Christmas

Michelle is coming with me to Pennsylvania for Christmas and to meet my family. (Don’t worry, I Googled her extensively to see if she’s writing a blog behind my back and we’re in the clear.)

I went back and read what I wrote about the holidays last year and one thing stuck out. I said no matter how long I live in L.A., it never felt like home. It seems like everyone here is from somewhere else and come this time of year the city empties out like an office building. I still think that’s true, but to a much lesser extent. I’ve made so many new connections this year (not even including Michelle). Many more friends, tons more simple interactions. That makes it feel more like a home I guess.

But what makes me feel even better and more optimistic about the future (again, besides the fact that Michelle and I have worked things out) is that I feel like I’m growing up. People write all the time about how the 20’s these days are just an extension of adolescence. How in the olden days people would get married, get a job, have kids, all by 22, and take on the psychological manifestations of adulthood. But now, people are still trying to figure out who they are, what do they want to do for a career, what makes a good vs. bad relationship. We’re all stunted adolescents.

I think a lot of that is true. More than ever people in their 20’s are totally confused by life. I know I was.

But for the first time I feel like I’m starting to figure it out. I am liking who I am. I am getting comfortable in my skin. Maybe this is all a result of various love hormones making me giddy, but I honestly think I’ve changed this last year, and for the better.

I’ve read a few books recently that might be categorized as “self help.” And while that area generally makes me cringe, there are a few good ones out there (usually written by actual scientists) and there’s a theme that runs through the ones I like. Nothing is determined. Effort and drive make all the difference. Dramatic changes are possible through hard work. Greatness was never achieved through effortless inspiration but only through tireless perseverance. Anyway, you get the idea.

I started this blog for selfish reasons. I really just wanted to be less lonely. I found that I could become a better person along the way. But I never intended to help anyone else. (Don’t forget, I hate people.) As the Project went on with all its twists and turns, I found I had a lot to say to other people trying to accomplish the same goals. And I found myself liking helping these people.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a ramble today but you get the gist. Michelle and I are going to relax and take a real vacation for the next two weeks, so I won’t be posting again till after the New Year. And then, by agreement, it will just be about talking to strangers, not talking to or about Michelle.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. If you’re feeling down, isolated, and bearish about your future potential for happiness, just remember the one thing I’ve learned in the last 18 months: you can do something about it. It’s been an emotional last few months for me but I think for the first time I can say with confidence that it’s all going to work out.

Not Talking to Not Strangers

This actually happened last month but with all that’s been going on, I’m just relaying the story now. It’s actually a kind of the opposite of what I’m normally trying to do here since it involved not being able to talk to a person who isn‘t a stranger, but I think it’s definitely on point.

I went to my dermatologist for a follow-up visit concerning a minor issue which I won’t go into detail about. My normal doctor is a woman a bit older than me and she’s very nice, very personable, and easy to talk to. She’s pretty but not a stunner.

So I was waiting in the little room for her when she walks in with another younger woman. She says, “This is Angela, she’s a med student and she’s interning with us, is that okay if she sits in today?” I blurted out, “Yeah, sure,” but what I really meant was, “Are you kidding? No fucking way!”

You see, Angela was gorgeous. She had long blonde hair and a killer smile. She looked like Brooklyn Decker or Marisa Miller or whichever one is that blonde girl from Sports Illustrated. And while she didn’t say anything, she was just shadowing the doctor, I found myself unable to speak.

Now I think I could have talked to the doctor about the weather but talking about a medical condition, especially one that has to do with your skin and therefore your perceived attractiveness, was just a challenge.

My doctor didn’t understand what the problem was. “Let’s take a look and see how [the condition] is doing.”

I was like, “It’s much better actually.”

She said, “Can I take a look?”

I was like, “Uh, yeah, okay.” I got really embarrassed as they both checked me out.

That’s basically the end of the story. I just found myself so surprised at how inept I was around a pretty girl. I felt like I was 13 or something. But man, this med student was intimidating. Please don’t think I’m suggesting that a beautiful woman can’t choose whatever career she wants, but I think this woman is going to have a rough time if she goes into dermatology. Or urology.

Elevator Girl

It was like a movie. I was leaving for the night, the elevator doors opened, and there she was. It was so perfect that even Michelle had to laugh. I got in.

I was about to say something. I was about to launch into another big speech. But she stopped me with a look. A look that said, “It’s okay.”

Then she kissed me.

The doors opened on another floor and someone else got in, interrupting the kiss. But Michelle grabbed my hand and held it tight the whole rest of the way down to the lobby. She was squeezing it so hard, I looked over at her, and she looked scared.

We got the the lobby and the other guy got out.

I turned to Michelle and said, “I love you.”

Michelle said, “I love you, too.”

P.S. Michelle said I could post this.

From T.

I’ve gotten so many wonderful comments and emails, I wanted to share one (with his permission):

Hi “Talk to Strangers” author,

I’m writing to you right now because I want to thank you now that I can still do it (in case you delete your blog).

I had just started my fall semester in USC as an exchange student when I bumped into your blog – funnily enough by clicking on a link on The Arrogant Nation, a blog that I read for no more than a minute. After the first few posts, I immediately knew this was a great project. I was also very surprised that it was lead by an investment banker, a profession whose social relationships are usually governed by mercantile interest and reputation – an idea based on my experience of Business student and Finance Team member in a big corporation – and that rarely stirs self-critique.

