Two years ago, I was seeing a guy whom I would consider a small talk connoisseur. Topics ranging from the weather to summer employment were all conversation starters he drew from each time we saw one another. I often found myself holding back a yawn as he stretched the conversation revolving around the statistics of his favorite sports teams for 25-plus minutes. Then one day, something in me changed.
Dreading the idea of another bland discussion about our pets, I decided to dive a little deeper.
“Isn’t it weird that we’re all going to die someday?” I heard myself ask. “How do you feel about that?”
I could not exactly tell if I had frightened him or enticed him with my question, but to my satisfaction, he proceeded to enlighten me with all of his musings and questions concerning the afterlife (or lack thereof).
Fortunately, I am not the only one who cringes at the idea of discussing my commute to class for a prolonged period of time. Last week, Boston actuary Tim Boomer wrote a piece for The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column discussing the trials and tribulations of small talk and its often negative effect on our relationships. “The End of Small Talk” serves as a call to all individuals to reevaluate their conversations. Why is light and often times meaningless conversation deemed the social norm among people that do not know each other that well? Wouldn’t you rather learn something extraordinary about someone rather than how old their grandmother is?
Boomer certainly does. Toward the end of his article, he recalls an instance in which he went on a business trip with a new colleague. He writes, “My colleague was telling me the basics of his schooling, family and home. ‘So how long does it take you to get to the office?’ I heard myself ask. Then I stopped in horror.”
This pivotal moment of realization led him to change the course of the dialogue. He continues, “I took a deep breath and asked, ‘Why did you fall in love with your wife?’”
While it is understandable that not everyone feels comfortable diving into deep conversations at the drop of a hat, I found that the article did a great job in gently encouraging more reserved readers to step out of the confines of their comfort zones. For Boomer, discomfort often reaps the greatest reward.
He writes, “All it takes is a willingness to dive into conversations that may make us uncomfortable or that many believe to be inappropriate for first encounters. After a while, though, it becomes natural to skip the facts and instead seek out our deepest thoughts and feelings.”
So whether you are with someone in whom you are romantically interested, a colleague or your great-aunt with whom you have not spoken with in a year and a half, I urge everyone to uncover the untapped treasure trove of thoughts and emotions hidden within their minds. Chances are you will discover something wild, weird, absurd or astoundingly beautiful.