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I had 2 friends in high school, and we were quite close. Then college life started, and we went to different colleges. One of them went to a college out of state. And so there was no physical contact between us for 2 years.

One of them, let's call her 'A', went to study in another state, and there the hostel rules were very strict and no contact with people other than parents was allowed.

And the other 'B' studied close to our hometown. So I had occasional small talk with B and sending some memes and jokes here and there to keep the friendship alive.

Now after the entrance exams for our respective courses have been conducted, after being postponed repeatedly, we got together.

We held conference calls (audio) 2-3 times and during those calls just caught up in the happenings in last 2 years, small talk about family, etc.. ("How's everybody?" kind of questions).

But there seemed to be little or no flow of conversation beyond that. So I tried to make topics like "Funny or interesting anecdotes in home or college during last 2 years".

But still both of them kept almost mum, with only vague responses like-

A: we had lots of fun, hostel was so fun, really enjoyed..

B: fun? seriously? there was only studies and exams!

So I thought we had grown apart, and accepted the reality. But both of them are determined to conduct more of these dry conference calls.

I wanted to know the experiences of my friends and have meaningful conversations about things that matter (environment, human rights, future plans, etc.) But they seem to have just shut up, jammed close.

Then I made this group for us to send group texts, with a little more luck in encouraging them to talk. I asked them about "changes in perspective or opinion from school to college days and how it affects you", only B said a little, A just kept postponing it with "I'll think about it".

I even gave my own answer for the changes in perspective question and explained what I felt was more fruitful than small talk. By now, I have grown tired of this correspondence.

Then they put on a surprise video conference, and as usual, conversation was the same repeated small talk about future college and courses to join, family.

How to encourage conversations with them to go beyond small talk?

Edit: As per aarbee's answer, A was in a relationship in school, which ended soon after college started. And B is in a long distance relationship.

I did ask them a few details about their love life here and there, and A seemed to want to just erase the memory of her relationship. B has just started chatting with her boyfriend more regularly after exams. So nothing much in the topic of romance.

When we were in school, we used to talk about songs, movies and school, but towards the end, A was spending maximum time with her boyfriend and B was lovesick for her boyfriend, which kinda left me out because I was single and not interested in relationships.

As soon as B got a boyfriend, A and B became closer friends, with many of other classmates who were in relationships (school life was coming to an end, they wanted to squeeze out every single chance for romance).

I also asked them about their hobbies during lockdown, how they were spending free time after exams and both of them replied they had watched movies and listened to new songs. So I enquired which was their favourite movie or song, but they didn't seem interested in the topic at all.

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Amarylis Vaselaar is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    Hello network visitors! Please note that IPS is fairly strict about using comments as intended. Comments are only for clarifying and improving the question. Partial answers or general thoughts about the situation may be deleted without notice. If you'd like to write an answer, make sure to check out our posts on How do I write a good answer? and citation expectations first. Thanks! – Ael Nov 18 at 17:16
  • You mention 'hostel rules' about who a college student is allowed to contact, which to me (in the US) sounds very unusual (...not to mention awfully hard to enforce). Is there a cultural context here that might need to inform the answers? – Tiercelet Nov 20 at 15:16
  • yes,I live in India and teenage romance is usually prohibited by parents,even though now it is less stringent .The teens usually find their way around their parents disapproval :hidden contacts, secret dates .The college A went to was co-ed ,but only for the sake that you could see the faces of boys .No contact at all was allowed ,not even talking[CCTV surveillance}. – Amarylis Vaselaar Nov 21 at 2:47
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TL;DR: Your relationship with these friends seems to have degraded, and the topics you want to discuss with them (environment, human rights) seem too heavy for the type of relationship you seem to be having with them at the moment. Encouraging more than small talk as such is going to be extremely hard, if not impossible.

When we were in school, we used to talk about songs,movies and school related talks,but towards the ending ,A was spending maximum time with her boyfriend and B was lovesick for her boyfriend ,which kinda left me out because I was single and not interested in relationships.

