Is Small Talk Killing the Village?

Nothing therapeutic or healing happens in small talk.

We’re craving villages, emotional intimacy, connection, and support but this goes against our American ideals of independence, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and the great importance of being “fine”.

I had a mom to an 18-month-old ask at a recent talk I gave to a group of women, “Does anyone talk on the phone anymore?” and “…how do you make those kind of friends?”

She was in a room full of about 20 other moms wondering how to be more connected.

I don’t know that there’s anything worse than being in relationship AND feeling alone.

And so I’ve started wondering lately, “Is small talk killing the village?”

I used to be so good at mingling. I think I mastered small talk in the midst of grave (and not so grave) life experiences as a child.

Mingling probably saved me in a lot of ways.

Stuck at home with a soap-opera watching Grandma at age 3? Mingle enough with surrounding families and they’ll entertain you and feed you lunch.

Tensions flying high in my parents’ highly conflictual marriage? Mingle with ANY neighborhood kid that will bite…then play ’til the lights go out.

Parents divorce and I move out of state at THE WORST and most AWKWARD age EVER? Mingle your way into the hearts of some better-feeling families so that you’re welcome 24/7.

DON’T BURDEN THEM WITH YOUR CRAP. Be light! Easy breezy. Smile! And especially smile when you tell them WHY you moved to St. Louis; you don’t want them to think you’re DYSFUNCTIONAL…Here, practice these lines, “We moved to St. Louis when my parents’ divorced. No, don’t be sorry. The divorce wasn’t hard, it was expected.”

End scene.

No one taught me how to mingle. The unspoken rule was clear: Don’t burden people with your crap.

The truth is that behind all that smiley small-talk I was an anxious and depressed child with a plummeting self-esteem.

I mingled my way through college, into the hearts of a few boyfriend’s families, and into my Master’s program while successfully not fully owning any of my issues and not truly deeply connecting with anyone except for maybe my therapist.

When I was 24 mingling became impossible when my 3-month-old niece passed away. It turns out the part of my brain that knows how to shoot the shit literally shuts-down for months (maybe years) after helping my half-sister pick out a casket for her baby.

I just couldn’t talk about the weather, or the game, or your hair…I just couldn’t. And I knew you didn’t want to talk about dead babies as you would quickly contort your face and say, “Oh, I’m sorry,” with an implied “THE END. WE’RE DONE HERE. FINITO.” as you’d quickly change the subject to my hair.

I find that few people have the muscle to sustain a deeper conversation where someone might say…cry, but I found a few that year that could.

Strangely, this mingling master was in a master’s program where we were being taught to NOT small talk. If psychotherapists are small-talking we’re wasting your time and money.

Nothing therapeutic or healing happens in small talk. NOTHING.

Do our brains have the ability to shut off the small talk when we need it the least? Like when we’re grieving? I have no idea. All my research in affective neuroscience hasn’t revealed this phenomena, but I think maybe most of us have experienced small talk feeling unbearable in the midst of tough life circumstances.

And now, in my office, where I have worked deeply with couples and individuals for over a decade, I see the effects of all of this small talk: disconnection. Moms feeling deep loneliness, people panicked wondering if their feelings are normal or if they’re somehow defective, and a degree of emotional distance and charade that is literally pinching us off from a basic human need to feel like we belong — like we’re part of a tribe.

So what can you do if you’re feeling like you’re craving a tribe?

1. Stop wearing your “It’s fine!” mask and see who’s left. YES, there are people who are in your life now who will not like you as much when you’re not fine….and there are people out there who will love you MORE.

How are you going to find your tribe of people if you’re not wearing YOURSELF…they will never recognize you. I met my most recent tribe member at a social event for our kids. In a group of women small-talking she said, “Well I have 4 kids, so I always look like shit and my house always looks like shit.” I laughed out loud at the honesty and was refreshed by her unwillingness to present perfectly. I started inviting her over and out immediately.

2. Imperfectly invite people over. Don’t wait until the house is clean (or in my case- not under construction). Host not-fancy dinner parties, happy hours, fire-pit gatherings, or book clubs. I started a book club last year and literally called it THE IMPERFECT BOOK CLUB — yoga pants casual, wine welcome.

The ways you are imperfect allow people to connect to you and love you even more… and the people who are not in your tribe might run away screaming. It’s a great litmus test.

3. Stalk people.

As busy adults it’s so rare that friendships just spontaneously happen. When I had my first child I felt so alone. Many of my friends moved out of state within a 2 year period and I was the first to have a child. To my dismay, new friends didn’t fall out of the sky and into my kitchen.

I remember seeing an old acquaintance on MySpace (yes, it was THAT long ago) and thinking, “She likes Indian food, baby wearing is one of her interests, and she’s funny….I think we could totally be friends.” I asked her and her family on a date to the Indian Buffet for lunch.

Did it feel strange? YES! Did I feel like a stalker? ABSOLUTELY. And we’ve been great friends ever since and she loves to tell people the story of how I stalked her on MySpace.

If there’s someone out there you’d like to get to know more ask them to connect 3 times before giving up.

4. Know you deserve (and need…just ask Maslow) a tribe. Historically for our species living in close, inter-reliant groups of 30–50 is what’s normal. It’s no wonder we’re all craving that village. Listen to this FASCINATING snippet from the Ted Radio Hour where journalist Sebastian Junger explains that the need to belong is so innate and so strong it’s why some veterans actually miss war. He says their experience of trusted brotherhood while at war mimic more closely a village than anything else in our society.

Ugh.

5. If you’re a mom, attend my upcoming TRIBE retreat for Moms in May, 2017. I’ve worked deeply with moms for the last 10 years and have created this retreat just for YOU (or the mom in your life). For all the details click here.

It will definitely be a no mingling zone.​You deserve happy relationships….without having to go to war,

PS — For a limited time my Training for Busy Couples is FREE! Marriage is hard…for everyone. Watch this training to find out what divorcing couples say they wish they would have known 5–10 years ago. Over 2000 people have watched. CLICK HERE TO JOIN.


Originally published at www.mikaross.com.

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