A Spinster Forgets How To Small Talk

I’ve forgotten how to small talk. The realization of this hit me on Saturday night, as I sat on the deck of a sailboat smooshed together with LA friends, people I had met a couple times years ago, and people I never met and was not introduced to. While social situations in which I don’t know people have always stressed me out, I used to be quite good at them. At least I think I was. But there I was, sitting there wracking my brain for things to say to the guy next to me and coming up with nothing. No statements. No questions. Nothing.

In that moment, I realized that I don’t really hang out with people other than my family any more. I have lost the ability to do the small talking and the meeting and the socializing. And most people around me seem to do the same. Is it my age? Is it the more suburban desert life instead of a city one? Is it because I was working 4 jobs for a couple months so was just wiped out when I got home? Have I become antisocial? Like most things, it’s probably a combination of all the above.

Age is definitely a factor. I lived my late 20s-30s in Los Angeles, and in the city those are peak single years so it’s not difficult to eventually end up surrounded by other singles close to that age. And we lived life together. Our families were all in other cities, so we relied upon each other. My church was young and fostered this connection as if its life depended upon it, which I suppose it did. So, awkwardly and with a lot of effort, we created a little community of weird singles which grew as some of us dated, married, and/or had babies.

But the step after that is a hard one, as many of us moved away at that point. Even this weekend’s event was a going away party for one such couple. I stayed at another dear friend’s apartment, like always, only this time there were boxes and boxes against the walls as they too are starting to pack for their upcoming move. The city life is often a transient one. That age has passed.

Starting over again at almost 40 has been a bit more difficult socially. I’m still single. But I’m not 28. And in this suburbanish desert town, most Christians marry young, or at least younger than in LA. And the couples my age or older have teenage kids, and are incredibly busy. Everyone is so busy with activities – but not “hang out” activities. No one invites me over for dinner, or to grocery shop together, or to watch Netflix, or grab lunch after church. It’s a rather insulated city – people with houses and yards instead of tiny apartments where shared space is required for sanity.

Photo by Don Lee

In LA, very few of us had yards, so we’d all congregate in that one friend’s backyard for every birthday, holiday, or event. We’d squish 20 people into tiny apartments without a thought. We’d share space, air conditioning, Netflix, parking, storage, everything. Here, everyone is with their families, in their own homes, with their own garages and air conditioning and built in friends of husbands and kids. I am almost always with my family here as well, which is beautiful and special. So yes, age and the suburban lifestyle have definitely affected my ability to make new friends.

The general busy pace of life has also been isolating. Which is odd, because I’m actually working much less than I ever did in the higher pressure jobs I held before. We were incredibly busy, but somehow we figured out how to be busy together. Every Wednesday, I’d meet the girls for happy hour after work. We’d go to each other’s apartments to grade together. We walked to lunch after church together. We had Bible study in the same apartment for years, and ended up there so often it became a second home. Sometimes we even went grocery shopping together. Somehow the fact that we were all ridiculously busy never stopped us from hanging out – we just rolled each other into our day to day activities so much that it became our natural way of living.

Here, I go to work, come home and have dinner and watch TV with my mom, which has been quite lovely to be honest. But that’s pretty much every single week day. To be fair, I’ve been pretty exhausted at the end of the day lately because of the multiple jobs and also I was ill, but in my previous life that wouldn’t have stopped community. Friends would have just come over anyway. If I was sick, they’d stop by to bring me soup. If I was busy, they’d come be busy with me. If I was tired, they’d set me up on their couch in front of Gilmore Girls reruns, and put food and drink in my hand.

But here, I can be autonomous – I can let my family take care of me and not need anyone else. And since not one single person from my new church has ever invited me to go to lunch after service, or over for dinner, I haven’t bothered to reach out either. I don’t need them as much with my family right here. And I guess they don’t need me. So that makes it harder to bother.

That leaves the question, have I become antisocial? And I guess I have, at least a little bit. Starting the making friends thing all over again when I’m turning 40 in a month is unpleasant. Apparently I’m too young for the 50 year old couples in my Sunday School class to bother with me outside of Sunday morning. And I’m too old for the singles groups (thank God! I never did like singles groups). Because I know I either need to keep trying group after group after group to see if one may fit better or I just have to throw myself into the one I’m in now and do all the work of brazenly inviting myself into their lives, I’ve opted for just not having many friends here. Just sticking with my family and my one old friend.

Because of this, I haven’t gone to an actual party in ages. I haven’t showed up at a friend’s place to see a ton of faces I don’t recognize. There have been no happy hours or kick-backs or store runs or World Cup watching get togethers. And I think I’ve become happily comfortable in my anti-social life. It’s less tiring. Less work. And involves very little small talk.

But on the boat Saturday night, looking around at everyone else chatting away as I sat there silent for the moment, the thought struck me that maybe I’ve grown too self-focused through this isolation. I’ve got a lot to think about. But I think it might be time for me to try out the 30-somethings group at church even though I’ll be the oldest person there. It might be time for me to put in a bit more effort to becoming part of the community outside of my family. It might be time for me to brush up on my small talk.

