A book I recently started reading got me thinking: What is life for me without adult conversations?
The book centered around the experiences of a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) and trailing husband, as his wife’s career took their very young family (two preschool kids) globe-trotting from Hanoi to Singapore to HCM City and San Francisco over the span of several years.
In one of the chapters, he mentioned (pg 95) how conversations he had with working adults invariably fall back on what they do and what’s happening in the ‘outside’ world. While he could share and hold a line of thought about his SAHD life for a while, the conversations will inevitably leave him out in the cold.
I know that feeling all too well.
Missing adult conversations
I remember a time shortly after leaving my last full-time job when I quickly found myself starving for conversations that didn’t involve words like “homework” or “tidy up your desk son!“
This was during the first six months after I left that job. It was between May and October of 2019. I had left to be a SAHD and was navigating the terrain quite a bit by myself. And feeling lonely.
When before I had no lack of adults to talk to in the office Monday to Friday, I found myself suddenly in an empty desert as it were. And this was pre-Covid mind you.
Never thought I would miss the stimulation that comes from engaging with my peers until it was gone. Suddenly I felt a void I was unprepared for. No one warned me. Or rather I didn’t think it would hit me to miss it. After all, as a self-professed introvert, I detested crowds and being among them for too long. Anytime I have to catch up with five or more folks, my impatience to leave would rise like the mercury in a desert.
So in theory, I should be the best poised to navigate this season of my life as a SAHD most adroitly no?
Seeking adult conversations
It seems as obvious as the nose on my face.
Common sense tells us any move out of the workforce must surely mean losing work connections and staff canteen conversations. What’s left are conversations at home, mostly about kids and schools. Not many adult conversations in those places.
But somehow it still surprised me when it happened. Somehow, I had the insane notion I could keep the adult conversations going even if I’m not physically there. The connections I had would remain as tight as they always had been.
And with more time and flexibility in my pocket, I can always arrange to meet up with ex-colleagues and friends where they are. Lunch here and a cup of coffee there, and presto! I would be able to resume my connections and adult conversations as though I never left. I would be able to stay in their headspace and engage in conversations as meaningfully and as relevantly as before.
And surely my friends would jump at the chance to stay in touch with me right?
Losing adult conversations
Turns out, I underestimated the power of communities to shut you out once you’re no longer “one of them”.
During those months from May to October 2019, I tried to stay connected by asking ex-colleagues and friends out for lunch or a cuppa.
However, I soon came to realize what that book I’m now reading alluded to. Conversations around me invariably dry up after a while. They typically switch back to what these busy working adults were doing in the office, with their bosses, colleagues, clients, work grouses, etc. Or some other commercial or world events grabbing the headlines.
At opportune moments in the tete-a-tete, I might attempt to ingratiate myself back into the conversation with some snippets of my life (parenting triumphs or — more often — trials, my writing journey, and…and…). But after some polite inquiries that feel more like obligatory “hi/how are ya/bye” quips you hear in elevators or office corridors, it’s back to them and my presence nothing more than an ‘inconvenience’ tolerated.
It may sound so, but I’m not really blaming my fellow adults with their busy work life and tales regaled over cocktails and whatnot.
I get it.
It is just what it is.
Still, over time, some part of me feels much like a lost tourist in a new city. I may be holding a map, but I can neither figure out the directions nor ask anyone for help because I don’t speak the lingua franca.
And so best to stay away and not invite myself into these now-awkward situations filled with stilted (on my end) and non-reciprocal (on their end) adult chit-chats.
Forgetting adult conversations
I suppose in time to come, I’ll likely forget how to engage in adult conversations.
Already I now find myself less willing to arrange get-togethers and meet-ups. The thought of what to talk about feels like lifting heavy weights in a gym. Just as my debilitating back muscles recoil at the very thought of lifting anything heavier than a twinkie, the thought of preparing conversational topics for an appointment feels almost “groans-ville”!
No surprise I would increasingly shun invitations to gather and avoid adult conversations, except with those whose friendships I value highly and who feel likewise with me. Thankfully, my near-hermit life since the initial SAHD days has helped cloister me from too many cringe-worthy adult conversations. And left me only with those whose company I deem enriching and priceless.
It helped that a social experiment I conducted two years ago weeded out ‘fake’ friends — those who didn’t miss me when I failed to respond to their one-off and half-hearted invitations to connect. And who didn’t bother to try again. The very definition of ‘fake’ friends.
And so, this life I now live without many adult conversations has actually made my remaining short years on this earth more meaningful, even purposeful. At least my time isn’t dictated by those more interested to listen to the sound of their own voices than finding out how I am.
Maybe my future will get lonelier than before. And maybe I’ll never make new friends.
But honestly, just between us, I’ll rather be alone for the right reasons than in a crowd for the wrong ones.