The TBD Adventures: Talking to New People

In which I ignore popular advice and go out of my way to talk to strangers.
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In which I ignore popular advice and go out of my way to talk to strangers.
Girl traveling alone

“Some of the greatest moments in a person's life happen when they step out of their comfort zone.” This is a quote that I totally pulled from an episode of The Bachelorette (Why is Chad so crazy?!) but is very much applicable to life, especially my life right now. 

It is so, so easy for me to stay in my own little world, never leaving my room, not talking to people down the hall, or not reaching out and making conversation with the new people around me.

So, for this installment of The TBD Adventures, I wanted to force myself to talk to people I didn't know. Like, really put myself out there and attempt to have an actual, non-smalltalk conversation with a new person. In addition to my general awkwardness and feelings of discomfort in social situations, I feel like I don’t even know how to start a non-awkward conversation. So this was going to be tough.

To help myself out, I took on two specific challenges:

1. Talk to Someone at a Bookstore (does not include the cashier or the barista)

I have always wanted to be able to walk into a bookstore and talk to a fellow bookworm. I love books. And assuming everyone at the bookstore also loves reading, we already have a common interest. So, it should be easy to talk to people, right? 

Not exactly. The weird thing about trying to talk to people in a store is that people don't really talk to each other in stores. Like, on TV it’s all these strangers recommending books to one another, but in real life people tend to keep to themselves.

So I started small at my local Barnes & Noble. I helped some mothers find the books they were looking for to buy for their daughters and gave them some recommendations. (When people can’t find a series because they are messing up the name of the series, you gotta help them.) And, I was going to totally cop out and count that as an interaction. But, I knew that wasn’t a challenge or anything outside of my comfort zone.

I was trying to decide between two dystopian novels when I noticed that the girl next to me (who was my age) was holding the sequel to one of them. And, that her taste in books seemed to be similar to mine. So, I asked her “Hey, do you know if this is any good?”. And, she recommended it. And then there was an awkward silence. And then she asked me if I had read The Fifth Wave. And, I hadn’t. Cue another awkward silence. Anyway, this continued until we both ended up fangirling over a book we had both read. IT WAS SO AWKWARD. We were two strangers dancing around each other in the YA aisle having random bits of uncomfortable conversation.

BUT, because we were both awkward bookworms, that is how I became friends with Hannah. And it's how I learned that talking to people can start with asking a simple question. And that awkward silences aren’t going to kill me (just let go of all the awkward moments). I am very proud of myself for starting that conversation. 

Photo credit: Sad Ghost Club

Photo credit: Sad Ghost Club

2. Talk to People Abroad (because part of traveling is meeting new people)

Since I was traveling this month, I felt like I should challenge myself to talk to people. This is a huge part of travel, so it felt like a natural choice. Still, I was scared. 

I psyched myself up as follows: I figured that when traveling, the risk of meeting the same person again was very low. Which meant if I was awkward, what would it matter? I would never see the person again. I had nothing to fear from an awkward conversation.

I think if I was traveling alone, I would have been much more afraid to follow through on this. But I had an advantage: I was with my best friend. She is also not the most social person so we ended up keeping to ourselves for the first half of our trip. But by the second week (after making a friend while waiting in line for a concert), we decided to make it a goal to talk to at least one person at each hostel for the rest of the trip. It was time to be social!

And, from that, I learned a few things:

  • Hang out in the lobby every once in a while. We met so many people this way and it was a natural place to socialize with fellow travelers.
  • If you overhear someone being lost and confused, you can jump in with helpful information. They will appreciate it and you can start a conversation from there.
  • Asking people where they are from and where they’ve been is an easy go-to. (I know, groundbreaking, but this was new for me.)
  • Asking people for recommendations is also a good conversation starter.
  • It’s okay to change your itinerary to hang out with new people. We pretty much never regretted doing this.
  • People who are traveling, especially in hostels, are typically looking for new and different experiences, so everyone usually wants to talk to people and make friends.
  • People are not that scary.

I Talked to Strangers... and You Can, Too!

So, maybe you can’t just sit in the lobby of a hostel to take on this challenge or you have no interest in a bookstore. But, reaching out to people is something small that you can do whenever, wherever. 

For example, you can talk to the person next to you in class (can we have a moment of appreciation for all the people that break the ice on the first day of class?) or asking your barista what their favorite coffee shop to go to is (this idea is from BuzzFeed’s Feast Mode Hunger Squad video series). 

But, it can also just mean being a more open person in life. I used to really not get that (what does "open" even mean?). But now I think I do. Being open means not shutting myself off and only talking to people I know or always reverting to checking my phone in uncomfortable situations. It means risking being a little awkward because awkwardness has never actually killed anyone. It means accepting offers to hang out or being the one to ask people in your dorm (or wherever) to hang out. 

For a really long time, I thought the worst thing in the world was my derpy awkwardness and not coming off as a cool, confident person. But these small adventures taught me to embrace the dork and just be my completely derpy self. Feeling awkward and putting myself in new situations will not kill me. And I know that now. I hope my experiences will inspire a few more awkward humans to put themselves out there, too.