First, a bit of theory to explain some underlying assumptions: You had a relationship which I would characterize as being pretty casual, mostly similar to the orientation stage of relationships as described by social penetration theory. You say at this moment, you'd like your friends to talk about meaningful things like the environment, human rights, or future plans. The first two of that list, I would definitely put under a relationship that's more serious than what you ever seemed to have had with them in the past.

It also looks like this relationship was already deteriorating before each of you went off to college: it was already falling apart a little while all of you were still in school, from the moment you didn't have a boyfriend and they did. Relationships like yours, which are very casual, can degrade if there is no "maintaining behavior". I wrote a bit more about that here, in the last section of that answer. The most relevant point for you:

Actual casual friends required significantly more proximity and less affection than either actual close or best friends.

The very casual friendship you had with your friends would have degraded because 'proximity' was lost. Once your friends got their boyfriends and you stopped meeting each other every day at school, the relationship basically broke down.

It is not always possible to rebuild a relationship like that, because the interests of you and your friends may have changed and you have little in common anymore. The small talk you're having now should probably give a good indication of whether there still is something you can bond over, or whether it's better to let things go.


How to encourage conversations with them to go beyond small talk?

In my experience, you need to encourage the small talk before you'll be able to (and others are willing to) move to the bigger topics like environment or human rights. The topics you mention are what I call 'big' conversations, and when I had them, they mostly arose naturally as a consequence of other, smaller, talk. I also only have these kinds of conversations with people I have been friends with for years, not people I have just started reconnecting with.

For the one or two friends that I didn't see since high school, but have closer contact with again these days, we went through a lot of catching up first, lots of small talk and lots of talking about memories from the time we were still in school. There was lots and lots and lots of what you call the 'dry' talk, about family and what we did in the years we had little contact, and a tiny bit about future plans. Note: These were always 'short-term' future plans, often not going farther ahead than one or two months. Not talks about where we wanted to be in life when we reached 30.

It took many cups of tea and shopping dates (proximity) over a period of years to get back to a level that was feeling like more than just old friends catching up or keeping in contact. At that point, conversations would include sharing with them the more personal bits of our lives, things that were worrying or problems with other people. Only after a few years of 'catching up' has our friendship again reached a level where, once in a while, current events would make us discuss one of those 'big' conversation topics you mentioned you'd love to talk about.

My best advice for you, based on that: You can encourage them to go beyond small talk, by participating in the small talk and being patient. Don't try to force big, personal topics that require a lot of self-disclosure, that may backfire. Show interest in your friends by reacting to the 'dry' stuff they tell you, ask them questions about the things they do share to find out perhaps what kind of music they like these days, or what kind of movies they watched and if they liked them. From there you can connect to something you recently listented to or watched, and give them an opportunity to ask you questions. Hopefully, with a lot of time and patience, a close friendship can grow.


One last note: This assumes that your friends eventually are interested in also deepening the social bonds between you three, and share an interest in the topics of conversation you propose here (environment, human rights). If all they're interested in is just catching up and keeping up, no amount of patience or effort will get them to change that, and any attempts to do so may backfire.

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Just today, I have returned from my hometown. Last week, I met my schoolmate after 17 years! After conversations about job and family, he asked me who my crush was in the school. This opened up so many topics (friends, teachers, fights etc) that we kept talking for more than an hour. In the same spirit, can you talk about your crushes (past and present) with your friends, and ask about theirs? Also, the proposals that you got or you made? Any good date experience? (considering you mention them as your close friends).

Also, not everyone is interested in socio-political-economic issues. In case, a topic is close to them or to you, you can start talking about that and seek their opinion.

It is to be noted that some people don't elaborate on being asked a general question. They need to be asked specific questions. For example, I have one friend who when asks me how I am doing, I mention things in detail from the time we had last interacted. But when I ask him how he has been doing, he just says 'good good'. So I ask him specifically about his job, family, dating life, movies, exercise regimen etc. This, while maintaining that I don't invade his privacy. If he doesn't reply once or changes the topic, I take the hint.

