I usually make my weekly visit to Kroger on Saturdays at noon. It's one of the busiest times of the week; college students replenish their snack supplies and families do their grocery shopping for the week.
As I walk in, a wave of cold air hits me from all the refrigerators. There are a blur of colors and people all around me, pushing carts full of food with a Starbucks drink in hand. I notice I'm one of the only people without one, but I don’t care.
I begin walking over to where the tomatoes are on display and see my friend Jared. I do a 180 degree turn and decide to go to the deli first instead.
Even though I interact with Jared almost daily, in the moment, I didn’t want to talk to him. And it’s not that I don’t like him, it’s that sometimes, I'm just not in the mood to socialize. When you’re at Kroger in the middle of grocery shopping, you’re not really focused on talking so much as trying to get everything in the least amount of time as possible. I'm not mentally prepared to talk to Jared or almost anyone else I know.
You could wave as you walk by or go another awkward route and give them a small smile. But then there's potential for something I don’t want to do at all: engage in small talk.
Small talk is one of my worst nightmares. Especially if you run into someone you don’t know as well, trying to have a conversation with them is miserable. I feel pressured to do it because it’s polite but always feel awkward doing so.
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I'm not good at conversing with someone I haven’t seen in years. Even though so much has happened since I'd seen them, in the moment, nothing comes to mind to talk to them about. It's like I dive into the ocean, and even though there’s so much to explore and learn about, I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know if I want to start. It can be overwhelming and stressful to take it on.
At random times when I’m out and about, I lose my ability to socialize, even if it’s someone I'm acquaintances or somewhat friends with. I become closed off and don’t want to talk to anyone.
And sometimes it’s okay to not want to socialize. We're allowed to have time to ourselves and not be obligated to talk to others. We don’t even have to hate the person to have an excuse not to talk to them; it’s only human that sometimes, we just don’t want to interact. We shouldn’t force ourselves to or be judged if we’re not in the mood to.
I understand why small talk exists. Sure, if you go to a new student orientation or a welcome banquet, small talk is acceptable. But the fact that I’m aware that I’ll have to make small talk in advance doesn’t help me feel any better. I'm just not good at it.
I dread small talk because if the other person doesn’t try at all or reciprocate, it’s pointless. Why even approach that person if you’re not going to put in the effort to make a conversation and avoid the awkward interaction?
We shouldn’t be required to engage in small talk with someone we barely know in random public settings, such as Kroger. A simple wave should be enough. We shouldn’t have to stress about going to Kroger for the fear we’ll run into someone we know and make small talk because that’s what society expects of us. We make plans for a reason; we’re given time to mentally prepare ourselves to talk to others.
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So if you ever see me at Kroger and I only wave and don’t start a conversation, I don’t have anything against you. I get social anxiety in public settings because I don’t expect to see you there. It throws me off guard, and I'm not prepared to socialize in the middle of the pasta aisle. Who is, anyways?
Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian.