May The Forced Small Talk Be With You

Serendipity

While doing some light shopping at Cabela’s the other night, I met a girl. She worked there. She was cute. She was witty. She was a red-head. Her name was Cassie.

I remember walking towards the register with a few items in hand and thinking, “Wow. She’s really cute. Perhaps I should ask her out.”

As she began to ring up the few items I had laid on the counter, I initiated conversation. She volleyed the verbal ball back to my side of the court. Following up with a humorous quip, she giggled and asked me a question. My response must have been intriguing because, as she finished bagging my items, she leaned forward to listen more intently.

Our conversation continued for what I imagine was perhaps five minutes (at least).

Things were going really well.

I’d be a fool not to ask if I could call her sometime before going on my way.

My gaze fixed on her eyes.

Her gaze fixed on mine.

As my palms became slightly damp from nervous sweat, I casually slipped them into the pockets of my jeans.

She smiled.

I took a breath and opened my mouth ready to speak the words….

[Insert annoyingly loud music here]

I awoke to the sound of my alarm.

“Damn!”

Have you ever had a dream that, for some unexplainable reason, stuck with you the entire day?

I had one of them just the other week.

The dream Matt made it look so friggin’ easy. How does he do it?

I come across the occasional “Cute Girl at the Register” from time to time. In fact, I encountered one recently at Half Price Books. Did I strike up a conversation? No. Did I want to? Maybe.

As my buddy Derek and I walked to my car, I commented on the cute register girl.

“I saw her,” Derek replied. “You should’ve asked for her number. I didn’t see a ring.”

For me, there had hardly been enough time to be able to make an appropriate assessment on whether or not a) she was single, or b) she’d be someone I would want to ask out.

The solution. Small talk. (Though I thoroughly despise “forced conversations.”)

There have been moments my brain has been able to produce on-the-spot dialogue while at the check-out counter. It was just, at that particular moment, nothing really formed. Had some clever conversational anecdote sprung to mind, how long would there have been before the next customer came along? One minute? Ten minutes? In either case, would that be enough time to learn what I hoped to learn about her?

None of it feels genuine. For some strange reason, I have had this perception that a forced conversation retains a “falsehood” that will linger over my head like a storm cloud in Seattle.

But these are the types of social encounters I’m led to believe will guide me towards finding the future “Mrs. Me.” At any given moment, I can bump into the person I’m fated to fall in love with. It could be anyone.

In Ladder 49, Joaquin Phoenix first meets Jacinda Barrett in the produce aisle discussing, I believe, ketchup. Or in, one of my guilty pleasure flicks, Serendipity, John Cusack meets Kate Beckinsale over a pair of gloves at Bloomingdale’s.

You just never know.

Which is why these events have mustered the internal need to issue a challenge… on myself.

Earlier this month, my job flew me to Salem, Oregon, for two weeks, to train a few new hires. I was in a completely unknown city where the only people I know are some of my fellow co-workers.

I officially declared that while on this work trip I would work on my ability to create small talk.

How did it pan out? I think I’ve learned that I don’t need to force anything if I just pay attention to the details.

Due to complications with the airline, I was comped some food vouchers at the airport during a six-hour layover. Before my connecting flight boarded, I introduced myself to a group of girls looking for a place to eat and gave them my remaining voucher.

At dinner the night we arrived into town, our waitress said I looked cute in my drivers license photo. Playful banter continued, here and there, until we left.

I quickly got on a first name basis with the night concierge at the hotel. By the end of the trip, we had become friends, and I made sure to get her number before I checked out.

Those instances came easy. In those three instances, I was like the Matt in my dream.

The difference between them and the girl at Half Price Books? I stopped thinking. I was aware. I followed my gut and went with what felt natural.

You know what?

I’ve treated small talk as the enemy for too long. It has done nothing to wrong me.

Small talk… I hope you accept my humble apology. I’m sorry. You only have the best intentions. I understand this now.

