Over the past year or so, I’ve received a handful of emails from different people that all said the same thing (even if said in different ways)… Dan, I don’t have a single real friend. Not one. Nobody. How to even respond to these messages escapes me. I’ve never experienced that, at least not as an adult.
The first time I received a message like that it weighed on me as I tried to think of any way to respond. Nothing seemed right. After a week, I finally responded with a “just hang in there” reply because as desperate as I was to be of help, nothing I had worked.
I eventually forgot about it for the most part as life moved on, and then I received another very similar correspondence saying the same basic thing. Dan, I don’t have a single real friend. Not one. Nobody.
This time I made a point not to torture myself with it. I sent a similar “just hang in there” email and tried not to take it on as my problem, because in all reality, there was nothing I could really do or offer. And even though to do what I do I’ve had to learn that I can’t take everybody’s worries, fears, problems, dilemmas, and sadnesses upon myself, I’ve also learned something else. I can be a better person to the people around me to help make sure that they don’t have the same sad song to sing.
After the second email, I started noticing people in public more. I started looking for people who looked like they were alone. And I don’t mean alone for the moment. I mean alone, as in “no friend in the world” alone. And you know what I’ve found? There are a lot of people in this world who don’t have any real friends to call their own. So, I try to be their friend, even if only for a moment.
The best place I’ve found to do this is in busy fast food joints. When the place is packed, I can almost always look around and find somebody who is completely alone. I sometimes watch these people while I order and pick-up my food. I try to read them. I try to gauge them. And, if they seem like they might need a pick-me-up or a friend, I make it my business to be one.
At first it was scary, approaching strangers, asking if I could share a table with them. Who am I kidding. It was beyond scary. It was downright terrifying. But then I did it one time, and the man I approached was happy to have me sit down.
And the next person was happy to have me sit down as well.
And the next.
And the next.
In fact, in all the times I’ve done it (probably between 15-20 now), I’ve only had two people tell me they’d prefer not to have any company. Have I gotten funny looks now and then? Absolutely, by almost everyone, but I don’t take that personally. Approaching strangers and asking to sit with them is not a normal thing to do.
And… every time I do it, I meet somebody new. I become acquainted with an interesting person. And, I am reminded of three very real truths.
First, people love to be heard. I usually will sit with my new friend for half an hour to an hour, and for the most part, all I do is listen. I rarely say much of anything. The vast majority of these people don’t know much about me at all when we part ways. But, I know all about them, their families, their jobs, their favorite things to do on the weekends, their pets. I prod and ask different questions to keep the conversation going. I suppose that’s a skill I’ve developed over the years.
Second, people love human connection. Whether people admit it or not, almost everybody wishes they were socially able. People wish they could strike up conversations with complete strangers. People wish they had the confidence to connect with more people. And while (I believe) a great many people lack the skills or confidence to initiate it, almost everybody enjoys being a part of it when it’s with the right person.
Third, people love to feel important. It doesn’t matter how, people love to feel like who they are, what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve come from, or how they come across to others will be meaningful to somebody, somewhere, in some way. I’ve also learned that everybody is important in some way. Everybody has something that makes them awesome. And I’ve learned that you can always find out what that is over the course of a quick lunch.
And keeping these three things in mind, I’ve completely fallen in love with all of my 30-minute friends. I’ve bought into the notion that it’s worth it to talk to everybody because you never know who’s worth knowing until you do. I’ve come to really look forward to the moments I can bring connection to another person. More than anything, I’ve come to look at everyone as being even more beautiful. And while not everybody I’ve approached is friendless or completely alone, some of them have been. And it’s in those encounters that I feel like I’m doing something to answer those emails that I sometimes receive.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
PS. I’d love your comments today. Have you ever sat with a complete stranger just to find out who they were? What was your experience? Does doing that sound appealing or not appealing? Does it sound scary? Would you try it if I were to challenge you?