“I’m going to make at least one new friend, each week.” Such were the ambitious words of one of my near and dear friends three years ago. She’s a lovely, young woman. Articulate, energetic, fun, conversational and very enjoyable company. I figured she’d have no problem easily meeting or exceeding her goal.
In speaking with her a few weeks ago it became obvious to me that some of the optimistic shine had lost its gleam when she sadly commented, “It’s just so hard to find -nice- people these days. Where are they all hiding?” It’s not as though she isn’t approachable or courteous, for she is very much so without in any way appearing forward. It isn’t that she isn’t in the position to meet new people, for she works in a large company, goes to college and attends outdoor events. No, there’s something odd and ambiguous at work here that I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of.
Meeting people seems like the easiest yet oftentimes most elusive event considering how many people we run into on a daily basis. I’m not talking about being “best friends” with everyone we meet.. just meeting new people and getting to know them. Take for instance a girl named Becki who works at the grocery store I frequent. I’ve been shopping there for perhaps four years and since first seeing her I’ve wanted to get to know her. She seems like a nice person and doesn’t wear a wedding ring (for what that tells me, I have no idea). But here’s where things begin to take a funny turn.
I’ve seen her plenty of times and she’s obviously by now noticed I’m one of the many regular customers. But usually the -only- time our paths ever cross is when I’m at her checkout stand. Situation? She’s ‘on-the-clock’ with people to attend to and has no time for idle conversation. There’s time for the light, “Wow, it’s sure getting hot already../ Yeah, almost summer!” banter that isn’t meant to lead into any meaningful conversation. After all, once business is completed.. you gotta get outta line. Now, by some chance of fate, three times now I’ve gone to my ATM machine and run into her there. So there we are. Five feet from each other and I’m inclined to say, “Hello” or maybe something creative like, “How are you doing?” But I don’t. Why? Because I’m a guy she really doesn’t know attempting to approach her as she’s getting money from her account.
Instantly there’s one strike against me. I’m a guy. In her mind I could be an ATM thief for all she knows. Or, I’m some guy who talks to every woman on the block like some sort of land-shark. She doesn’t know me from the guy at the gas station behind the plexi-glass. She finishes her transaction, I finish mine and off we go about our business every bit as much strangers as before. When you’re a single guy and hoping to meet a nice girl, that’s a drag.
So, deciding for myself to rectify the situation, I decided to take a more direct approach the next time. For a couple years now I’ve been eating at the same Chinese take-out place. Similarly the girl behind the counter has not only recognized me as a frequent customer but many times just smiles and makes my order, already knowing what I like. Finally I decided I really wanted to spend an afternoon getting to know her. Maybe a drive or even go out to eat at a Mexican place to change atmosphere as we talked and got to know each other casually. After a bit of conversation the next time I went I decided it was time I ask her out.
Sure enough, a large crowd of people arrive and she is busy at her business. Undaunted I reach over the register, take her writing tablet and pen and write out a note with my phone number asking her if she’s free that weekend to get together. She tucked the note in her pocket to read later and I left. Two days later I return for more Chinese food (I just love Chinese food.) and when I return to work there is a note in my bag from her. It read, “Thank you for your kindnesses, but it would be impossible.” Hmm, ponderous.
None the less, when it comes to meeting new people or considering the people already in our circle of friends for a relationship there seem to be inherent obstacles that are overcome by mysterious, unpredictable ‘flukes’. I have one friend who was good friends with his wife for years before they became romantically involved. They are now married with their first baby grabbing items from low tables. I have another friend who has the absolute rule, “I don’t date people I work with.” There’s a good case for that, especially if it doesn’t work out. I was engaged to a co-worker and, after breaking up, it was difficult to deal with at first but like anything else you face on a daily basis, you just handle it.
But one of the most interesting paradoxes to me is the ‘Friends First’ situation. In this scenario is the person who has the rule, “I don’t want to jump into anything.. before I get involved with someone I want to know them well as a friend. Friendship is the key to a good relationship.” Okay, sounds good and I lean toward that alot. But.. many people who have this rule also have the equally solid conviction, “I trust you, you are my friend, we’ve known each other for years.. but I wouldn’t want to get involved with you because we might lose our friendship.” Hmm, doubly ponderous. My slant on this is that whether we become friends with a person before building a relationship or not, making that ‘jump’ into love will always involve risk. Whether from acquaintance to steady relationship or friendship to love.. risk is unavoidable.
I know a man who’s relationship with his wife is one of the best of the couples I know. I asked him how he met his wife. He started with, “Well.. I was her manager at the store we both worked at and we started dating..” Hmm, so much for avoiding that situation. My Mother and Step-Father have been happily married for over thirty-four years now. They are like two peas in a pod. They met for the first time on a Saturday.. got married that following Thursday.. happily married ever since. I know another really great couple, Tom and Vicki. He’s a bass player and wonderful man, she’s got a beautiful singing voice and they’ve been another ideal couple for the last six years or so. They met through a Single’s dating service.
Now, I know that for each of these methods there are countless horror stories of how it went “not so good”. And that’s what leads me to the closest conclusion I have about this whole -Meeting People- puzzle. For all the methods, avenues, chance meetings, close friends, co-workers and all ideology combined… there just simply is no rhyme or reason to it at all. It’s completely unpredictable. One guy marries the girl he meets at the theater ticket booth while on a date with someone else. A woman finds her love with a man who’s the friend of a guy she meets through e-mail. It just happens. We can try to press the issue and maybe something happens, maybe not. So then the one remaining thing for us to do is embrace it as something of an exciting, though at times scary and disappointing, adventure that is all part of this unpredictable, too odd for fiction activity known as life.
Henry Velez is a writer, traveler and vlogger currently living in the Philippines. He has written extensively on social issues, relationships and travel.