My friendships have become more satisfying over the years. In my childhood and teens, my friendships were rather surface level, where we just had fun, hung out, and kept each other company to stave off our loneliness. But in my adulthood, my friendships became happier, more profound, and more fulfilling. We have deeper conversations, and enjoy a greater emotional and sometimes intellectual connection.
Yet, what is a “deep and meaningful” conversation? And what is a “great emotional or intellectual connection”? What does a great or satisfying relationship entail? Related to this, what is emotional closeness, and why do many people fear becoming close? For the questions on emotional and intellectual connection, great relationship satisfaction, and emotional closeness, I will talk about them another time, as they are rich topics that deserve their own separate post. Today, I’m just going to talk about what a “deep” conversation may mean.
Different people have different definitions for what a “deep” conversation is. Some think that you have to talk about very emotional and personal things, perhaps about your closest relationships as well. For me, I see depth in a conversation if we can talk about intellectual, scientific, philosophical, psychological (theories and ideas about people), artistic, literary, or writing topics; or if we chat about a subject that you’re passionate about, which can include anime, books, video games, movies, and the like. What would be a “superficial” conversation, then? Some folks consider telling jokes as superficial. I myself tend to think any talk about food, travel, or clothing as surface conversation.
Am I being snobby in my definitions of “deep” versus “shallow” conversation topics? Well, again, the discussion doesn’t have to revolve around philosophical, intellectual, or academic things if you are not interested in those areas. However, some consider talking about the arts as snobbish…which is a bit harsh; art should be for everyone, not just for artists and art critics. As well, I want to clarify that you can talk about superficial things sometimes. For instance, if you’re not close to someone, or you don’t trust or feel comfortable with the person, you may not want to engage more deeply with them, whether emotionally or intellectually.
For deep intellectual engagement, you may ask whether discussing current affairs, politics, or religion would be “deep.” I would say that as long as you sincerely care about these issues, and are not simply using them to make small talk, then yes, they can be meaningful and engaging topics.
But on the topics that I listed earlier as shallower and less meaningful, namely, food, travel, and clothing, what if somebody is very interested in these aspects of life? What if they are passionate chefs, fashionistas, fashion designers, people who love to travel, or dedicated writers of travelogues? In this case, I would not call these “shallow” topics, since they are intrinsically meaningful and fascinating to these folks. However, I would not be the target audience of these talks, since I am unfortunately not too passionate about these things.
Another example of something I find superficial, would be school. Meeting deadlines, doing assignments, writing exams, applying to programs, are all important tasks in themselves, but they feel shallow, procedural, logistical, and are simply what you are expected to do as a student and citizen. School talk doesn’t reveal much to me about how you are like as a person, what you love and value. What topics do you find your heart drawn towards? As I like to ask, where are your heart affinities?
Some years ago, at a party, the people around me kept talking about school, and I was bored out of my mind. I think so much about school already in my daily life! In contrast, a group of people sitting a little farther away, were talking about parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and video games. But at that time, I was too polite to switch seats with anyone to join the conversation I actually wanted to partake in.
At a more recent party, I had learned my lesson. Don’t be so polite. If the conversation around you is boring you to tears, get up and move to a table with a much more stimulating discussion. Otherwise, you’ll just end up feeling bitter and resentful that you had to endure topics that you don’t enjoy or care about. When I left that table at this party (they were talking about food and travel), I felt a little guilty at first, but ultimately, I was much happier after making the switch.
Here, I want to clarify that whether I find a group’s conversation interesting or not, has nothing to do with my relationship with the people. In fact, I often like the people in the first group I’m in, and in normal settings, I do find my conversations with these people interesting. Yet, there is something about parties that can make even the most intriguing of people talk about the dullest of things, which makes me both sad and bewildered. It’s one reason why I would rather avoid parties. They tend to make me feel so intellectually unstimulated, though there were some exceptions in the past.
Even now, I feel some guilt over dismissing some conversations as “superficial” and “unstimulating,” but it’s good to be honest about what you like and dislike sometimes.
However, to throw in a counter-argument against my point, what if one values communication for its own sake? What if the quantity rather than the quality of conversations you have with a person matters more? For instance, you can get to know a friend through the seemingly trivial things they tell you about their life. And maybe these things are unimportant in your eyes, but they are important to your friend.
My response to this counter-argument, is that a relationship would likely feel more rewarding if you both find the topics of discussion interesting. It’s okay to talk about more mundane things like school and daily life from time to time. But if you never, or rarely, talk about something you both find meaningful, then how would you be able to connect on a deeper level? Friendship is a two-way street, so there must be enough times where the two friends converse on a topic that is riveting and worthwhile to both people, not just to one person.
What about you? What counts as a “deep and meaningful” conversation? What would count as “shallow” or “superficial”? Do you have any other thoughts on connecting with friends through conversations?