Perhaps, once back in Kansas City, I’ll make a trip to Half Price Books. You are obviously invited.

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36 comments

  • I like to think of initial small talk as an ice breaker. Not all conversations are going to be life changing and/or deep.

    • That used to be my EXACT problem. For some reason I thought that the first encounter always had to be a life changing moment with an instant deep connection. Obviously that is not the case.

      I blame Hollywood.

  • Sounds like you just need to translate your out-of-town small talk skills into your Half Priced Books small talk skills?

    • Kat, if you could see me right now I’m holding my index finger to the tip of my nose.

      That sort of thing always happens to me whenever I travel. This “social dynamo” persona comes out and nothing holds me back.

      I’m making a conscious effort to maintain that persona back home.

  • Small talk actually has a pretty specific purpose. Conversations with strangers can be broken down into multiple stages:

    1) Small talk
    2) Fact disclosure (name, occupation, etc.)
    3) Beliefs and opinions (politics, religion, etc.)
    4) Personal feelings

    You can’t just skip to Stage 4 without progressing through 1, 2, and 3 first. And both parties have to be willing to progress to the next step. If not, one party invariably becomes weirded out.

    Have you ever met someone for the first time and had a conversation that went something like this:

    You: Hi, I’m Joe.

    Them: Hi, I’m Mike.

    You: Nice to meet you, Mike. How are you doing?

    Them: Not so good. My wife just left me, and I have no idea what to do with myself right now. It’s just been a really rough six months, and now I’m messing up at work, and it seems like I just can’t get my act together these days. God, my life sucks and….

    You: Ummm… oh, okay. I’m… sorry to hear that.

    And then you sidle away awkwardly, all the while thinking, “okaaaaaay, TMI….”

    See? This is what happens when you don’t engage in small talk. 😉

    • Dennis, though I have only known you for a short time, why am I not surprised you broke this down into some sort of Internet PowerPoint slide? Hahaha.

      That’s a brilliant way to look at it though and I completely agree with you. I think I have been guilty of the sidle, more than once, due to TMI situations right off-the-bat.

      My greatest hurdle had been determining what to use as fuel for the first stage. Now I just tell myself “just go with it.”

    • Hehe. Actually, I didn’t come up with the four levels myself. I actually stole that from Toastmasters International, a public speaking and leadership organization. 😉

    • LOL, Dennis. This comment is why I love you 🙂

  • Small Talk is always a MASSIVE Winner. Random small talk adventures occurred recently on the weekend for me – Both were men starting the conversation with me 🙂

    The End Result –

    First Small Talk Dude – of which I only ended up speaking to him for no more than 15 minutes ended up with us going on a date last nite – that wait for it …… lasted 7 HOURS!

    Second Small Talk Dude – Of which I ended up having a few drinks with on Saturday night – Now for some reason wants me to go to his works 80’s Nite in three weeks time. Oh dear.

    NEVER Underestimate the powers of Small Talk.

    Slowly I think im starting to Morph into the wonderful Ms Richter, with all these numerous dates.

    I must say that you have now fallen into my fav posts on this here blog along with the talents Of Mr Hong and Mr Braciole.

    • Michelle; first off kudos on the attention filled weekend and the dates that came to be (or will come to be) from those encounters. And I consider it a great compliment to be placed along the ranks of Dennis and Danny. I certainly hope I can maintain that high standard you’ve now set for me. 😉

      My small talk adventures are far from over. Actually, a friend proposed a new “challenge” to me that I have no choice but to accept. I’ll be sure to share those details soon.

      With that in mind, if you don’t mind me asking, how did First and Second Small Talk Dudes begin their conversations with you? I may need all the help I can get.

    • Who, me…? Ah, shucks- as if my head wasn’t big enough as it is.

      Thanks!

  • Great post. I enjoyed your thoughts on small talk. The funny thing is, we (and I generalize to “everyone”) does the small talk on a daily basis.

