This week, the NYT's Modern Love section struck a chord.
To be fair, as a hormonal twenty-something with a millennial-skewed take on the world, most Modern Love essays strike a chord.
But this one was different.
The article was called 'The End of Small Talk". It was written by a fellow named Tim Boomer.
Tim's an actuary.
That's mostly irrelevant.
I just like to point out that he's not a sex & relationships writer, because I feel that it somehow makes the story less sensational or prone to backlash from those who think our generation's a little too geared towards "talking about our feelings" (basically my full time job, so sore point)
According to LinkedIn, and as a result of my propensity for stalking, this is Tim:
|(If I'm wrong, so help me Tim)|
ANYHOW. Long (like 3 page?) story short, after a random deep conversation with a stranger, Tim decides to adopt a no-small-talk conversation policy. Things go well. He avoids mindless chatter, he hears cool stories, he learns new perspectives on the world, he breaks down barriers, etc, etc.
I am Tim. Tim is me. You see — this is a standard by which I've been operating since I moved to New York.
The key difference being that my personal goal is to take it one step further and put a moratorium on medium talk.
See, for me, it all began when I read an article about suggesting that instead of asking people "what they do" you should ask them "what they like to do". This sparked a conscious game I started to play wherein I saw how long I could go in a conversation without asking someone about their job.
This very quickly became my M.O., re: new acquaintances, and I soon discovered just how interesting and not annoying people are when they're not talking about work (hint: very interesting / not nearly as annoying).
|Seems I'm an introvert|
Or a turtle.
Appropriate though it may be, if small talk is "polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters", "medium" talk is "interview questions under the guise of polite conversation about easy-to-judge matters allowing little to no additional context".
It's supposed to be conducive to heightening the comfort levels of the parties involved, but actually just ends up making everyone feel judged, formulaic, and unfairly reduced to a few key "checklist" items about which they in fact probably care very little.
Steadily progressing career trajectory? "Check." *
Semi-important list of name-droppable connections? "Check." **
Gag reflex? Check.
My new reluctance for standard conversational fare opened the doors to some of the best conversations I've had in my life thus far. I've met seemingly straight-forward people with fascinating dreams, intriguing quirks and eye-opening world views — simply by refusing to ask them lame questions and by continuing to keep an open mind (i.e. not to make overarching assumptions about people based on one sliver of information).
Honestly, I've learned that there are in truth no "straight-forward" people.
Sure. It may be easier to rehearse confident questions and equally as confident answers about what you do and who you know, but wouldn't we all be a bit more tolerant, understanding, and accepting — not only of others, but of ourselves — if we spent more time asking about how people really felt about life/love/the world — instead of necessitating that they provide pre-scripted answers crafted to avoid judgement?
If there's one way to make someone feel uncomfortable, it's to ask them to walk through their resume with you in a city where everyone already feels under-accomplished.
So, here are some things you can ask instead:
1. What did you want to be when you were little?
2. What personality trait would most people not assume you had after meeting you for the first time?
3. If you won the lottery, what would you do?
4. Do you use dating apps? (I promise, this is never not appropriate)
5. Who would you consider your best friend?
6. What's one song you could listen to 1000 times and never get sick of?
7. What activity never feels like work?
(two glasses of wine / custom cocktails in)
8. When are you the happiest?
9. Have you ever been in love?
10. What character trait are you most ashamed of?
11. What scares you the most?
12. Who is the most mysterious person you've ever met?
13. Do you want tacos?
So try it out. Or don't. You know, your prerogative.
If you do, though, I hope you make friends in unexpected places and get as inspired by peoples' seemingly unerring ability to upset faulty assumptions as I have.
* This "Check" is in quotes because everyone is a liar