I’ll be upfront and say that I don’t often seek out conversations with strangers.
The idea of needing to start, continue, and figure out when to end an interaction is discouraging enough to convince myself it’s not worth the effort. Being autistic with ADHD means I also have to put in a lot of effort to appear “normal” when I’m getting to know somebody.
My least favourite aspect of meeting a new person is the strange stage where you know someone’s name but little else about them (though not in my case; I forget the names of acquaintances and good friends alike… yay for equality!).
Despite my clear hesitance, I do feel a lot less pressure if we’re engaged in the same activity, or otherwise being forced to interact.
Knowing this, I was growing more uneasy with each day that passed, thinking up all sorts of scenarios that could get me through this assignment.
Before I got too worried, I remembered that the SFU choir’s first rehearsal would be this Thursday; It felt like the perfect opportunity to meet some strangers!
I enjoyed the fall term and became good friends with the other members over many sessions of dinner, board game nights, and sticking up posters. Aside from these activities, we are encouraged to talk to somebody new when we break in the middle of each rehearsal.
I stopped heeding that advice around midway through the term, but seeing so many new faces pushed me to give it another chance. I got out of my seat and went searching for someone who wasn’t already chatting.
I spotted someone sitting in the tenor section — my neighbour as a soprano — and went through the usual questions, i.e. name and major. When I learned he was completely new to choir, It was difficult to contain myself from launching off into a monologue. So I didn’t.
I started off with many compliments towards the choir, which made me feel somewhat like an amateur cult recruiter. Carefully, I guided the conversation towards explaining the sections, going over how a typical rehearsal would look like, and giving any other tips I could think of.
He responded with an equal amount of enthusiasm and questions, until we were cut off to start singing again.
I don’t know if we will become friends; I guess it depends on whether I decide to strengthen that connection or leave it as a one-off interaction.
When it comes to online interactions, I find that what constitutes a stranger is much more complicated.
The closest thing to a near-stranger would probably be somebody who sees a post from you and never goes further than that. There are, of course, endless possibilities from that point when it comes to how familiar someone is with you.
I grew up with little friends, so I was quick to form online friendships in my early teens. Most of my online friends have stuck around for many years, so I sometimes forget what those relationships are like in the early stages.
You don’t always introduce yourself to someone new on the internet, since descriptors like their name and other basic facts are commonplace to include. This leads to less structured relationships, with more of a grey area when it comes to the divide between a stranger and a friend.
There are a fair amount of people who I’d consider casual friends online, but who I’ve never actually spoken to; this would be unheard of in real life!
Quite a few people have said that they were intimidated by me when we first met, but eased up when they saw how lighthearted I actually am. I’ve since learned a lot from looking at strangers like this, wondering if I’ve been unfair in assuming other people would want to avoid conversation like I do.
I am coming out of this exercise with a slight amendment to my initial mindset; aside from the fences we each put up, there is very little else keeping a stranger from being a friend.