November 19th 2011
I Like To Meet People I’m Never Going To See Again
Pleasure to meet you.
There’s something magical about talking to someone you’re never going to meet again.
I was boarding this bus getting ready for a return trip from Boston to New York. Settled in my window seat, tucking my water bottle into that crevice between the chair and wall, I childishly spied on my fellow bus-goers as they attempted to fend off other passengers from picking the seat next to them. You know the dance, you place your bag on the aisle seat, spread out your legs an absurd amount, or just blatantly stare people down, shamelessly praying that no one will claim your precious personal space and you may be so lucky to escape victorious without a seat-mate for the ride.
I admit, even I was guilty that day as I placed the box of cheap Chinese food that I planned to eventually gulp down mid-trip directly on the seat next to me. Of course, by no surprise probably the very last woman to hop aboard the Megabus that fateful day miraculously looked around and tersely asked as she gestured towards my Beef and Broccoli, “This seat taken?”
Naturally, I smiled amidst admitting defeat through my teeth and replied with a short, “Of course.” And that was that, we were locked in.
Little did I know, I would soon spend a good lot of the next four hours getting to know Asal, an Iranian girl my age with twice my ambition and 10 times the street smarts, currently serving as Director of Business Development for a luxury fragrance company. She told me about her company, her long commute, her not-so-stimulating MBA program, and that one guy back home who she should probably marry. Hell, I even quickly photoshopped an image for one of her presentations.
I like talking to people
I’ll never meet again.
I like talking to people I’ll never meet again. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy talking to friends I plan to see often, but there’s something uniquely genuine about a conversation between two people that have no expectation of the future between them. I think we often put a lot of pressure on the people we interact with, and that’s fine. We trade favors, field emotions, and work intimately. We have goals and sometimes you need to meet someone specifically to make something happen. That’s natural, that’s expected, that’s what you do to build depth whether it’s with a business partner, a love interest, or a best pal.
But when you intersect with someone else on a train, you’re isolated with that person for sometimes a hefty amount of time, and I believe you have the magical opportunity to enter a conversation with no agenda but to learn about their life out of pure curiosity. Because soon enough, you will part ways and leave with only what you’ve learned.
My boss, friend and mentor, Jerri, started a project called Subway Friends. It involves meeting someone new on the subway every day and handing them a small card with an invitation to a “Subway Friends Get-together” at a public place at the end of the month. Whenever I’m surrounded by unfamiliar people, I think about Jerri talking about her frustration with how a train packed full of folks can be deathly silent, all staring at the floor sheepishly avoiding contact via their iPhones, earbuds, and books.
Who knows where your random encounter might go. You may never get their name, you may trade business cards, you might find the girl of your dreams (part of why I take a lot of buses). But even amidst all that, I still think the majority of the time these serendipitous conversations go one of two ways: either you don’t get past the “how are you” phase or you meet, learn and leave. It’s that simple.
Someone did once tell me, “You meet everyone twice,” which, who knows, may be true in a poetic, Lion King Circle of Life, unquantifiable karma sort of way. But whether you’re meeting Asal the 24 year-old fragrance prodigy, Dan the love-struck upcoming sophomore at Rutgers, or that psychology student on the subway reading the book about why men cheat, I think you have the most to gain by not only welcoming but embracing that interaction just for what is, two people getting to know each other.
Other shiny things