navigating holiday party conversations…when you have nothing to say

I dread putting myself in situations where I know I’m going to have to make small talk. I used to be fairly decent at it, but that was when making conversation was easy because I had something to say. Now, I find myself in a place where I either don’t have anything meaningful to share, or what I want to say isn’t considered “socially acceptable.” And while I don’t find myself in nearly as many opportunities for small talk as I used to, it still happens. And never does it happen more than it does during the holidays.

It’s not like I’m a great conversationalist or anything, but I’ve picked up a few strategies over the years. And, as a gift to you, I impart my extensive knowledge below.

The question : What have you been up to?

  • Deflecting answer :  Oh…you know, nothing too exciting. What about you?
  • Talking-to-your-elderly-aunt answer: I’m reading this great book lately! or Work / school has been so busy, but it’s going really well!

The question : Any fun holiday plans?

  • Deflecting answer :  I’m really looking forward to laying low. I’m thinking about starting a new TV show and would love some recommendations. Have you watched anything good recently?
  • Talking-to-your-elderly-aunt answer : Talk about what you’re doing with her side of the family…that’s all she wants to hear, anyway!

The question : Did you take any fun trips this year?

  • Deflecting answer : Nothing like you! I saw on Instagram you went on a big Europe trip! Tell me everything; it looked incredible!
  • Talking-to-your-elderly-aunt answer: You know, unfortunately, I didn’t get around to that this year. I’m hoping next year will be different, though. I’d love to visit {insert desired country / island here}.

The question : How has your health been?

  • Deflecting answer : I’ve had a few more downs than ups lately, but no big deal.
  • Talking-to-your-elderly-aunt answer : Still some challenges up ahead, but I feel like 2017 is going to be a great year!

The question : So, are you seeing anyone?

  • Deflecting answer : You know, I’m not, but I’ve done a fair amount of dating. Now let me tell you about this absolutely hysterical / ridiculous date I had.
  • Talking-to-your-elderly-aunt answer: I haven’t, but it’s only a matter of time!

Overarching Tips:

  • Answer each question as quickly as possible, then steer the conversation towards the other person.
    • Everyone loves to talk about themselves
  • Bring a buffer
    • If there’s someone there with you who knows your exact situation they can help by taking some of the heat off you when needed.
  • Ghosting is often the answer
    • When you’re out in a big group or at a crowded party there is no shame in quietly slipping out when you’ve had your fill.
  • Include extensive detail in the limited information you have to share
    • The more detail, the longer your answer. The longer your answer, the more it seems like you have a lot to say.
  • View each occasion as an opportunity rather than an obligation
    • If you’re miserable, it’s going to be pretty obvious. Try to use the hour or two you’re out as a much-needed break from your typically mundane schedule. Yes, you’re going to pay for it, but that’ll happen whether or not you’re having a good time…so you might as well make the most of it.

Now get out there and party on!

painfully awkward dating

{I was a little too nervous to put the picture I wanted to use on this page…but it might be on the 29 / 92 Instagram}

For me, 2016 has been a year of dating. It’s been largely unsuccessful dating, but dating, nonetheless. I didn’t introduce this major social element into my day-to-day life because my pain improved, but rather in spite of the fact that it did not. With this addition have come some lessons which I am so generously outlining below. Take them either as a guide of what to do, what not to do, or just a reason back and think “Wow, I am so happy I am in a stable relationship and don’t have to deal with this nonsense.”

Issue : Doing things, Solution : Don’t do things

As much as I want to say yes to every lunch date, movie, and post-work cocktail hour, it’s a bad idea. I have to be realistic about my abilities and required recovery times. When I’m living in an I-don’t-have-chronic-pain fantasy world is when things start to crumble a little bit. So I’ve had to block out entire weekends – telling him I was, unfortunately, going to be completely unavailable. Was every moment scheduled? No. Could I have squeezed in something? Absolutely. But I was thrilled when the unscheduled time finally came around so that I could do exactly what my body needed, and I was better off for it. And let’s be honest :  once my pain gets to a certain point I become a slightly more difficult person to be around. It’s better to wait until you’ve known someone at least a month to let them see your true colors.

Issue : Saying no too often, Solution : Show interest in other ways

The biggest problem with the above is that you can come off as uninterested, particularly in the beginning. To make up for this I do two things. First, I might have said I can’t hang out, but that doesn’t mean I can’t check in and see how his day is going. Sending a text when the other person knows you have other responsibilities conveys that you’re thinking of them even when they aren’t around. The second thing I do is propose a new activity when I say no to something else. For example : “No, I can’t watch football with you on Sunday, but what do you think about having dinner on Wednesday?”*

Issue : Not being able to do certain things, Solution : Give and take

This one is tough. At the beginning of a relationship, I’m talking about dates number one through three, it’s not necessarily a good idea to say “Oh I can’t do that. I have chronic pain, and walking around for more than twenty minutes is out of the question.” That’s a surefire way to get the person to run in the opposite direction. But you also want to be flexible, honest, and participate in activities that are going to allow you to get to know one another. The only solution I have for this involves having a firm understanding what you can and cannot handle. Stick to your guns when he proposes an activity you should not / cannot do, and if something a little iffy is on the agenda, rest up and go for it. Then schedule plenty of downtime for after. In the formative days of a relationship I’m willing to go through a little extra discomfort. This isn’t necessarily true for a first date {because that can be a complete bust and it’s never worth it to put yourself in a shaky situation for a person who isn’t going to work out}, but rather that period when things seem to be headed in a good direction and you’re trying to figure each other out.

