How to tell if you are being boring

Gretchen Rubin has a list of 8 clues that you are being boring. She says her list is "utterly unscientific" but I think she's right on. Most of them are obvious, but boring people seem unaware that they are boring.

She also has a list of topics to avoid if you don't want to be a bore:

1. A dream.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.
3. The route you took to get here.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.
6. An account your last golf game.
7. The plot of a movie, play, or movie–in particular, the funny parts.
Of course, these topics are Gretchen's pet peeves. I just happen to agree with her about all of them (especially dream and golf). Some of these topics, however, might not be boring if you tell them to the right person. Number five would be interesting to a fellow wine collector, for instance.

UPDATE: Please participate in this one-question survey so we can find out how many people get bored when other people describe their dreams to them. (The dumb survey app I'm using will not show results to everyone. As of 11:24am PST, 362 people have taken the survey. 60% people have answered Yes, and 40% have answered No. I will update again later.)

Eight Tips to Know If You're Being Boring


  1. 5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.

    Why? I am convinced that you really would enjoy tasting the cask of Amontillado I just bought, my friend.

  2. Gretchen left out the number one killer of interesting conversation: anything and everything about pets.

  3. I will tell you about my latest circuit board design and I won’t stop until you say I’m not boring. So there.

  4. But I dreamt last night that Queen Elizabeth and I were traveling through the Third World, running a trade show booth.

    1. talking about dreams = totally boring*
      analysis of dreams = totally pointless

      *unless the dreams are so out of left field like Anti’s

      My friend makes a habit of writing down anything she remembers from her dreams and *occasionally* she has a winner…. but its mostly miss…. I mean unless it is funny, why would I want to know someone else’s subconcious vomit?

  5. Do you remember your dreams? I happen to find dreams very interesting, wondrous,enchanting ect. People who dream are definitely not boring and in the right setting, the telling of dreams is fascinating and entertaining.

  6. I would’ve been useful to have Gretchen’s explanations for each of these topics.

    Discussing dreams is almost always fascinating when you’re around other vibrant, creative types. I recall MLK Jr.’s speech about having a dream was received fairly well, and while that’s not a dialog, it’s not an outlier and sparked much followup — so many eclectic conversations (including here on Boing Boing) stem from dreams and discussing them. Ideas transmuted into art that permeates others’ consciousness!

    I’ve found bringing up a dream only bores those with a lack of imagination, or resistance to exercising their creative desires. (Aside from the dream-teller embracing the moot and presenting tediously.)

    So really, the practical lesson here, which Mark touches on, is: know what your fellow conversationalist is interested in to begin with. Don’t know? Ask! Bring up a spicy non-sequitur or wacky tangent, it makes for memorability.

    1. “I’ve found bringing up a dream only bores those with a lack of imagination, or resistance to exercising their creative desires”

      My God you must have such patient and tolerant friends.

      Or you’re very rich.

    2. Sorry Torley, I even found this boring:

      “I’ve found bringing up a dream only bores those with a lack of imagination, or resistance to exercising their creative desires.”

  7. There’s the obvious missing one: “The other person hasn’t said anything but ‘hmm’ or nodded his or her head for more than two minutes.”

  8. 1. What happened on last night’s episode of House, even after I have indicated that I don’t watch House and have no interest in doing so.
    2. That awful time you had with your phone company’s customer service, recounted in explicit and exacting detail.
    3. Your cat (unless its on teh interwebs)
    4. Your opinions on how vaccinations are a scam to control people’s minds etc…
    5. What you hate hearing other people talk about, especially if some of the things on your list are perfectly reasonable conversation matter.

  9. “I had a dream last night, but I forget what it was
    I had a dream last night about you, my friend
    I had a dream–I wanted to sleep next to plastic
    I had a dream–I wanted to lick your knees
    I had a dream–it was about nothing” – CVB

  10. The tip off for me is when I’m in mid-sentence and the person I’m talking to starts talking to someone else. This is very disrepectful and

  11. obviously this is only for the nerds out there, but I would also add “the events of any D&D game EVER”

    I have no problem with role playing games at all, but like dreams, their events are never interesting to anyone that wasn’t involved originally.

