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Not a Friend in the World

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?

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124 comments
EricaLemmonsWhite
EricaLemmonsWhite

there are days when i go to bed and realize that I haven't spoken a word...not a single word...all day long.  

crazynance
crazynance

the best way to get friends is to BE ONE> if you are alone, you must have some free time (you're not out with friends, after all). Go and volunteer. Join a group, a club, or a church. Find a way to pitch in. Be the person you want others to be.  It won't happen overnight, but eventually, you will meet some like-minded people.

janeinco
janeinco

I recently started a podcast mostly to share the stories of the people in my "neighborhood". At first, I was nervous to ask people to record with me. What I've found is that every single person I've asked has jumped at the chance. You are right. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone has a story that makes them awesome. And I'm getting the opportunity to give them a place to tell their stories for the world to hear. It is VERY cool.

DragonMommie
DragonMommie

Oh sorry, forgot to add that there are also people out there who are socially inept, myself included.  I simply find it very hard to have a conversation, correctly interpreting the social cues everyone learns to intuit while they're developing.  Autistic children and adults fall into this category.  They can learn social behavior, much like learning math and science; but so many autistic adults did not have the benefit of being taught because back then they were maybe labeled as, I'll keep the "R" word out of it, "mentally disabled" and could have ended up being institutionalized.  At the very least, they did not receive the intervention that is available today.  Even today public schools have a hard time seeing the importance of provided social education in the school setting.  It's not until it becomes a real concern for THEM that they will give it the attention it deserves.

DragonMommie
DragonMommie

No  matter how much we deny ourselves or try to disguise it, we. are. social. animals. period.  I am one of those who relish my privacy and love to be alone, but there comes a time I raise my head and crave human contact.  I believe those people who want to be alone do so because they've been hurt and it's safer for them/us to remain isolated.  Still, there is always something inside us grateful for human contact and the need to be recognized and acknowledged.

JoeyNunez
JoeyNunez

I can honestly say that is something I have never done, but it definitely is something worth trying...thanks for that...nice quick way to meet new people and just get away from the world your currently in.

 

Joe-

http://life-love-journey-143.blogspot.com/

KatrinaDeaverDay
KatrinaDeaverDay

I have never done that nor would I ever do it.  I applaud you for doing it, but I'm one of the 2 who likes to eat alone!  It happens so seldom that my idea of heaven is having a meal without having to talk or listen or anything.  I think that you probably needed it as much as them.  It makes you feel good.  It's great that you are that outgoing! 

Tif
Tif

Beautiful beautiful post! Thankyou for giving voice to the amazing realization of such human suffering and such a simple step in a solution. Even a sincere smile, can be the rope that helps a lost soul hanging on by a thread. We so often are so wrapped up in the chapter's of our own story, we forget other's have a story as well. Life becomes so much the better, the more stories are heard. It's like a library, it would be so dull if only one book was on the shelf! Thanks for sharing, I love your posts - Tif

P.S "God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world's hunger meet." Frederick Buechner

Jeann Louise Combs
Jeann Louise Combs

D.H. The wording is different. From "Finest Quotes", Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." It may be that Abigail Van Buren misquoted her at some time, or changed the wording to suit her needs. I doubt Mother Teresa had time or desire to misquote Abigail Van Buren. One author was working selling her writing skills and the other was working saving lives.

stuffette
stuffette

oh my gosh, I LOVE doing that. I want to try the fast food one, so far, im a super market friend :)

Cassie Laymon
Cassie Laymon

"There is no one that you could hate, if you knew their story."? :)

grimgriz
grimgriz

Just checking, but you DID forward at least a link to this article to those email people, right? P.s really weird stuff happens when you try to comment on a droid x

nikagurl5889
nikagurl5889

I remember once when I was 16, I was severely depressed because my mom and I weren't getting along. I dreaded going home after school. One day I was on the bus on my way home and I just burst out crying. I was sobbing and although everyone was gawking only one person spoke up. He didn't actually speak, he just reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a tissue , handed it to me, and patted me on the shoulder. I smiled as a thank you and he winked at me. That simple gesture helped me out so much and although there was no exchange of words, I knew that things between my mom and I were going to get better.

