Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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It looks like rain and other small talkisms that destroy me

At work I dutifully engage in the requisite, mostly weather-related, conversations required to grease the wheels of the small talk necessary to make a trip to the coffee machine or restroom not completely, unbearably awkward. These conversations about weather are doubly painful not only for the torturous nature of small talk, but because I happen to work at AccuWeather. The last thing I want to do on a coffee break is discuss the weather.

"Yes, Sharon, it IS unseasonably warm for this early in Spring!"

After these interactions wherein I crank up the charm and bury the charisma needle in red, I often shake my head at myself and mutter "What an asshole" as I walk away. I'm referring to myself, by the way, not the innocent soul with whom I just chit-chatted about the cold or what day of the week it is. Days of the week: another work small-talk go-to.

"How you doin?"

"It's Thursday! We're almost there, Bob!" Finger gun to my head as I round the corner because WHO AM I? A person who says things like I'm hangin' in here Carl, just have a case of the Mondays, I guess. Corporate Monica who is very much concerned about office-related small talk that lubricates otherwise painful social interactions.

I'm an asshole because I detest these interactions and yet there I am, faithfully adhering to the social contract of work small talk in these United States. And I'm not just eagerly following the rules, I crank that shit into overdrive, I rev the engines of small talk, shift into gear and lay rubber with my feigned enthusiasm for the abhorrent ritual because I can't not. I am obsessed with your comfort level, always at the expense of mine.

Maybe it's my fault, though. Maybe everyone else is perfectly content to luxuriate in silence. I have consciously tried to sit in silence with another human being or in a group setting without attempting to improve the scenario with polite questions and small talk and I can't do it. The silence is unbearable, but maybe only for me. Do others even find the silences uncomfortable or is the fact that I'm perceiving discomfort my problem?

It's not just small talk, either. I have spent my entire life overly concerned with the comfort level of others. A people pleaser to the detriment of my own well-being. I can't help it. At social events I keep conversations flowing like I'm being paid by the host even as I long to go home, take off my pants, eat chips and watch TV. It's exhausting and why I require recovery time after any event that causes me to curl my eyelashes, leave the house and interact with humans for more than an hour. I'm constantly worried about your goddamn comfort level.

Is he enjoying this conversation?

I should ask him about his family, he might like that.

He looks uncomfortable, I should change the subject to his job.

"Oh, you're a (insert whatever job here), that must be really interesting. What's your favorite thing about your job?

***10 minutes later***

"So you met your wife at your job but she's not there anymore? You're divorced? With two kids? Ugh, that must be difficult, how are the kids handling it? Ooh, you're dating? Is it serious?"

People love to talk about themselves, I've found. Even the quiet ones. I walk away from these interactions knowing more about someone than their relatives and realize they never asked me a single question. Is it because I didn't give them a chance what with my awkward silence phobia or because people spend most of their time hiding behind keyboards these days and suck at actual conversations? Why do I always feel like I'm doing the heavy conversational lifting, is what I'm asking.

It's rare that I find myself in an engaging, reciprocal conversation. When they do happen, the engaging conversations, I go all Anne of Green Gables, mentally declaring someone my kindred spirit, probably because I'm thrilled they're sharing the conversational burden and not even because what they're saying is all that enthralling. Interact with me during a conversation by offering up a cool fact or interesting story or maybe ask me a few questions about my life and I'll be blown away by your effervescent charm. Am I just that hard up for good conversation? Yes. Yes I am. The conversational bar is set very low these days, I am easy to charm and yet I am rarely charmed.

Maybe I should explode the whole motherfucker and roll with weird, uncomfortable silences from here on out. Terminate small talk effective immediately. Stop working so hard to keep conversations flowing. What do I care? I'm 41 and tired. Let someone else do the work now. Except I won't. I'll bury that charisma needle in red every damn time because awkward silences destroy me, they are my Kryptonite and there is nothing to be done about it. Except complain in blog posts.

