Why I Fail at Adulthood

There’s this weird thing that happens when you go away for college. You leave an awkward high-school graduate who doesn’t realize just how awkward she (or he is), and then somewhere between moving into your dorm for the first time and eventually putting on silly robes and a goofy hat for a three-hour ceremony that it’s really not worth it to attend (given that if you opt out they’ll just mail you your degree), you Become an Adult.

One of the horrors of adulthood, I’ve found, is this tricky thing called Small Talk. After your freshman year, your parents’ friends and other adults you knew Before College Happened will stop having conversations with you intended to figure out how you, specifically, are handling your transition to adulthood and will suddenly, without warning, expect you to participate in this ritual of chit-chat and scripted social encounters. You are never handed a pamphlet, a handbook, a cheat sheet, nor given so much as a heads-up or a gentle, reminding nudge in the ribs by a sympathetic elbow.

My sister, and several of the people I graduated high school with, seem to have handled this change pretty smoothly. I’ll be out with my sister and suddenly, in Kroger or Hobby Lobby or Qdoba, we’ll run into someone she knows. There will be hugging, and hellos, and other sort of greeting pleasantries. She’ll navigate through the brief, bare-bones conversation like an Olympic gymnast, and then we’re moving on, with her always sighing contentedly, “Oh, it was nice to see [that person] again.”

I, however, am never so lucky. I officially suck at small talk. Despite being one of the more socially adept members of the ISU Roleplayers Guild, which is partially why I’m the president, I cannot seem to grasp this concept of small talk. I dread going to church with my family, because there are without fail a half-dozen adults who will recognize me and descend on me like a flock of starving vultures.

Last night, as we were going into church for midnight Mass, I spotted the soccer coach from my high school. I’m very fond of this man, as I managed his team for two years, lettered doing so, and realized over the course of that time that he is really a wonderful man. I’ve seen him a handful of times since graduation, and am always glad to do so. Even after five years, he knows me and seems just as excited to see me as I am to see him.

Forgetting, however, my penchant for failing at socially-scripted conversation, I called out to him. The first parts were easy – hugs, “Merry Christmas!”, and the mutual asking of “How are you?” I can usually make it this far – but then something in my brain always fails. Here’s pretty much how last night worked:

Coach: Merry Christmas!
Me: Merry Christmas! How are you?
Coach: I’m great, I’m great. We [the soccer team] did really well this season. We lost in the semi-state finals. So close! I’m proud of them. How are you?
Me: Oh, I’m good. I’m back for a week and a half or so, then it’s back to Terrible Haute.
Coach: You look good!
Me: Thanks. I was sick for a long time back in November, finally getting back to my old self…

The italicized bit is where I noticed Coach starting to look around, and I realized, “Oh crap, I’ve screwed this up.” He eventually excused himself from the conversation, hugged me, said “Merry Christmas!” again, and then he was gone.

An hour later I realized, as usual, that what I should have said after “Thanks” was something along the lines of, “You, too!” Followed by some variation of “How’s your family?”, like, “How’s your wife?”, who was in a vehicle accident a couple of years ago, or “How are your girls?” to show that I remember that he has two daughters.

This may not seem like too terrible of an encounter to you, but to be honest, this example is one of the better ones. Half the time I crash and burn immediately after the “hello”s, because I’m trying to hard to remember just exactly who it is that’s talking to me, and there are only four times out of the year that there are seasonally-acceptable additional dialogue that can be inserted into the conversation, being “Merry Christmas!”, “Happy New Year!”, “Happy Thanksgiving!”, and “Happy Easter!”

Lamenting my social faux pas, I complained to my sister that what I needed was a note I could stick on my forehead anytime that I went out into public while visiting my hometown, a note that would say something like, “I am terrible at small talk and I likely don’t remember who you are, just move on and save us both the embarrassment.” My father suggested that I get through the rest of this vacation just responding to everything with “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy New Year!” This provided my sisters and me with a few moments of giggling as we imagined conversations where I responded every question or statement with “Merry Christmas!” and then ended making some sort of facial expression similar to this:


So far I’m liking that plan best. I may even use it year-round, and not just as Christmastime.


About Kayla Rose

Leave me alone, let me drink my tea and write my snark.

Posted on December 25, 2011, in Not Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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