One of the things I hear over and over from introverted singles is that they hate small talk. This isn’t too surprising, as a dislike for or lack of skill with small talk is a common defining trait of introversion. Extroverts are the ones with the gift of gab, the ones who can talk to strangers about anything and always have something to say. Why? Because they love to talk! They enjoy the stimulation of shooting the breeze with other people, whether the talk is big or small. Introverts, on the other hand, may struggle with this.
Needless to say, difficulty with small talk can be a problem in dating. Dating, by its very nature, requires you to talk to strangers and make small talk. If this is something you hate or aren’t good at, you may find yourself either disliking the dating process or avoiding it altogether. After all, when you meet new singles, there’s small talk. When you go out on a date, there’s small talk. When you chat on an online dating site… yes, more small talk. It may feel like a conspiracy to keep you single.
If you’re extremely introverted and/or have a good dose of shyness, small talk can be especially painful. So painful that it may seem easier to avoid it–and dating–altogether. But I’m sure you already know that avoiding the problem doesn’t solve the problem.
However, small talk has an extremely important purpose: it’s a ritual, a way to warm up to a stranger and create comfort in what can be a mildly uncomfortable situation. Remember, humans by nature are wary of strangers. You don’t know if a stranger is dangerous, weird, or simply not your kind of person. You keep your physical and emotional distance until you’ve established a certain level of trust between you. And guess what helps you do that? Small talk.
Consider this: How would you like it if a complete stranger sat down next to you on the subway and said, “Hey. How are you? Tell me about your childhood.” Chances are, you’d think he was a little off, or worse. He’s being inappropriate by skipping over the key ritual of small talk to allow you to see what type of dude he is, whether or not you like him or feel comfortable talking to him, and/or a context for his bigger questions.
Dating itself is analogous to small talk. It’s a (often uncomfortable) ritual you go through to find out if someone is worth starting a relationship with. A lot of people (probably introverted) hate dating, seeing it as a bunch of games they don’t know how to play and hoping they can quickly get right to the boyfriend/girlfriend stage and relax. But that’s not how it works. We don’t ask a single person on the first date if they want to go steady… we date them for a while first. We don’t just jump right into the sack with someone we find attractive and just said hello to (unless you’re Don Draper)… we make sure we get to know them at least a little first. You gotta respect the ritual.
Of course, respecting the ritual doesn’t mean liking it. You don’t have to like small talk, but when you see what it can get you, you learn to endure it. I don’t always like going to the gym, but I like the results I get from it. I don’t like cooking all that much, but I can get a better quality meal for less money if I do. If you can learn to appreciate small talk for the ritual it is and tolerate it, you will have more options in dating and in other areas of life, and the big talk with feel rewarding once you’ve earned it.
Knowing what you hate about small talk is important because it can help you get past any obstacles.
- If you find it dull, try to turn the conversation to something you like. If a woman won’t stop talking about Mitsy and Bitsy, her toy poodles, ask her about something you like: film, sports, etc. Keep trying until you strike gold: that topic you both find interesting. If you never find it, move on.
- If you find small talk intimidating, you’re probably shy as well as introverted or suffering from some level of social anxiety. If it’s mild, a good book on shyness and some practice will help. If more severe, consider getting treatment. Anxiety disorders are very treatable.
- If you find small talk exhausting, experiment with ways that make it less tiring. Maybe you need to switch to more interesting topics, talk to only a couple people per session, or maybe you attract high-energy motor-mouths who exhaust you and you need to get rid of them.
- Finally, if you just find small talk annoying in and of itself, you may be someone who isn’t a big people person. Perhaps you have a streak of misanthropy, which is often confused with introversion. Often, the trick is to find someone who shares your unique view of the world and wary eye toward humankind.
I’ll follow up at some point with some small talk tips and book recommendations.