There are multiple reasons why the phrases "unique human connection event" and "conversations on the dark and light of love" make my skin crawl and my brain go into panic mode. Firstly – and I don’t mean to stereotype – I’m northern. We don’t take part in that wishy-washy new age drivel; we’re very happy with a night in front of the telly, eating chips and gravy and repressing our emotions, thank you very much. Secondly, I’m 25 and live up to every millennial cliché The Times wants to throw at us. I can’t remember the last time I had a sober deep conversation and most of my communication takes place via WhatsApp. And finally, I judge everyone for the slightest of differences. Yes, I know it’s because I’m uncomfortable with myself. So do I seek out human connection and deeper conversations about love? Not really. I’m good, thanks.
But I went anyway, because under my surface level bravado and arrogance, I do crave a deeper, human connection with no judgement or consequences. Plus I’d read something on the event page about a four-course menu, and I’m not one to turn down food. Turns out I should have read more thoroughly before I decided against eating beforehand.
The event I was so reluctant to attend was being run by Trigger Conversations, a community and series of workshops dedicated to encouraging honest, open, significant conversations. Tired of meeting new people and having to go through the rigmarole of small talk and explaining what she does for a living over and over again, Georgie Nightingall set out to find a solution. She began inviting her friends to themed salons in an attempt to prompt chat that goes beyond what you watched on Netflix last night. Eventually, the gatherings became more structured, and the idea of a conversational "menu" was born – hence my expectation that I was about to sit down for a feast.
I thought that as soon as I entered I’d morph into this confident lady, ready to mine the depths of my patchy love life for the sake of a good conversation.
"I want to talk about something bigger," says Nightingall, "and I feel like people want to do the same, but most of our behaviour is defined by social norms. It’s entirely weird to walk up to someone and ask them their biggest fear. People don’t feel like there’s a space to ask the questions they actually want to ask." And she’s right – if a stranger asked me what my biggest fear was, I would answer "heights" because that’s more socially acceptable than "being alone forever". At least, I would have done before I attended Conversations On The Dark And Light Of Love.
I thought that as soon as I entered the co-working space where the event was being held, my fears would melt away and I’d morph into this confident lady, ready to mine the depths of my patchy love life for the sake of a good conversation. Instead I was greeted by Nightingall, who might just be the happiest, most comfortable-in-her-skin woman I’ve ever met. After I’d written my name in pink on a sticky label and slapped it on my boob (turns out that’s not the best place for a name tag when you’re constantly introducing yourself to strangers), I had to pick another sticker, this time a symbol. I went for a classic gold star, and that’s when the questions started. "What does that represent to you?" asked Nightingall. Oh god, here we go, I thought, I’m being psychoanalysed and I’ve still got my bloody coat on (told you I was northern). "School," I panicked, "being good." "Great! The toilets are over there, and there’s drinks and canapés in the main room." Had I passed? Was there even a test?
The first thing I noticed was the alcohol. I breathed a sigh of relief – at least I wouldn’t be baring my soul sober.
The first thing I noticed was the alcohol. I breathed a sigh of relief – at least I wouldn’t be baring my soul sober. (Pro tip: Everyone goes for the wine at social events because it looks sophisticated, so there’s always more of the other drinks. You’re welcome.) I grabbed a beer and slotted myself in with three girls who looked around my age and what I somewhat rudely judged as "normal". And they were! Maybe everything was going to be okay. When the evening officially began, there must have been at least 25 people present, and as we were paired off according to the colour we wrote our name in (hence all the boob staring), I found myself talking to one of the girls I had stood with originally.
Our first question – the "canapé" – was more complicated than I thought it would be: "How do you know when you’re falling in love?" We quickly decided that love is only something you recognise when it changes, or when you have something to compare it to. Easy, finished, next round please. But then we got chatting seriously, following the theme of the evening, and realised we had a hell of a lot in common – we’d both only been in love once, and both been dumped by our first loves after a long-distance arrangement didn’t work out. "It’s probably something half the people in the world have in common," we laughed, "but you’d never know without someone telling you to talk about it."
The next few rounds went pretty much the same. I spoke to another girl about sex and power, and how men often take control; I spoke to a guy about whether men feel as vulnerable as women in the realm of sex and love. It was all going very well, and after one more beer, I was ready to get knee-deep in my emotions. I was paired with a man just a little bit older than me, wearing an "Eat Sleep Rave Repeat" T-shirt and a blue crystal necklace. Not that I was making assumptions about him; I had become a new woman over the past half an hour and we were going to have a serious conversation. "What is the greatest gift you have ever received?" read our card. I knew my answer straightaway and warned him that I was about to sound like a dick, before admitting "my education". I then began a three-minute monologue about the sacrifices my parents made to make sure I was educated and that I wouldn’t be stood there, in London, as a journalist, without it. "You’re right, you do sound like a dick," he replied with a smile, and proceeded to tell me about the tickets for the Strictly Come Dancing tour he received for Christmas.
Before telling a room of strangers my deepest, sometimes darkest thoughts about love, I was uncomfortable with the idea of approaching someone to ask for directions, never mind whether they fancied going to the pub for a chat. But that’s exactly what Trigger taught me – my thoughts are valid, and it doesn’t matter whether someone else agrees or not. What matters is the discussion, and the revelations you might have along the way. Whether you’re northern, a millennial or a judgemental bitch doesn’t matter – it's what’s in your head that counts.
I spent the rest of the evening in the pub with the girls I had met at the very beginning of the night, all of us comfortable enough to continue the conversations we’d been having earlier on. We spend our lives curating versions of ourselves that we want to project into the world, and to have a night off from that was freeing and eye-opening. Those two strangers now know more about me than some of my closest friends, and most likely vice versa. I have no idea what they do for a living, though.