Reader Comments (8)

Yeah I don't like seeing people whom I have just spoken to now standing at the bathroom sink in front of a mirror. That first hello was enough. Did you "have" a nice weekend? Are you "ready" for the weekend?Are you "ready" for Christmas or whatever? For at the coffee machine, I suggest posting a "quiet area" or "quiet please" sign. I think it's a good idea to come up with a few timely jokes or just carry one of those handy hand waver things. On the other awkward hand, life has been about making others happy and feeling guilty for not going out of my way for others. I will tick off names of people I need to do something nice for as if they are sitting there all alone ticking off the days with disproval, especially after the expected time lapse has passed! Geez brain, get off my back.

May 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGina

i hear you - loud and clear...
but it is only one of the compromises (in political correctness?!) that most of us accept. ironically, this behavior makes it harder (and longer) to identify people who are more like us (and/or people with whom we would like to associate), because we are all putting on this superficial facade (is that a pleonasm?!).
no offense, but i would have fun making (healthy) fun of “corporate monica” while interacting with the real one.... just like you would probably have fun making fun of my “corporate “ persona...

May 3, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

I used to have this exact same intense commitment to small talk/making my coworkers comfortable, and then I came to realize that it was one of the (MANY) subtle symptoms of my anxiety. I started taking Zoloft last year for panic attacks and intense generalized anxiety, and since then I don't feel that need to fill the silence for my coworkers anymore. Which might be a good thing, might just be a sedated thing? I don't know, but either way, it's more comfortable for me. Hope you're able to find your own comfort level in the world of corporate small talk.

May 4, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterStacey

Hi. Your post on yourtango about your hairloss hair brought me here. Do you mind sharing if your hair ever grew back? I'm afraid I'm going through the same thing.

May 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLea

Hey Lea! Yes! It all came back! It eventually started growing back and I had a halo of baby hairs that stood straight up until they grew long enough to lay flat. My hair is back to what it's always been. Hang in there. It was scary when it was falling out but it all came back :)

May 9, 2018 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

Totally feel ya on the lack of conversational reciprocation. I’ve imposed a very lax 3 to 5 question rule—if no questions are returned after I’ve asked 3 or 5 questions, then fuck ‘em. Convo over. This was a particularly important rule when going on tinder dates.

May 12, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

like everyone, i'm sure, i can relate to that discomfort at the banality of small talk.

but also, there is something about it that itches at a fundamental something human about us that is very tangled in our modern, multi-tasking, plugged-in lives but is still very real and true.

we each of us (even the introverts) "know" So Many Goddamn People: our neighbors, our co-workers, our old pals from every last job, from every last school, from everything our kids ever did, or where we once lived (but in all truth, we surely don't really know many of them at all, not a whit)

for a few tens of thousands of years, we human apes could reasonably expect to know perhaps a few hundred people, most of them the whole life through. we chatted at them during our lives, sure, tho i suspect it felt different than it does at the bus-stop, or at the water cooler. i don't presume to know the answer to fix why you personally feel a little crazy in this social interaction, but i think it's something common to all of us humans living our lives out in our weird version of captivity. like we are acting out our natural behaviours in totally un-natural surroundings, scratching our heads and wondering why we are doing this or that, but anxious and weird-feeling...
tl/dr: Our whole social fabric is completely un-tethered, you know? it's okay to sometimes just smile at the stranger chatting at you, and its always okay to be quiet, nice and weird because they truly don't need you to make them comfortable... even if they thought so.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjenep

Ugh! Girl stop. Don’t upset yourself by pleasing others. I use to do that, nonstop actually.
Until I realized this isn’t my truth. You have so much truth that
I hate to see it not shining through. I became conscious on another level
(Not better or worse than any other person, just conscious.)
I know you’d love this and I know it’s off-topic but I finally came out of the Mormon guilt
Enough to realize that I’m just not on that level anymore. I showed my name and
Email because I’m not afraid of any backlash but I sincerely hope it’s not from you. I’d love to share more with you but this isn’t the time or place.
Take what you want from this, but I do hope you’re receptive. Love your writing and your story, your truth. -Julie

June 9, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKylie

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