Do you like small talk? I don’t.
It’s about the least effective way to actually get to know a person.
It starts when you’re still tiny and too shy to use words and some huge stranger towers over you with a big, fake, toothy smile to ask how old you are.
So you hold up some fingers. Maybe 3 or 4 or 5.
The stranger asks no further questions and moves on to have big people conversations. You go back to your toys or the playground or whatever it is you actually enjoy doing.
Then you get a little bigger, and you really have to use your words now that your age surpasses the number of fingers on one hand.
The questions change.
What grade are you in? What school do you go to? And tell me honey, what do you want to be when you grow up?
They think it’s cute that a second grader wants to be an astronaut or an artist. Good for you, they say. They almost pat you on the head.
Then you get a little older and a lot less cute, and this time when they ask what you want to be when you grow up, you can’t say basketball player or president because that’s not adorable anymore.
If you do, they either smile and nod or straight up tell you that your dream isn’t a probable career choice. Maybe you should aim a little lower, sweetie.
Like a doctor. Or a lawyer.
After being crushed a few times, you begin to accept the realities of this world as told you by your elders, and you think you might as well please them and make things easier on yourself.
Aiming for the stars is hard work after all.
And then you’re a teenager.
You’re definitely not cute anymore. Maybe you’re pimply and awkward, or maybe you got lucky and scored the genes of Brangelina. It doesn’t really matter.
Either way, no one asks you anymore what you want to be when you grow up. You’re already grown up enough to make the most expensive decision of your life.
Where are you going to college? And what are you going to major in?
And when you say you don’t know yet, they give you an understanding look and tell you that’s perfectly normal.
But if it’s perfectly normal, then why the fudge muffins are you asking me? You want to say. But you don’t.
So you make some decisions so you can get everyone off your back and you march off to college, but the questions kind of stay the same.
Where are you going to school? What are you majoring in? And what kind of job will you get when you graduate?
Heck, they might as well ask how many grandkids you’ll have and which retirement home you plan on dying in.
So you make them all happy and get a degree. Then maybe you get a job that cares about that degree. Or maybe you don’t. It doesn’t really matter.
For a time everyone asks what you studied, but after awhile no one cares about that anymore either.
They only care about “what you do.”
“And what do you do?” they ask.
They don’t mean what sports you play, what books you read, what relationships you’re invested in, or how you spend all your free time volunteering at the zoo.
They mean of course, what is your job?
And when they ask what your job is, what they really mean is how do you make your money? And when they ask how do you make your money, what they really want to know is what is your social status and is it better or worse than mine?
Only then will they find their small talk satisfying. Only then can they pursue a new line of questioning.
Because it’s only then that they will know what sort of relationship they will allow themselves to have with you.
Are you the “right” sort of person for them to be friends with? Will they feel intimidated because you’re a trial attorney? Or will they feel superior because you’re a receptionist and they’re a trial attorney?
But if we’re all people, born naked, pooping in our pants, and dying about the same way, then what does all of that really matter anyway?
Why can’t the lawyer and the receptionist meet at a photography club and never once ask what the other does for a living because all they can find to talk about is their mutual love of art?
Why can’t our small talk be deep talk? Like, what’s the happiest part of your day? Or, what’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
What you do or who you are doesn’t have to be synonymous with how you make your money. And maybe if we stopped talking about money (the root of all chronically ridiculous questions), we would start having conversations that are actually interesting.
And maybe we’d make friends with a whole lot more people. And be a whole lot more well-rounded. And make our society a whole lot less stratified.
Stuff like that.
I once read about a country where no one talks about their jobs. Where you could be friends with someone for 20 years and not know what they do for a living. And not even care. Because you have SO much else to talk about.
I’d like to live there.