I’m not very good at making conversation, and I never really have been, at least not the way most people are. If I see someone in my communal kitchen I’ll start to worry about the prospect of small talk, mostly because I simply don’t know how to categorise conversation into either small or large. The weather is an obvious choice, and people on the TV revert to weather whenever the conversation goes stale, but that seems stupid to me because everyone who lives where you do already knows it’s either hot, dry, cold, or sunny outside. Initiating interest in their planned activities for the day, or if its later on, their days events, always feels like a safe option, but I’m reluctant because I’m not very good at follow-up questions, and generally my day consists of the same routine, and I don’t like to bore people. It’s recently occurred to me that I only have close, long-term friends, because if I don’t make an instant connection with someone, I’ll feel too nervous to start a conversation with them again.
Sometimes I’m too ambitious in my attempts at making that initial connection, so that I can be really cool, and have loads of friends, and go to parties and have everyone want to listen to what I have to say. I’ll often throw in jokes at random points during a sentence, because I like stand-up comedy, and for some reason I don’t think anyone can dislike someone who makes them laugh all the time. I worry that this just annoys those I’m attempting to impress, so if I don’t get a decent reaction, I’ll clap up and remain quiet. Once an ex-boyfriend told me that you just have to wait for the right moment and add something you feel will contribute to what is being said; however, I’m always convinced that the thing that I think is profound, or funny, or which is relevent enough to be of any interest, is not nearly as intriguing as what that other guy just said, and then my confidence rolls away, and I miss the grand opportunity anyway.
In the wild animals only communicate on the most important topics – danger, food, reproduction, and skill. I’ve always envied the animal kingdom, because wires can’t rarely get crossed at the basic social level at which most creatures socialise. I’m guessing a duck has never been having a talk with another duck, and been worried as to whether his companion is getting bored, but is just too polite to swim away to the other side of the pond. Romance seems less convoluted as well; if a peacock likes a peahen he’ll just flash his fancy tail towards her, and if she’s interested she’ll make a move, and that’s that. Not being great at the conversation thing means that sometimes when I think a guy is flirting he isn’t, and when I think a guy is just being friendly he’s really trying to get me to have a one-night stand with him. Would be much easier to gauge someones intentions if a set of bright coloured feathers would come fanning from their rear if they were up for it. I don’t do the whole one-night thing, but at least then I could walk away, like an uninterest duck. I know conversation is a dying art, and I’m beginning to blame the internet, because it’s teaching us that we have a really long time to think about what to say before we say it.
For example, if someone sends me an email asking me something about a particular event, I can think for an hour about whether or not I want to go, and about whether anyone I know will be there, and I won’t have to explain that to the sender, because as far as they’re concerned I just haven’t received the message yet. I can go out for a walk, eat a gluten-free sandwich, enjoy some video-games, and come back later having decided that there won’t be many people who I know, and that I’ll probably be the one in the corner scratching her head looking a little weird, who either over-dressed or under-dressed, and people will realise how bad at small conversation I am, and then they won’t be my friend, and I’ll never be super-cool. I can come up with an excuse like ‘sorry I have to lock-up the centre tonight’ or ‘no, I can’t because I have a shift at work the next day’ and as a writer I’m pretty good at getting down all the right details so they won’t question further. On the other hand, if someone asked me in person, my brain would freeze and I’d be left trying to scramble together all the irritating worries, and excuses rushing to my head at the same time; then I’ll try to make a swift exit by telling a bad joke, or making what I hope will be a humourous response like ‘sorry, I have to wash my elephant’ thinking maybe it’ll by me the time an email would.
If a conversation has a purpose I’m actually pretty good at interjecting with useful information, or creative ideas. I’m intelligent about certain aspects of the world, and I’m very talented at making people think I’m wonderful in interviews. I panic that this means I’m self-centred, so I try not to talk about myself in small-talk, because I don’t want people to think I’m self-centred. Also, if I’m giving advice, I’ll generally know what to say because I just think about what I would do, and if I’m asked about writing, mythology, or Buddhism I can . Maybe that means all my conversational aspirations lay in my being well researched in the areas of topic. I wonder if the world will advance in my favour one day, and I’ll be allowed to excuse myself from the conversation, go for a walk, eat a gluten-free sandwich, do some research, and return later on to pick up where I left off with such good communication skills that the other person feels inferior and walks away anyway.