Small talk! It’s weird and often uncomfortable, but we all have to do it otherwise we’d never make friends/would always be that person standing just outside of a conversation. You have to wade through the small talk to get to anything interesting! Or you can be like me this weekend and drunkenly start talking to strangers about their love lives before you get their names, but maybe you shouldn’t do that.
Here’s my theory: I don’t think you should open a conversation with a stranger/acquaintance with the most obvious thing about them. For example, if you meet a pregnant woman, don’t ask her about her pregnancy. Maybe she’ll bring up her pregnancy on her own, and then you can talk about it, but maybe she’ll want to talk about her job and her other interests because she’s sick of being asked about morning sickness. The same thing goes for someone getting married, on a job search, or applying to college. They may want to keep talking about it, but there’s also a good chance they’re completely talked out.
This doesn’t count for everyone. If you’re asking your own teenage son about how high school is going? Duh. Are you a Maid of Honor asking the bride how planning is going? Makes sense. But you have to make sure you’re close, which generally means friends-who-talk-constantly or close family (meaning you have a relationship outside seeing each other three times a year at whole-family gatherings). Below are a couple of suggestions as to questions/comments to avoid, and as always leave yours in the comments!
For an Engaged/Married Person
I’m so excited for the wedding!—Did you get an invitation yet/have the couple verbally confirmed you’re invited? If not, don’t assume anything, even if you’re close to them.
Are you dieting?—Usually followed by a weird stare if you say “no,” or a push for details if “yes.” Weird either way. Plus it comes off as you thinking the person in question should be dieting.
When are you having kids?—This is SUCH a personal question, and can often be painful to the person/couple in question. Maybe they have a medical condition that prevents them from having kids and don’t want to talk about it, or maybe they flat out don’t want kids. It should never be a question of “when.”
- Unless you know for sure that one person in the couple is really into planning and the other is really not, ask both people the same questions and use plural pronouns. This is especially an issue with heterosexual couples, where everyone has a tendency to ask the bride-to-be about wedding planning and issues, and continues to ask the groom-to-be about his job, his hobbies, or anything else going on in his life.
For a Single Person
- Any variation on “why are you still single?”—First off, single is not a “still.” Plenty of people are just fine with being single. And even if they’re not, this pretty much just blames them for their relationship status. Often this comes in the “But you’re so pretty/smart/interesting!” iteration, which both suggests that a) these are objective requirements to finding a partner and b) it’s somehow the person in question’s fault for not finding someone attracted to these things. Relationships aren’t science, and they take a heavy dose of luck.
For a Pregnant Person
Do you want a boy or a girl?—What is your expected answer here? “Oh man, I just want a boy so bad. If it’s a girl I’ll be so heartbroken. Nine months for nothing.”
When are you due?—True story: When I was in New Zealand I went shopping with another woman for sausage. This woman had a two-year-old daughter and still had some “baby weight” or whatever bullshit you want to call it. Anyway, the butcher gave me a slice of one sausage to try but hesitated giving it to her, joking that it was made with wine. She looked at him quizzically, and he gestured to her stomach in a “you know, because you’re pregnant” sort of way. She wasn’t pregnant. Do not assume anyone is pregnant.
Where are you going to college?/Are you going to college?—This is specific to a certain class that assumes college is in the cards, but for the entirety of high school any adult talking to me only wanted to talk about SATs and college applications.
You look great! Have you lost weight?—Unless this person maybe lost 400 pounds and is super proud of it, no. Skinny does not necessarily equal healthy or beautiful.
You look tired today—I get this so much when I don’t wear makeup. It’s my normal face. My normal face looks bad to you? Ok.