Saving Small Talk: Things to Talk About That Aren't About People's Reproduction and Relationships

Saving small talk: don't be awkward.
Photo by Alexis Brown

Ever have someone ask you about that state of your romantic life or baby-making and felt like the answer was... elusive? Complicated? Dark? Depressing? Weird to get into in a casual setting? None of their sweet business?


Ever asked someone about their relationship or uterus status and then suddenly realize that the answer was elusive, complicated, dark, depressing, weird to get into in a casual setting, or none of your sweet business?


Here is the thing, though: for years and decades and eons these have been go-to conversation topics to get to know a person, pass the time, or butter up a potential client in a business meeting. ("Do you have kids? Me too! Wow, aren't they a terrible treat that makes your life simultaneously miserable and full of new meaning? So cute when they're sleeping! Now that we've connected as humans a bit, tell me about your paper needs.")

These are things that, at one point, were considered universal life experiences. Everyone was in a marriage or looking for one, interested in someone who fell in the opposite end of a clear gender binary, and would soon fill that marriage with little children.

Of course, these truths were never actually universal, but we ignored the outliers for a very long time.

Now that we're trying to embrace the rainbow of identities, lifestyle choices, and the fact that not having something you want in one of these categories can be super painful, we need to find some new topics of conversation, and it is best to be prepared. Otherwise, in my next conversation lull, I may desperately reach into my brain for a question and ask on autopilot, "So, are you two thinking about having kids?" (Unbeknownst to me, she literally just had a miscarriage that morning/they just fought about it on the way here/they aren't interested in kids and are tired of explaining it.) UGH! NO! Don't do it, brain! Think of something else!

Unfortunately, most lists I have come across suggesting "better" conversation starters are... weird. Listen, it's great to get someone talking about their secret passion and all, but if a stranger in the bathroom line up asks me what "lights me up inside," I am going to feel mighty uncomfortable.

Here are some alternate questions we can ask that range in the psychological investment required without once assuming relationship status, quality, interest, or multiplication:

"What have you been up to this week/last weekend?"

"Read any good books lately?" (Also applicable: Watched any great Netflix? Got a great podcast you love?)

"Got any go-to restaurants in town? I am always looking for something new to try out."

"Do you have any pets? Got any pictures of them on your phone?" (YOU BET THE PET OWNERS ALL DO!)

"How did you get into your line of work?"

"My friend is thinking about going into a job similar to yours. Got any suggestions I could pass on about what to look out for or do?"

"What was your first job?"

"Did you hear about [insert current event here]? What's your take?"

"Planning any vacations or getaways any time soon?"

"Do you do anything special for [insert approaching holiday here]"

"Did you grow up around here?"

"Where did you find that dress/bag/tattoo artist?"

There! Go forth! Think of your own questions that are not, "why don't you have a boyfriend?", nor, "what's your favourite thing to do when nobody is looking?" (Maybe I specifically do that when I am alone and don't want to tell you, random person at a networking event!)

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