 

I'm 22 now and I have a daughter and one morning after dropping my daughter off at school, I got on the bus and saw a girl crying. She was about 14 and she was trying to hide her tears. I reached into  my pocket and pulled out a handful of Kleenex ,gave it to her, and patted her on the shoulder. I don't know if it helped but I couldn't help but remember when that was me

HealerWomyn
HealerWomyn

Dan....I've done something even MORE scary.  In our late 50's, my partner and I took a chance on a scruffy, dirty, young homeless man who first asked us for money, and when we said no, then asked us if we had any work he could do to EARN the money.  We looked long at him, then at each other, and after telling him we lived quite a ways away from where he was standing and he said he could take the bus back... we took a chance and put him in the car.  We DID have work for him, and you know what?  He DID it, and did it well.  And came back on his own to do MORE work.  Regularly.  He was, as my Dad might say, 10 miles of bad road. Ex-junkie, ex-felon, only 32 years old, and BRILLIANT.  A writer to rival Stephenie Meyer (the author of the Twilight books).  Life had not been good to him, but I took one look at him and had two thoughts:  1) someone took ME in when I was 18 and homeless and gave me a chance..... and 2) I would hope that if my daughter were ever in a similar situation, someone like us would help HER.  Eventually, this young man moved in with us because he couldn't stay clean living where he was - all of his "friends" were junkies and he really wanted to work and earn money for his own place, a place where he could have privacy and work on his novel - which, as an incorrigible reader of every type of genre, I've got to say is one day going to make him a best-selling author (what high-school dropout junkie ex-felon knows the word "lycanthrope"???).  The most menial job was not below him, and he worked like a demon, even when he was in such pain he couldn't sleep.  We most probably saved his life, but that was not the point.  It made me realize that the young homeless people you see all have a story, and many of them just need a stable place to stay away from bad influences for a while to pull themselves out of trouble.  Because he got clean, and was earning and saving money, Jason was able to re-connect with the love of his life several states away.... and then he had a real goal to work towards.  He gave me half of his paycheck every week to hold for him, and paid his room and board by doing work around the house, and within several months, he was ready to fly back home to grab hold of his dreams.  Everyone has a story, and some are unbearably sad.... especially for a mother like me.... I beg the rest of you... next time you see a homeless young man or woman (or even an older one).... take the time to learn his (or her) story.  They're not all mentally ill.... and even if they're jailbird junkies, not all of them want to be.  Consider giving them a chance....

outwriter
outwriter

A few years ago I was visiting Toronto. At lunchtime I went to a crowded restaurant. The server took me to a table where a man was sitting alone and offered me a seat. I was surprised and asked the guy if that was OK. He said sure. We had a nice conversation. Having a server in the U.S. invite me to join someone sitting alone has never happened to me.

Manda O'Shannessy
Manda O'Shannessy

... the love of a child is very special but just doesn't hit the spot that the affection and love of another adult provides... single parenting = the lonliest job in the world xx

Tracy Preece
Tracy Preece

Thanks for sharing Julie Tennis!!! Brilliant! :)

Aaron Witt
Aaron Witt

Nice quote, and you got that right. No amount of money could ever replace the embrace of another human being.

Aaron Witt
Aaron Witt

Nice quote, and you got that right. No amount of money could ever replace the embrace of another human being.

Cherise James
Cherise James

I am truly terrified of approaching people I don't know. But I do believe it is an excellent thing to do, seeking out those who need a friend and giving them a bit of your time. Well done.

Cherise James
Cherise James

I am truly terrified of approaching people I don't know. But I do believe it is an excellent thing to do, seeking out those who need a friend and giving them a bit of your time. Well done.

