Diving into the Deep End

swimming pool
swimming pool

There’s a friendly competition at my church between the men and the women to see which group has the largest attendance at their breakfast events.  Being one of the least competitive people on the face of the earth, this doesn’t mean much to me.  I go for a number of other reasons.  While I’m generally glad that I’ve gone, I usually dread going.

There are two dread inspiring realities to these events.  The first is waking up with an alarm on a Saturday morning.  I need lots of sleep; it’s a fact of my life.  Going to bed early doesn’t cut it.  I need at least one day to wake up when my body has had enough sleep.  That often means 10-12 hours of sleep.  (See?  Going to bed early doesn’t give that to me unless I go to bed as soon as I get home from the office.)

Small talk is my other hurdle to these events.  I’m not good at it.  It’s taxing.  As I was getting dressed to head to Marie Callender’s Saturday morning, a proverbial light bulb went off in my groggy head.  The thought?  I’ve become more like a TCK than I realized; I want to jump into the deep end of conversation’s pool.

Let’s see if I can explain.

Think of conversation like a pool.  It has a deep end, a shallow end, and that middle part that’s only deep if you’re short.  Now, think about how you approach a conversation.  Chances are if you’ve lived a fairly conventional life with very few, if any, moves you believe you have all the time in the world to work your way down to the deep end.  You can dip your toes in.  You can sit in the shallow end while working on your tan—or your vitamin D quota.  Relationally, you have plenty of time to get to know the other people at the pool.  You can ask questions that don’t reveal much about who they are, but those questions can start to build a framework for a relationship.  Once you hang out for a while, you decide if you want to go deeper or if hanging out is good enough.

Now think about approaching the pool if you don’t know how much time you have.  If you’re a third culture person, that’s your reality.  Moving regularly is normal; time is always an issue.  You don’t feel like you have the luxury of getting to know people slowly.  You see someone you want to get to know, grab their hand, and jump into the deep end of the conversational pool.  You ask hard questions and expect to answer the same. As the exchange goes on you decide if this is someone you want to hang with, if this is someone you can move to the other end of the pool to spend the little time you have.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do NOT want you to think that I believe only those who have lived cross-culturally can have deep conversations.  That’s not at all what I’m saying.  I’m saying time is a major factor in how different people approach communicating.

I don’t know if I was ever good at small talk; I doubt I was.  Living cross-culturally and working with TCKs has made me even worse at it.  I long for deep who are you really conversations, but I have to realize that this isn’t my pool.  As far as I know, I won’t be going anywhere for any length of time in the near future.  I need to learn to wade more often.  Marie Callender’s on a Saturday morning might just be the place to do it.  I need to keep that in mind next time the competition rolls around.

photo courtesy of  Dori Szepesi

10 responses to “Diving into the Deep End”

  1. I like deep conversations, but I’m too timid to start them. It would be nice to gradually move forward instead of getting in the middle and never moving either way… Everyone is always so busy!
    I think the food would start me going to the breakfasts! 😉

  2. I can relate to being too timid to start those conversations. I think there is a lot of merit to starting out at the other end of the pool and easing into the deep stuff; it’s not very natural for me, though. The food? It’s good stuff! No doubt about that.

  3. Love this! So many thoughts and comments don’t know where to start. Maybe later.

  4. This is interesting to me because we are enjoying settling into a place for what we think will be the long haul. I am learning to talk about the weather with just about everyone I meet. But I am intrigued by the idea that when time is short we go deep right away, and I wonder if we shouldn’t all be thinking more that way. After all, none of us really knows how long we have to be here, right? Time IS short. I have a friend I admire because when I am with her, I suddenly start finding out all these wonderfully interesting things about people I have maybe known for quite some time. She has this knack for asking great questions, and listening with rapt attention. So people talk to her. I have been praying lately to be more like her. Because, frankly, I’m getting kind of sick of talking about the weather all the time.

  5. Sheryl,

    Conversations with you — be they deep or shallow — are always a treat.

    And THANK YOU for setting your alarm and braving the breakfast. The women have the bragging rights this round. We won by ONE. I am thinking you are the ONE! =)

  6. Glad I could do my part, Shelley! I’ll claim that one since I was reluctant to get there. And conversing with you is, likewise, always a treat.

  7. It’s true, Soul, none of us really know how much time we have in a place or with a person. I’m all in favor (obviously) of going deep. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, so much of it has to do with good question asking. I’m always intrigued by people who know the right questions to ask to get people to talk.

  8. I think that I tend to swim laps: shallow-deep-shallow-deep; but it’s annoying because I don’t seem to remain any place (in the pool) long enough to get a good base there.
    Thank you for this article!

  9. You’re welcome, Lauren! I think there’s some merit to being able to swim well in both ends. When you’re constantly meeting new people and then trying to reconnect with others, it makes sense that you’re swimming laps.

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