I have 1,971 Facebook friends. I know that sounds like a lot, but believe me, I’m fairly Facebook aggressive. And we all know it’s not official unless it’s Facebook official.
Over a thousand of these friends are from my last year at Duke alone. Some friends are from a single good conversation while waiting in the Pitchforks line. Others are familiar faces that, unfortunately, have been privy to all 25 of my Shooters dance moves. There are dorm mates I’ve shared both meal and memory with, upperclassmen I admire and kids that I don’t know well at all, but secretly stalk because they have seriously cool profile pictures. I mean, seriously? Skydiving in Aruba? Here is your 200th like. I bequeath it with my blessing!
But I suppose that begs the question: How many friends do I actually talk to on a regular basis in real life?
Probably around four.
Four people that I see more than once a fortnight. Four people that I genuinely confide in about my worries and dreams and how I feel about Breaking Bad. Four people that, in turn, share the funny idiosyncrasies of their lives with me. Outside of that handful, my interaction has become almost systemic. I’m sure you know the routine. You bump into someone on the way to class you haven’t seen since LDOC. It’s either a pleasant or awkward surprise. You laugh, give the brief rundown on school, classes and that time you tripped on the Chapel steps. OK, that last one might just be me. Hey, you might go for the hug and hold each other. You promise you’ll catch up as soon as you can. Sometimes it actually happens. In any case, we make the necessary motions and move on with our lives.
If we’re going off pure numbers, Facebook tells me I’m chummy with hundreds of people at Duke. So how do I explain that in real life, I barely know many of my “friends” at all? That all I truly know about most people are surface snippets—what you’re involved in, what your major is, who you’re dating. How do I explain that there are too many days where I feel uncomfortably alone despite being surrounded by sociable, young people? That when I wave at you quickly on the BC Plaza, I’m actually wondering if you’re happy—and wishing I still knew you well enough to ask? I tell myself there isn’t time to have long conversations. I tell myself we’ll catch up properly “later.” But after hundreds of quick, surface conversations that lead to zilch, I’ve gotten lazy and grown jaded. And that is why I’m sick of small talk.
Don’t get me wrong, small talk itself is great. It truly is impossible to keep fully plugged in with hundreds of people at once without going completely insane. Small talk becomes the easiest way to show we still care in the time-efficient way we do things in college. The problem is when small talk and creepy virtual stalking (we’ve all done it) begins replacing meaningful real-life interaction—when we become comfortable with these surface conversations in lieu of putting in the effort to develop an actual relationship with someone. Weeks of experiences can’t be squeezed into a five-minute conversation or a quick Facebook browse. How many times have you answered “good” to the casual “how are you?” How many times have you truly meant it?
Perhaps the tragic part is we do care. We may care deeply about too many people who have simply fallen through the cracks of busy Duke life. Unfortunately, small talk doesn’t always deliver that message well enough and friendships eventually fade away. With a new semester is the return to an occasionally overwhelming social community, one on the cusp of rush. So how do we do it then? How do we maintain those friendships without compromising sleep, academics or life-changing TV shows?
As someone who has guiltily chosen all of the above over catching up with friends, I don’t know. But maybe it starts by simply having what genuine conversations we can, while we can. Real talk, not small talk. Does that mean we have to philosophize on the meaning of life over ABP soup? Only if you want to. Let’s dare to go deeper though, than “I’m good.” Let’s dare to talk about who your favorite professor is (Tony Brown) and what makes you happy (travelling and rock music) and whether you’re afraid of death (a little) and what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? (Let’s just say it was in India and it involved a moving Tuk-Tuk.)
So welcome, come on in, open the door. Sit down and have some hot chocolate with me. After all, I’ll be here all semester, writing more weird confessions than you probably want to read.
I’d love to real talk with you.
Isabella Kwai is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Thursday.