I prefer deep conversations. I like conversations that stimulate your senses and make you reconsider what you thought you knew. Discussions that leave you hungry for more knowledge and a greater understanding of the world around you, that you vividly recall months and years later. Even as a child, I preferred serious conversations to surface level chats. I still remember many such exchanges I had with my best friend during our middle school years. One evening, we were lying down in her bedroom, just about to fall asleep, and we started talking about God and the afterlife and our serious doubts about the Catholic faith we had grown up with–the night before we were confirmed in the Church. In another, we pondered how small the chances were to find a close friend with whom we connected so deeply in a small town class of 24 students. In short, I’ve never been a fan of small talk. As a former Resident Assistant and Student Orientation Leader, however, I developed some decent small talk skills. I was just telling some other volunteers a few nights ago that I generally find it easy to talk to 90% of people. Learning how to make quick conversation with basically anyone is a valuable skill that is often overlooked. To be able to charm people within a few minutes of meeting them is something that will serve you well in all areas of life, even if the conversations are a bit vapid.
Nonetheless, as much as I often dislike the surface-level conversations I have with people, there is one question I have developed a deep appreciation for. That question is How was your day? While initially this question seems to fit into the category of banal small talk, I am of the opinion that it is one of the most important questions you can ask another human. I remember my mom and dad asking about my day every evening at the dinner table since my first days of kindergarten. It almost felt like an obligatory statement, and sometimes I questioned the value of asking the same damn question every day. I used to think that if nothing particularly exciting happened, the question was pointless.
But as time went on, I grew to love asking and answering this question. When you are paying attention to the world around you, when you are engaging with your day-to-day life to the fullest, there are always details to share about even the most typical of days. Part of the key to developing strong friendships, in my opinion, is the sharing of these seemingly insignificant details about your quotidian existence. The tiny happenings, the smallest of observations, the new thoughts that cross your mind, and the emotions you experience on a daily basis form something much greater than the sum of their parts. Knowing the intimate details of someone’s life allows you to develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for that person. Sharing the minuscule moments is often evidence of the strongest bonds between friends. Only those closest to you will hear about how you accidentally drew a phallic rocket on the whiteboard when talking about using the verb “launch” and how you turned bright red as your students snickered. Only your best friends will celebrate your victory when you tell them about how you had the most delicious burrito for lunch and how happy you were to finally find decent Mexican food after going without for two months. Only they will want to hear about about how you spent 2 hours on Saturday obtaining tickets to the Romeo Santos concert because you had no idea how to get to the ticket store, and about how you then had to wait in line at a sketchy mall called the Snail, or about how the sunset over the mountains from your apartment tonight reminded you of watching the sun set over the bay and sent you to sleep feeling warm and content.
Sundays are my Skype days. Every weekend, I try to catch up with at least one friend from back home over video chat. As I said goodbye to my friend on Sunday evening, I thought about how different our conversations are now in comparison to during the summer when we spent part of most days together. One reality of living abroad, especially in a different time zone than your friends, is that it is impossible to share your day-to-day life with those people. When you only talk to them once a month, you are totally occupied by updating them on all the significant events in your life: the weekend trip you took, your struggles and victories with teaching English, your anxieties about the coming year, and your latest bout with sickness. You are so busy trying to share the “important” things that the day-to-day details, the ones that form the bulk of your existence, are passed by. There is no time to talk about the tiny things when you are limited to an hour or two a month to chat. You lose the deep knowledge you have about your friend’s life and thoughts and feelings when you don’t have the chance to ask that simple question, “How was your day?” The intricacies and complexities of your life experiences are lost in the rush to share the most significant details. Thus those who once knew your thoughts almost as soon as you had them are no longer privy to your daily musings. The intimacy of the quotidian is lost, and with it, one meaningful aspect of your friendship. How is it that someone who once knew everything that happened each day of your existence is now on your once-a-month Skype list? How do we maintain the essence of our friendships across such great distances in geography and life experience? How long do we need to share our daily lives with people until we develop a relationship that can weather the challenges of separation? What is it that makes one relationship withstand the distances and another fade away?
I don’t have the answers. Yet we move along with our day-to-day existence. We develop new friendships, new people with whom we share our daily experiences. Old friends become experts on our past, and new friends experts on our present. Relationships are ever-changing, shifting to accommodate the changes in our lives. I think this is the natural way of things. But I hope someday, ten or twenty or thirty years from now, that I can look back and find that the relationships forged in my 20’s have resulted in some of my closest friends, despite the distances that sometimes separate us.