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.

 

Don’t Talk to Girls at the Gym

It’s not like I was hitting on Miss Elliptical.

I was just making small talk. The TV was on CNN and she didn’t have any headphones on, so I said, “Nothing like a G-20 Summit to motivate you at the gym!”

She gave me a prissy look and said, “I don’t think they play the news to motivate us. You have to bring your own motivation.”

What does she work for, Nike? I said, “I must have missed that sign on the door. I saw the one that said ‘Be prepared to show your membership ID’ but the one that said, ‘Be prepared to bring your own motivation’ must have been at the sign repair shop.”

She said, “Wow, that was a really long and complicated comeback.”

She had me. All I could think of was “So’s your face,” but I didn’t say it. Instead I just said, “Looks like you’re busy here so I’ll just leave you alone. Go South Korea!” And I walked away.

At the free weights it was all guys. I bet they would have appreciated my comments about the G-20 Summit.

Moral of the story: Girls at the gym are apparently members of the “Don’t Talk To Me, I’m Working” Union of Waitresses, Exercisers & Airplane Book Readers, Local 545.

Honeymoon Period

The reason I haven’t updated this week is because I’ve been too busy going out with Scott.

The move was not as bad as I thought. Scott doesn’t have that much shit which is nice and he put a lot in storage. I was worried we’d be at each other’s throats immediately, fighting over using up all the milk and leaving pubes in the shower, but I have to admit, Scott has gone out of his way to be cool.

In fact, we’ve gone out every night this week. Sometimes with Marny, sometimes just with some of Scott’s actor friends. All these guys do is drink, talk about auditions, and hook up with hot actresses. Aside from the narcissism, it’s kind of a cool life. Maybe it’s because a lot of Scott’s friends never went to college, but it sure seems like they’re in a 24-hour party mode all the time.

So last night, we went to shoot pool in this place called Q’s. This one friend of Scott’s, Charlie, has been in a ton of commercials. He’s a good looking dude and he just flirts with every girl he sees. It gets a little embarrassing at times but the surprising thing is how often it works. At one point he started talking to the waitress who was bringing us drinks. She was a edgy looking hot girl with super short (but still sexy) hair. Anyway, long story short, he hooked up with her in the ladies’ room. I know it’s kind of disgusting, and it’s not like I was the one doing it, but there was something cool about hanging out with a bunch of degenerates. Something liberating.

Flurry of Strangers

  • Newspaper guy said hi to me this morning. I asked him why the L.A. Times combined the real estate section with the business section. He said he didn’t know.
  • Talked to another waitress yesterday. She wasn’t as hostile as all the others. She said she was an actress but she was thinking of moving back to Minnesota. I told her it was probably a good idea.
  • I left a note for the mailman. I never see him because I’m at work, so I wrote him (or her) a note to introduce myself. No idea if he’ll write back.
  • I met the check-out girl with a nose ring at Whole Foods. She thinks people who eat meat are assholes but she tries not to say anything all day long.

P.S. Scott is moving in tomorrow.

Another Waitress

Sleeping with Marny made me forget all about my lunch with Paul on Saturday. He’s been following my exploits on the blog and I think he’s come around to thinking this is pretty cool.

I was feeling emboldened by my break in chastity and wanted to show off how well I talk to strangers now. So I starting talking to the waitress. It went something like this:

“Hey, you’re new. I haven’t seen you here before.”

She said she started a few weeks ago so I asked where she worked before that. In less than two minutes I found out she was a fit model. I’d never heard of this, but apparently it means she’s a perfect size 4 for a particular brand of jeans so they use her to make more size 4 patterns. You could say she’s the Platonic size 4.

She went off to put in our order and I looked at Paul feeling smug. He had just watched the whole time and was pretty impressed by the whole conversation.

When she came back, I asked some more questions, but this time she only gave me one or two-word answers. Not sure why I suddenly lost my rapport with her, I tried again when she brought out our food.

She looked at me kind of annoyed and said, “Look, no offense, but I don’t date customers and I’m super busy today so…”

I turned red, she took off, and Paul laughed at me. Was it my hubris that had gotten the better of me? Or did I break the rule about seeming too creepy? Or is it just waitresses who are buzz kills?