One of the best heart-to-hearts I ever had as a teenager was in the car park in Moor Park station, waiting for my dad to wend his weary way home from work on the Metropolitan line. It was dark, and neither Mum or I could really make out each other’s facial expressions as we discussed Charlie Laurens and first date etiquette. Mum gave me my first – and best – piece of dating advice: don’t order a salad, and never be the first one to text after a date.
Alas it was too late for my crush, Charlie Laurens; I’d already been there, done the ordering a salad and texting him first post-date thing – and been rejected that morning in two devastating sentences. Hence the mum chat: prior to that I’d handled boy stuff well enough with the help of friends and siblings, but I LOVED Charlie with a love too precious, too DEEP for the common room, and only my mum could help me move on.
She helped me swiftly, and conclusively. She ‘fessed up about her first crush, Richard, and how she still didn’t understand why they weren’t together. FORTY YEARS later. Yet with two marriages, two children and a load of great mates under her own belt, she was pretty confident my life would go on. By the time dad came into land, my wounds were – if not healed, then at least bandaged.
I don’t look back longingly on Charlie Laurens; but I do reflect on that conversation, and how being side by side, looking forward in semi-darkness, enabled me to ‘spit it out’ in a way I’d never managed sat opposite someone over lunch in broad daylight. Since then, I’ve found there are a number of times and places in which real, juicy heart-to-hearts are best conducted. Here, in no particular order are mine:
1. In the car
Whether driving or stationary, the same principle applies here as it did in the car park: you don’t have to face each other. Difficult, awkward or potentially embarrassing messages are easier to deliver when one of you’s in the back, or you’re side by side. No one can storm off if things heat up, and the radio is there to helpfully fill any long silences.
Good for: Deep-and-meaningful conversations (DMCs), problem solving, philosophical debates, confessions
Not so good for: shouting matches, beginner drivers who haven’t yet learnt to talk, listen and drive all at the same time, convos that are best resolved with a hug
2. On the phone
The fact that Donald Drumpf made national news the other day for hanging up on the Australian PM tells you everything you need to know about phone etiquette. If you or your partner in conversation haven’t grasped its basic principles – basically, not slamming the phone down – then this isn’t the place, and you should find another time. If you’re a phone fan, though (retro) this can be perfect. Make sure you’ve got minutes plenty of time, and you’re somewhere quiet, free of distractions. Maybe with snacks.
Good for: DMCs, problem-solving, philosophical debates, confessions/awks chats where you’d rather not see the other person’s face
Not so good for: phone-phobics, convos that are best resolved with a hug, Donald Drumpf
3. On a walk
Preferably with dog in tow – to give you some focus and/or comical distraction when you reach a conversational mud patch – but not always. I’ve chewed many a cud on a dogless walk, and 99 per cent of the time they end in success. There’s the winning combo of fresh air and exercise boosting your mood and wellbeing; there’s your surroundings to remark over when things get sticky (“ooh look! A bird”); and again, there’s the possibility of directing any awkward or difficult comments to the sky/trees/your feet/some place other than their face.
Good for: shouting matches (no one can hear you scream); DMCs, problem solving, philosophical debates, confessions/awks chats where you’d rather not see the other person’s face, convos that are best resolved with a hug, Donald Drumpf
Not good for: people who can’t walk easily, rainy days
4. Cooking (or washing up)
There’s nothing like the meditative mindlessness of peeling carrots or washing plates to get the conversational juices going, while at the same time the act of working together toward a shared goal (dinner/clean dishes) offers a safe space where you can discuss everything from TV to online dating, to politics, feminism and – a personal fave – what religion you’d have been brought up in if you could choose.
Good for: DMCs, problem solving, philosophical debates, confessions/awks chats where you’d rather not see the other person’s face, convos that are best resolved with a (soapy, damp) hug
Not good for: shouting matches. Not with all those sharp objects around.
5. Cup of tea
Needs no justification. It’s tea. It’s the British answer to all the world’s problems. My advice – if it’s particular, tricksy convo that’s called for – is to go out for your cuppa, so you’ve got some neutral territory to really thrash it out in. Put your phone away (right away in your bag, not face down on the table) and get some cake in: sounds ridic I know, but somehow sharing food creates a bond than can weather even the hardest of conversational storms.
Good for: shouting matches; if you’re out, the public nature of the place will force you to keep your voices down, and the cake will keep you together.
Not good for: awkward confessions. Having tea together generally involves sitting opposite and sharing and if you or the other are embarrassed or awkward it can get a bit intense.
6. In the loos
The tendency of girls to have some of our best bants in the ladies is one that has baffled scientists to this day. Maybe it’s the women-only vibe? Maybe it’s the amount of we time we spend queuing in them. Either way, there is something about weeing, wiping, powdering and hair-fluffing that makes us feel comfortable sharing, not just concealer, lip balm and quality chat, but the deepest secrets of our soul.
Good for: DMCs, problem-solving, confessions/awks chats where you’d rather not see the other person’s face, convos that are best resolved with a hug and anything to do with relationships
Not good for: philosophical debates. There’s only so long you can spend in the loo before people outside start to be alarmed and send in Immodium.