The lost art of small talk
Long before speed dating evolved to cater for ‘no time wasters need apply’ singletons, a few progressive souls applied an algorithmic efficiency to the getting-to-know-each-other process. (An efficiency that has been hugely accelerated by social media).
Let me explain.
It used to be the case that smalltalk at parties both oiled the wheels of social interaction and provided well-rehearsed getouts when interaction was going badly. For example, ‘excuse me, I’ve just seen someone I went to school with!’ Or ‘how fascinating. Excuse me, must just nip over there to get the last of the cheesy dip!’ I assumed it would ever be thus.
How naïve I was. A while back, standing in a queue for a buffet at a party, my casual remark to the bloke in front of me, ‘are those vegan sausage rolls, do you think?’ was met with the following surprising rejoinder: ‘how much equity do you have in your house?’
‘Eh?’ I parried intelligently (which should have been hint enough that my focus was solely on sausage roll content). Fleetingly, I wondered if he was an estate agent and had lost the ability to talk in anything else other than shop. But then he explained, kindly, that as an available and therefore highly catchable bloke in mixed company, he didn’t have time to ‘pfaff about talking to women at parties who have less than x amount of property equity.’ He had decided to be this ‘honest’ at parties from now on to avoid getting desperate women’s hopes up (only he worded it less baldly) and because it was part of a life plan that included being able to retire at 50 and play a lot of golf.
As this left me pretty much speechless, all I could manage in reply was, ‘you had me til “golf”.’
He hadn’t, tbh.
Beware uncosted bouquets
Afterwards, I did wonder if he was onto something – why not cut through the chitchat bull and get to the mercenary crux: are you a good financial bet? It used to be dads who asked this of prospective grooms in oak-panelled libraries. Now that women are no longer chattels, some blokes at least are keen to weed out the dead wood of potential mates who’ve lacked the foresight to build up a certain amount of equity or a goodly wodge in their ISA before sneakily standing in buffet queues using sausage rolls as a pretext to harvest a marriage proposal. In this approach, pragmatism trumps romance, but cards are on the table and there are no surprises lurking in the rose-tinted mist, fiscal briskness replacing whispered sweet nothings open to future misinterpretation. (My friend once received a wedding anniversary bouquet at her workplace sent by her husband. Later, at home, he told her what they’d cost so that she could reimburse the joint account).
However, there seems to be an inverse sexism at work: had I bypassed social niceties and interrogated the golfer at the buffet about his equity or property-owning status, I’d have been labelled that female cliché, the gold-digger (a nasty term applied to either gender).
Perhaps the old getting to know each other method is better after all. What’s wrong with trogging through all that stuff about fave colour, box set, biggest mistake, cherished hopes and dreams? The sort of potted resumé, scattered with clues to character and replete with quirkiness, that typifies celebrity Q&As in magazines. I’d much rather know ‘what’s the first thing you’d save if your house was on fire?’ than how much equity you have in it. Tbh.