I have been attempting what the author, Tim Boomer, discusses in “The End of Small Talk” for a number of years. It was no surprise when a number of friends emailed me his Modern Love article with a note “this reminded me of you” or “you’ve been saying this for years.” Embracing openness and vulnerability goes beyond leaving small talk behind, which is a thread that runs through Boomer’s article, as he finds meaning in not only asking bigger questions but hearing the answers.
Seeking deeper connections means finding a situation where both people lean into the conversation and enter into a more vulnerable space. I imagine others feel the same way when they guide a conversation into a more vulnerable space – questions pop into my head “should I say that” or “what will they think”. Rarely, is the answer negative to a big question, but at times vulnerable spaces are politely dodged.
Over the holidays I was seated next to a man on a flight from Washington, DC to Colorado. On past cross country flights, I have dreamt of engaging in deep conversation with a seat mate in this suspended-in-air time. It is in some ways unnatural – you don’t know each other and most likely won’t see each other again, so a safe space is created to enter into vulnerability. An hour into the flight, he shared that his divorce had just been finalized and this was his first family Christmas without his partner. We discussed losing and falling out of love, starting over and the (at times) challenging dynamics of families and holidays.
While I seek Boomer’s “big questions” in most of my human interactions, this type of conversation, while preferable for me, doesn’t always manifest. On a date recently, I tried to explain the importance of rock climbing in my life, touching lightly on the role climbing places in helping me manage anxiety. He looked at me and said something about never wanting to take the kind of risk involved in outdoor climbing. So, the door to bigger questions didn’t swing open. However, that is okay. We don’t find that space with everyone we meet and it is hard on dates as one tries to balance sharing – but not too much – and interest in someone’s life – but not so much that you feel invested. It is a tricky dance, especially for vulnerability seekers.
Yet – the most unexpected moments can unfold in to “beautiful” moments, as he describes in the last line of the article. In December, I asked a man about a beautiful bouquet of flowers while heading home on the metro and “heard something beautiful” about making his home feel like home in his response. I met a friend of a friend recently, who responded to my question “what are you passionate about” with details about why he does his work, stemming from his mom’s illness. It was the first time I met him and I could already sense what drives him. The desire to step into a more vulnerable space comes from a sense of wanting to be known and wanting to know others – real human connection. We should cherish the big questions and listen to answers knowing that the moment is a gift.