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Why Small Talk Cheapens Your Life

“Goooood morning sweeeeetie! What’s shaking? How are you this moooorning?” The flamboyant Asian man squealed at me like a piglet on Lithium as I approached the checkout counter in Starbucks gripping my chocolate milk and chocolate croissant bruised banana like a soldier headed into battle, ready to face my day.

“Hiiii! I’m good! Happy it’s Friday. YAY! It’s so crowded in here today…wonder why?”
I responded curiously with a slight head tilt and brow furrow.

“Oh…I know!! I think there’s like some convention on Market street or somethiiing!”

We stood and ruminated for another 47 seconds, pondering the meaning behind why, just WHY it was so much more crowded than usual. For the last year or so this adorable little human and I have exchanged pleasantries. Seeing him each morning marks the beginning of a subsequent 9 hours of some variation of torturous small talk.

Fucking small talk.

As adults we spend a bulk of our lives making it. We make it with our coworkers, our gynecologist.  The other month I asked my gyno if he had any pets and if he had any fun plans for New Years – and that was just during my breast exam.  Our hairdresser, the cashier at the grocery store, Uber drivers or that guy on the elevator with the twitch from the 7th floor. It’s pretty necessary to master the art of small talk in one way or another in order to comfortably navigate through everyday adult life. I get that.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t loathe it sometimes.

Lately I’ve been growing sick of forced, strained conversations. I envy kids because they’re transparent; they can say how they’re feeling, cry if they need to and generally be little dicks honest about everything. Small talk acts as a thick veil we use to mask authenticity. It’s a shield – one that can certainly be difficult to put up if you’re not in the mood for it. Oftentimes it’s as tedious and frustrating as trying to pop a whitehead on your eyebrow.

The other day I reconnected with a recruiter I worked with a few years back.

“How are you?” she asked me.

“I’m good! Things are good! Work is good. I can’t believe it’s not butter been raining so much here! Finally. We needed the rain. Have you seen Making a Murderer?”

Like I give a fuck about the weather… I never wanted to be a meteorologist, and quite frankly I care more about why Starbucks was crowded that morning than I do about commiserating with a random over something as anticlimactic and natural as precipitation. Maybe if it starts raining cash, Ryan Goslings and Haribo gummi bears, I’ll take an interest in discussing the rain.

It looks like rain! thrilling.

But the thing is, like I said – sometimes we all have to talk about the weather.

We all have to say to our coworker “Can you believe it’s almost February!?” and gasp in disbelief as if we just found out Bruce Jenner has been punking us this whole time. We do this in spite of what’s going on in our personal lives. Yep, we are adults, and when someone asks us how we are we say we are “doing well.”

But what if one day we aren’t doing well? Life isn’t always daisies, dildos and Chips Ahoy chewy chocolate chip cookies. Putting on a facade and feigning interest in something as mundane as the weather so as to avoid being vulnerable is what we’ve learned to do. Plastering a smile on our faces even though we’re feeling down is what’s appropriate; it’s what’s accepted..it’s what we are supposed to do…it’s what we’ve been trained to do.

Such is life.

A few years ago I made a Small Talk Manual for you to use in the event that you are faced with a situation where you have to spout out insignificant drivel in order to remain a functioning, participating inhabitant of Adultville. My initial intent was to expand on my small talk list but as I read it I realized more and more how much more fulfilling it is to have real conversations as opposed to contrived ones. So I decided to make that the focal point of this post.

The other night I couldn’t sleep. My mind was racing. I had that once spectacular, now terrible Adele song playing continually in the background of my head, intermittently stifling my pulsing, cyclical, unsettling thoughts.

Will I be able to make commission this month?
What if I can’t?
How will I pay rent?
(HELLO.)
Is my mom mad at me?
Will I ever have kids? Am I getting too old?
(IT’S ME)
I don’t need to meet someone, but I’m supposed to, right? Because everyone else has.
(HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIIIIDE)
I’m sick of laundry.
My tooth hurts.
Do I have a cavity?
(I MUST HAVE CALLED A THOUSAND TIIIIMES)
Should I move back east?
Do I party too much?
I need to settle down.
(HELLO FROM THE OUTSIIIIDE)
Stop thinking. It’s 3:02am.
Go to sleep.
(AT LEAST I CAN SAY THAT I’VE TRIIIIED)
You’ll be so tired tomorrow, and act weird.
You can’t be weird, you have to be normal.
FUCK.

I dozed off for a couple of hours and woke up disheveled as I sprung from my bed. I had 20 minutes to get ready for work. I felt uneasy. I equated each toxic thought I had the night before to a shot of bourbon and I had had 20 of them. My head hurt. I slathered on some lip glass, pulled my hair back and looked at myself in the mirror. “Pull it together, you’ve gotta be ‘on,'” I thought. “Just because you had a bad night doesn’t mean the world stops spinning.”

I rushed from my house to my bus stop and climbed onto the bus. I began to survey my surroundings. I looked at the old Asian man sitting at the front. I noticed a blonde, manicured girl toting a Tory Burch bag, and a dad holding his fidgety child tightly on his lap. I thought about what their lives were like, what they were thinking about, what they were going through. I thought about whether or not they were happy. Or sad. I thought about how each of them had thoughts, and their thoughts probably didn’t center around the weather.

When I got off the bus and approached the Starbucks I decided to conduct a mini social experiment. I wasn’t going to smile or pretend to be having a good morning. I was going to be real, I was going to be me. And I am someone who sometimes gets sad.

I made my way to the counter.

“Mooooorning, sweeetie! What’s happening!??! How are you?” my little friend greeted me.

“Hi, I’m not having a good morning. I am tired. It’s going to be a long day, I think,” I responded as I looked down, deadpanned.

My little friend’s toothy smile turned into a concerned frown.

“Here, you need this,” he said as he fetched me a pink cake-pop. He smiled at me – it was a real genuine smile, not a fake one. I knew I’d remember that morning for a long time, whereas the other mornings laced with small talk with my little friend will simply fade into the abyss. That moment helped me realize that for the most part, humans are receptive and open to vulnerability.

We are complex.
We are compassionate.
We are good.

We are so much more than…

the weather.

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Alexandra Bunting

Alexandra Bunting

I write a comedy blog called Toe Pick SF. I am deathly afraid of flying and snakes (I suspect there's some kind of Freudian explanation behind that). I speak Gibberish fluently and quite often. I love 80's love songs...if anyone ever got ahold of my Pandora account I'd move to Bangladesh and change my name to Rhonda. I can blow bubbles bigger than Donald Trump's ego. I lose my shoes, debit card and keys a lot. I'd venture to guess they're all on an island somewhere mocking my predicaments. Okay, that's about it.

  • dawdler

    So true