Cherise James
Cherise James

I am truly terrified of approaching people I don't know. But I do believe it is an excellent thing to do, seeking out those who need a friend and giving them a bit of your time. Well done.

Tracy Preece
Tracy Preece

Mothers are Mums, NOT friends in the way we need friends. After all some things are not right to be shared with a Mum. And angels and heavenly spirit types aren't exactly who I have in mind to go for coffee with or ask for a ride to the airport! :P

Jane Manderscheid Wadsworth
Jane Manderscheid Wadsworth

I think the quote is not accurate-- I think at least a mother was there at each persons birth-- who hopefully is a great friend, also I believe that when we die, we are not alone- as I believe that we are escorted by angels, and that actually we are surrounded by spiritual beings all the time-- hopefully by our choices by the heavenly type spirits!

Tracy Preece
Tracy Preece

Mothers are Mums, NOT friends in the way we need friends. After all some things are not right to be shared with a Mum. And angels and heavenly spirit types aren't exactly who I have in mind to go for coffee with or ask for a ride to the airport! :P

henwhen
henwhen

oh yeah...and most of the women I'm introduced to that are my husband's age want absolutely nothing to do with me.    I honestly do not understand why...I treat them as I wish to be treated, but they are catty and inconsiderate no matter what I do.

robertluisrabello
robertluisrabello

What an insightful post!  We DO long for connection and need to be heard.  The fact that you've made a point to reach out to people in this regard likely says something important about who YOU are.

Lysa
Lysa

Dan, I have not often sought out strangers in the way that you described. However, I have, for years, made it a point to connect with people everywhere I go. It is amazing how a smile and hello, while making eye contact, can really connect with a person. Walking through the grocery store, walking down the hallway of a medical office, walking along the street, etc. There are so many everyday places that we go and just look down and miss lonely people. And often, this very thing is what makes us lonely people.

 

I have read that a smile can change the entire direction of a person's life. Sometimes, a smile can be the one thing that changes the mind of a suicidal person. Sometimes all a person needs in life is to know that SOMEONE cares, even if it's someone they don't even know. It is so vital, to life, to care and be cared for. To genuinely care for someone, even a stranger, and express that, is not only a help to the heart of that stranger, but a nourishment to our own heart when we express it. It cannot be underestimated.

 

I'm sure you've noticed, from your encounters at fast food restaurants, that when people know you care enough to listen, you may be in for an earful. It's a beautiful thing! To have a person pour out their heart, their hopes and dreams, to you. It's an intimate and beautiful thing. It's memorable for that person, and it's memorable for you.

 

I encourage you, and all your readers, to find a way to reach out..in a quiet way, or in a more outgoing way. Excellent article. Thanks for bringing the importance of reaching out to our attention!

DragonMommie
DragonMommie

Dan... This issue has raised itself up from my background lately.  I am the one with no friends, too.  Well, I have to admit that I have "some", but not someone that is in my life on a daily basis.  I have a wonderful husband and son, and so, that makes my life a lot easier, but before them, I was devastated.  I think what we really want is to know that we are acknowledged in the world.  We want to have the comfort of knowing that there is another person out there who is willing to invest their time in us.... we matter.  I am feeling pretty insignificant lately and that hurts... but I know that it's really nobody's fault.  People either click with each other or they don't... it's still a sad, sad thing.  I realize I probably come off as pretty desperate and that in itself must turn people, but it is what it is.