    In fact, for years I turned my nose up at fantasy because the only things I got recommended to me were the kinds of fantasy novels that read like a thinly veiled account of a D&D campaign (I found the good stuff later on) and they bored me just as much as my friends who would go on and on about their campaigns.

  12. I really enjoy hearing other peoples dreams. My friend once told me about going skateboarding with Ray Romano.

  13. The eight tips look pretty useful for listeners who want to tune their responses to appear interested. Hmm.

    People generally find dreams interesting only if the dreams were about them. Beyond that, many dream-stories are themselves dreamlike — rambling, non-linear — and the most interesting ones are the ones that have a narrative imposed on them.

  14. D&D? WOW is -way- more boring than D&D ever was.
    Also, your kids really are boring.

    My dreams, however, are fucking -awesome-.

  15. The thing most of these items have in common is that they’re only interesting to the person telling them. You dreams are fascinating. To You. My dreams are fascinating to me. But so much is lost in the telling that it’s like trying to smoke a ballet.

    Basically if you’re telling a story and you can’t think of a good reason why the other person would care (beyond general empathy or a desire to feign interest in order to get sex), you’re boring. So add these topics:

    – Your job. (probably. Unless you’re an astronaut.)
    – Your pet.
    – Your baby, inclusive. (Unless I’m also a new mother.)
    – Your furniture.
    – A tweet/txt from someone I don’t know about someone I don’t know.
    – Any story that takes longer to set up than to tell.
    – Your hobby. (Unless you know the other person shares it.)
    – Sports. (This is apparently just me. Sigh.)
    – A video/image/comic spotted on the Internet. (Again, lost in the telling.)

  16. No matter what you’re talking about… once someone’s eyes glaze over and they stop physically responding… you’ve lost ’em, they are bored.

    The boring master has spoken.

  17. 2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.

    Parents will squawk their disaproval about this, but pretty much anything regarding your young child is strictly boresville. 90% of the stuff that you think is interesting about your gifted little treasure from God is not interesting. “Oh, little Madison has a funny new way of saying the cat’s name” *shudders* (you’ve told me this every time we’ve met up over the last month).

    1. I agree that children tend to be a boring topic. But I don’t have any and so don’t really relate. What would be interesting to know is if talk about children is boring even to other parents…

  18. I personally hate listening to people talk about their dreams. this is probably because I live with my older sister and she loooves talking about her dreams, at length and in full detail. it doesn’t make any sense to me. I wasn’t their. I can’t imagine it as vivid as you can. I don’t care. get a clue!

  19. I like all of the defensive comments from people who obviously tell others about their dreams all the time.

    “[listening to others’ dreams] is like flipping through a stack of photographs. If I’m not in any of them and nobody is having sex, I just don’t care.”

  20. I really can’t stand it when somebody launches into a description of some dream they had. I thought it was widely known that this is a boring thing to talk about.

    I will occasionally make an exception when a dream description actually fits into a conversation and the dream plot can be described in max one sentence.

    I lived with someone who would routinely try to regale me with her dreams. Every time she started into it I sarcastically thought “oh boy, here we go!” and would try to change the subject ASAP.

  21. I’ve finally learned to stop myself before I start a sentence with, “I saw this video on the Web…”

  22. The most important part is “The listener has nothing to add.” I’ve watched people enjoy conversations about the nap schedule of children, but only when all involved parties had young children. And I know someone who loves hearing about dreams but will then in turn bore the hell out of you by listing the symbolic meaning of everything in your dream.

    The problem I always have is people who keep asking questions that I can tell they don’t really care to hear the answer. But I have no idea what to change the subject to. (or how, other than a complete non sequitur.)

  23. Oh, and the other trap I fall into is someone asks about something and I misjudge the level of detail someone would want in the answer.

    In the movie Groundhog Day, someone tries to make small talk about the weather with Bill Murray, a weatherman, and he starts giving a full accounting of the incoming fronts, etc. I do that sort of thing a lot.

  24. 1. A dream

    Holy shit, QFT. This is an ongoing point of contention between me and my wife. I think the biggest problem with trying to tell people about dreams is that the dissonance between what you’re experiencing in the dream and what you’re feeling about it is key to the dream experience, but is incredibly difficult to relate to another person. Like art, dreams are emotional rather than narrative experiences and, like art criticism, talking about it is almost always boring and pretentious.

