Wednesday, 25th September 2013
I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Instead of making the best of it, I look for a way out. It’s an edge for me. If I'm honest with myself, I seek the wild, the heart opening, the real in almost all transactions. Sometimes I miss out on the subtle exchange.
I recently went to a friend’s grill out. There were lots of new faces, a puppy, a kid, and the sun hanging low like a ripe mango. I ran into an old friend from retreat—a woman I've liked from a distance but never known. In retreat, chit-chat has no place and you often bear your grief before you give your name. This was a woman I've only known in these quiet containers—with a passing word in either direction or a late night post-feast conversation, but nothing more.
She was visiting for a few weeks and the kid in attendance was hers. An eight-year-old boy, ready to leave as soon as he'd arrived, interrupting the grown-ups to ask how to spell zombie attack, drawing a board game to pass the time from all the talking heads until he could finally return to his Wii game. I can't blame him. I kind of wanted to go home too. One of the reasons I'm reluctant to party is because I have to talk so much. For whatever reason, I feel the need to be witty and wise, imploring at just the right moments, replaying the 'what am I up to' tape. And although I'm sure this is totally in my own head, I feel the need to turn myself on to engage and be engaging. I'm an introvert. Not the kind that's afraid of public speaking or having a voice in the room; when needed, I can pop up and shine and make people laugh. But left to my own devices, I'm quite content as the witness, in solitude and in the one-on-one.
It's not that I don't like people. I do. But you can't get close to a 'people.' You can get close to a person. Any other comforts of friendships of groups are generalizations, no matter how spot on they may be. The truth is, I get tired in crowds, in the small get together, and in meet-ups with acquaintances. For me, the acquaintance has made it inside the front lines through some obvious way, like a mutual connection between a person, place, or thing. They've been granted access and are hanging out in my lobby with their shoes on. This is the welcomed trespasser. She doesn't come all the way in to see the house, the view, my books. But she's visiting me and as the host, I have to—and I think this is where my exhaustion settles in—entertain.
In the one-on-one, I feel more likely to see and be seen. But in collectives, I am hyper-aware of the role I play, my contribution (or lack thereof), and the dynamic taking shape as a whole. Personally, I find the group to be a space where it’s a challenge to thoughtfully share in the topic, neither monopolizing the conversation nor falling into silence. It's an effort to consciously give and take. And I think you and I know at least one idiot who isn't aware of the subtle engagement.
Strangers are easier to meet. Neither party holds any expectations of connecting. An acquaintance comes with the burden of superficiality with just a stroke of soberness—the highlight of 'we know each other, so I can tell you this part.’ It's draining.
We don't know each other. And if we wanted to, we would have by now. It's unfair but true. Maybe the lesson here is about going for a ride and not just thinking, I know where I am. Or maybe the lesson is about not falling into the role of host.
Or maybe it’s about dropping the story and just chilling out to let the relationship be what it is. It’s a middle space, a halfway house all its own. That's what makes it so uncomfortable. I want to know what we are and make it solid. But in truth, it’s as slippery as grabbing a fistful of water.
Can I relax in the transition of relationship? Can I just let this be without looking down on it as somehow inferior to real friendships? How can I let this be enough? And in that permission, maybe I can see it for what it actually is—two people looking for one another, traveling across a long wide open field. I can only make out parts of you. Your face is blurry but I can see your shape. Will I still walk toward you without knowing why I do or who you are or what this may be?
Perhaps it'll be years before we reach each other, if we do. But maybe that's not the goal. Maybe the path is the goal; I’ll rest in the space of our distance, continuing forward, dropping the armor I had when I first saw you over there in the fog. Or at least I’ll try.
What is the acquaintance mean for you? How do you work with relationships that are in-between? What insights have you gained in the process?
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