The tiniest and best form of small talk is not having any
The other day I went to get a hamburger and ran into a friend I used to work with.
Except we aren’t really friends anymore, and I did my best not to have to interact with him while we waited in line to order.
Maybe he didn’t recognize me or felt a reciprocal impulse. We didn’t make eye contact, and he stayed in a longer queue even after a shorter one opened at another ordering window.
When we worked together in the same office, he was prickly, but we got along well enough. I didn’t annoy him as much as some other people, at least. We even hung out outside of work a time or two, with my romantic partner at the time. He was married but I don’t think I ever met his husband in person. But it was good to have a drink and chat; he was witty and his way of complaining about things was engaging.
Then one day, after layoffs had taken both of us out of that office, he said something about police on Facebook, and I disagreed in a comment, then I found myself blocked on Facebook. Later, I saw I’d been blocked on LinkedIn, too. (Which seemed a bit more curious to bother to do, and almost more insulting.)
Something about the suddenness of it and the lack of warning or explanation stuck with me. Relationships in the modern world can end more suddenly and quantifiably now than before. That quantifiableness is all that keeps acquaintances together when there’s nothing else. If you don’t live near someone, work with them, or sleep with them, in most cities of any size you’re not going to have to cross paths with them regularly enough for it to be much awkward.
One of the best things about not living in a smaller town is that: it’s easy to be a stranger, including a stranger again.