    The difference is now… you’re aware 🙂
    Make the small talk force be with you!

    Enjoy!

    • Thanks Simmarah. I feel like I should make some sort of relevant ‘Star Wars’ reference here but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movies.

      To be honest, I have no idea how I have gone so long without being aware of my ability for small talk…since my job requires me to talk to dozens of people a day.

      Glad you enjoyed my point of view.

  • Small talk when done right (natural) can be pretty good fun. Loved this 🙂

    • Thanks Loveandcoco…or should I call you The Single Girl now? See, there’s that confusion again. 😉

      I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to utilize my (natural) small talk talents. Which is likely going to be this Friday at happy hour with some co-workers.

  • Matt, For some reason I can’t reply directly to your comment on my post. Sooooo im having to do it here instead.

    Small Talk Dude Number One –
    Approached me while I was trying to find where a friend of mine had gone who was at the time standing right behind me . His words consisted of ” Were you looking for me?’ Of which my reply was – “Um no. Im not.” But he wasn’t shot down by this and proceeded to be extremely polite ask me how my nite was what I thought of the band and where I was from etc etc – The standard kind of conversation that you happen to have with someone that you want to find out a little bit more about.

    Small Talk Dude Number Two – Him and his friends had been clearly listening to a conversation my friend and I had been having and decided they would give us their opinion on what we were talking about which then followed into us all having a huge conversation and hanging out for the rest of the night.

    I personally like it when guys strike up a conversation, NOT a pick up line conversation but an actual way of talking to someone about a particular subject – maybe seeing what the girl is drinking or wearing taking note of that and then using that as part of the small talk conversation.

    Now Im just waffling.

    PS – I have also just noticed that y’all like my blog page and it made me blush a little whilst drinking my coffee this morning

    • Michelle, thank you for sharing. I can personally guarantee a pick up line will never leave these lips. The best line ever would still come across as a corn field, in my case.

      The two instances here are perfect though because they were completely different, dare I say, tactics. #1 was a modified “line” followed with conversation. #2 was involving himself in an already establish conversation.

      Allow me to speak on behalf of the rest of us, here at Musings, by saying we’re glad we could make you blush.

  • Matt,
    Loved your first post! Glad to see you writing here as well.

    I’m actually pretty good at small talk. I can talk to anyone about anything at any given time. But what I haven’t mastered is how to move the small talk to the next level. I want the guy to ask my number or something, but I’m trying to show more restraint than just giving it to them or asking them for theirs (I know Dennis says there are no rules, but I’ve found I have a much better batting record if I do not initiate, and let the guy ask my number). So I’m stuck. I have this fun conversation, feel a connection (when I have my eyes open, this happens at least once or twice a month) and then when it’s time to go our separate ways… nothing. Small talk is, well, just small tlak. Nothing enduring. That sorta sucks, especially when I am of the same mindset as you, and you put it perfectly:
    “But these are the types of social encounters I’m led to believe will guide me towards finding the future “Mrs. Me.” At any given moment, I can bump into the person I’m fated to fall in love with. It could be anyone.”

    • Catherine; I’m just going to put this out there, we need to hold mock small talk sessions for each other. Pick the other person’s brain for the cues we may be missing. 🙂

      I am exactly on the other side of your situation. I’ll have that connection with a girl during small talk but I don’t know how to “close” with asking for her number or giving her mine. Despite my best efforts to pay attention for signs, or body language, the small talk concludes and we both go our separate ways.

      Now, I am going to you to try something. Next time you feel that connection with a guy you’re talking to…give him your number (or ask for his). Trust me on this. Not only will he respect your confidence but he will extremely flattered, and possibly relieved because he’s been trying to figure out how to ask for your number. Your RBI may be loaded by letting him initiate, I get that. Just try it.

      I know I would have no choice but to call a girl if she ended a conversation with something like, “I’ve got to get going. Here’s my number.”