Of Toddlers and Time Travel

My four year old niece is just beginning to grapple with the concept of time. When told by her parents that she will be going over to grandma and Auntie Fawn’s house tomorrow, the wheels in her little brain start spinning as she tries to figure out what tomorrow is. “One more sleep?” she asks, as the equation that tomorrow=the next day clicks into place. She smiles about this. One sleep is understandable, perhaps even two or three more sleeps until the weekend makes sense now, and is more easily awaited.

But, when her parents say they’re going on a vacation this summer, this little girl can’t quite figure out how to process this information. It’s too many sleeps for her to count on her fingers, too many more sleeps than her forming brain can process at this point. So some days, she is as excited about this trip as if it’s tomorrow, other days she completely forgets about it, and yet on others she is horribly frustrated with the waiting. Summer can feel to her four year old self like a lifetime away.

Even though I’m almost forty and can calculate exactly how many more sleeps I have until the next thing on my calendar, I can understand her perspective. It’s even worse when the answer to my questions of when things will happen is “someday, probably a long time from now” or “I don’t know” or perhaps “quite possibly never.”

  • When will I get married? Quite possibly never.
  • When will I finally be content? Someday, probably a long time from now.
  • When will I overcome this fear? I don’t know.
  • When will I stop struggling with this? I don’t know.
  • When will I be financially stable? Quite possibly never.
  • When will I stop feeling this way? Someday, probably a long time from now.
  • When will I stop yearning for things I can’t have? Someday, probably a long time from now.
  • When will I understand why? Someday, probably a long time from now, or perhaps, quite possibly, never.

And, like a toddler, my mind fights these concepts of time. It wants something it can measure, can grasp, can rely upon. It wants to know exactly how many more sleeps until these things happen.

As a lifelong fan of science fiction, the idea of time travel always appealed to me. If only I could wrinkle time by tessering, hop into the flying DeLorean or TARDIS, set the controls for the future, and jump ahead. If only someone could come back and tell me when. But, as all great sci-fi fans know, this often doesn’t end well. No, it is better to now know your own future, but to live it out by stepping one foot in front of the other, like everyone else.

2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that, as Christians, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” Hebrews 11:1 goes on to describe faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” My sister and her husband can see what they have planned for the summer; to them it is not so far away, they are booking flights and making arrangements. And my niece is learning to trust them – so even though she cannot see that far ahead, she has faith in them that this will happen and be amazing.

How much more so can my God, my Father, see everything he has planned for me? I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, what he’s orchestrating for me, what arrangements are being made. But, like my niece can trust in her parents because she knows they love her as they always say they do, and they’ve reliably proven this to her throughout her four years of life thus far, I can trust my God because I know he loves me as he says he does in his Scripture, and I can look back on a lifetime of evidence to this fact.

So I’m trying to make my peace with time. Trying to let it unravel without knowing what lies ahead. Trying to both wisely plan for the future while also letting it slip through my fingers with a loose grip. Trying to be okay with questions that may never be answered, at least not in this lifetime.

There are still moments when, like my niece, I can feel my face scrunching up in disdain when no one can tell me exactly how many sleeps it will take before something I want to happen occurs. There are still moments when I wish I could throw a tantrum, beat my fists against the ground, kick and flail a bit when I realize the answer isn’t the one I wanted. But like my sister and her husband, who love their little girl even when she’s imperfect, I know God is there with me in the midst of my disappointment and fear, just waiting for me to turn to him with faith for my future. And today, that is enough.

A Scattered Mind

It’s a rainy day in the desert, an experience made all the more beautiful by its rarity. And I’m having trouble focusing my thoughts to settle on one topic for this blog. These past couple weeks I’ve felt – SCATTERED.

My mind, like a butterfly, flits from thing to thing, alighting on one only for a moment before winding its way to the next. Laundry, school shootings, dream tattoo designs, my data entry job, taxes, blogging, book club, my tutoring job, the windshield wipers on my car, some necessary correspondence I keep putting off, my librarian job, Russian hackers, feeding the dog, the current state of Biblical Counseling, the Agatha Christie book I’m trying to finish, civilian lives in Syria, my new church, plans for spring break in a few weeks, Trump’s ceaseless tweets, doctor’s appointments, prayers for friends, doggy snuggles, conversations with mum, that poem I heard two days ago, gun control in relation to suicide & domestic violence, texts from friends, the gorgeous grey clouds outside my guest room office window . . . an endless stream of thoughts.

How do I UN-SCATTER? Is that even possible in modern American life?

I’ve listened to two different blogs about rest, honoring a Sabbath, and they have been filled with great ideas. Yet my mind has already added their suggestions to my infinite to-do list.

Often, when I feel this way, I just want to hibernate. Not face reality. Curl up in bed in cozy pjs, with a nice cuppa tea and a good book. Instead of doing that, today I am tackling that to-do list one entry at a time using my 2-highlighter system of prioritization. Blogging was in pink, so here I am trying not to half-ass it too badly. I already did my laundry and finished my latest invoice for one of my jobs, texted a couple friends, looked out the window, and snuggled the dog, so stuff’s getting done.

Next up – a cup of tea and taxes.

How do you un-scatter?