When to be “Shallow”…and When Not To

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In the last couple of years, I have revitalized my social life. This has mostly been a great thing.

That last miscarriage (in 2010) decimated me, and I spent about three years rebuilding. I just kind of withdrew and recharged, and I don’t regret doing that. But the “seclusion” led to a decline in social skills. I sucked at small talk, and especially finding common ground in conversation. I began to think maybe I just wasn’t cut out for little league, soccer, pre-school circles.

But then I went back to work full-time, and it threw me into a universe where rational thinking, problem solving and social skills are everything. Re-entry was a game changer. Why? Probably because collaboration and teamwork are so important in my field. I remembered that finding common ground, even over something tentative and small, helps to build bonds. So instead of narrowing my net like in 2010 (and clicking only with people who “got” my situation on many levels – which was rare) I widened it, and now I connect with people who have lived in London, love sushi, like shopping at H & M, etc. It feels nice to connect with so many folks, even over “silly” things.

One of my mentors likes to talk about how “affinity” is needed for proper communication. In order to communicate with people, you need to LIKE them, even if just a little bit. You need to feel some sense of affinity with them – whether a sense of commonality or kinship or loose association. Sometimes you need to dig deep to find an affinity, but in almost all cases, it’s there, somewhere. Unless a person is just a total douche, and that’s relatively rare.

I have built several lovely groups of friends recently. I have a weekly tennis clinic with three awesome buddies who don’t hold the fact that I am a terrible player against me. My husband and I have some couple friends – husbands and wives we both like and get along with. I have empathetic blogging friends like Bodega and Mo for heartfelt conversations. And I also have some great work colleagues whom I can laugh and commiserate with. I have neighborhood friends, I have my past college friends, I have FB friends.

All of these people have one thing in common with me – we can meet in the middle and find something to talk about, whether it’s work, parenting or my embarrassing tennis. It’s a collaborative effort, with a balanced result.

But.

I guess that could mean I am a “shallow” person, a term someone used to describe me recently. And I don’t think that description is off the mark. I do have a lot of superficial connections to people now, more than I probably ever have had. I try to bond with many people, but I tend to keep it “light” so I can stay in touch with them indefinitely. I don’t want enemies, or “bad blood,” to paraphrase that poet of our time, Taylor Swift. It’s too exhausting, and I’m too old.

I didn’t love being called shallow. But maybe being shallow is the key to a circle with many resources. I guess it’s OK as long as I always have the good friends too, the ones who will be there for me. And the most important social skill is to be a good friend. I try really hard to do that.

What do you think? Better to be “shallow” and have many connections? Or be deep, and only connect with a few who have many things in common with you? Or is the ideal actually both?

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “When to be “Shallow”…and When Not To

  1. Mo

    I think one of the best things that happened to me over the last couple of years is becoming more “shallow”. It forces fun on you. For a really long time after losing Nadav I felt like a bit of an imposter around anybody who didn’t know my history. But not everyone can carry that weight with me. Letting go of that label so I can manage to survive in polite company was a hugely freeing thing. Shallow friends are great BECAUSE they don’t know your history. It took shallow friendships to help me find myself again. Because that’s how I discovered what I can be when I don’t let my history drag me underwater.
    Which, in turn, made me a better friend to the people who I hold dear.

    • This is just a fantastic comment, all around.

      Yes to all of this – to the forcing fun on you, to the not-having-to-talk-about all-the-bad-stuff-all-the-time, to the reminder that we are so much more than JUST our sad stories. Love all of this wisdom.

    • I agree 100%. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned that not every friendship needs to be deep and it’s nice having some shallow friendships. I don’t always want to talk about marriage, our politics, or religion (for example) and sometimes just want to talk sweaters and trips. I’ve mellowed a lot with age, take myself way less seriously, and have let go of a lot of my judgmental ways… And that sets me up for lots of shallow talk, which can be a life saver. I don’t want everyone knowing all the crap in my life.

      • Mo

        Exactly! I have a running joke where I work, where I don’t tell people my maiden name. Because then they would google me and find out how I took myself WAY too seriously in my 20’s.

