I’ve heard this before

Small talk is tiring. Repetitive discussions are also exhausting. Why is that? Casual conversations don’t sap my emotional stores; I’m not exerting myself; nor am I in any sort of pain because things are kept on the surface. So what causes this thirst, this frustration?


Has anyone else memorized this script?

“Hi, how are you?”
“Fine, thanks. You?”
“Oh, fine. What are you up to lately?”
“Same old, same old. Oh, I got new tires.”
“Really? Wow … I got new tires a few years ago. Nice warranty.”
“That’s good. I hope mine last a long time.”
“Yeah … So, how’s your job?”
“Busy. Yours?”
“Same. My boss is really on my back about those TPS Reports.”
“Yeah, I hate desk jobs.”
“Me too. I need a vacation.”
“Yeah sounds rough.”
“Yeah, you said it.”

Still awake? I know my eyelids are heavier. Could those conversations be any more boring? And what did we learn? Anything of consequence? No, not really. Do we know about any ideas, decisions, dreams, achievements, views, worries, or hilarious consequences in these speakers’ lives? No. Why is that? Perhaps because they lacked the time to invest in a deeper conversation, and could only get started with the small stuff. Perhaps they don’t know each other well enough to care; or they assume the other person doesn’t really want to know. Perhaps it takes too much work to listen and give feedback, to exchange ideas and to spend some time with one another as vulnerable people. Or they could just be stuck in a routine that–while it lacks richness and excitement–doesn’t cause trouble or disruption to their lives.

Perhaps they don’t think anything “real” is happening in their lives anyway. After all, it could just be about tires and TPS reports. But what if there’s more? How long does it take to reveal what lies underneath? Do we even know what’s possible when we get out of our mechanical routines and boxed-in schedules?

Why is small talk so tiring? Maybe it’s a necessary step to find closeness, commonality between individuals. Maybe it’s the first hill on the roller coaster that clicks and jerks its way upwards until finally–freedom. No more jerking, no more pulling, just relationship. And down we go into the turns and spins of what’s true inside of us. No scripts, just arms in the air and air in the lungs.

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3 thoughts on “I’ve heard this before

  1. Looks like both people managed to avoid opportunities to extend and deepen the conversation. Sounds like a water-cooler moment – no time, no particular interest, but hey, you’ve got to say something.

    I just ran into someone I know casually. It could have been just like that, but a slight change of pace — instead of “How are things?”, she asked “How’s your life?” — created some space to be real. Very cool; very time consuming. I guess you have to choose.

  2. OMG TPS reports! When I was at Sam’s the other day I pointed out to my husband that our cashier only had 7 pieces of flair. Honestly, how does she expect to get ahead in life with only 7 pieces of flair?

    I think small talk is a buffer. It can be a way of feeling people out before moving on, a way to not appear rude when you really don’t feel like talking, a way to keep someone at a distance that you really don’t want to be around, or simply a way to fill silence when your mind is on other things that you don’t want to discuss.

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