This double aspect, added to the fact that I was totally new in this country, got me reading all of your posts so far. It quickly became a game that I adopted in my own everyday life.
I’ve always been a nice guy making friends easily, being nice and polite with everybody from the boss to the secretary and focusing more on true friendships than just drinking friends. But since I applied some of your habits like actually triggering conversations with random people without pre-selection, deeply listening to them and congratulating sincerely, things happened to me like that I had never experienced before:

– I met my Michelle!!!!

– I was offered free drinks and free food from merchants, crazy discounts on bus trips or pieces of art, without even asking for them, sometimes making me refuse them!

– I was offered the warmest looks, smiles and hugs from complete strangers.

– I was offered teachings on life… sometimes boring I admit!

– I was offered benedictions from beggars

– I made friends with a stranger 40 years older than me.

– I slept with the Occupy LA movement, my first citizen engagement act – after voting, right.

– I now love meeting strangers and starting conversations in the most unlikely situations. This one is just so good, because it forced me to recognize that I know nothing about so many things and that I have to get back into a child’s growth mindset. It makes life so much more interesting.

I hope it will still work back in my country. Seems that Americans are very open in the first place (“Hey how you doin’?”s systematically thrown to any stranger), making the project a little bit easier.

To conclude, I am very impressed that you can handle so many things in your life. Your work is very time consuming, but you still manage to write this blog and do all different things. I suppose that’s actually one of the reasons why you want to make the most of your free time, and enhance it through a better social life.

I also think that talking to one another could turn a mere competitive, communautarist and paranoid society into a more collaborative, inclusive, self-aware and curious one.

Thank you for having shared your learning to the public. What you did definitely did a LOT of good to many people. Probably to you too. Even your current situation is a good teaching: love needs trust and sincerity. Seems that sincerity is paradoxically harder to achieve with very close people than with strangers.

Sincerely,
T.

What Am I Doing?

One tweet by a certain famous TV mogul has sent the readership skyrocketing.

And while it’s really cool to know that more people are engaged in the project, it’s also caused me to really reflect on my feelings and motivations for doing this.

At first, it really was just a diary. I didn’t think anyone was listening so I felt like I was just recording my thoughts for myself. Then people started writing in, saying they were inspired. As I got better at making connections I felt like my failures and successes were actually helpful to other people. Not to mention the sense of kindred spirits and community I got from connecting with people just through the blog.

But there are two big problems. As more than one commenter has pointed out, the blog’s notoriety is feeding my (normal levels of) narcissism. The last thing I want to do is become a self-absorbed celebrity who needs the adulation of random people to mask my self-loathing. I’m just some guy who lives in an apartment in Brentwood. I have no interest in being recognized. If only I had decided not to use my real first name, I wouldn’t be in this mess with Michelle, but that ship has sailed. I think I can continue posting without succumbing to the temptation of my fifteen minutes of fame. So while it’s a concern, I think awareness of it is enough to weather the storm.

The second problem, of course, is Michelle. I can’t really justify dragging her into this. Maybe deep down I thought it would never work out so it wouldn’t matter. But then it did work out (or at least I think it’s going to work out). And now I’ve written all this stuff about her and I don’t want to delete it because it’s the crux of the whole blog. But I can’t keep posting about her without her permission.

Michelle and I have been talking. We talk about the blog a lot. I think she will be fine with me keeping what I’ve already written. I’m not sure. But one thing I know is I need to see her and talk this over in person.

Michelle Speaks (to Me)

Michelle called last night. We talked for an hour. Still haven’t seen her in person since Thanksgiving, but I’ll take what I can get.

Here’s the crux of the problem. This relationship is not a trivial matter and we both know it. I made it clear from the very beginning that my feelings are very deep for Michelle. Turns out, she feels the same way. But since this is so “high stakes,” Michelle says she just needs to be sure. She says she couldn’t handle something this big not working out. The thing with Thanksgiving wasn’t so much about being mad or embarrassed. It was about trust and if she’s going to go out on a limb with me emotionally, she has to know I’m not going to hurt her.

I told her I would never hurt her. “But that’s exactly what someone would say if they were about to hurt me,” Michelle replied.

I laughed. Got me there.

So I said the only thing I could think of. I said, “There’s no guarantees. Sometimes you just have to take a risk. And I think the rewards of this working out are so big that the risk is justified.”

She thought about it. I said, “When can I see you?” She said she still needed to sort things out. To give her some time. I said okay.

To Michelle

Dear Michelle,

I hope you are reading this because it’s my only way of communicating with you since you won’t return my calls or emails.

First of all, I want to apologize. I should have told you about the blog. I guess I thought if you read it you would be mad or creeped out.  Turns out, I was right. Plus, I think I was afraid that if you knew you’d make me stop. But I really like writing about this project and I didn’t want to put that in competition with how much I like you.

If you want me to, I will delete the blog. I know it’s a terrible invasion of your privacy but I honestly think it’s helps a lot of people out there. I get comments and private emails all the time from people who are shy or just in a lonely situation and I think my trials and tribulations (side note: does anyone actually say “tribulations” by itself?) have helped paved the path in some small way for people to be happier. That’s important to me. Still, it doesn’t justify revealing personal information about you without your consent, so I will respect your wishes and delete anything you want.

I’m really sorry about this. But not just because I’ve embarrassed you, or made you look silly in front of your family. What’s really eating me up is that I’m afraid I’ve irreparably damaged your impression of me. Yes, I admired you from afar for a while. But then I spoke to you. Yes, I said I wanted to marry you (one day). But that’s just because I’ve never met someone I felt more compatible with. You are not just beautiful. You’re smart and funny and you get me and I feel like I’m the person I always wanted to be when I’m with you.

So please, if you’re reading this, give me a chance to fix things.

–F