  2. I am truly shocked anyone could think you are shallow! I think having both strong and weak ties (to speak in terms of network theory) is beneficial, but I think meeting your needs at given time is just as important. Do you feel lonely? It sounds like you have some great outlets and friends and are having fun. In that case, I don’ think the quality of friends and perceived shallowness (ugh!) matter.

    • Interesting questions! Here’s the weird thing – the less I think about my own needs, the easier I find it to make friends and then be connected, which makes me happy. It doesn’t really make sense, but it works.

      The “shallow” thing was a bit surprising, but I am trying not to take it personally 😛 I don’t think it was meant as an insult, merely an observation.

  3. You can’t know everyone intimately 24/7. Hence, why making conversation is an art. A few times, people have come up to me and give me their number and want to hang out, but I gently try to tell them I don’t have enough hours in a day at this point in my life. So the best I can do is be genuine when I do see them, Be yourself and treasure those who truly love you.

  4. I don’t think you’re shallow at all – obviously, this was an insightful and well-thought-out post. I think you have some interests that are commonly associated with being shallow (fashion, home design) and what you’re talking about here is connecting with people based on external interests rather than fewer values. But there’s a value to that too. I think when I was younger I was more dogmatic and felt that if someone didn’t have certain things in common with me, wI couldn’t be friends. But now I’m discovering ther are many people whose company I really enjoy, even if we disagree on major life issues.

  5. Heather

    I think sometimes we only show the shallow side to those we are in more superficial relationships with – and that’s ok. Not everyone needs to know everything -that is earned with closer relationships which can be built over time. I think it’s okay to have both but I value the deeper relationships more.
    Oh and by the way you’re not shallow at all. 🙂
    I agree with Deborah. I first met a mom in my mom’s group who was so different in parenting perspectives but she’s turned out to be my number one babysitter! I think it’s more that when people show that they care then you see their true colours.

  6. This is such an interesting way to look at things. The power of words, huh? My mom would refer to you as a social butterfly, but you’re both talking about essentially the same thing. I think you’ve laid it out in a thoughtful way here and it speaks to something in me I hadn’t considered. I think it’s the nature of true introverts to not be able to tolerate that kind of interaction with people. Although, maybe tolerate isn’t quite the right word. It’s just that we really can’t do it. Do we lack the skills? Does it inspire too much anxiety in us? I don’t know. But cultivating these types of superficial relationships is beyond us and I guess that’s why we aren’t the most popular people.

    • Social butterfly – Ha! That is probably accurate.

      I definitely have an introverted side as well, and need time to recharge. In fact, I was shocked to find out about two years ago that I am both extroverted AND introverted when I took a personality test. Most people aren’t solely one or the other. Apparently, I am slightly more extroverted than introverted, which is why being a SAHM was difficult for me. I like to be around people more than not, even if it’s just in an office.

      But I understand why introverts have a hard time tolerating superficial conversations – I see how it could be exhausting.

  7. This was a revelation I could really have used in my teens and early 20s! It took more than a decade to realize that you can have both levels of friendships and they’re valuable in their own way.

    As an introvert, I didn’t know how to manage the shallower relationships for a long time. Also I still don’t have energy for random small talk but have discovered that it’s nice to have easy friendships where you generally like each other but don’t have any need to share soul-baring conversations. Though I’m not quite sure where on the spectrum someone has to fall to be a good babysitter, we could use one of them 🙂

  8. I think “shallow” is a very harsh description, and is not at all how I would describe casual conversation. Casual conversation can still be genuine, whereas “shallow” implies that you are insincere. I don’t get that impression from you at all.

    Also, I can’t tell you how much I love this sentence – “I just kind of withdrew and recharged.” I wish I had written it. It totally explains the process we go through after loss.

    Also, I used to be a diplomat, and so became an expert at cocktail party/networking conversations, much to my surprise (as i feel innately I am shy). I’m out of practice now, and need to revive my skills. But my lack of skills makes me more tentative about striking up conversations. I think maybe you’ve given me a kick to start exercising my conversational muscles again!.

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