small talk


It’s not a secret that I hate small talk. And because a fair amount of my friends seem to also dislike small talk, I never really questioned whether it was a good or a bad thing.

Which is why when my therapist challenged me on the fact, i was a little stumped.

He totally down-arrowed me.

Why do I hate small talk? Because small talk is meaningless.

Why do you think it’s meaningless? Because you don’t learn anything important about the other person.

Why do you need to learn about the other person? Because if you don’t learn about them, then it’s a waste of time.

Why’s it a waste of time? Because why spend time talking to someone if you’re not going to become friends with them? And anyways, I’m not good at small talk.

Ahh…why’s it matter if you’re not good at small talk? People won’t be interested in talking to me if I suck at small talk.

And that matters because? Because then I won’t have any friends!

this very strange and frustrating back and forth went on for awhile. we came at small talk and my dislike of it from a lot of angles. By the end of the conversation, i’d learned a lot about how i approach conversations with new people.

generally, my thoughts have been that i only want to talk to people that are “worth” talking to. Which brought up the idea of how the hell do I know if people are “worth” it from a conversation? How many times have I had an amazing, non small talk conversation that has ended with me saying “that person is awesome!” only to be told or discover later that that person is actually a sociopath who loves talking about themselves? How many times have I had a stilted small talk conversation in which I dismissed the person as generally boring instead of 1) nervous 2) interesting but not about the stuff we’re talking about 3) having a bad day 4) stressed 5) just as bad at small talk as me or 6) a million other reasons.

How many people have I missed out being friends with because the first 1000 words I shared with them didn’t spark an immediate soul mate?

And when did I decide every single person i spent time speaking to had to be a soulmate? When did I decide only my soulmates were worth talking to?

It’s true, conversation is time and time is precious. but friends and support groups are also precious. having a group of people who are dedicated to fitness and therefore motivate you to run may be worth it, even if they aren’t the people you want to have standing next to you while you dissolve into tears over your lack of direction in life. people who are super fun to play games with may not be the same ones that you go on a 2 week vacation with. people who love reading and writing young adult novels might be people you can work on your craft with, instead of plumb the depths of life’s meaning with. and for that case, maybe the people you plumb the depths of life’s meaning with aren’t the only people you want around.

Maybe, in one person, you’ll find all the things you love in one: the friend who makes you laugh hysterically, who doesn’t ever or doesn’t generally make you feel bad about who you are, who lifts you up, who can drink you under the table while singing at the top of your lungs and the next moment be talking to you about the things in life that matter most, the one who cries and laughs with the same ferocity, who wants the same things out of life, who loves the same movies you do, who introduces you to knew ways of looking at things, who both teaches you and learns from you. whose positives outweigh any negatives. whose differences add to you instead of subtract.

maybe maybe maybe those people come along once in awhile. and when they do, I grab onto them and no matter where they fling themselves — across the ocean, across the nation — no matter how often we talk — a few times a year, or daily by text — I hold onto them.

but maybe those people don’t reveal themselves in the first 1000 words of conversation. maybe my first discussion with them was about the weather or their classes, and i just don’t remember. maybe i was forced into a living situation with them and wouldn’t have talked with them much otherwise. maybe we gave each other a chance to become that person the other couldn’t imagine a world without.

after all that talk with my therapist, and subsequent thinking about it on my own, I’ve decided that, duh, i shouldn’t approach every conversation expecting an instant soulmate. that it’s totally ok if not everyone in my life is a soulmate, and maybe it’s even a good thing. maybe i can look to groups of people who meet the different needs i have. maybe not every writer I meet will also be a runner/slackliner/climber/traveler/vegan/meditator/teacher/child-lover/philosopher. but maybe they’ll be one of those things. and that’s pretty awesome.

my therapist challenged me to practice small talk. and, to interject myself into groups, especially considering that come May, many if not most of my beloved friends will be departing Rhode Island and dispersing all around the country to attend various medical residencies.

So! this week I:

  • attended a party alone where i thought i would only know one person there, who i only recently met: it was awesome, and i had some great conversations that started with small talk (!)
  • attended a halfday meditation course and stayed after to have a group chat with those who came, and attended a group sitting where before and after i chatted with the people there instead of slipping out immediately.
  • attended an informal teacher potluck where a friend of a friend (who id never met) and a bunch of THEIR friends came together to talk about the challenges of teaching (where i learned that sometimes non-small talk conversation can be much more stressful when meeting new people! surprise!)
  • talked to more people at work and in work meetings, having conversations that were much less wrought now that I’m not expecting them to be heart-sisters and soulmates
  • signed up for a teacher-training course with a few coworkers
  • signed up for an REI class alone

do i love small talk now? no — it’s still a bit scary and a bit strange, a bit of a stretch for me.

but i do feel less stressed in conversations with this new outlook. i judge people less, and I feel less judged. i’m giving people more latitude to be who they are and get joy out of that instead of expecting them to be amazing in every single regard. because god knows I’m not everything to everyone, and I’m not interested in trying to be.

I’m hoping that maybe there’s other people out there who dislike small talk who might find some benefit in reading this, and who might have different takes on why small talk is awesome, or might disagree and still think small talk sucks. i welcome you to let me know your thoughts!

2 thoughts on “small talk

  1. In college, I always thought you were great at small talk . I also thought that you were great at making friends quickly! Perception is an interesting thing. Don’t be so hard on yourself. :)

    • it IS an interesting thing :). it’s good to know that from the outside I look like I know what I’m doing. I think that I got more stressed about small talk after I left college and I also think that I avoided certain events or gatherings because of it, then and now. thanks for the vote of confidence!

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