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Monday, May 14, 2012

Talking to Strangers

At the grocery store I smiled at the checkout lady and she asked how I was doing. We’ve seen each other hundreds of times. I don’t know her name and she doesn’t know mine. However, when I come to the grocery store with a tiny baby, she’ll probably write a story in her head about me, if she hasn’t already.

I’ve been writing stories in my head about the people I see all the time, but don’t know, since my college days.  I even give some of these familiar strangers nicknames to match the story I imagine their life to be. I work out at the same gym I’ve been working out at for the last ten years. The familiar people I’ve seen there all have personas in my mind, life stories that match how I see them. We’ve never spoken, but we smile at each other as if to say, “Hi. I’m busy working out, but I see you there.”

After meeting one of these familiar people at a really fancy dress gala — discovering that she wasn’t the corporate human resources worker I imagined (she’s a professor at a prestigious local college) — I decided to start talking to people. I got to know that the guy I called Washed-up Rock Star is actually named Jon and he was in a band, once upon a time. I found out the woman I called Over-achiever Mom, is an aerobics instructor and, yes, a mother of four young children.

The only drawback to getting to know these people I have shared only workouts and no conversation with for years? My workouts have become a bit less productive. I talk more and work out less…because now, I know everyone and they know me.

How many places do you go frequently enough to recognize the same people over and over…yet, you never talk? What would your life be like if you opened your mouth and talked to them?


  1. I too make up stories about people, but I also like getting to know them. I probably have a healthy balance of both!

  2. I am really good with strangers, but not so good with the real people in my life. Maybe it's an "emotional intimacy" thing; I have a really hard time letting people in, so even creating stories about them might bee too close for comfort. But who knows, maybe it could be a bridge to actually meeting them and letting them in. Interesting thought...


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