  25. I can’t believe no one said celebrities yet!

    That ought to be the worst: Who the heck cares about what you’ve read about Brangelina or some inside joke about your favorite band??

    On another note, as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I decided I would never, ever talk about the kid unless someone asks ;)

  26. I will also add: anything in the entire universe that you care about and your listener doesn’t.

    This list is highly subjective. Some people enjoy talking about dreams. I don’t mind it. Same with pets.

    I can’t possibly see how discussing golf could not be boring, but then, I don’t play :P

    Anyway, I’d suggest this list as good guidance for talking to people you don’t know. People you do know you can tailor your conversation to better.

  27. I really hate prescriptive “rules” for good conversation. It’s not a fucking contest, and there’s no right answer. Just pay attention to the people you’re talking to and don’t be a blowhard. So maybe in trying to connect with another person you bore them a little. So what, you tried. I’d rather be bored by something somebody was genuinely interested in telling me about than entranced by something somebody only said because they thought I wanted to hear it. Obnoxious crap like this just encourages paralytic overthinking and bullshit connoisseurism.

      1. Just to be clear, I’m talking about the list of discouraged topics, not the general advice in the article– mostly that seemed pretty good. I was particularly glad to see the re-considering of interrupting. Also, I’m not aggro, I promise, I just like cussin’. Which, obviously, can sometimes lead to mis-communication :-)

  28. How to tell if you are being boring:

    9. Repeatedly describing personal bodily functions as a normal course of a conversation. “So far today, I’ve sweated through 4 shirts because of menopausal hot flashes, and it’s not even lunchtime yet!”

    I’ll take stories of small children’s accomplishments over that, any day.

  29. Dreams are easy: Keep it down to a couple of sentences, paint a quick picture. The results should be funny and/or outrageous. Do this and nobody seems to mind. If they do mind, you are a crappy dreamer and should give it up. Let the Slow Wave comic strip be your guide.

    My lover’s entire family has individual stories about the time they won a couple hundred from a slot machine. When they get together and share these treasures, I long for a bus schedule to read.

    1. I was just going to say pretty much the same thing, UncaScrooge – I know one or two people that sometimes tell me about their dreams, and they keep it snappy, and interesting, rather than a long rambling dull thing.

  30. I love hearing about any dream that can be described in one sentence or less, but my attention and interest wanes exponentially with every subsequent sentence.

  31. I once got stuck with someone who not only kept talking to me after I’d stopped responding, he continued talking at me after I started responding again, to every sentence with a bark of “bored!”

    My rule is I occasionally stop talking for five seconds. If nothing is said, the conversation is over.

  32. I can always tell when I’m being boring because my mouth is opening and closing and sounds are coming out of it.

  33. I imagine nobody here is going to add science, but most people probably feel that way. My guess is most of the things being mentioned, like golf, children, and pets, are the same thing, just with the audiences changed.

  34. I once had this dream where I was like, flying through the air and as I breathed in I went higher and as I exhaled I went lower. Then approximately 12 flying monkeys flew out my ass.

  35. I saw this movie last month where a baby fell asleep in the middle of dinner and dreamed of playing golf in a wine cellar and eating filet mignon.

    The journey home from the theatre was dreadful.

    …well, someone had to do it.

  36. I guess I find dreams incredibly boring because they don’t mean anything – or if they mean anything, we don’t know what it is.

    Actually, correction: I don’t think dreams per se are boring. Only boring dreams are. If it’s a really interesting dream, then I am all for hearing it. The problem is that 9 times out of 10 dreams bore me to death (experience value).

    1. I guess I find dreams incredibly boring because they don’t mean anything – or if they mean anything, we don’t know what it is.

      Some of them aren’t too hard to come up with at least partial meanings for. Like when I was very young I dreamed that my whole family was killed one by one by a vampire in the pay of my oldest brother. Analysis: I was scared shitless of my oldest brother.

