• Charlotte

I Miss Small Talk

It's funny and weird how much I miss small talk. Being stuck at home through quarantine, it feels like most conversations I have, virtual or otherwise, are meaningful. We discuss our mental health, the news, the future - big topics of conversation.

The lack of small talk, I think, must be down to a couple of things. Firstly, small talk is usually the framework by which we meet new people and make fresh connections. We use small talk to start to get to know someone. Because the people we're speaking to are mostly our nearest and dearest, small talk doesn't seem to be needed.

Not only that, but there seems to be a real emphasis on 'worth' of conversation. So often we slip in to social 'fillers' because we happen to be around each other, going about our business, and we use idle chitchat to pass the time, or drum up fresh topics of discussion. Now, conversations are an event - we have our scheduled weekly chat with our parents, or our friendship group. We're there for a reason. There's no opportunity to lull in to silence and have to revive the conversation with 'weather's good isn't it?' If we run out of things to say, the conversation is terminated. We hang up.

So I find myself lusting after small talk in a way I never thought I would. I used to hate it, loathe meeting new people at parties and have to engage in this social ritual. Now, I think meaningless conversation is the thing I miss most, and I now realise how meaningful it actually is. The art of filling the silence with nothing and everything. Talking about nothing feels like a beautiful luxury at this point in time.

Small talk evokes a willingness to connect for unselfish purposes - for the simple joy of another person's company. I never realised how my shunning of small talk was such a selfish act, and pompous too. I thought I was 'above' small talk. I only wanted to discuss 'meaningful' things. I now realise that I was trying to boost my own ego. I was unwilling to discuss the humdrum, uninterested in, or maybe afraid to, learn about others, or have them learn about me. I wanted to talk about psychology, mental health - the things that interest me and satisfy my intellectual needs. I would seek out people with those shared interests so I could engage in the conversations that fuelled my own curiosities. I shut myself off from the possibility of speaking about much else.

Small talk feels like gently dipping your toe in to connection, greasing the edges. With small talk, there's no need to bolster your own ego with intelligent prose. No need to overshare for your own indulgence. Small talk is, I think, understanding our most primal need - social connection - and readying ourselves for a further, deeper bond.

I realise now how my unwillingness to engage in small talk has handicapped me. It was in fact a way of hiding from how I contribute to my own loneliness, how I justify my selfishness, my need to discuss my interests. It's a way of actually shutting off an opportunity for people to get to know me. The nicest and most nourishing conversations I've had recently are where I've left the 'meaningful' chat aside and indulged in all the bumph around conversation, rather than continually diving in to conversation itself. It feels like I'm priming myself for more love, connection and vulnerability, to be explored at a later time. I also come out of myself, my own issues and worries, my own head - I get to visit something else less 'heavy' for a little bit.

So for now, I'll focus on the lulls during conversation so small talk can naturally slip in - to come out of myself and engage in the sweet simplicity of nothingness.

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