Up until this summer, I had very high standards for holding conversations with people. For me to feel like I had connected with someone, I required conversations to include at least one of the following: sharing about one’s spirituality, confiding a love interest, or expressing hopes, dreams, and fears. I viewed conversations much like milking a cow. I tried to extract deep information from the person I was conversing with in the same way the dairy farmer yanks and pulls on the cow’s tit until the milk is squirting freely into the pail. I saw myself as a combination of the farmer and the pail; the farmer to squeeze out the information, the pail to catch it as it came squirting out. I put a lot of pressure on myself, the person I was talking to, and conversations in general.
But this summer, I realize that it’s impossible to reach that deep level of conversations with everyone. Furthermore, it’s emotionally exhausting. In fact, it’s more suitably the job of a psychologist in order to help people process their lives. So why did I feel the need to give free sessions to everyone? I’m not sure. It was probably even dangerous of me in that I wasn’t trained in helping those I was conversing with deal with their emotions. But a light has gone off for me this summer, and I realize I don’t need to be so lofty in my expectations of conversations. As a result, I am better able to enjoy conversations. Sure, sometimes I ask directed deep questions if I feel it’s needed, but I’m also perfectly content to keep the conversation at a politely shallow level. “How do you like your new job?” “What’s your favorite meal to make in the summertime?” “How do you deal with sharp turns on the riding lawn mower?” etc. Recently, these conversations have been equally as satisfying and a lot less draining that the “milking” I had fancied was required of me earlier. I’m not saying that “milking” is never required, but in general, I can relax and meet people where they are at conversationally.