Small Talk

I do not like small talk. I want to talk about what matters.

I have said something like this before and I have heard others say it. I saw a graphic once that said something similar, like “I don’t want to talk about the weather. I want to know what your deepest fear is, what you dream about, what keeps you up at night, your deepest secrets, your greatest hopes,” blah, blah, blah, etc.

Talking about what is true and intimate and serious is fulfilling. It is what strong relationships are made of. It means something when you are allowed into the inner chambers of someone's heart and mind. It is almost never wasted time.

In comparison, chatting about the weather, the game, pop culture, “how’s work” and “how’s the dog” can seem shallow and artificial. It feels forced and obligatory. It can feel like a waste of time. 

However, I propose that small talk does not have to be a waste. Small talk has value as a starting place. Almost all solid relationships begin in this way. What's your name, what do you do, where are you from.

It’s a game of trust. When we meet for the first time (or for the twelfth as is the case with some relationships), we have to start somewhere. We have to feel each other out. If I learn I can trust you to really listen when I say “this is what I do. this is my daughter. she is this old. that place is my favorite new cafe,” then we get to move to the next level.

And all of this trust is communicated in tiny ways. Eye contact. Follow-up questions. Sincere laughter or sympathy. We treat these opening subjects as trivial, but they are not. They are just the least vulnerable. If these things are handled with care (as in, you tell me you are really into the 49ers and my eyes don't glaze over) then we can move in further. 

Even shooting the breeze with people you know you'll never see again can have meaning. To communicate respect, honesty, and patience in a short conversation is not a loss.

Small talk is the gateway to genuine community. It is merely artificial only if we linger there too long. If we have no real interest in coming inside, then, yeah, it is best to just move along. 

Sara Mitchell