Mastering Millennial Small Talk

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Franca Giminez

Talking about myself is hard. Maybe you’re better at it than I am, but I get the impression the difficulty is fairly widespread.

I mean, I can talk about myself. I can run down the list of concrete things: I’m from Seattle, I live in LA, I was an English major and I ran competitively for most of my life. Some of that could certainly lead to further questions: “Oh what books are you reading?” “Oh do you still run?” “Oh do you know [redacted] they’re from Seattle too I think.” But if none of that hits home, man, you’re in for some dead air. And anyways, what the other person’s really after isn’t the answer at the surface.

When someone asks a personal question they want to understand how that activity, living situation, whatever, affected you. Your life experiences matter, but how you define their impact is how you set yourself apart as a unique, interesting person. Which leads me to my next admission: I really do know what I like, just not necessarily why.

I know what I like, but where I run into trouble is describing why. For instance, if you played me a song, lets say, Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone,” I would be like, “Oh great, that absolutely slaps. That’s going to be a big part of my life for the foreseeable future.” But say I’d heard the song before and was trying to tell you exactly why I liked it, and further, why you should too, the waters would get choppy.

Beyond the facts of the track’s construction: the beat, the vocal manipulations, that it’s a dope new take on the current amalgamation of Rap and R&B, I couldn’t exactly tell you why I’m jumping on board and not looking back and, more importantly, why you should too, without reverting to tautologies or vague meandering explanations. Basically, if you didn’t also appreciate the elements, I would have a lot of trouble convincing you otherwise, try as I might.

To be fair, this could simply be a matter of taste. And although taste is entirely subjective and shouldn’t reasonably be argued for or with, a good deal of conversation, especially as the facts of your life are established and accepted by those around you, comes down to preferences.

You’re on a date. It’s not the first date or the second, but it’s also probably not the fifth or sixth. You know each other beyond the façade of the initial better-not-step-on-any-toes-don’t-worry-I’m-only-playfully-disagreeable-and-sarcastic-we-should-totally-do-this-again and you’ve openly admitted that you like things like music and having fun, but you still haven’t really delved into what those things entail. And then she says something deeper, something like “I like pretty much everything besides country and metal.” You’re taken aback. (Note: feel free to insert two other things, but for the sake of the exercise, bear with me.) In this situation, you could try to move on to another topic, but hey, you’re comfortable with this girl, you should probably just see what evidence she has to back up her preferences, right?

“Why don’t you like those?” you ask, leaning over the table a little and propping your chin on your palm.

Right here, she should probably right your wrong and shrug it off, putting you on the spot to change the subject and not potentially torpedo the evening. However, she, seeing no harm in simply restating her preference, replies that she simply doesn’t like them.

Instead of taking the second opportunity to let sleeping dogs lie, you persist. Maybe you’re arguing for the sake of arguing, but maybe, hopefully if misguidedly, what you’re really trying to get at is what her disdain for two entire genres says about her. Or more so, how she thinks it defines her. The problem is that maybe it doesn’t mean anything to her. Conversation may be about presenting ideas to facilitate further details, but ultimately it’s about understanding where someone else is coming from, not just knowing the facts.

Certainly, a big part of relating to people, especially early on in a relationship, is gathering information. Talking about oneself is hard primarily because you don’t know exactly how you’re being perceived. This is why generalized topics and surface details are so important, and not to be dismissed as merely small talk. If someone is taking the time to get to know you and asks you a question, they probably aren’t interested in just the straight answer, but what’s underneath that answer.

According to the personal relations bible, High Fidelity (movie or book), “It’s not what you’re like, it’s what you like.” I would add that its about the why and how of what you like. Your taste in things, your preferences, these things do matter. When you run out of daily occurrences to relay to a girlfriend, a friend, or whoever, you can always come back to the less tangible things that your care about. Talking about yourself is hard, justifying yourself is harder, but viewing the small talk as a necessary means to a greater understanding rather than an end in itself can, at the very least, give your conversations the potential for greater depth and understanding. TC mark

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