Here’s the thing.
I’m not so good with small talk. Shameful, isn’t it?
Now I can be a delightful companion. I’m not at all bored by your stories! I can listen to what you had for dinner or how this guy cut you off in traffic but was rather cute so it was almost OK or how the parking lot was full and you had to drive around for 10 whole minutes to find a spot. Those are all valid topics of conversation – light and easy. I can ask questions and offer comments about nearly any issue and like to think I’m relatively easy to talk to.
Unless you’re counting on me for a topic of conversation. Remember when I spent several days in Hawaii? Talked to a dear friend all the time? We would lie on beaches or sprawl out on her lanai to watch the ocean, face each other over dinner and take walks. We’d often sit in silence – I’d marvel at how very pretty it was there, dig out my camera to take a few pictures. But when I’d bring up things to discuss?
“What would you do if you only had a year to live?”
“If you could live anywhere, where would you go?”
“Do you think people have a unique soul mate or that there are a number of people who could make you happy?”
“How would it feel to be homeless?”
“What’s up with global warming?”
“How badly do you think we irritate God?”
Seriously. And I wonder why I have so very few friends. The fact is you have to love me to put up with this crap.
I sent email to someone I liked awhile ago. We haven’t been in touch lately, but one moment sticks out from one of our conversations. He told me, not unlike some of these comments, that I was putting too much pressure on myself. Not everything had to be framed so nicely, not every opening line had to be thoughtful. I could send the phone book and he’d reply. (How sweet! This is why I adore having crushes on smart men.)
So I told him I was not so good at small talk. That if I didn’t have something I felt was worthwhile to say, I wasn’t going to say anything. Quoting directly,
“Sending you something like ‘So my commute took longer than usual this morning. The weather here should be gorgeous after the sun burns off this haze. Then on my walk to the office, I saw this really pretty bird.’ strikes me as wrong.”
I think I look at relationships with most people as finite. And, in the case of this man, I was right. We’re no longer in touch, which is fine – it’s not like I’m in constant mourning for those people who have been around for a brief time then moved on. I think of these acquaintances fondly and like to think of them as being quite happy. But when I have a chance to interact with people I find bright and charming, I want to offer something I think is important.
Likewise, I’m writing to record these years – it’s part of how I justify my time here. When I look back on this, I want to smile and shake my head in embarrassment. Perhaps nod along a couple times because I was right about some thoughts. And it’s not that my dinner plans or details of my commute are secret – they just don’t register for me. I don’t tend to bring them up with anyone.
In Hawaii, M was encouraging me to call a man – a different one than I just mentioned. (Wow. You’d almost think I had a life if you were reading this post. Never fear – I don’t.)
“And say what?” I said, confused. I’m not good on the phone in general, and I never make a call unless I have some topic in mind. It’s worse if I like him. Then in addition to being too serious, I’m also nervous. It’s, um, less than impressive.
“Anything!” M replied in her high pitched little voice. “You say, ‘Hello. What’d you do today? What’d you have for dinner? Did anything make you laugh?’ You just talk! You talk to me all the time – it’s not like you don’t know how.”
“M,” I sighed. “I have never asked you what you were doing for dinner unless I wanted you to go get something to eat with me. We only talked about dinner plans in grad school because I like eating out.”
“Hmmm. I see your point. But still! You should call him.”
I shook my head – calling just to talk? Asking about details of his life? Offering pieces of my own day? It’s just so intimate. Doesn’t sound like something I’d do unless I knew someone really well. So I didn’t call him. Because I find those moderate conversations – not overly serious (“What do you think happens when you die?”) but not overly light (the infamous dinner question. Do people really talk of such things? I’m not trying to be condescending here – honestly. I just have never thought to offer such information) - difficult to initiate with people at first. So I either think of a cute story or think though something that bothers me or try to be entertaining or I’m quiet. On and offline.
It’s just me. And it’s not great.
I mentioned the pretty bird in the middle of a “small talk marathon” in a subsequent email.
After describing my trip to work, I wrote “Then I saw that pretty bird. I almost didn't notice him since he was sitting in the middle of this bush and his brown body blended in. But he had the prettiest shade or orange on his chest. So I found myself pleased that I noticed him.”
In describing my day – all the details that didn’t add up to an analogy or any real point, I felt strange. It was out of character. I expected a change in subject, frankly. I didn’t give him much to respond to – no question on the value of higher education, insights into my relationship with my parents.
I was delighted with his response – will likely always smile over him when I notice birds for some reason. I find the reactions to small talk fascinating. Watch most people interact with each other in a detached, nearly bored manner. And I don’t want to offer up my dinner plans to watch someone’s eyes glaze over. I hate feeling that people are obligated to listen and are battling boredom the whole time.
So I grin when I walk Chienne and notice our feathered friends because he wrote, “Did the pretty bird make you happy? Did you point him out to others? Did he fly away and make you sad? Was he singing?”
I happen to think that interest in the small details speaks of friendship. So though I’m not good at sharing the “fluff” (though saying most of what I write isn’t fluff makes me seem far more pretentious than I actually am) and likely won’t do it often, I appreciate that you’re willing to hear it. I think that’s very kind and offers some idea of your character.
As far as my character? I smile and shake my head because I’m highly unlikely to point out the pretty bird and much more likely to say something like…
“So. What’s up with global warming?”