Small talk for small minds


Rachel Jackson, Staff Reporter

We’ve all been there. Those dreaded 2-5 minutes of “catching up” with that one person you met in that one class and only talked to them because you didn’t really know anyone else. The awkward exchange of “How are you?”, “I haven’t seen you in forever!” or “I really miss you” when you both know you haven’t crossed each other’s mind in who knows how long.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love people. I love meeting new people and connecting with them, but I don’t always want to be having a conversation. I’m a person. I need to be alone every now and then too. If I’m walking down the hall and I just happen to make eye contact with someone I used to talk to and they say hi, well then of course I’m going to respond. But then we have that awkward tension of who’s going to continue the conversation. Undoubtedly one of us is going to say something obvious like “How are you?”, but clearly we’re both fine because neither of us are dead or in the hospital somewhere. And still, for some reason, people seem to think that they’re obligated to start with this question. And since we weren’t raised by wolves, we will do the polite thing and ask how they are too. They usually reply with “good” and just like that we’re back to square one: awkward silence. So we casually walk off without actually talking, trying to act like the situation isn’t uncomfortable when we both know that it is. All because of the challenge that is small talk.

Then we have those skilled people who seem to leave no spaces in the conversation whatsoever. They fire question after question to every answer you spew out and by the time you’ve managed to end the conversation it feels like you just shared your entire life story.

But my favorite is the I’m-talking-to-someone-really-cute-and-want-to-seem-interesting small talk. It’s tough. If you’re interacting with one another, you both must’ve liked something about the other, whether it was looks or personality. Whatever the reason, you have them hooked and now you’ve gotta keep them on the line. But how do you do that? With small talk. You want to get to know them so you start asking questions about their life, but you become so focused on keeping the conversation going that you miss out on half of the things they said. Then they’re going to want to know things about you too, so you answer random questions like “What’s your favorite band?” or “Do you play any sports?” that aren’t always important or interesting. Despite our best efforts, this type of conversation always manages to challenge us.

So why do this to ourselves? Why do we feel obligated to hold a conversation with every familiar face?

Because small talk fills the gaps. What starts out as polite chitchat can eventually lead to something more, and just like that a casual acquaintance becomes a close friend. So the only way forward, is to trudge through that dreaded small talk to find the conversations that are really worth having.