 

You have touched strangers and I believe that your contact with those 15-20 people are the most important, even including those who read your blog.   Those people are blessed and you have no idea how deep down you have affected them.  Thanks for "really" reaching out.

henwhen
henwhen

I am so guarded that making new friends is difficult for me...thankfully I married a man who is the exact opposite...unfortunately he is also 18 years older than I am, so all of our friends are older.  It would be nice to make a few friends my own age. 

ec.uberbiz
ec.uberbiz

I am a shy, lonely person. I do have a few close friends that I confide in, but I now live 6hrs away from all of them, so I don't ever 'go out.' In college I would stay away from the dining hall because I didn't want to be noticed as being 'alone.' I was self-conscious (and suffering from social anxiety), and would have probably felt more awkward if someone had sat down and tried to talk to me, lol...

carynhelene
carynhelene

Maybe it's because I am just a goofball, but whenever I am in line for anything, coffee shop, deli counter, check out line, i try to smile and strike up a conversation with someone around me, especially elderly people.  Just to get someone smile or laugh or feel heard gives me fuel for the rest of my day.  Good for you for taking the time to sit with people.

VB
VB

I haven't sat down with people in the same way you have, but I have done several "Free Hug" days. There is something about the human touch that makes people feel accepted and wanted. I have found that the simple act of hugging people gives them that lift in spirit they needed to get through the day. I wish I had more time to give to this act, it makes me feel as good as it seems to the people I get to hug. Wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon! (They even make t-shirts that say "Free Hug" now!)

Jill Poynter Brush
Jill Poynter Brush

My son sometimes watches "if you really knew me". The mtv high school bullying/problem child show. After watching it and crying several times with me, he told me the other day that he sometimes goes and finds random loners at school and sits by them and befriends them. I am SO PROUD of him!

Lichen Wyrd
Lichen Wyrd

Hello Dan, I have done this for years, in fact it started when I first used to walk out with my first born..I decided that I would smile and say good morning to EVERYONE I passed... after a while I noticed that people returned the good morning and sometimes also a few niceties like 'lovely day' and 'enjoy your day' etc. and them occationally we would stop for a chat.. everyone went their own way with a smile on their lips... I is a sad fact that many elderly people especially live lonely lives, sometimes not speaking to anyone for days..loneliness is linked to increased mental health problems and also increase in general health problems like heart decease and so on.. Everyone talks about 'community spirit' etc.. well if you want that in your live, then interact with your community. Go to the local cafe or pub regularly, attend local events, spend an hour helping out in a local school all these things help. To find a friend, you have to be prepared to be a friend. It always start with a SMILE!!!!

Woobie21
Woobie21

 @stuffette I, too, am a supermarket friend. :D  I strike up conversations with folks while waiting in line at the supermarket checkout, or in the aisles while shopping... usually to just bring a smile to their face or help them out with their groceries or whatever.  Had one experience where I had struck up a conversation with someone in the checkout line, and I ran into her again as I was bringing my groceries to my car.  We ended up talking for 45 minutes about this, that and the other thing.  I've never seen her again, but it was an interesting and fun 45 minutes of my life. :)

LauraL107
LauraL107

 @HealerWomyn I married mine. He's still adjusting, but he's an amazing person and so loving and caring. And he makes me laugh every day.  After our first date he asked me for money and I gave it to him. Never thinking I would see it or him again. Later that same week in December in the northwest, the place where he was staying kicked him out and he litterally had nothing. When I saw him, he looked so panicked, lost and alone. I told him to come home with me and he did. He'd had a stroke a few years ago causing him to be unable to do the thing he loved most. He had turned to drugs and alcohol to mend his broken heart. After a while of constant support and care he was able to see that he could have a normal life. And he wanted that and he stayed and we fell in love and have a close relationship. He still has depression, but medication is helping immensly and he's seeing a brighter future.

corporate.hippie.chick
corporate.hippie.chick

 @outwriter The first time I traveled to Europe for work we ended up at a restaurant where everyone sat together.  I think there were people from six different countries sitting around that table - it was charming and the apple wine still lives as a warm memory.

 

When I go out to eat alone (which I had to do frequently when I traveled) I always eat at the bar and strike up a conversation.  I often do the same thing on airplanes.  One of the great joys in life is hearing other's stories.

inaRehT
inaRehT

 @VB Where do I get that shirt!!!!!!