When Strangers Aren’t Strange

I’d like to tell you something. Alone does not mean lonely. Just as you can feel lonely in a crowded room, so you can feel fulfilled alone. Last night was one of the best nights of my life and you know what? I was alone. You see, I had planned a trip with a friend to go to San Francisco to see this musician, who I love, and putz around the city together. So, I booked a hotel (it lent itself to the putzing—I’ll get to that), began to plan our little trip, and then something came up at work that meant she couldn’t go anymore.

The hotel was paid for and non-refundable so I began to search for some one else to go with. Alas, my efforts were in vain and I couldn’t find anyone. I had a choice to make! Eat the hotel cost and just stay home or stick to the original plan and see what happens.

I went with the second option.

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived at my hotel. The very hotel where one of my favorite Hitchcock films was shot (Vertigo) and with my list of filming locations, fun backstories to investigate (this is the putzing), and a single ticket for a concert, I checked in. The concert. I was well into my self-guided tour of Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco, and was having a blast, when I looked at my watch. I realized that I needed to get going if I was going to make the concert. And here was another crossroads! Do I just scrap the ticket and continue on my Hitchcockian adventure or do go and see this musician, one of my favorites, and do it alone?

Again, I went with the second option.

I arrived at the music hall to find it wasn’t so much a music hall as it was a relatively small space with a small stage and a large bar. So, I got a Guinness and sat at a corner table, all alone. No one talked to me. People looked at me, some smiled and waved, but most just kept on moving. I realized that I likely had a serious case of RBF going on so I decided to look up from my phone a little more often and scowl with a little less frequency. On one of these phone-less-smile-more ventures, I made eye contact with the musician I was there to see. He walked up and introduced himself and asked if I was hanging out by myself. I told him I was but that I didn’t mind it. He said he did mind it because we’re all there together. Then, he told me that the people I happened to be sitting next to were his family members. So, I ended up hanging out with the dude’s grandpa for a while. I lost his mom a bet (In all fairness—she was wrong! “What’s Up” is sung by 4 Non-Blondes and not Sheryl Crow. I’m sorry but the facts are facts.) And his dad was really kind. I made friends with another guy who was slightly offended when I referenced Gimli as a comparison to him (he said he gets Strider more often… I said there’s no way. He agreed, there was no way.) and we all took in the music as friends.

I left before the set was over because I wanted to make it to a showing of Mad Max (the original!!) in an old movie theater, so I called a Lyft. My driver picked me up and we had about a 20-minute ride. Instead of sitting in silence, we got to talking. She asked what I had done that night and after I told her, she asked if I had done those things with other people. I told her that I had gone on the trip alone and was just kind of meeting people along the way. She wanted to know if I did stuff like this often and, when I thought about it, yeah. I kind of do. I was her last ride of the night so we got to talk a little longer and we ended up becoming friends. She asked why I’m ok with doing things alone and I told her it was because I decided that I didn’t want to miss out on my life because I was waiting around for other people to want to do the same things that I did. Her response was, “What a revelation to have. I wonder if I can do that?”

She said exactly what I was thinking because, at that moment, I was asking myself the very same thing. Can I live my life like that? You know, on purpose instead of just on accident; in reality instead of just theory. She and I ended up exchanging numbers and agreed to hang out if ever we’re in the same city again. When I got out of the car, I continued thinking about what we had just talked about. And it clicked. I am far more likely to find people who share my interests if I go out and partake in those interests than if I just think about how interested I am in them.

“But what if I have to keep going alone?” I asked myself. “Well, maybe you’ve spent so much time worrying about what strangers think of you that you completely missed the point that you could make those strangers your friends.” I scolded myself right there because, dang, that’s exactly what I’ve done my entire life. Instead of just making new friends and letting people matter, I’ve pigeonholed them all into being strangers whose opinions and thoughts I absolutely must not care about.

Here it is: we would all breathe so much easier and with so much more joy if we viewed every person as having something wonderful to offer. Instead of seeing strangers as trolls who are out to get me and make me look stupid, what if I made them my friends? Every single person on this earth is full of life. Whether they’re living it or not, it’s there. What if I made it my goal to find that life in them? I’m not saying that I should attempt to extract their deepest secrets or share with them my biggest fears (Frogs… it’s frogs. That’s actually not a big one), what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be hard for me to genuinely care about their answer when I ask them how their day was. Every one has a story to tell. And, holy wow, do I love a good story.

So, today, I will go forth into this city alone, intent on making strangers my friends, and not missing out on the things that I want to do just because I have no one to do them with. Life happens whether or not we’re looking and I don’t want to reach the end of mine and realize that I missed it. Today, I will look for life in others. And, in doing so, I firmly believe that I will find the life in myself that I’ve always wanted. Because, being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. And strangers don’t have to be strange.

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