Nothing exhausts me like people I’ll never see again.
I feel drained. I feel like someone’s pulled a chain and stopper at my feet and all my energy and will to be a good person have washed out to sea. I can’t do any more small talk, I just can’t. There’s nothing left in my tank of tolerance for exerting energy toward social situations that have no bearing on my future whatsoever. We can blame the pandemic, I suppose, for bringing massive wastes of time to light, but if I’m honest I hated this shit back when we were all riding the subway with our faces uncovered in the goddamned wind, like fools.
Recently, I’ve found myself in multiple social situations where I know one person present but nobody else. As this one person often can’t devote their attention to only me the entire time, I’ve had to engage in a lot of conversations I’ll gingerly call “filler.” Nothing of any real interest is happening in these conversations, I’m just basically trying to make words come out of my mouth for long enough so that I can go home without being rude. It’s like I’m trying to pay for the cost of my own presence in a place I was invited to be with my powers of speech and wit. How this keeps shaking out I’ll never know, but I’m perpetually the new girl in rooms full of people who all kind of know each other a bit. It is, in a word, hell.
Each time I’ve returned home from one of these scenarios, I am wiped. Zonked. Spent. I literally have to mediate or just go the fuck to sleep in order to recalibrate my nervous system back down to a safe level of operations. It feels like I’ve absorbed the energy of too many people I’m not invested in, all while having mine drained from me at the same time. In taking responsibility for making conversations interesting, I give away too much of myself for too little return. I arrive back home feeling like a piece of well-chewed gum.
Why do I feel this need to deliver? I never feel like I can just let other people be interesting, I feel like I’m always the one in charge of that, and I have no idea why. Part of why small talk is so draining to me is that I find it so useless because it adds nothing to my life of any consequence whatsoever, but the other part is that I try really hard at it. It’s like I can’t stop. I can’t stop talking, can’t stop keeping the conversation buoyant and entertaining for others. Heaven forbid.
I will never see these people again. I know it down to my socks. I converse with them, trying to be charming, funny even, and for what? What am I hoping to accomplish here? The only answer I’ve ever come up with is that I’m trying to avoid awkwardness while also not trusting those around me to row their own oars down this river. Fearing awkwardness has held too strong a sway over my decisions for enough of my life if I’m honest. My hope is that in finally acknowledging that I’m exhausting myself for no reason, I can take an active role in making sure I stop leaving parties feeling ashamed that I tried so hard for so long to make so many people like me for no reason.
I miss real conversations. Thorough, genuinely invested conversations where I’m speaking to people who have an actual interest in me for longer than the time it takes to drink a light summer beer, and the feeling is mutual. Too often of late I’ve thrown myself spaces where everyone starts every sentence in response to me with, “I think for me….” I’m done, do you hear me? I’m fucking done. It’s not even making conversation. It’s just spitting out facts about yourself to anyone who can hear them and I’m not even sure what people are hoping to get in return for telling a group of five people standing in a circle how bad their allergies are this year.
I’ve had a chance to regroup since the last time I performed a small talk variety show for a group of strangers, and I think I really need to make some concrete changes in the way I approach my life and relationships moving forward. They are as follows:
- I don’t care if people like me. I think that’s driving a lot of it here, the very human need to be liked by new people you meet. I think it’s time for me to get really good at not giving a shit. If I already know that I’m never going to see people again, why do I give a care if they accept me in their minds as someone cool? If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t crawl across my threshold after a BBQ drained as though I’d just flipped tires for an hour.
- I’m just not gonna go. This one’s my bad. I have put myself in too many situations lately where I know I’ll have a small talk hangover, but I go anyway. Because I was invited, or I was being nice, or I actually do care about the one person who invited me but who can’t really talk to me at the party because they have to evenly divide their time among all their other friends, too. I’m gonna stay home and read a book and not fray my stress levels like exposed wiring.
- I’m not carrying the load. If I have to be stuffed into the small talk locker again, I’m just not gonna try that hard to to make everything okay. I think that’s my biggest lesson learned. I will get comfortable being a background person goddammit, one fully content to contribute minimally to the conversation while reaping the full benefits of those entertaining the crowd. I can be quiet, I remember childhood. I’m gonna put effort into not putting in effort, that’s what I’m gonna do.
It’s been happening so often lately. Maybe I’ve been recklessly jumping at the chance to be social again after a year spent in such isolation. My starvation for company has made me ignore the very real fact that human contact of surface level depth makes me physically, mentally, and emotionally sick. I’m sure we’re jazzed about the vaccinated summer ahead of us, but I have reservations. I don’t think we all like each other as much as 2020 made us think we do. I think we’re all forgetting how nice it is to never have to meet new people and before Memorial Day, you’d do well to give this some thought.
It’s hard to explain, the feeling that meaningless conversations have sucked you dry and made your nervous system uncomfortably buzz like one of those door stopper things when you bend it. It’s a wild thing to recognize too, after years of ignoring how much I hate performing in this particular folly. I can’t talk when there’s no point to it, when all I’m trying to do is pass time until an encounter is over and I can go home and listen to podcasts again. You’d think after a year alone I’d take anything even remotely social like a starving person expresses gratitude for a stale piece of crust. But as it turns out, I can’t do fake, I can’t do pointless, and as far as talking in social settings goes, I’m finally finished with small.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.