I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
“I hate small talk,” I said, and our counselor called me on it.
“What is small talk?” she responded.
What is small talk? It was a harder question that I thought it would be.
I looked it up when I got home. Merriam-Webster says it is “informal, friendly conversation about unimportant subjects.”
“Do you small talk with your children?” she asked.
“No, because what they have to say isn’t inconsequential,” I said. I suppose that we do talk about unimportant subjects by some standards, but they’re important to my child, and that makes them important to me.
If one of my children asks me the same knock-knock joke a dozen times, I do it with them because it is important to them. If the little neighbor kid asks me to do the same, I won’t. Once, maybe. Twice, if they’re really lucky. But I don’t care enough about the neighbor’s child, certainly not the way I care about my own.
“Do you small talk with your husband?”
I looked at him. Do we small talk?
He spoke up on my behalf. “She really doesn’t like to small talk. When we talk about things, it’s things that are important to us.”
The more the discussion went on, the more I realized that, conceptually, I don’t have a good grasp on small talk.
My husband spoke up again, “When we walk the dog in the evening, I like to greet everyone, ask them about their day, and just be friendly. She wants to walk the dog and talk with me. I think she would be happier if I didn’t stop to talk with the neighbors.”
Sadly, he was right on the money. I like to smile and say hello, but I feel like my heart is a little Grinchy. Maybe not six sizes too small, but at least a few. I just don’t want to chit-chat about the weather.
And yet… and yet…
There I was at a conference, browsing the books and the mugs. Standing next to me was a tall, beautiful girl that I recognized from Facebook. She had written about how scared she was to be there. We had never met. I don’t think I had even responded to anything she had written. But I made small talk with her.
“If you want to get a mug, you should buy it now,” I told her. It was a statement that would have been true other years at this conference, but, as it turned out, was completely false for this particular year.
She looked at me and smiled her beautiful radiant smile.
I think that was the extent of our small talk. I’m rather tongue-tied in person. And I hate small talk.
However, she messaged me when the conference was over.
Sarah, you were the very first person to say hello to me and thank you for pushing past my look of terror and shock to talk to me.
And maybe that is a better definition of small talk — pushing past the terror to let someone else get a foot in the door of my heart, or pushing past someone else’s terror to make them feel a little more at home.
It’s just that my heart is such a small heart.
I’m afraid there won’t be room.
And, truth be told, I just don’t know how to do small talk.
Heck, I can’t even define it well.