QUESTION: My boyfriend doesn't talk to me very much. He's just a very quiet and shy person. Will he always be this way? I just wish he'd tell me what he's thinking and feeling.
JAMES DOBSON: Your question reminds me of the story of the 12-year-old boy who had never spoken a word. His parents and siblings thought he couldn't talk because they'd never heard his voice. Then one day the boy's mother placed some soup in front of him and he ate a spoonful. He pushed the bowl away and said, ''This is slop, and I won't eat any more of it!''
The family was ecstatic. He'd actually spoken a complete sentence! They all jumped around gleefully, and his father said, ''Why haven't you ever talked to us before?''
The boy replied, ''Because up until now, everything has been OK.''
Maybe your boyfriend will surprise you one day with a flurry of words, but I doubt it. Shyness and an introverted personality result primarily from an inborn temperament that tends to be very persistent throughout life. Research shows that approximately 15 percent of children are genetically programmed to be somewhat introverted like your friend, and that most of them will always be that way. It appears that some people just seem to be born ''noisy,'' and others prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves. Your boyfriend may be one of the latter.
If you choose to marry him, I hope you'll do so with your eyes wide open. You're probably not going to change him. Many women fall in love with the strong, silent type, and then resent their men for the rest of their lives because they won't talk to them.
QUESTION. I'm the boyfriend who doesn't talk very much. I've been that way all of my life. Part of the problem is I just don't like to reveal what I'm feeling. But also, I don't know how to talk to people. I get really uncomfortable when I'm with people and I'm expected to say things. Can you give me some hints about how to express myself?
JAMES DOBSON: It might help you to understand the basics of good conversation. Let me ask you to imagine that the two of us are facing each other about 8 feet apart. You have four tennis balls in your hands, and you toss one of them to me. Instead of throwing the ball back, however, I hold it and wait for you to toss another to me. Eventually all four balls are in my hands. We stand there looking at each other awkwardly and wondering what to do next. The game is over.
Good conversation is something like that game of catch. One person throws an idea or a comment to the other, and he or she then tosses it back. But if that second person doesn't return it, the game ends. Both players feel awkward and wish they could be somewhere else.
Let me illustrate further. Suppose I say to my son when he comes home in the afternoon, ''How did it go in school today?'' If he answers, ''Fine,'' he has caught the ball and held it. We have nothing more to say to each other unless I can come up with another comment -- another ''ball'' to throw to him.
But if my son says, ''I had a good day because I got an A on my history test,'' he has caught the ball and thrown it back. I can then ask, ''Was it a difficult test?'' or ''Did you study hard for it?'' or ''I'll bet you're proud of yourself.''
If my son replies ''Yes,'' he has wrecked the game again. To keep the conversation going, he needs to throw back something of substance, such as, ''It was a tough examination, but it was fair.'' Then our ''game'' can continue.
As for your relationship with a future wife, it won't be enough to just throw the ball back to her. She's going to want you to be more intimate than that. She'll need to know how you feel about her, what you dream about, things that upset you, what you'd like her to do, etc. You can learn to put these thoughts into words, even though you will probably never be a big talker.
I suggest that you push yourself in this direction rather than saying, ''That's just how I am.'' Your wife will probably have to make some changes to accommodate you, too. That's what a good marriage is all about.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from ''Solid Answers,'' published by Tyndale House.)
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