      And again, when I was six I dreamed that I was on a farm (I’d never visited one in waking life) that was attacked by a pack of werewolves who killed everyone, including me. Analysis: Six is too young to watch scary movies.

  37. By the by – child’s nap schedules are actually pretty interesting, as long as you have young children yourself.

    Non-parents, you must understand that if you have a child under 2 years of age, your entire life basically revolves around when and how the little ones sleep. Sleep deprivation is not something to be trifled with, but most of us are only really exposed to it when we have kids…

    To everyone else, yeah, I am sure it would be super boring.

  38. Cross-threading: I dreamed I met a Galilean…

    I love hearing about other people’s dreams. I know one person who has fascinating dreams with real narrative flow and interesting, believable characters. I’ve tried to tell him he should write them as stories, but he won’t.

    My favorite way of derailing sports bores (that is, people who try to talk to me about sports) is to wait for a pause and then say “Now these Saints you speak of…they’re some kind of sports team, right?” It makes a point to all but the dumbest of them, and the dumbest of them think I’m really that clueless (of course I know the Saints are the Vatican’s hockey team) and leave me alone. Win-win.

  39. I like interpreting people’s dreams. I even teach a dream interpretation class. It’s quite different listening to someone ramble on unsolicited about having giant aluminum hands.

  40. How to tell if you’re not being boring

    1. You’re telling the person how interesting they/ their pets, children, hobbies or line of work is.

    2. You are paying for lunch, dinner, or weekend in Aruba

    3. You are movie producer or casting director

    4. You have a nice rack or are well hung or are a drug dealer or have won a Nobel prize

    5. You’re the editor of an internet compendium of all things wonderful

  41. Antinous, what would you make of my werewolf dream then? Additional details: I hid in a woodpile while everyone else was killed, but was ultimately found by a mama werewolf and (I swear I’m not making this up) her six-year-old kid werewolf. The latter argued successfully that because I was six like him, he should get to kill me. He did. Then* mama said it was bedtime; kid wanted to do some more killing, and whined enough that mama gave him a swat on his furry ear, and led him away bawling.**

    What would you make of that?
    *Hey, dream logic.
    **I just barely resisted the temptation to say “howling.”

    1. It’s kind of hard to interpret a dream from decades ago. Since I had a recurrent dream at that age about being chased through the woods by the Frankenstein monster, I’d guess that we both watched too much Creature Feature and were probably experiencing anxiety related to life changes like starting school. The child werewolf part sounds like you might have had some concerns about being bullied.

  42. A good way of having interesting dreams, at least, interesting to yourself and your local dry cleaners, is to take Larium (TM) – banned in Germany, I believe, but it is doled out to British tourists going to malarial regions (or at least, it used to be).

  43. My experience is that it isn’t so much the subject matter as it is the storytelling itself. Some subjects are interesting all on their own, but if you can talk about your kid’s nap schedule with enough style and humor, I won’t be bored.

  44. Dreams are like stories, and stories are boring unless you know how to tell them.
    In fact, a true storyteller could discuss their daily breakfast and make it fascinating. People read blogs, and people still read Proust.

    haha! My word verification includes “cliche”! Wait–is it insulting me?

  45. I tell friends about my dreams, sometimes, when it doesn’t bore me to do so. In general, if your stories are true and heartfelt they won’t be boring to those who like you.

  46. Who is this Gretchen, and why do I need her help to be boring? I’m doing quite well on my own, thank you.

  47. Hearing about someone’s dream, or pretty much any real life anecdote, if only boring if people fail to be concise.

    Most people fail to be concise.

    The only thing more boring to me than football is hearing people talk about the game the next day. I don’t want to hear about video games, either.

  48. Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t find dreams boring? I think they say a lot about that person’s psyche so they’re giving me unwitting information about their innermost selves. As long as they don’t ramble on for ages.

  49. I actually enjoy listening to other people’s dreams. When I remember one of mine, I write it down; I wish I could remember more of them. As for meals at restaurants, that’s (for me) a profoundly BORING topic that I nonetheless am subjected to daily in the faculty break-room. If teachers are supposed to be so smart, why are so many of them obsessed with paying lots of money to over-eat?

