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.

Thanksgiving, final entry

I am so fucked. I am back in L.A. without Michelle because Michelle broke up with me. This whole thing is such a big complicated fucking mess, I don’t even know where to begin. But I’ll try to explain what happened.

Everything was going great. I was getting in good with her parents. We went out Wednesday night and I hit it off with her old friends. We even fooled around in the car before we went back to her parents’ house.

The next day was Thanksgiving. Greg and Quinn showed up around noon. I was helping Michelle’s mom get the food ready. When I met Quinn she seemed normal and nice. But when Greg showed up, he gave me a dirty look and was basically a dick to me from the minute he met me. (Greg is Michelle’s youngest sibling–he’s 22.)

I thought he was acting so weird that I asked Michelle what his deal was and she just said he’s moody. Fine, okay. Not everyone has to like me.

We sat down for dinner at four. The family was catching up with each other. Then the conversation turned to me and I told Quinn and Greg a little about myself. Then in the middle of the dinner, Greg says, “I feel like I already know you.”

I said, “Why’s that?”

He said, “Because I’ve been reading your blog.”

I turned white.

Michelle said, “What blog?”

Look. It’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret from Michelle. I told her about the project. How I’ve been trying to better myself by talking to strangers. She’s seen me do it a million times. I just never mentioned that I write about it in this blog.

Greg pounced, “You’ve never read his blog? It’s all about you.”

Michelle looked at me with this awful look of betrayal.

Her Dad asked, “What’s this blog about?”

I tried to explain that it wasn’t about Michelle. It was about talking to strangers. But she’s a big part of my life and naturally she’s in it sometimes.

Her mom said to Michelle, “You didn’t know about this?”

At this point Michelle excused herself and went upstairs. I excused myself, too. Then we got into a fight. She said I should have told her. She asked what kinds of things I wrote about her. I said it was nothing bad. That yes, I should have mentioned it but it was no big deal. She said she feels like an idiot in front of her family showing off her new boyfriend only to find out she doesn’t even know he’s writing a secret blog about her behind her back. I said I was sorry. She said she needed to be alone for a while.

I was stuck. No way I was going back downstairs to hang out with the family. So I told them I was going to go for a walk and that I’d be back in a little while.

I walked around the neighborhood for an hour, feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach. During that time, I found out when I got back, Michelle read the blog. The entire thing.

When I got back, she said she needed some time to think about this. I said that I would go back to L.A. She said fine. I said, “We can get past this, can’t we?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

I felt like there was a ray of hope.

Then she said, “I don’t know if I can trust you again. I think we should spend some time apart.”

I said okay. I packed my stuff, said goodbye to her family, and went back home.

Seminar Fail

I don’t know what’s gotten into me but I totally failed at a seminar I had to go to yesterday.

I had to do this training seminar on new federal regulations and there were about fifty bankers from ibanks all over the city in a hotel yesterday morning listening to some guy bore us all to tears. And what’s amazing is that I didn’t talk to a single one of them.

I walked in, got my name tag, and surveyed the buffet breakfast. I’d already eaten and I was being good about not eating the same meal twice, though there was a large tray of bacon which I easily could have eaten all by myself. People were milling around waiting for things to start and making small talk. But for some reason, I just didn’t have the energy (or maybe it was lack of courage) to start any conversations. I knew one guy from my firm and I talk to him for a while, but I didn’t meet anyone new.

During the breaks, people went back to talking to the people they already met earlier so I felt like the window of opportunity was closed. I felt like I was the odd man out and that feeling of being the awkward guy who doesn’t know anyone really brought back some bad memories. And what’s worse, I felt paranoid that people were paying attention to my lack of buddies, so I pretended to check emails on my phone to look busy. So pathetic. I was so embarrassed. I haven’t felt like that since freshman orientation in college.

Anyway, I wish there were some twist to the story where I pulled things out, but I didn’t. I just kept to myself, failed to socialize in any way, then as soon as it was over, I got the hell out of there.

The Talk to Strangers Project, One Year Later

I started this project exactly one year ago. To say it’s changed my life would be as obvious as the preceding sentence, given the title of the post. On a quantitative level:

  • I have talked to maybe 200-300 strangers;
  • I have had three girlfriends (Chloe, Jennifer, and Marny);
  • I have gone on dates with at least three other women;
  • I have gone to several parties (more than five, less than ten);
  • I have been beaten up one time;
  • I have been rejected by dozens of people who didn’t want to talk to me (and not all of them were waitresses);
  • I have one dog.

On a qualitative level, I am more observant. I’m a better listener. I am more empathetic. I am far more confident. I am not afraid of talking to people in authority, people at parties, and people just standing there minding their own business. Maybe in the back of my head, the idea that it’s all part of “The Project” gives me the courage to break the societal taboos and initiate first contact. Whatever the reason, I am better able to shrug off missteps and focus on the connections.

