For those who can’t do small talk

Author name
Isabella Kwai, '16

I have 1971 Facebook friends. I know that sounds like a lot but I’m fairly Facebook aggressive. And we all know it’s not official unless it’s Facebook official.

Over a thousand of these friends are from the last year at Duke alone. Some of them are from a single good conversation while waiting in the Pitchforks line. Others are familiar faces that have seen all forty-five of my go-to dance moves. There are dorm mates I’ve shared both meals and memories with, upperclassmen I admire hugely and kids that I don’t know well at all, but secretly stalk because they have seriously cool profile pictures.

But how many friends do I actually talk to on a regular basis in real life?

Probably around four.

Four people that I see more than once a fortnight. Four people that I genuinely talk to about my worries and dreams and how I feel about Breaking Bad. Four people that share the funny idiosyncrasies of their lives with me. Outside of that handful, my interaction has become almost systemic. I’m sure you know the routine. You bump into someone on the way to class you haven’t seen since LDOC. Oh my god hi! How are you? Good! Yeah I know midterms SUCK …okay I’m on my way to class/gym/dissecting mice. Laters! Sometimes we will actually catch up later. Sometimes we won’t. In any case, we make the necessary motions, hug, and move on with our lives.

People have told me I know a lot of people at Duke and if we’re going off numbers, Facebook agrees. So how do I explain that in real life, I barely know a lot of my ‘friends’ at all?  That there are too many days where I feel incredibly alone at Duke despite being surrounded by sociable young people?  That when I wave at you quickly on the BC, I’m actually wondering if you’re happy and wishing I still knew you well enough to ask? These things are hard to admit. I used to like small talk on occasion, but hundreds of quick, surface conversations have made me completely, utterly sick of it.

There’s nothing wrong with small talk, exactly. After all it’s impossible to keep plugged in with hundreds of people at once without going completely insane. Small talk is the easiest way to be polite and show you care. The problem is weeks of life can’t be squeezed into a coffee break or a five-minute highlight reel, and the highlight reel doesn’t have the behind the scene moments that are most important sometimes. Perhaps the saddest part is that we truly do care but without delving deeper into those moments, surface conversations don’t always deliver that message.

So maybe it’s not about keeping up deep, meaningful relationships with everyone you know (if only I were Oprah). Maybe it starts by simply having what genuine conversations we can, while we can; real talk—not small talk. Does that mean we start enthusing about the meaning of life?  Only if you want to. Let’s dare to go deeper though, than ‘I’m good’. Let’s dare to talk about who your favorite prof is (Tony Brown) and what makes you happy (travelling and dancing monkeys) and whether you’re afraid of death (a little) and why exactly you shaved your hair last Saturday (why, Jordan? why?) and do you like Miley Cyrus?

As long as it’s real talk, I’m down.

P.S If you’re reading this and you’re a friend of mine and we haven’t talked in a while, I’m sorry I haven’t been there. Just so you know, I do care. Wait, so what did you think of Wrecking Ball?