When you do something that’s uncommon, you can expect awkwardness. Take, for example, a time when you forgot to do your homework (you may argue that it is, in fact, common to not do homework but I’m sure there have been times when the only one without the homework in class was you). You anticipate your teacher walking up to your desk and asking you to show your work. On a good day, you may convince your teacher that you did do your homework but forgot to bring it with you to school and you get away with it. On a bad day, however, your teacher does not buy into your excuse and punishes you.
School days are over but this cycle of reward and punishment has stayed with us.
When we do something uncommon in regular life, like sticking to our diet and insisting on seeing it through a party, we anticipate that teacher from school returning again and getting at us in a sarcastic tone: “Look who is dieting! Can’t you just enjoy the party for a day?”, “If someone like you is dieting, what will someone like me (the person insists he is much bulkier) do?” and so on.
Such questions hurry us into a default response. We might not feel like we are in control of what we are saying but we say it anyhow. These answers are not our authentic selves speaking; they are our people pleasing selves taking the driver’s seat.
But think about it. This isn’t a school. We might feel that we will be punished for not answering in the only way we think we should. This is outside of school and there isn’t just one right answer. More often than not, the question coming at us is nothing other than a few words constructed mindlessly to make small talk. “Where’s the treat?” could be one that’s aimed at someone who has had the courage to do low-key court marriage.
It took me a while to learn this, but here’s what we can do- just stay in the moment. That spell of 15-20 seconds can feel like 15 minutes, but it will pass. A smile will do nicely. Most people don’t have the patience to sit through that awkwardness. If you can, you will have overcome the need to provide unnecessary justifications for whatever it is that you have chosen to do- low key marriage, not celebrating your birthday, not showing up at yet another boring family gathering, not pursuing a Masters degree, and so on.
Although intended harmlessly to break the ice, unfortunately, these bits of small talk alienates communication rather than fueling authentic connection. If you sense your people-pleasing self about to give in, bring out your smile- an authentic one and let that smile drive you for the next 10-15 seconds. You’re not being a bad person. You’re just using the strength of your smile to shield the possibility of dragging the both of you down a spiral of life alienating inauthentic conversation.
Life’s too short to be someone you know you are not.