I never knew how hard it would be to make friends after college. That being around so many people in a large city like Los Angeles could be so lonely. It makes me sad when I think about all the other people out there feeling the same way that I was, but doing nothing about it. Just sitting in their apartments, hoping someone is going to knock on their door to borrow some sugar. That only happens in 1950’s sitcoms. No one really knocks on anyone’s door. You have to knock on theirs.

Having a “family” of friends is so important. I mean, it’s not like I go cry on Gunther’s couch while we do each other’s nails. But just having someone who knows me makes me feel like I’m part of the world, not watching it from the outside.

Do I wish I had more friends? Sure. Do I wish they were as close as say my friends growing up? Of course. People in the 20’s and 30’s have shit going on and you can’t spend an hour every day in study hall going over the day’s events.

Relationships-wise, I can’t tell you how much it means to be dating again. For a while, my self-esteem was so low, I was starting to question how I had ever had a girlfriend in the past. It’s just hard meeting people. And like I said, inertia is your enemy. I could easily imagine ten years slipping by and being even more lonely and bitter.

It’s not like I’ve made a love connection. I mean, things are going well with Chloe, but she’s such a sweet girl, I wonder sometimes if there’s ever going to be something more… explosive about our relationship. Maybe it’s my pining away for Michelle that makes me unable to see Chloe as a keeper. She’s certainly a lot better than Marny and Jennifer. But even those limited relationships were invaluable in building up my self-esteem and making me feel like a legitimate contender for love.

Besides the connections I’ve made–personal, casual, romantic–I think the most important thing that’s happened over the last year is that I like who I’ve become. I knew this me was in there somewhere and I like that it’s taken over. I’m funnier now. I’m not afraid of saying the wrong thing because I don’t over-value people. I’m not saying I don’t value people, I just value them accurately. I feel like I used to be on eggshells all the time hoping I didn’t annoy or piss off a friend or a girlfriend and lose them forever. Ironically, I’m more likely to speak my mind to people now and I think they like me better for it.

Anyway, it’s not like I’ve achieved some sort of goal. There’s still a lot of work to go. But I am starting to think of my life in interview terms: where do I see myself in five years? In ten? Before, I was in survival mode: How do I cure my debilitating loneliness and get some goddamn people in my life? Now, I feel like I’m out of the woods and I can start to think about where I want to go.

Thanks to all the people who I’ve met over the last year. And thank you to all the wonderful people who’ve written to me, telling me their stories. I feel like I’ve met you, too.

Stay tuned, there’s still a lot of strangers left to talk to.

 

Three Strikes

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve come such a long way being able to talk to strangers that I’ve almost perfected the art.

Such hubris always presages the fall and sure enough I bit it big time Saturday night.

I actually went to a party at Scott’s new place (we’re friends again). I went alone, which would have been really weird a year ago, but now my experience talking to people has made me so much more comfortable going places alone. Anyway, I was having a pretty good time catching up with Scott and meeting some of his friends. Then I decided that it was time to talk to women.

I haven’t spoken to Jennifer since last weekend but in my mind I feel like that is totally over. And though I did have lunch with Michelle on Friday, she’s still seeing that loser, so I felt like I had the green light to try to meet someone new.

I had noticed a cute girl with long blond hair. I waited for her to stop talking to her friend then I went up to her. I said, “Hi. I’m Fletcher.” Usually that’s about as much as I say in these situations. Any more and it seems like a line, or material, or just rehearsed. Not natural = lame. Anyway, she said her name was Kylie.

I asked her how she knew Scott. She said she didn’t, she knew Charlie, that actor guy who hooked up with the waitress from Q’s in the bathroom. Anyway, Kylie and I talked for a while. (Some people have written in asking how these conversation go, or more specifically, how they get started, and that’s about it. Hi. How do you know X? Not very complicated, but that’s what’s so non-threatening about it.)

I had talked to Kylie for about forty minutes when I asked if she’d like to go out some time. She smiles and says, “Sorry, you seem nice, but you’re not my type.” I laughed, “What’s your type?” and she said, “Don’t take it personally. I just usually go for like really good looking guys.”

I stopped smiling. “Oh. Okay, well, nice talking to you.” She actually tried to apologize for how that came out, but I said it was fine. But when I went back to get another drink, I was really upset. What an ego crusher!

I was ruined for the rest of the night. I tried to talk to two other girls but everything came out wrong. Awkward. Desperate. One of them said, “I’m here with someone” thirty seconds into the conversation. The other said, “I’m getting a drink, I’ll be right back,” and never came back.

Now maybe if I were a really good looking guy…

My Date with Party Girl

Friday night was weird. I picked Marny up in Hollywood and then drove all the way back to Brentwood for dinner. I should have just said meet me at the restaurant and saved myself 90 minutes but I was trying to make this a real date, and call me old fashioned but I think that includes pick-up service.

Marny looked great. She really is an attractive girl. She’s a little younger than me, 24 I think she said, and she has long, straight, blonde hair. Plus, she’s pretty tall. I’m only 5’9″ and she was almost as tall as me. And she’s very thin. I guess you have to be if you want to make it as an actress.

