It can happen at work, at a party, in the supermarket, or really anywhere. The other day it happened to me while I was at a nail salon getting a manicure. The aesthetician fired off a rapid series of questions at me: Are you married? Do you go to church? Have a sibling? If you don’t enjoy it, it can be a lot. The “it” I’m referring to is small talk, and while some people are really good at it, for others, it can be pretty uncomfortable.
Small talk is a necessary step in talking to anyone — after all, it’s hard to just do an immediate deep dive into your philosophical leanings with anyone except your closest confidants. But it can also be full of stilted pauses, uncomfortable fidgeting, and lots of nodding and tense smiles.
During some small talk exchanges, it can go on far too long, or you can feel like you are only giving surface answers about things you actually really care about. Other times, no matter how hard you try to politely extricate yourself, the other person doesn’t pick up on your subtle cues. For those of us who aren’t pros at small talk, there are a range of feelings that happen when we’re forced to engage. Here are the phases of what happens when faced with a small talk encounter.
Complete and utter dread.
Oh noooo. You see the person bearing down on you, you’ve had these painful interactions before, and you know exactly what’s coming. A feeling of consternation starts unfurling in your stomach and you look for someone, anyone else to deflect the situation or to engage with so at least there is a third party involved. Or maybe you shove food in your mouth so you can apologetically point at your mouth and chew instead of answering an inane question.
Aaaand you’re stuck.
The chat you didn’t want to have is now happening and you’re frantically thinking of an excuse to get away. Are you out on the street and can say you’re late on your way somewhere else? Or maybe it’s a party that you can’t leave, and you’ve overused the bathroom excuse so much people are concerned you have bladder issues. Can you say you left your flat iron on? Is that believable? Will they notice if you start trying to flag down any reasonable person who walks by to interrupt?
Stay silent about misinformation, or correct them?
I’ve often gotten pulled into a small talk situation where the person insists on one or various erroneous facts about me. Sometimes it was even my name! But other times it had to do with my job or where I lived and I could never decide if further engaging to correct them was the best option or biding my time for a hasty exit was better.
Oh, the invasive questions…
Somehow in the midst of banal chitchat about the weather, there are people who think it’s acceptable to ask personal questions. Much like my manicurist did. In no way, shape or form is it ok to swing from “have you eaten at that new restaurant” to “you should think about laying off the sweets if you want to find a guy to propose to you.” Just no. I have stared incredulously at these off the cuff inappropriate comments and wonder what exactly goes through someone’s mind before initiating these questions.
Why do I even leave the house?
Finally, when I’m exhausted from smiling and the tediousness of small talk, I think to myself about how I would have been better off at home with Netflix and some Talenti gelato. But isn’t that always the truth?