9 Times Talking to Strangers Feels Strangely Good

If ever we needed proof that commiseration is a vital means of survival, surely we could find it in Newark Liberty International Airport. When I was there this past Sunday, I bonded with as many as seven women over its illogical setup, impossibly long lines and comical lack of helpful personnel. There were times I was so annoyed I craned my neck in search of an expression that mirrored my own, just so we could make eye contact, shake our heads and bask in the warmth of agreeing that this shit is terrible.

It happens in the most unlikely of circumstances, this unnameable emotional necessity to connect with other people. I don’t have the proper anthropological vocabulary to unpack the pleasure I get from it. All I know is, when the right moment strikes, my typical wariness of interacting with strangers is all but forgotten.

It’s kind of an adorable human instinct, to bond with the nearest person who’s also surprised, happy, upset, confused. Given the human propensity for dividing, I cherish the breakdown of the we-are-strangers façade. Below are some of my favorite times it happens. Please vehemently agree with me in a public space known as our comments section and then tell me yours.

Train platforms in the midst of nightmarish delays

Nothing brings people together more frequently than the failures of the MTA. That we don’t hold group therapy sessions at the 14th St. Union Square platform where crowds wait in droves for the L train every day is a missed opportunity.

Extremely slow grocery store check-out lines

There’s little I enjoy more than exchanging bug eyes at another person in line when someone at the front of it, after causing exorbitant delays, pulls out a checkbook. Once the look’s exchanged, you’re blood siblings for life.

Sudden and startlingly loud sounds

Jumping in surprise at the same time as a stranger is a level of bonding equivalent to spending one hour getting to know each other. Ideally the source of the sound is never discovered and a look of incredulousness is exchanged before both parties move on.

Women’s bathrooms of crowded bars, especially if drunk

The pleasantries exchanged between drunk girls in the bathroom of a bar or club are heartwarming enough to make me optimistic about the imminent downfall of humanity.

Disgustingly, appallingly hot weather

Extreme and mutual discomfort is the perfect primer for stranger interactions. Throw in the weather, small talk’s favorite topic, and you’re looking at a slam-dunk bonding opportunity. Bonus points if sweat is visibly dripping down your faces.

Heart-meltingly good live music

The look passed between two people who are both loving a song at a show is almost as intimate as one between actual lovers. Wear protection.

Entrances to events, if confusing

This one is particularly endearing because an ephemeral team of investigators forms to look for the proper entrance. It’s team building at its finest. Being lost together makes you a family.

Airplanes during crazy turbulence

The crazier the turbulence, the more likely you are to become lifelong friends, per the official rules.

Inexplicably closed stores

Turning up at a department or grocery store, only to find it unexpectedly closed, immediately bonds you with others outside the store, who share your irritation. All store-goers immediately unite against a common enemy (the store) and go home unsatisfied, but humbled by their inherent capacity to love.

It’s all true.

Illustration by Juliana Vido; follow her on Instagram @julianavido.

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman

Haley Nahman is the Features Director at Man Repeller.

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