After my dad passed away, I had a really hard time having conversations with friends and family about “stupid things”. The Dancing with the Stars gossip. The babble about cute boys that you never actually get the nerve to talk to. The daydreams about meeting celebrity crushes that almost never come true (I say almost because I’ve still got hope that I will one day meet mine. Harry Styles, I hope you’re reading this.)
These silly conversations help relationships last. Because if the only things we ever talked about were serious, deep, and existential subjects, our relationships would not only be seriously depressing, but also very short. Because no one wants to hang out with a person that can’t enjoy the fluff of life.
And I had become that person. Sure, I listened to friends and family talk about the “stupid things” but while they talked, I barely listened. I nodded and smiled, but inside my head thought about how ridiculous it was that they cared so much about how their little sister borrowed their shirt without asking when my dad was still very dead. I had become so wrapped up in my own life that I could barely take an interest in anyone else’s. And it had created distance between me and the friends and family I cared very much about.
When I started seeing my bereavement counselor, Mary, (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/skiing-with-my-bereavement-counselor/) I told her about this problem. How I would have dinner with a friend and while they went on about the things in their life, my mind would wander and think about more serious subjects. Most of all, my dad.
She gave me an assignment. Instead of just nodding and smiling, I had to start these “stupid conversations” and really practice listening to the other person speak and not let my mind wander into the depths of Abbey-La-La-Land.
And because I wanted to get better, I did what she said.
But it was so much harder than I thought. I struggled to care about the “stupid” things my friends and family cared so much about. It all seemed so trivial compared to the loss that I was dealing with in my life. After a week, I told Mary how impossible I found her assignment.
That’s when she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
“Fake it till you make it.”
I couldn’t believe a licensed social worker was telling me to pretend to care and pretend to take an interest in my friends and family in the hopes that one day, I really would. But I figured she must have known something about what she was telling me so I gave it a shot.
For a while, I had to consciously pretend in those conversations. But as time went on, it became easier to engage with others about silly things. I no longer had to keep track of whose turn it was to speak and I no longer pretended to care. I really did. Her advice had proven true.
And it certainly doesn’t just apply to these “stupid conversations.” I carry this advice with me everywhere I go.
For example, the other day I saw one of my aunt’s who I rarely ever see. She’s from my dad’s side of the family, married to one of his brothers. However, she lives over a thousand miles away in Florida. Which particularly stinks since I love spending time with her.
After seeing me, she texted, and among other things, wrote,
“It is so nice to see how comfortable you are as yourself.”
I was completely surprised.
Firstly, because someone had acknowledged all the hard work I’ve done these last few years on becoming a healthier, happier, and more confident person in a very direct and straightforward way. It wasn’t just a passing comment. By writing the message to me, there was a sort of permanence to it.
And secondly, because even though I’ve made tremendous progress, I still struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin sometimes. But every day I look in the mirror, smile wide and pretend I’ve got all the confidence in the world. Because I know that eventually, one day that confidence will stick.