On Saturday night, I stood solo in a long line for a free comedy show, shoving a Chipotle burrito in my face. I was hungry, alone and had no plans after this anyway.
But by the time the show was over, I was walking out with a group of people for a night of drinks and dancing. My evening turned out totally different, which I was totally hoping for. How did that happen?
Well, I heard the girls in line behind me eyeing my burrito and wondering out loud whether they should grab dinner there too. I turned around and said, “You definitely should.” We started talking, at first about burritos. But then we kept talking. After the show, they invited me to join them. I ended up having a great Saturday night with random people. Yay!
No apps necessary
Life is super lonely when you move to a new city by yourself. I’m actually in a new city and a new country by myself, so it’s even harder. London is a very, very busy place. The only way you’re going to build a social network around here is by taking your own ass out and making it happen.
I don’t love being alone, so I always give it a go. Yes, sometimes things get awkward. I don’t always walk out of places with new friends!
Take Wednesday night, for instance. I went to a trivia night by myself. It was weird and somewhat awful. I surveyed the room looking for a seat. It seemed like everyone had plopped bags and purses everywhere to save seats for their own friends. But I finally found a free chair with a group of people that seemed friendly:
“Is it OK if I sit here?”
“Yea absolutely! Go right ahead!”
[cheerful, relieved] “Thanks! I’m here alone, so…”
I really wish they’d have taken that as a cue to…something! Introduce themselves? Ask me if it was my first time here? Bring me into the fold? It was a social event, after all. But they didn’t. So I just sat there at the fringe of the table, soaking up the awkward, like:
It was totally awkward though.
This is what happens in life. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sounds like…life, doesn’t it?
Your phone is a freakin’ crutch!
It must be exhausting to live in Stuart Vyse’s world. But I feel like I kind of already do. I suspect his piece appealed to more than just introverts, specifically this generation of shut-ins and socially risk-averse folks the Internet created. What he says strikes me as a manifesto antipatico.
I don’t think this is something to aspire to. I think it’s a lazy and uninspired way to live.
Maybe it’s because I’m a traveler, but I’ve always lived in a different world. I operate with one rule: reach out and say hello. It’s led to awesome things for me.
For one, I became fluent in Italian just by striking up conversations while living in Milan (mostly old ladies). I got to have lunch with a former Fenerbahce player in Istanbul just because we started chatting in a cafe. I once got invited for beautiful weekend in an Austrian village I’d never heard of — all opportunities I had from opening up to the people around me.
Not necessarily extraordinary things, but these memorable events have peppered my life and travels. They’ve helped me learn how other people live, exposed me to new ideas and perspectives. They definitely wouldn’t have happened if I insisted on looking down.
The one and only secret to being an extrovert is to accept that you don’t always look good doing it, but it’s worth trying anyway.
Yes, I’ve gotten weird looks. I’ve been excluded and rejected (perhaps by introverts). I’ve had more painfully awkward trivia nights than I’d like to admit. I think this possibility is what scares a lot of people. But rest assured, you’re rejected behind your back all the damn time on Tinder or whatever app you use to ironically avoid human contact.
I really, truly believe you shut yourself out of a life of excitement and serendipity when you act like a shut-in. You let lots of moments — even turning points and relationships — pass you by when you avoid talking to the people around you.
Start by saying ‘Hello’
Try this one day. Put away the phone and ask someone else for the time, or if they know when the next train is coming. Smile, acknowledge the people around you. Ask for directions, or maybe directions to a nearby restaurant they really like. If this is a terrifying challenge for you, then think of it as something to overcome. It’s OK to make eye contact. Try not to use your phone as a crutch for social avoidance and see what happens.
It’s normal to talk to strangers in real time. This is how we’ve always done it. If they think it’s weird, they’re the weird ones. This is what we’re meant to do.
Embrace awkward moments. They are eventually evened out by spontaneous, magical moments of unexpected opportunities and real-time human connection.