November 22, 2009

A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles and I had lunch with a friend who is newly engaged. He is in his early forties (or as he put it: old) and when I asked how he knew he was ready to get married he said because he found that when he was alone in his apartment, he would be talking to himself, out loud. "It was," he said, "The moment I realized I must be pretty lonely."

This worried me. I talk to myself out loud all the time. Well, not all the time. I don't sit at home on my own like a character in a sitcom looking perplexed and making expository exclamations like, "This makes no sense at all!" I'm not trying to move the storyline along.

I'm also not having a dialogue with myself that involves question and answer. For instance, looking in the mirror and asking myself how I'm doing, responding with "not good" then asking, "why?" and so on. I'm not that kind of crazy. Also, I'm not that interested.

But there have been a few specific instances where I've caught myself talking out loud, as though I'm participating in a conversation.

Recently, I went out on a date. Before we met I imagined some of the things I might want to talk about, just in case we ran out of topics. I like to be prepared. I was doing the dishes and thinking of a funny story that happened to me - rehearsing it silently in my head. Just then I noticed, it wasn't silently my head. I could hear myself talking. It didn't bother me though, because it was entertaining. I was amusing myself. Where's the harm in that?

Here's where. Once I got on the date, it was such a let down. I ended up telling the story and his reaction didn't live up to my own. I enjoyed when I told the story to myself so much more than when I told it to him. I'd set the bar too high with my own company. There was nowhere for him to go but down.

Another situation where I catch myself talking out loud is when I'm walking down the street. I'm usually thinking of something unpleasant that's happened and I'm reliving it in my head. I go over what I could have said differently, and then respond the way I wish I'd responded. I'll re-enact the argument or awkward moment the way I wish it went and suddenly say something out loud like, "I'm not the selfish one - you're the selfish one!"

You know how people say there's no point in thinking of things you can't do anything about? That's all I think about.

I love it. It's an opportunity to rewrite any conversation that went awry and say what you should have said in the first place.

Walking down the street is the ideal place for this. You can rehash an entire break-up argument out loud and no one pays attention. Why? Because they'll assume you're on Bluetooth. Everyone looks like they're crazy and talking to themselves, who's going to notice you don't have a phone?

I asked a few of my friends if they ever talk to themselves out loud and they all said no. But they acted a little indignant; as though it would never occur to them. Then it hit me - they all have pets.

If you have a cat or a dog and you're talking to it - guess what - you're talking to yourself! I'll even include infants in this category.

Having a heartbeat isn't enough. Whoever you're talking to has to verbally respond in order for it to count. What's the difference between talking to a cat about your problems and talking to a cookie? Neither can offer advice or help. But talking to a cat is considered nurturing. Whereas talking to a cookie is considered insane.

I don't think talking to yourself out loud is a sign of being lonely but if it is, who cares. I'd rather be lonely and having a conversation I enjoy than in a relationship with someone where I have nothing to say.