If I ran an office (which, to be honest, I aim never to do), my first act would be to implement a policy which states that on a Friday no one is allowed to ask anyone else what they’re doing at the weekend.
Why? Because hearing about other people's plans for the weekend is the pits and everyone knows it.
When someone asks me my plans for the weekend I pick one thing and share it in sparing detail. Still boring obviously, but short – short is key. Occasionally, I'm doing something quite interesting but I choose a generic activity because it won’t involve follow-up questions. It means I can quickly escape the tedious conversation and go back to whiling away the Friday hours in peace. (I do realise that this attitude may be peculiar to my particular brand of small-talk aversion and I don’t necessarily recommend it.)
The problem really kicks-in when I have to return the question. Sometimes, as a fun little game, I leave the other person hanging and see how long I can last. Let me set the scene for you:
It's Friday afternoon in the office and I want a cup of coffee. I keep my eye on the kitchen and choose my moment carefully. When the coast is clear I make a dash for it. I do a subtle dive for a mug, a hasty swipe for the coffee granules, a practised running of the boiling water. And then the fridge door betrays me. Milk in hand, I step back and realise I have company. Unlike me, this person does not avoid human contact.
"Hi," they say. "How's it going?"
"Yea, good thanks," I say, "glad it's Friday".
(conspiratorial nodding and chuckling)
"What are you up to this weekend?" they ask.
"Oh, it's my friend's birthday and we're going out for dinner," I say.
I stand with my cup of coffee, resilient.
The person stirs their tea.
(Slightly uncomfortable silence now)
I stir my coffee.
And in my head I'm thinking, don't ask them, don't ask them, you don't care.
But then the pressure of societal norms comes crashing down.
"How about you?" I say.
The sassy-bitch part of my brain goes, noooooooooooooooo.
I know I’m in trouble when the response begins, “Well, tonight I’m going to…”
It means that they are not only going to tell me what they’re doing tonight, they are also going to move on to Saturday day, Saturday night, Sunday day and Sunday night. They will lay out their plans in painstaking detail including the length of time it takes to drive up to their mother's in Gloucester. Why do they think I care? I know I asked but come on, that was obviously not because I wanted to know.
It's not as if the answer is ever interesting. It invariably involves brunch, seeing friends, dinner, a gym class, a wedding.
No one ever says, "I'm going to go out and get totally pissed and sleep with a married man on Saturday."
No one ever says that.
Another response I often get is, “I don’t really have any plans this weekend which is sooooo nice once in a while because it's sooooo rare isn't it?”.
Is it? Only if you're the sort of person who foolishly makes too many plans and that's your cross to bear mate. And anyway, I certainly hear it too much for the so-claimed rarity of the situation to be true. What’s so shameful about having no plans anyway?
Next time someone asks me what my plans are for the weekend I might respond with, “I don’t have any plans this weekend because I hate plans and I don’t want to see anyone.”
Then maybe they'll know not to ask me again and I can get on with staring into space/reading the internet (in my case Jay Rayner's restaurant reviews, but only the really bad ones).
I only get enjoyment from small-talk when it's with my friends. They can tell me boring things and for some reason I’m still interested - perhaps that’s what friendship is.