I’m trying to become better at conversing with people. I’m quite socially awkward, I prefer to be alone, and much like everybody else, I hate small talk. And just as my luck would have it, small talk for me typically turns into smaller talk rather than better talk. Most of my interaction with unfamiliar humans happens at work. Usually, I run into someone that I don’t know very well but well enough that I’m obliged to say a few sentences. I’m not sure where I picked this up but my conditioned response is to act delighted for being graced with their sudden and unexpected presence. I’m actually surprised at how convincing I am in seeming delighted, even though common sense would dictate that I couldn’t possibly be that delighted at all. Both parties are aware that we share no special connection or have ever engaged in any meaningful conversation before. These people are usually middle-aged women, so I’m certainly not romantically or sexually excited and chances are that they are not either. I suppose humans are egotistical and we pounce at any opportunity to feel special and to feel like a cause of delight for others, so perhaps I’m just unknowingly victimizing this weakness in people to be more likeable so that it can stroke my ego by being liked. It’s an endless game of ego stroking (by now ego kind of sounds like a dirty word for being stroked so much). Either way, this pseudo delight makes people feel quite special and makes their eyes light up with high expectations for a very special conversation to come.
So, I ask them, “Hey! How are you?!” (note the emphasis on you) with all the emotion that I can possibly find inside me thrown towards this person all at once. Now, they get pretty excited in response and smiley, but of course, in the course of responding they realize that they don’t actually know me that well and come up with an just overly excited, yet disappointing, “good! And you?”. This is simply because it is goddamn difficult to come up with interesting stories to convey to strangers in a span of 5 minutes that you will experience their awkward presence. Now, the ball is in my court again and of course, I haven’t thought of anything better to say. This provides me with the opportunity to be creative and come up with some other question to hit them back with. I always attempt to improvise and think of something unique to say, but instead, I usually just make uncomfortable eye contact and smile more than I want to. I’m always taken aback by the things that I come up with in response because they tend to get progressively stupider. For instance,today I ran into the mail-room lady who is quite genuinely sweet and I followed up by asking how her day was. She stated that it had been unusually busy and I responded, “yeah, I could tell. I had a lot of mail.” I actually said those words out loud and with seriousness. Another frequent response of mine is, “I’m good too. Are you still in department [xyz]?” I mean, I know they’re still there. I literally just saw them depart from their workstation where they have worked for several years, doing the same job, yet for some reason I feel the need to have them restate facts. Once they confirm, they expect me to ask some interesting question regarding their job that I ever so curiously inquired about. Now, I’m trapped without escape, mostly due to the fact that people who work in my building have uninteresting jobs.
Sadly for me, I have not built the skill to fake interest as much as I have delight. So, as I realize that I’m going to have to follow up with a question that I really don’t care to know the answer to, my face starts to appear suddenly sterner. I can feel my smile fading away without control. I can only imagine how fucked up this contrast in emotion appears to the person who has to be on the receiving end of it. They have done nothing, yet there is reason for them to feel as if they have let me down. Which, I mean, they haven’t done anything to excite me. Yes, it is true that they also have not broken the mould or done anything different. But that only warrants neutrality at best. At this point though, the small talk nature of this conversation has been fully established and all the more difficult to reverse. Plus, there is never enough time. Then follows weather. Everybody. Hates. Talking. About. The. Weather. But we still do it. Both parties now use weather as a topic of pseudo-excitement and try to get their energies up again and convince each other that the weather is truly the most interesting and important topic of conversation that we are subject matter experts on. I think the next most boring job after mine would be to become a weather person. (Pro tip: if you are every having difficulty sleeping, try watching the weather channel for some time. It’s an inexpensive, all natural sleep-aid.)
It makes me so glad to depart from them at the end of the elevator ride or when our paths naturally diverge. So happy. I am relieved from the burden of their unfamiliar presence. This is delight. It always amazes me that humans consider themselves superior to other animals. If you ever really observe dogs, cats, birds interacting with each other, you will see we are light years behind. What’s really the point if we ain’t gunna sniff each other’s butt? With that being said, I have in fact been chatting with a female coworker in the elevator at the end of the day and making an effort to tell her meaningful stories about my day. I’m sure she doesn’t care and politely laughs and does her bid in small talking. However, it makes me feel good to do something different and say something in my day to a semi-stranger that isn’t complete garbage.
Ego stroked. Darkcircles out.