Also, during lockdown, Netflix and Prime have released browser extensions (Party) through which multiple people can watch a movie together through their respective accounts. I do this with a couple of friends. You could do the same with your friends, if they are not much of a talker and just want to hang out together. The Party extensions also have in-built chat options, which we use to talk about particular scenes or actors while watching movies. I find it a good way to connect with friends. (Also, in general, you could talk about movies or tv series or novels. Invariably, it leads to discussions about behaviour patterns and social issues.)

If the subjects you guys are studying have discussion potential, don't miss out that either.

Lastly, sharing pics of new things bought (clothing or small furniture etc) or special meals eaten can get people to talking too.

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    yeah @aarbee I tried the crushes part, but nothing much in there .But your Party extension sounds good ,I will give it a try! – Amarylis Vaselaar Nov 18 at 11:50
  • It's my opinion that she may be hesitant to share that part of herself- for whatever reasons- and you should respect it. It could also feel like an attempt to garner intimacy by the sharing of stories that she does not want right now. I'd let it go there. I'd consider asking to list a bunch of hobbies you have of interest and ask her if anything there is mutual- and ensure it does NOT cross the line of platonic at all costs. – J.Hirsch Nov 20 at 21:55
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First off, I would like to re-frame that when you say "this is small talk" you refer to conversations that are unimportant to you. This does not always mean the talk is unimportant in general, or that the other people aren't emotionally invested in relating the events of the last two years (what you frame as "How's everybody").

Additionally, if you are like me someone with a small circle of interest, I can definitely tell that with long-time friends and family, a lot of conversations are going to be of that kind, because important subjects are few, most of it were already covered, and sometimes they are even being purposely avoided for the reason interlocutors are known to disagree. That doesn't say much about how deep is the bond between interlocutors.

I see two different objectives you could set starting from that: either you consider conversations worthy because you empathically connect some way or another, or you consider the conversations worthy because they would be about a subject you consider important.

If you would like to empathically connect a bit deeper during conversations, it's a difficult social skill that I wouldn't know how to explain.

Some tips I use during blanks, is just saying out loud my preoccupations, and explaining my feelings toward that. It usually raises questions that are interesting, sometimes they also help me, and it enables others to know what I feel and encourage them to open up similarly.

I also try to actively listen to everything the others say, asking questions until I reach understanding of their feelings and usually tell when I can relate other linked anecdotes or similar things that happened to me.

You would probably find that something that starts as a small talk could have a lot of personal resonance about someone's feelings, and that can be itself a good conversation if you're interested in that.

If however you're more interested in specific conversation topics, and what you tried didn't stick, then there is an interest divergence and I'm afraid there is no interpersonal solution. I would personally dig these interests by my own and/or in communities built around interest in the subject.

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This is a very interesting question, Amarylis, and we all face the issue of how to keep friendships alive as we mature and our interests change.

I slightly hesitate to respond as there are cultural norms in the mix. Here in England, we basically just talk about the weather. However, thinking about it, maybe what we are doing is using this topic of the weather as a way in to more interesting conversations - as this innocuous topic can go in several directions - the direction of a recent day out for example, or a holiday, or a cat which came in wet - and it can also lead in the direction of people's well-being, as somebody may say they are depressed because of the weather or happy despite it.

So this leads to my suggestion - maybe don't concentrate on asking them questions if the conversation isn't flowing. Perhaps, rather than asking them their opinions on the environment, you could mention how a particular place you both know has changed, or talk about a place which is important to you. This naturally encourages them to talk about somewhere which is important to them, so the conversation feels more equal as opposed to one questioner and one responder.

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Phillip is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
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    Hi and welcome to IPS! Please take a minute to read our citation expectations. Answers on IPS need to include some backup in the form of either personal experience or references - could you explain why you think this advice will work, have you used this approach in a similar situation before, or is this something you've seen recommended by someone else? You might find How do I write a good answer? helpful too. – Ael Nov 18 at 18:22

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