Listen, I know we are supposed to hate it. But the older I have gotten, the more I have come to embrace what I used to loathe: small talk.
Sure, I know it’s silly and sure, I know we are all walking around in the world carrying enormous weights inside of us, trying to slap a smile on the outside. And sure I know when someone asks, “Hey, how are you?” sometimes we want to shout, “Pretty crappy, actually, thanks for asking!” But it’s exactly because of those things that small talk is actually so important.
A quick, “How are those tomatoes doing?” or “Did you catch ‘This Is Us'” last night, OMG?” or even, “Can you believe this weather?” — those small snippets of human connection matter. They matter because they might seem insignificant, but they’re not. They’re small slivers of connection that intertwine us.
And the older I get, the more I am grateful for those quick, easy conversations when, just for a brief moment, some of the heaviness of the world can fall away. Because even the small, light conversations that happen among people I’m passing by let me know that I am not alone. There’s so-and-so’s grandma who has been sick, and so-and-so who has been house-hunting, and so-and-so who just got a new job. Not only does small talk keep me connected to the world –and most importantly, the people around me —
but it gets me out of my own head. It reminds me I’m not the only one with problems, you know? Even a quick conversation with the grocery store clerk can lead to laughter, tears, and a humbling reminder that you never truly know what anyone else is going through.
Last month, for example, I went through some stressful times. My husband and I faced a lot of stress at work, we moved and sold a house, and I found myself wanting to turn into a recluse at home, convinced I was all alone with my own problems. And every day, when I eventually did make my way out of the house, to school or to the grocery store, I was reminded again and again that the most important thing any of us can do is care about each other.
Also, let’s face it: small talk can lift our spirits. There’s nothing like connecting with someone else over the latest episode of “This Is Us” and how much it made us cry, or that meme that’s making its way through the Internet. We can all use a little more connection and a few more laughs in our lives.
So yes, while I may have cringed at the idea of small talk back in the day, scoffing that I was “too good” for it and that I’d only interact in deep, meaningful conversations, these days I am singing a completely different tune. I know that it’s important to greet others, even when I’m not feeling particularly social, and to keep track of the “small” things that are going on in other peoples’ lives. Because they are not small things to other people, and they are not small things in the long run. The important thing is not what we’re talking about, but that we are talking — and that matters. And as a mom, especially, small talk can be less painful than it is for other people. There’s always something going on with the kids that we can talk about.
I will always be an introvert who struggles with small talk and who needs to recharge after a lot of social interaction, but these days, I am also working extra hard to embrace a little small talk here and there.
Small talk, as it turns out, is anything but small.