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The Smallest Talk

“Oh, the weather today was beautiful. Do want to talk about the meaning of life?” I ask.

While I facetiously save meaning of life questions for the second date (first date conversations generally revolve around morality tropes and ethical dilemmas — I kid), I abhor small talk. Small talk is the conversational equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal: plastic and headache-inducing.

While I can smile along at small talk, my mind is jumping to more far-concerns concerns, “Why are we talking about Beyonce’s latest outfit when the refugee crisis is blotting Europe or the Republican health care plan threatens the Affordable Care Act? Or my mental health issues are strangle-holding me into submission?”

I consider myself a deep, contemplative person. And while I can and do feign interest in the latest reality TV hit or Beyonce’s sultry outfit (or non-outfit), I would much prefer to talk about substantives issue: politics, philosophy, or psychology.

Sorry (but not really).

For years, I wondered if this insatiable need for deep, meaningful conversations warranted my own dating intervention.

“Matt, practice asking her about her pets. Women love talking about their dogs, not Darfur,” my mind would remind me before the latest date (debacle). And before I would spend a couple hours feigning interest in a female’s best friend.

But, fortunately, I don’t have to fake it until I make it — or until the check finally arrives. And neither do you.

Happiness and connection are rooted in deep, meaningful conversations. And with apologies to my previous dates, not mindless conversation focused on her dog’s designer duds.

Sorry (but not really).

While small talk is a necessary evil (more evil than necessary — at least in my opinion), researchers have found that substantive conversations are linked to contentment and happiness. According to a Psychological Science journal, the happiest person in its study had twice as many substantive conversations (and only one-third the amount of small talk) as the study’s unhappiest person. For the study’s happiest person, nearly 46% of conversations were substantive.

Your next question: Well, Matt, what constitutes a substantive conversation?  

And my cheeky — and truthful — response: Let’s talk about what constitutes a substantive conversation.

In all seriousness, substantive conversations provide meaning and a sense of connection. More than the reflexive “I’m doing fine,” I have a greater understanding of how you are really doing. There is a valuable exchange of information and reciprocal trust undergirding substantive conversations.

So for my fellow deep divers, you aren’t strange or odd for craving a meaningful conversation. In fact, you may be happier doing so — and much happier than awkwardly smiling/gritting your teeth as your date discusses Fido’s formalwear.

Woof (even if her dog is delightful).

The Smallest Talk

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). The Smallest Talk. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Oct 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.