he could achieve his goal by not listening to your question and giving tortuous and circuitous responses to any query. Over time, he perfected the art of purposeful obfuscation.
Now you are absolutely right that I am an idiot for attempting to get information from someone who is pathologically disposed NOT to give it. In my defense, I point out that there are times when such information is required. For example, I agreed to pick up ‘Jim’ and his family and friends at the airport when they arrive back from a trip that ‘Jim’ has organized.
- Me: “When does your plane arrive?”
- Jim: “We will have a great time in Patagonia. The trip will take all week and then we have to be very careful about catching the flight back. We may have some problems with the connecting flights…”
- Me: “Yes, but when is the plane scheduled to arrive at the airport?”
- Jim: “You know, you can wait in the cell phone waiting area with the car until we arrive.”
- Me: “…which is at what time?”
- Jim: “I don’t think that we will get the turbulence that we got on my last flight. Did I tell you about that flight? We were on our way from Buenos Aires when all of a sudden…”
- Me: (silently) “Arrggghhh!”
Please, people, I’m not alone here. You’ve encountered the ‘Jims’ of the world. How do you cope with them?