No, I Don’t Make Chitchat, and I’m Okay With That chitchat don't make

There was a time in my life when I regularly attended church. It was a liturgical church with a small, dark sanctuary decorated with beautiful stained glass windows. The services were quiet, solemn affairs — not like the loud, clapping and shouting services some churches offer. I enjoyed this quiet, calm interlude with a predictable routine.

Then came the awkward part. Suddenly, the service would be over, and noise and chaos would erupt like a volcano. The instant the pastor dismissed us, people would jump up and start shuffling about, gathering coats and children and heading out into the aisles. There was talking, talking, and more talking as people gathered in little groups.  They wouldn’t walk towards the door; they would just stand there talking, talking, talking.

I was the only one walking, mumbling “excuse me” as I tried to maneuver around them towards the exit. I hated being the first person out. I didn’t know anybody, but still, would they think I was a snob for not stopping to talk with them?

The pastor would wait outside the door to shake everyone’s hand as they left. What did he think of me, dashing out first like that while everyone else loitered? Did it look like I was unhappy with the service, or with him?

But what was my other option — to stand around in the middle of all those little groups with no one to talk to? Maybe if they had been discussing the sermon or other ideas about what their faith meant to their lives, I would have mustered the courage to join in.  The  conversations, however, were nothing like that. They were all small talk and empty banter.

Walking back to campus, I wanted to be able to relish the experience and think about the sermon. Reflecting on these kinds of things was like a party in my head. I couldn’t enjoy it much, however, because I was worried that I had offended the people at the church.

Little Terrors Everywhere

I don’t attend church now, but I still find myself in crowds every time I attend an event alone. They’re either waiting to get in or hanging around afterwards in little groups, talking, talking, talking. And I’m just standing there by myself, sticking out like a flashing red loser. Because that’s what being alone says, isn’t it? It says I have no friends, or that nobody wants to talk to me. There’s no greater stigma than that, right?

Even when my office books a conference room for a meeting and I know everybody there, I still find myself alone in the crowd. Waiting for the room to become available, we all stand in the hallway outside the door in little groups, talking, talking, talking. One group will be discussing recipes and the details of every dish they’ve ever had at a local restaurant. Another will be doing a deep dive into car insurance and meander off into driving stories, complete with hand illustrations.

Oh, the horror.

But it’s a choice between enduring this empty talk or standing alone, looking like a loser, or worse — a snob. So I used to try to push my way into a circle of talkers, or stand at the border of a group and try to fake like I was actually participating in the discussion, all the while wishing I could disappear. Sometimes I would spot another circle with a bigger opening in it and casually meander over to that space, hoping nobody saw me do it. I had to blend in, to look like I was included somewhere.

I could not be seen standing alone.

The Prison in My Mind

Then one day I had enough. I was tired of trying to fake it in the crowd of talkers that was standing around on the grass during a fire drill at my office building. One circle was deep into a TV serial I didn’t watch, another was shrieking and joking about an ant hill, and another was being held hostage to one man’s story that was not going to end any time this century.

This time, however, instead of trying to push my way in and fake it, I just stepped back and stood by myself. And nobody noticed. Nobody was looking at me with pity or disdain. Nobody pursued me with the dreaded, “Why are you so quiet?” or “Are you okay?” They were too busy talking.

In fact, they seemed to be so oblivious to everything around them that the guy calling us back into the building had to scream at the top of his lungs many times before anyone even looked up. Further observation revealed that while I stood by myself, I was not alone at the back of the crowd. A few other people were standing back there, too — by themselves. Nobody saw us.

I now understand how a pickpocket, unseen, works a room. I understand that the parishioners of that church were not offended by my exit — they didn’t even notice me leaving. I realize that all that time I had been cowering before a phantom.

And even if they do notice me, so what? This is who I am. As an introvert, I’m not a casual talker, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I have no desire to fill every idle moment with talking, and that doesn’t make me rude, a loser, or a snob.

Who makes those rules anyway? Who says standing alone is a stigma? Whoever it is, I think it’s time I stopped listening to them.

I Now Stand Alone and Proud

I’ve now made a standard practice of standing away and alone and making a bee-line for the exit as soon as an event is over. Nobody notices me. Some people even follow my lead.

I refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed. My faking conformity to the prevailing extrovert ethos is not going to help society become more inclusive and accepting of other personality types. If I accept and cower to the stigmas attached to being quiet and differently social, I can hardly expect others to change their minds about what’s normal and acceptable. The first step to acceptance by others is acceptance of yourself.

The prospect of being alone in a crowd no longer fills me with dread. I now stand alone and proud. 

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    • njguy54 says:

      The biggest problem with chit-chat is that, once you get past the ship talk and the insider jokes, most of it is mind-numbingly boring. Guys are the worst chit-chatters because the topic almost always turns to sports. Sports is guys’ go-to intellectual “safe space” where everyone can agree that X quarterback is awesome or Y team sucks this year… and if there’s a fan of s rival team in the room, he might get some good natured ribbing. No useful information is exchanged.

    • Nari. G says:

      Yes. Yes. Yes! For a moment there it felt like I was reading about my own life. Especially the part about the workplace. Words like “staff social activities/dinners” instill me with unimaginable horror. Looking like a social pariah for a WHOLE DAY? Painfully stumbling through pointless small talk and pretending to laugh at jokes that I didn’t bother listening to?
      I endured a few, and then put my foot down. I don’t care if my co-workers think I’m a social outcast. I refuse to put myself through that torture ever again.

    • Emily Markulis says:

      OMG, I love this! I still go to church and mine is the same way. The worst are the people who stand in the dang doorway while I’m trying to get by. I’ll shake hands with the priest/pastors, but THAT’S it. No unnecessary chit chat. Work is the same way, before and after meetings. I wish I had your level of acceptance of it, but a part of me still feels guilty, as if I’m being rude. On the contrary, I’m a pretty friendly person when interacting with people, but have very little patience with the chit chat. I’m not going to bulls-t b/c it’s expected of me…hopefully one day I’ll fully get to a place of not feeling guilty over that.

    • Trisha Miller says:

      Wow….I could have written this—so familiar to me!… Thank you for being brave and sharing! One last thing to say: “Introverts don’t dislike small talk—we dislike the ‘barrier’ it creates between people.”

    • Melissa says:

      Thank you for this article. I am the same way and I don’t think any of us need to make apologies for it. There are enough people talking, talking, talking all day long. If there weren’t still a few of us who listen and observe, I don’t think anything meaningful would every be accomplished in this world.

    • Janet Klumb says:

      There is a verse in Proverbs that says “pleasing man is a snare”. We are not to go to church to please others but to worship the God who created each of us individually. Psalm 139 says God wove you together in your mother’s womb and knew you before you had one day on this earth . You are “wonderfully made” with your personality. I am like you- hating crowds and small talk. But I go to church to worship Jesus Christ as my Savior and that makes me look at others with compassion. I go to church to be part of the prayer team so those who come with fake smiles and covering up their pain can come up at prayer time and find hope. When I made church about me, I felt others eyes on me judging, but to make it about Jesus and His message of love, pulled me out of myself, gave me a heart to approach others after church to say, “how are you doing? Can I pray for you?”
      “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Find a church that isn’t just ceremony and sermon- find a church that praises and worships and prays for those who come.

    • Reaver says:

      Eye opener, thanks!