Small Talk, Fist Bumps, and Other Things that Make Me Uncomfortable

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A co-worker walked by me in the hall today and held his fist out in greeting. I gave him the obligatory bump because I’m not a jerk, but this practice, along with the high five, is a form of greeting I can’t get comfortable with. It’s alien to me, a secret handshake for manly men, a club in which I was never really a part. I mean, what’s next? Hallway wrestling matches? Full speed head butting like a couple of big horn sheep? Should we climb the nearest tree and throw shit at each other?

I’m a handshake man. It’s friendly, but not too friendly. It says “I’m glad to see you” without implying the additional, “and if we were alone in a locker room shower together… well… who knows what might happen?” Unfortunately, the hand shake isn’t incorruptible. My wife has a couple of uncles that reach out for a handshake and turn it into a scripted set of hand contortions I’m powerless to prevent. I’m never sure if they’re happy to see me or if they’re trying to make me look like an idiot.

Sideways half-hugs are no good, either. I guess American men, in particular, avoid the full hug out of an irrational fear that it might erupt into inappropriate love making. Whatever the reason, nothing’s weirder than the half-hug. With a full hug, you know what’s happening, who’s head will be where, and by god, you know what to do with your arms. With the half-hug, all bets are off. Are we doing this from the right hip or the left? Are my arms going over or under? Am I going to reciprocate, or merely allow myself to be hugged? I never know. What I do know is that half-hugs have led to more accidental head butts, inadvertent no-no zone contact, and near kisses then any full hug I’ve ever experienced.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not all that interested in full hugs either, but that’s mostly because I don’t like being touched.

At least fist bumps, crazy handshakes, and half-hugs only last a second, like a flu shot, as opposed to small talk which is more of a foot-chopped-off-with-a-hacksaw kind of affair. It’s not that I’m opposed to small talk, I’ve just never gotten the hang of it. I don’t care about the weather. How can we have a conversation about it when the whole conversation can be summed up in single words such as “hot,” “cold,” “windy,” or “rainy?” Yeah, so. What now? And don’t talk to me about sports. I don’t typically know who won what against whom, when, where, or why. No sir. If I’m going to get to know someone, I want to know their thoughts on… say… the origins of the universe, their views on God, or the meaning of life. Is that too much to ask as we ride in an elevator or wait for the bus?

I marvel at extroverted types who can walk up to anyone at any time and end up with a phone number and dinner plans. When you meet those kinds of people, you stay met. You walk away from the conversation saying, “Now that was a hell of a human being!” Not so with me. When people meet me, I suspect they walk away singing, “Awwwkwaaaard!”

I can’t help it. It’s just the way I’m wired. I do my best to fake the social niceties, but it’s sooooo exhausting. It’s not that I don’t like people, I do, I really do, but these little pleasantries seem hollow and born out of a need to acknowledge the existence of our fellow human beings without getting too invested in their lives.

“What’s your point?” you ask.

Hell if I know, but it’s more interesting than the weather.

Isn’t it?




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