Anyway, we talked in the car about her typical day. She works as a receptionist for a producer and he lets her go on auditions whenever she wants. She had one audition on Thursday for a new sitcom that she thinks went well.

At dinner, she was talking about all the plays she’s done and her scene studies or something. I noticed the menu had been poorly formatted where the prices didn’t line up. Usually this is because someone used the space bar to line it up manually instead of the tab key and I tried a gambit of telling the waiter.

“Any questions about the menu?”

“Yes, I have a question. Did you ever notice that the prices don’t line up?”

I explained my theory about the space bar and the waiter seemed to be very sympathetic. He said he does freelance graphic design and he’d never make that mistake. But no one ever noticed it before and I wondered whether a graphic designer really could have missed something as obvious as that.

Anyway, I thought it was funny, the waiter did, too, but Marny just stared at me like I was crazy. Like, I was Rain Man or something.

The rest of the night I just focused on listening to Marny talk incessantly about acting. I asked other questions, like where she grew up and stuff, but it always came back to acting. I don’t want to sound like an elitist dick here, but “intellectually curious” would not be how you would describe Marny.

I took her to a jazz club after dinner. (Again, I wanted this to be a real date and I planned something special.) The weird thing was that I was glad not to have to listen to her anymore, but at one point, she held my hand and rested her head on my shoulder.

That kind of freaked me out. Again, it’s weird because we already had sex. But the intimacy of her holding my hand felt so… premature. I was really uncomfortable.

The other weird thing is that I thought the date was kind of blah. She had made a pretty mediocre impression on me. We didn’t really connect. She didn’t like my musings on tabs vs. spaces and I knew right then and there that we’d never have a future together. I didn’t want her to be my girlfriend. I didn’t even want to go out with her again.

But outside the jazz club, she kissed me. We made out for a while. And then I took her back to my place and we, you know.

So Saturday, I felt like shit. I think she really likes me. Probably because I’m such a good fucking listener now. But I can’t keep leading her on. It’s not right. I’m not 22 and capable of meaningless relationships anymore. Maybe this is what growing up is all about. I want more. I don’t want to just hook up. I want someone where there’s an end game. I feel like I’m one of those women from a bad romantic comedy. But it’s true, I want someone who I look forward to spending time with.

Still, there’s something intoxicating about having someone be more into you than you are her. And a totally hot girl, too. Intoxicating is definitely the right word. It feels like the beginning stages of addiction. (Educated guess only.) I know I need to end it before it goes too far.

Oh, and by the way, we already made plans for a third date for Wednesday.

Elevator Girl Still Has No Name

I’m pissed because I was alone in the elevator with her and I just couldn’t muster the courage to say something. I almost did but she looked like she was in a bad mood or something. I don’t know. It just wasn’t the right time. I’m making excuses here but whatever. You try talking to the most amazing girl in the world within the next nine seconds.

I Need a Girlfriend

It’s Saturday night and I’m sitting here watching the fucking “Transporter” on Spike. I checked in with Paul, he’s going to some party and didn’t exactly say, “Hey, come along.” I sometimes hang out with my friend Neil at work but it’s usually just with a bunch of work people.

I know a few more people obviously but it’s not like I am entertaining offers here.

What’s wrong with me? I am an interesting guy. I’ve been told by girls that I’m good looking. I’m not fat or bald or weird. I make good money. I live in a decent apartment in a cool neighborhood. So why am I sitting home alone 9 out of 10 weekends?

I feel like this whole Project is a good idea in theory but in practice, it’s feeling more like a so-what. Yay, I talked to the dude at the mall. Ooh, gee, how is my life going to change if I talk about the weather to the old lady in the Pinkberry.

It was so much easier when I was in school. In high school, duh, the girls are just throwing themselves at you. And in college, there’s classes, activities, parties… I mean, the whole place is set up for meeting people. But no one tells you when you get out, you’re on your own.

Looking back on it, I feel kind of dumb for wanting to graduate so badly to go out and be independent. You know what? Being independent sucks.

I met Amanda through Paul’s sister. Maybe I should ask him if she’ll set me up. I don’t know. I just don’t want to be some loser on awkward dates I met on Match.com.

I need to get over the fear of talking to hot girls. Who knew the Blue Eyes incident would have such lasting trauma. I mean, it’s not like I am going to pick up girls in bars, but I think I should be able to talk to cute girls without being creepy. I’ve got some degree of game, don’t I? It’s not like I want a girlfriend who likes the guy from a dumb movie who has some sort of line that’s so cool it’s not even considered a line. Whatever, I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. I just need to stop being a complete fucking pussy and talk to some girls who might turn into something more significant.

It’s not like I’m just saying this because I’m horny. I mean, yes, I could use some lovin’, and I know this is going to sound sappy, but I really just want someone to hang out with. Some companionship. I guess I’m just lonely.