Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The ten conversations

One of the things I miss most about the San Francisco area, besides the stunning weather, lack of mosquitoes, fantastic food, amazing friends, plentiful spiritual workshops, abundant and amazing dance classes… OK I miss everything. Sob. I belong there. But that’s not my point. What was my point? Oh right. One of the things I miss is the sheer variety and richness of the conversations. You’ll meet someone for the first time at a party and find yourself discussing Communism, or the fundamental basis of comedy, or the best place to take a month-long meditation retreat. As a housewife in suburban Maryland, I am struck by the surface and repetitive nature of the vast majority of our interactions with one another.

Here in the suburbs, we seem to have the same ten conversations over and over.

1. Kids: anecdotes cute or irritating, worries, questions and calls for advice

2. Spouse: “How is [husband/wife’s name]” is always a good go-to when the conversation is flagging. Complaining about one’s spouse is also always an excellent way to bond with friends. Chances are their husband is irritating in exactly the same way that yours is.

3. Weather: Oooh, a tornado in Maryland this week. We won’t have to suffer through any awkward silences for a while. Plus it’s been so rainy. Oh, and doesn’t it suck to have the kids (see conversation #1) home for spring break all week and stuck in the house? Yeah.

4. Work: I don’t work outside the home, so I am mostly spared this one. But really, who wants to talk about work when they are not at work? I do get asked about my novel pretty frequently. The answer is, it is stalled again for now. I don’t want to talk about why.

5. Sports: Who gives a rat’s… um… who gives ANY anatomical region of a rat? Not me. I am usually impressed if I know what sport is being discussed. People at the grocery store have tried to draw me into some sort of community psychosis over various sporting endeavors. Nope, I just don’t care.

6. Movies & TV: “Have you seen any good movies lately?” Always a sign of a conversation on the verge of an awkward pause. “Do you watch American Idol/The Bachelor/[insert bad reality TV show here]?” Always a sign of a conversation about to become extremely animated, with a healthy tinge of TV shame and disclaimers about how one hates most reality TV or only watches it because their husband or wife is into it.

7. Personal appearance: New haircuts or color, compliments on clothes or shoes, weight loss, dieting, facial skin care, exercise [Technically exercise should probably be its own category, but in my experience, most people only exercise to lose weight and look better. Talk about runner’s high all you like, but would anyone run if it made us fatter?]

8. Current events: Where by current events I don’t mean politics or natural disasters. I mean the big stuff. Like what the hell is wrong with Charlie Sheen.

9. Vacation plans: For the last time people, I am not going anywhere this summer. Because we have debt to pay off. I don’t have a beach house in Delaware, a vacation home at Deep Creek, or a rental lined up in the Outer Banks. So this summer I will be blissfully floating on a raft in our kiddie pool while the kids pour water on my legs and practice putting their faces under without getting water up their noses. My parents will visit a lot. I will probably sleep over my friend’s house a couple of times and drink to excess after all of our kids go to bed, since no one will have to drive home. We will watch bad reality TV together and laugh our faces off. But, no, by your standards, I don’t have any summer plans.

10. Petty irritations: Leaky roofs, car repairs, computer glitches, exploded pull-ups in the washing machine… you get the idea.

That’s it. You can get pretty far with those ten conversations. You can have an entire friendship speaking of nothing else. No, you really can. It’s crazy. You certainly won’t need any more than that at a social event with casual acquaintances. Line up your questions for when the conversation fades, polish up two well-crafted anecdotes for each item, and you’re golden.

But, can we all decide to move past these? Please? Can we talk about sex and politics and religion? Can we talk about what moves us? What we are trying to achieve, and what we need to do to get there from here? What we believe? What we wish for? Can we stop talking and listen? Really listen, rather than just waiting for our turn to talk again because something you just said triggered one of our perfectly polished anecdotes.

I’m not saying we should never talk about our kids or compliment our friends on their new haircuts, but I think we would be amazed what could happen if we let people in deeper. I’ve tried it with a few casual friends recently, and you know what? They’re not casual friends anymore. They’re… my people.

P.S. I will try very hard in conversations with all of you in the coming weeks not to call out numbers when we inevitably hit these topics… If you would like to call me out by calling out numbers on me, please feel free.


  1. True. True. True. Though I suspect if you were a "stay at home" mom of twins while living in SF you would have spent much of your conversations stuck at #1. And if you were an academic here in suburban MD you would probably be having more interesting conversations vs. having stagnated in the topics above with your fellow SAHMs.

    But reallllly.... is anything really more interesting/entertaining than poop-as-meteors?

  2. I think that poop-as-meteors really speaks to the fundamental basis of comedy, and is therefore quite a lofty conversation topic.

  3. Sorry to burst your topic -- but honestly I don't think this is a San Francisco versus suburban MD thing -- this is a couple with no kids (or possibly single) versus parent thing IMO.
    I have never been one to talk politics or religion because they are both things I don't care about so I apologize that I am a #1 through #10 person, but I care about the here and now and the things I can actually have an obvious impact on.

  4. This is truly a thought provoking post for me. I am in the process of moving from NY to CO and know 'meeting new people' is on my horizon. I think I'll challenge myself to ask deeper questions, as I slowly get to know people in my new home town. It's easy to stick to the easy stuff. And sometimes, if you aren't sure about your stance on something important (like politics or religion) it can be intimidating to have conversations related to those topics. But I say it's time to be brave, be open minded, and be self confident enough to say, "I'm not sure what I believe, but tell me what you think and I'll listen attentively.."
    Another great post...


  5. these are the main topics of conversation in rural ireland too...