Through These Eyes: How to Meet a Stranger

By Justin Jones January 26, 2012

Categories: Family & Friends, Our Lives

Parents provide some helpful hints for navigating life; through their guidance, we learn how not to die. Like, you know, when they teach us to look both ways before crossing a street. Or to abstain from playing with fire and knives. Lessons we take to heart, and abide by in adulthood.

But there is at least one lesson we learn as children that deserves repeal as an adult: Don’t Talk to Strangers. Unfortunately, this also happens to be one to which we continue to adhere long after we leave the nest.

We’re conditioned from our earliest memories to avoid strangers. We shouldn’t take candy from them, we shouldn’t climb into their cars, and we sure as hell better not talk to them. To do so risks being sent to that awful land called Missing.

“You see,” mom tells you during an episode of America’s Most Wanted, “that’s what happens to kids when they talk to strangers. They go missing.”

“They go to Missing?” you ask, now terrified just before bedtime.

“Yes, sweetie, they go missing. There’s a lot of bad people out there. It’s best not to risk it.”

And the night brings dreams of Strangers sweeping us off to Missing, the land of forgotten children, where who knows what happens to you–but whatever it is, it isn’t good. Necessary advice when we’re young.

As an adult, however, this advice yields a negative effect. Keeping quiet around strangers as an adult prevents one from making crucial social connections.

There are a lot of people who make the transition successfully–people we envy for amassing many close friends and big social networks. We call these people “outgoing” and “friendly.” As long as they’re tasteful in their approach, they’re the people we want to know–the fascinating and charming.

But the rest of us are as reserved as we were when we were kids. Talking to a stranger on an elevator? Sinful. Striking up a conversation with the person next to you on a plane? Impolite. Engaging the sandwich artist at Subway? She doesn’t want to talk to you anyway. Right?

And the bar scene, oh! Talking to strangers at the bar is the ultimate no-no. “He’s with his friends… He doesn’t want to be bothered… He probably wouldn’t like me anyway,” you reason.

Excuses. The REAL reason we don’t talk to strangers more often is because we’re uncomfortable. Reckoning childhood philosophy, something bad will come of talking to strangers. The consequence: rejection, or, even worse, an awkward, forced conversation. Best not to risk it.

Hmm. What if… and bear with me here… what if we’re wrong? What if an introduction to the guy at the bar led to a date, and the date led to a second, and the second led to a kiss, and the kiss…. you get my point. And what if it didn’t? So what? We’re left with exactly what we had to begin with. But if we choose NOT to speak to him, we’ll never know.

Same goes for friendship. If I stayed quiet the night I met my friend Ty just because I was in a room full of strangers, we wouldn’t have become friends, and I would’ve missed out on who I now refer to as My Sister From Another Mister.

Easier said than done? Yeah. We’re social animals, and no one wants to feel rejected. What if he rejects you AND makes fun of you afterward for talking to him? Ouch. Good news here, folks: those instances are few and far between. Most people feel the same way we do. And even if they’re assholes, we find out in a snap that they aren’t worth our time anyway.

So how do you meet a stranger? You try. My method: approach someone and say hello, pay them a quick compliment (“Love your shirt”), and assess if the conversation is worth pursuing. Yes, you may be rejected. But so were all those charismatic, popular people who have thriving social lives. The difference is resilience. Make one friend out of every 10 strangers you talk to, and you’ll realize very quickly that 9 “No’s” are worth every moment.

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4 Responses to Through These Eyes: How to Meet a Stranger

  1. Chris says:

    Considering that we meet strangers for many different reasons, why not meet them for friends? I must say, though, that I found it much easier to chat up strangers when I lived in Manhattan than since moving to Minneapolis. Are Minneapolitans harder to befriend than New Yorkers? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

  2. Sonia Martinez-Romaih says:

    Years ago in California I was an account executive for a major mortgage lender at a sales meeting/workshop. The speaker said the reason we feel rejected often making sales calls is that we have unrealistic expectations. That the way to never feel rejected again is to approach each meeting with new people having no expectations on them at all. Giving those people the freedom to react to you as themselves and in turn since you did not have any expectations more often than not, it turns out to be a pleasant experience. This is how I approach all new people and have never been disappointed even when those people turn out to be jerks because in the end it did not really matter to me how they acted. The best part is that I met really wonderful and fun people more often than not because they some how understod that I had no expectations on them other than for them just to be themselves.

  3. Michael M says:

    I talk to strangers while waiting in line at the store all the time (but I’ll admit that when I’m in an environment such as a gay club, I’m less likely to do so). I suppose my lack of courage in the club has more to do with my age and feeling like the odd man out most of the time. For this reason, I don’t go out to the clubs my myself much anymore. It’s either with friends or not at all. Good article, J.

  4. Jonathan L says:

    I do feel it’s much tougher in the gay male society. Not only do we make up barely a double-digit percentage of the population, but within this tiny percentage of people, we have to navigate friends, professional relationships, people to avoid, people we like but don’t like us, and vice versa. This is why, for so many of us, we either find nobody to love, or end up moving every 2 years. After six months, no matter what metro area you’re in, you pretty much know everyone. One thing that has always surprised me is, gay men are the most despised group in the world so far, yet we do very little to make life easier or happier for each other. We hurt each other, we insult each other; we judge and reject each other so that we finally come out a winner and can feel better than someone else. This is so unnecessary. This is the very reason why our relationships almost never last more than 2 years.

    Being gay we know a lot about strangers, anonymity, and the unwritten rules of never speaking to or acknowledging those we’ve been intimate with. Unfortunately, since these encounters are often our first glimpse into what it means to be gay, it also flushes what little respect and loyalty we had towards other gay people down the toilet: if we can’t even ask each other our names, or say hi on the street, then how on earth can we honestly celebrate something called ‘Pride’ or claim that ‘it gets better’? It’s all lies and gay media trying to sell an image to society that gay people all have post-graduate degrees, six-figure incomes, million dollar lofts, and the best of everything. Unless you conform to that, chances are you’ll be rejected a lot. And so these strangers among us, who did step out once or twice to gay events, got stung badly by this rejection and said to themselves ‘I will never go through this again’ and do just that: the new closet is here, on the internet, in the chat rooms, where you can be who you want. Since these guys know that other gay men will reject them, they have no intentions in real life to meet anyone again. This is why there are so many gay suicides among gay adults. They’ve given up, they’ve come out and rather than finding a community of like-minded gay people who love them for who they are, they found an even more rejecting, judgmental group of snobs who won’t talk to them. That’s why the irony of coming out (it’s okay to be different!) seems to be lost among most gay people. It’s actually more constricting.

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