      Me = Awe struck and stupid grin on my face.

    • I would TOTALLY have a mock conversation with you 🙂

      Okay, so I like your “I’ve got to get going. Here’s my number.” I’m definitely going to have to try that. But, I will tell you, I have no shame in giving guys my number. I have asked for many a man’s number as well. In fact, I thrive on it. It sort of makes me feel … I don’t, independent, liberated, sexy … so many things. BUT – my track record with this has been pretty awful. Guys say they want a girl who will do that – but I’m not sure they really mean it (maybe you do, but no the guys I’ve encountered). I have had way more luck when I let the guy initiate. Suddenly I am more mysterious, and therefore more attractive. I understand that this is not true in all cases, but it has been my experience. But, the past couple of months I’ve just been hanging out. Not really actively flirting or trying to build these connections. Gotta tell you – your post has me craving it a little more now. Maybe I should turn my dilemma into a trial? I should give my number to X number of guys without them asking, and then wait and give my number to another X number of guys after they ask. And then study the success rates. But, how does one define success? LOL… very complicated. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. 🙂

    • True, even I am sometimes intrigued by the ‘mystery’ in a woman though that blunt of an approach has some mystery in there. That you’re considering it is good enough for me.

      Sounds like you may just be on to something with this trial. Go with the craving. Isn’t there a saying like if you’re craving something (ie: chocolate and peanut butter) it’s better to satisfy that urge with a Reese’s than deny it out-right?

  • I am sorry to hear that you are guilty about loving one of my most proclaimed favorite films. 😉 I do not think small talk is overrated. How else do you get to the good stuff?

  • In my experience Matty, small talk is like riding a bike- practice makes perfect. If you only make small talk with girls, or (even worse) only with girls you want to ask out on dates, you’re severely limiting your opportunities for practice. Strike up a quick conversation with the guy in the elevator on your way to work. Talk with the old lady at the bus stop. Once you’re comfortable making small talk with everyday strangers, you’ll be much more comfortable chatting up the attractive ones.

    And also, like riding a bike- once you pick it up, you never really forget how to do it.

    • Really Danny? You had to pull out the Matty there didn’t you? I see how this is going to be.

      Thanks for the advice though.

      I totally hear you and have not only taken note but actually imposed such practice during the work trip (in addition to the examples I provided above). In my mind, everyone was “open game” for the small talk hunt.

      Plus, it helps having been raised in Nebraska where you are pretty much raised to say, at least, “hello” to a person if out running, or start a conversation with someone at the grocery check-out. Which garnished a lot of strange looks while I was living in LA.

  • I was so mad at you for teasing me in the first part of this post. You know I was sitting there saying, Finally, he figured it out!! Lucky for you, I was saying that again by the end of the post. 🙂

    Nicely done!

    • Bwa Hahahahahaha! You should know better than anyone that a couple key elements to writing are misdirection and making sure the reader wants to keep reading. 😉

      But I agree, lucky me that I’m finally learning and everything is beginning to sink in.

    • True, but “…and then I woke up” is the ultimate cliché. =P

      But I DID want to keep reading, so it worked. 🙂

  • Matt, your dad asked me to ask you to write on your roomie in California….. (i told him that I hope you wouldn’t de-friend me!)

    • Char, tell my dad I don’t want to write horror stories (at least not real ones). I want to try and offer friendly advice and personal lessons. Scaring them would be exactly the opposite. 🙂

      And I’m not the type to de-friend. It’s not in my nature.

      Thanks for reading.

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  • This is really good advice! I’ve had trouble with this sort of stuff before. That, and it’s reassuring to know someone else has the dreams where you just happen to talk amicably to a random pretty girl. The days I have those dreams are never good days.

    • Glad you enjoyed the article Walter. We all probably struggle with small talk at one point or another. And I believe we are not alone in our subconscious meanderings that lead to a pretty woman. Those days are pretty crummy on my end too…because I woke up.

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