    Of that whole list, only #1 (dream) and #7 (plot) interest me. I only discuss them with a few friends, and only if they initiate the conversation or I really know they’re gonna LOVE this. It’s quite possible that one’s own friends share enough interests that they don’t find each other boring (provided one doesn’t go on at too much length).

  50. In an enlightened world these very thing would be the most interesting things of all. We spend a third of our life dreaming. Let’s talk about it!

  51. In general, when you are talking about something that cannot involve the listener, you are in danger of being boring. All the things on the list above are quite exclusionary – the other person really cannot add anything to your description.

  52. I was going to give my opinion on things I consider to be boring conversation topics, but then I realized that feeling like you should share your opinion about everything all the time makes you really boring. And annoying.

  53. I have recurring dreams of trying to walk around but there seems to be piles and piles of dog crap just everywhere! Plus I have flip flops on my feet and I’m just freaked out about dodging the piles. What could these dreams mean?

    PS my captcha is G.O slinky Weird.

  54. I find it extremely uninteresting when people feel the need to let us all know what profound captcha results they receive.

  55. I love hearing about dreams, as long as the person is a good dreamer. If it’s “and then I was in a boat, but it wasn’t really a boat, because it had a basement, and my mom was there, but it wasn’t really my mom…” If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not interesting to anyone but you, because you experienced it. Same goes for drug experiences.

    However, sometimes people have very detailed, interesting dreams. I could listen to those all day. I love dreams. I sometimes have highly-involved, basically-sense-making dreams. When I do I write about them, and friends comment on how interesting they are. But I keep my “boat but not a boat” ones to myself.

  56. Do not invite the following people if you want to avoid throwing a boring party:

    1. Dr. Martin Luther King
    2. Dr. Benjamin Spock
    3. Rick Steves
    4. James Beard
    5. Edgar Allan Poe
    6. Tiger Woods
    7. Woody Allen

    1. Well, 1, 2, 4 and 5 are pretty well-decayed corpses, so the party would only get dull AFTER your guests flee screaming. The last two would just have everyone mobbed around the famous guest talking to them about their work, which does sound dull if you’re not at all interested in their work (I’d be fascinated to talk to Woody, but Tiger…eh, except that the best ever at ANYTHING is interesting).

      I never heard of Rick Steves before. Had to look him up. Sounds dull.

  57. as for #1 Dreams. Boring people have very boring dreams, so I just avoid boring people. That would be people who follow every trend, are sports fans, their taste in music being the same of the average American 12 year old, people who watch Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, watch any other ‘Reality Show’, people who talk talk endlessly about IRON CHEF, or any other popular cooking show and then attempt to describe their efforts in emulating said recipe at home, couples who have dogs instead of kids and talk about them endlessly, prime time television fans…

    Usually people don’t tell me their dreams because when they tell them to me I laugh at them and give them an example of one of my usual dreams. They turn pale, tell me I’m a sick twisted bastard, and never bring up dreams again.

    as for #5 since I am a wine fiend and wine maker please tell me about your wines unless it’s the 2 boxes of wine you bought at Joe’s Liquor Shack.

    As for the rest I tend to not associate myself with people who bring up any of those subjects. I don’t call people like that boring, they are the plastic people bred into our plastic culture that is America.

    Now I’m boring myself with this babbling so I’m done.

  58. I think that everything is interesting. Boring is the presentation, not the subject, I guess. Haven’t you ever marveled at how someone could take the most interesting topic, and bore you to tears? I think of certain class lecturers who could fascinate and entrance a hall full of undergrads while discussing the way primitives prepared roots for dinner…but really, what is your opinion…

  59. I believe the phenomenon of boredom to be more complicated than merely avoiding a short list of boring topics. And also more idiosyncratic. My list would be personal pet peeves in which I generally and most likely tune out (eg. television is anathema to me – to talk about it is a second degree of anathema). Something is happening in a boring conversation that is a product of union – those involved – and it can never be the case that one is a bore and the other is a rockstar. Check out my further musings on the topic in my recent post, Conversational Deadness, on…

    Cheers. Tonin

  60. I am always interested in peoples dreams!! maybe not specific ones but like i really like learning about how a person dreams. i feel like you need to have some boring space in a convo in order to get to the good parts.

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