They don’t really know what to talk about

STEEPED BY SAMIA #13 | 12.26.22
On the growing pain of being perceived & when ‘idle conversation’ is not just idle.

I’m getting the hint that our 20’s are filled with moments that teach us how to protect our peace. A subconscious guide, a thickening of the skin, that develops from all those uncomfortable and illuminating interactions with people. People and relationships (of all kinds) are so complicated and layered and strange; you’re trying your best to navigate all of it, and it’s Messy with a capital M.

I’ve been reflecting on this lately: Who am I when I’m by myself? With my friends? With my immediate family or extended family? With people I work with? In what areas do I feel less understood or fully embraced?

In “There Are No Children Here,” part of Ann Patchett’s essay collection These Precious Days,

I read a passage that touched my core. Patchett does not have children, and she has known for a really long time that she doesn’t want to have children. Over the years, she’s received a spectrum of reactions from others about this decision — from very disrespectful, to very affirming.

Patchett recalls dropping off pumpkin bread to a neighbor who just had their fourth child. She strikes up a conversation with the neighbor’s mother-in-law and asks her, “Do you think this is it? Or do you think they’ll have more?” The mother-in-law blinks and responds, “I wouldn’t think to ask them something so personal.” Patchett has a profound realization:

“Yes, exactly. It was so personal…I was appalled at myself for doing the very thing that had so annoyed me for my entire reproductive life, but the error came with a valuable revelation: I didn’t care if they had more children. Of course I didn’t care. I was standing in a driveway making the idlest conversation, just as plenty of the people who had asked when I would get married and when I would have children were making idle conversation.

It was nothing but noise, a question for the sake of speaking and not for the sake of inquiry. Some of them cared, but not all of them. I should have realized that earlier.”

“There Are No Children Here” in These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Oh wow, oh my.

We’ve all been at the receiving end of these pointed comments or questions.

— Especially from older adults in our lives and family members. I know when this happens, because I respond briefly, with “Aha, ha” sprinkled in, my voice is higher and wishy-washier.

You know that they’re mostly well-intentioned or harmless — and coated with love — and you brush them off. It’s often in the most casual of catchups at a family get-together: How are you? It’s good to see you! Why don’t you have a job yet?

Some people are quick to offer a response or advice, without taking the time to truly understand what you’re trying to say to them. Sometimes, you just want to be seen and affirmed. Like, I’d rather get a, “That sucks, I affirm you!” rather than a, “That sucks, have you tried this?”

“You’re not my dad!” The most relatable Vine, lol.

Imbedded in these interactions, I’d like to add, are power dynamics: how young people should behave with older people, how men and women should behave, etc. My lovely writer friend Aliya and I were recently talking about how young women aren’t often afforded the ability to assert their boundaries and be received with care in response.

In this season of my life, some comments — the ones I usually brush off — have an unpleasant stickiness to them.

I’m not sure why; maybe it’s the loneliness of being misunderstood or wanting to explain yourself, but your voice gets caught in your throat. The reality is that right now, I’m not perceived in the way that I want to be (I mostly mean this in the context of my family).

Is that my fault? Or is that part of the natural growing pains of coming into your fullest self?

Even now, as I write this, I find a part of me saying: It’s not that deep. At the same time, the things we hear about ourselves can have an impact. Like a snowball effect.

A couple of months ago, I was telling my best friend-cousin something that a family member had said to me casually that made me annoyed (it was silly, tbh!). She told me exactly what I needed to hear, something along the lines of:

“Some people just want to talk. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t actually know the full picture of your life.”

This felt like such a salve to the sticky, uncomfy comments in my head.

Daily Cartoon: Dec. 23rd by Kim Warp in The New Yorker

When it comes to how we’re perceived, I remind myself:

  1. The people who love you, love you — even if they don’t fully get you. And I cherish those who make me feel innately seen, affirmed, and safe!
  2. If it truly makes me feel some way, I can try my best to share myself more fully or gently assert my boundaries (whatever that looks like, lol).
  3. People will say and do things, but I have the power of choosing how I react and how I feel about it to keep my peace. 💯
  4. I do love slipping under the radar in such a big family (and as the youngest child in my immediate family). It has its benefits. If you know, you know!
  5. And if all else fails, I can tell them: “Have you read my blog? It’ll tell you everything you want to know. Let me text you the link!” LOL.

As always, sending affirmation. Happy Holidays & Happy New Year! You are so wonderfully you. —S.A.

Cover image art: Collected Letters by Liu Jianhua at the Asian Art Museum, SF, 2022.

Steep On This:  

Catch Up:  

12.16.22 | The stories in my head have been quiet lately

STEEPED BY SAMIA #12: Intuition, daydreams, & the bizarre infatuation that keeps me showing up.

About This Blog:

Steeped by Samia is a space where I can simmer on thoughts & curiosities in the scope of digital culture, creativity, life, & more. Far too often, my writing ideas fizzle out in energy; I never get to see them to their full potential. While building my rhythm with writing, I want to share these ideas with you. 

Stay Up-To-Date on my blog by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page, and you will receive an email every time I post. I aim to post a new installment at least once or twice a month. Thank you for supporting my storytelling!🧡


  1. Sandra says:

    My 60+ self reads your 20+ words and they reverberate. You are wise beyond your years. May I suggest reading Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, is a good one to start with. Thanks to sharing your journey. Happy New year.


    1. samiaabbasi says:

      Sandra, I so appreciate this comment and book rec. Happy New Year! Wishing you a year of joy, clarity, and everyday adventures. <33


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