Three People Talking

June 29, 2022

When two people talk, they take turns talking about each other. When three people talk, they talk about “third things.”

It’s a generalization, of course, and completely based on my experiences. But I’ve found that it’s way more comfortable to talk about yourself or to ask how someone’s life has been going when it’s a one-on-one conversation.

Once you add people — even one person — it’s more awkward to ask about individual people’s lives. Maybe that’s just my perception, but somehow the conversation seems to steer more towards things that live in the air between those three people, rather than things that come from within one person or another.

Maybe it’s because talking about things “inside” yourself or someone else is often uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable to steer a conversation towards your own life or to ask someone about how their life’s been going recently. That’s multiplied when there’s a third person who isn’t involved in being the asker or recipient of the question. So instead, you can talk about things that everybody’s experienced, or generalities about the world.

That isn’t a bad thing — in fact, riffing on something with multiple other people is quite wonderful. But I have to remind myself that the way to actually check in on how someone’s doing is to do it without other people present.