Small talk is the worst
Andrea Vale | Friday, September 16, 2016
For years during high school, my all-time favorite thing to do with friends was drive. It still is, but it’s a hard past time to keep up when my beloved thrice-handed-down Camry, full of my perfectly crafted mix CDs, is back in Massachusetts, and I’m car-less and stranded in the Midwest.
But weekend after weekend, I’d hop in with any friend and just go. We’d take turns picking left or right until we were hopelessly lost. There were only three rules — we had to start with a full tank of gas; there could only be two of us, maybe three, in the car at a time; and the music had to be turned down low, so we could hear each other.
I guess it isn’t accurate to say that my favorite thing to do was drive — what I really loved was the conversation. Between taking turns left or right, we’d take turns digging for the most provocative dirt we could think of. It ranged from the cute (“What’s your favorite childhood memory?”) to the serious (“What’s your biggest regret?“). One question never failed to get to the bottom of a person: “What’s something about me you’ve always wanted to know, but never thought you could ask?” And more often than not, there was something big on the friend’s mind that had always kept him or her from truly knowing me. Conversation — real conversation, not small talk — helped bridge that gap. And I think both of us felt a little less alone after those drives.
I’ve often been frustrated sitting with a person aimlessly combing through the weather, our classes or last night’s game, while all too aware of the stream of much more meaningful thoughts that were undoubtedly going through both of our heads in that moment.
“Seen any good movies lately?” he asks.
“Life is too short. Neither of us actually cares about this,” I think.
“Not really,” I say.
Conversation is particularly vital to cultivate in an age where our tendency to live out our lives and relationships through technology has rendered us barely able of moving past shallowness, whether in our attention spans, our work or our friendships. In an age where, all too often, I find myself staring around at a room in which every other person is staring at their phone screen in silence.
I’ve developed my deepest friendships and relationships through conversation. And what’s more, I’m sure that there are many relationships that have passed me by, because every day when I sat next to them in class or stood next to them at work, instead of asking, “What’s your favorite childhood memory?” I asked that relationship death sentence –
“Seen any good movies lately?”
Contact Andrea Vale at Andrea.L.Vale.firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.