Issue : Shirking all other responsibilities, Solution : Accept the fact that some things are simply going to go undone 

I have a hard enough time keeping up with all the typical adult activities i.e. doing the laundry, earning my paycheck, and keeping the dog happy. Throw in an additional variable {like a major bump in my social life} and something has to give. That something is usually the housework. It’s really the only thing I’m able or willing to let slide…to a certain extent. I’ll let that pile of clean towels sit unfolded for a day or so. I’ll pick up takeout one night if it means I can sit on my butt and watch Netflix instead of devote time to grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning the kitchen. Every single activity has a price, and it’s usually just a matter of figuring out your tolerance.

So, just to be clear, while I am doing some dating things are a far, far cry from a Sex in the City episode…and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing. For a while dating not only seemed outside the realm of possibilities, but I didn’t even know how to even go about it anymore. Then I convinced myself I didn’t care about attempting a relationship at all, and that was not only a lie but also a bummer. There’s been a serious learning curve, and I know I still have a lot to figure out, but I’m trying. And that better count for something!

 


 

*This paragraph is cracking me up…it’s like I think I’m that Dear Alice lady or something. Is that what the advice column is called? Dear Alice? Or is it Betty?? Either way, this post is getting ridiculous.

money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a dog

It’s a nice idea that a person can take something from every failed relationship so that the whole thing wasn’t just a spectacular waste of time.

Because it’s barely been a week since I went from being in a “stable” relationship to being single I haven’t had too many positive thoughts about my experience. There is one very good thing, however, that I don’t think I would have done if I didn’t date that particular guy at that specific time.

On Friday I am going straight from work to a shelter to pick up an eight-week-old black lab puppy.

The idea to get a dog came from a friend the day I was dumped. I was laughing about how lousy the timing was, since this guy and I had discussed his new puppy for most of our relationship. First, there was the waiting for the mom dog to actually have the puppies, then the uncertainty that he would definitely get one of the females, then waiting for the puppy to be old enough to leave her mom and make the trip to New Orleans.

I was so excited for his dog to get here, possibly as excited as my boyfriend. I felt like I was getting all the fun parts of having a dog but none of the responsibility or expense. It was a perfect situation. I bought a little toy for the pup and looked online for beds and cute collars. I even talked to people about her as if she was mine! Unfortunately, I only got to spend an hour with the dog before our relationship ended.

So when I told my friend about this, she said I should get a dog of my own, and I immediately loved the idea. It’s not that I hadn’t thought about it before. Sure, a dog would be fun most of the time, but before this last relationship I convinced myself that I loved living selfishly and didn’t want it any other way. A dog would force me to worry about something besides myself every single day, and I thought that if I was going to be single I should really lean into it and not be burdened with unnecessary responsibilities.

I pretended to hem and haw over this decision for the next day or so, testing the idea on my family and a few friends. I knew getting a dog was the right move, however, and with the help of Pet Finder I found the cutest little puppy who needed me possibly as much as I needed her. This past Saturday my little sister, brother-in-law, and I drove to Folsom, Louisiana to a wonderful “shelter” of sorts. I say “shelter” because it’s a woman who houses dogs on her personal property to save them from kill shelters. She also takes in pregnant dogs without a home because she is much better at handling puppies than a typical shelter. It’s quite an impressive operation. I could have taken just about any dog home with me that day, but I chose a little one who wouldn’t be old enough for another week.

In spite of the fact that Celie isn’t even here yet I have already been busier than I would be if I wasn’t expecting her. Since I haven’t had a dog in twenty years I basically know nothing and have had to study up on every aspect of raising a puppy. I put some serious thought into how I want to train her, how I’m going to deal with working full-time with a new puppy, and most importantly, what accessories will look best with her black-brownish coat. I quite sure the UPS guy thinks I’m either getting married or have a legitimate shopping addiction, as I have ordered so much from Amazon in the last week there is a stack of boxes at my door each day.

Although this post sounds like nothing more than the ramblings of a crazy dog lady I swear it has a point. There are definitely holes in my life that impact how I cope each day. My chronic pain is mostly responsible for these holes, whether directly or indirectly, and it makes it hard to be happy. As nice as it is to not set an alarm on any given Saturday morning and have no reason to put on pants all day, it feels pretty lousy when six o’clock rolls around and I realize I have talked to no one and have done basically nothing aside from binge-watch Netflix. Besides going to work and a limited social calendar I have little purpose. And who can blame me? It hurts to do most things, so if I’m not pushing myself to do something for another person it’s very difficult to justify the activity.

But come Friday all that is going to change. I’m going to have a reason to wake up each morning, because everything in my house is new (and white), and if that dog pees inside because I wanted to sleep in it’s going to be a big bummer. I have a reason to leave the house, whether it’s for a walk around my neighborhood or a drive to a dog park to give Celie some exercise / meet guys. I have friends who are already asking about meeting up with them and their dogs as soon as she’s old enough. And when I’m having a bad day and struggling to do much of anything I won’t be in the house all alone.

Apparently, you have to find happiness within yourself before anyone can make you happy. I’m not sure if buying a dog counts as finding my own happiness, but I definitely don’t think it’s going to hurt.