Talking With Strangers


A very distinct childhood memory that I have is being in the “major” department store near our town. I was with my mom. I may have been seven or eight. I don’t remember either of my other sisters there – just me – and we were probably buying some clothes for me. The saleslady asked me a question, and rather than answer her, I cowered behind my mother and did not say a word. My mother did not say anything at the time, but later she let me have it. When people talked to me, I was to answer.

​Flash forward twenty years. I am fairly newly married. Recently moved to a new city. A new mom. As an independent person, I did pretty well creating my own routines. Nothing screamed out to me that I really didn’t know many people, and that I certainly hadn’t made any friends in this new life. That was, until I went out of my comfort zone and it became evident to me that it was true. And then I would get mad at everyone else.

​It made sense. Here I was, am educated, funny, young woman who had just embarked on this amazing journey of motherhood. Why wouldn’t all of these co-workers or new friends of my husband be clamoring to get to know me? We didn’t go out too often, but I remember many occasions when we would go home and I would complain or just clam up because no one talked to me; or that people asked me one question and then that was it. I blamed them, but then I started blaming myself. Maybe I was just too boring. I was happy with my life of staying home and taking care of my baby and then babies, but I got that maybe it wasn’t of much interest to people who weren’t there in their own life. So, for awhile, I langoured in the self-indulgent temperament that it was what it was – so be it.

​I guess that period of my life didn’t last a huge long time, but it kind of feels like it did. When one is willing to accept a situation that doesn’t make you happy, it can be a burden. When I would go into a social situation accepting that people wouldn’t be interested in me, how could good things possibly result? I was back in that situation where I would hide behind my mother and not say a word.
​But the lesson that I learned gradually – and sadly, I am still needing to push myself on this years later – is that there are very few people out there who are perfectly comfortable or really good at walking up to a stranger – or a barely known person – and engage that person in a conversation. It is hard. And when you have other people around you who you know and are comfortable with, why would you take the time and effort needed to talk with someone new.

​I can’t answer that question for everyone. For me, working at it has made me happier with myself. I can now be that person who talks to the person who no one seems to be talking with, and I can kind of keep a conversation going. I am not great at it by any means, but I am getting pretty good at asking questions and drawing people out. It sometimes leads to reciprocation where the person tries to get to know me better, but, I have to say, that it doesn’t always. People almost always like to talk about themselves. I like to hear about people. It is a good match.

​In essence, there is still a great deal of that little girl who hid behind my mother in me. What is different, however, is that I am a person who relishes the other people in my life that have come into my life in ways that required me to be open and interested and interesting. I would never have those people in my life if I hid myself.

I never know when the next great connection will be made. I also know that every time I push myself to talk to someone that I don’t know or barely know, it gets easier. I learn something. Part of me hopes that the person enjoyed the chance to get to know me a little bit better.

3 thoughts on “Talking With Strangers

  1. Good post! I remember that time, and it was kind of a pain in the neck for me, too. Now I feel like we’re miles away from that. Before, I had to keep an eye on out for you, but now we can show up at a party, go our own merry ways, and catch up an hour later to share stories.

  2. I appreciate your reflection about this. I relate to it, too. When I was a young Mother I felt like you did.

    I have made some remarkable friendships by talking to strangers at the airport baggage claim, in an elevator, the list goes on.

    I have often observed groups of people in their 20’s and 30’s now individually absorbed in their cellphones. They pose for pics together sometimes to the exclusion of talking to each other. They’re so busy “communicating” they’re not communicating. I worry that the lesson Robin and I learned over time will be list on them. That’s a significant loss.

    And Robin, you’re a fascinating person.

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