I'm a stranger-talker (unlike, say, the famous "Seinfeld "close-talker). If I'm in line somewhere, say a Panera's or a Starbucks, chances are I'll talk to you. I'll make some comment about one thing or the other. The vast majority of people are friendly enough to chat back (once in a while I get one of those fake "ho-ho" laughs that really means, "Willya leave me the heck alone already?")
Part of my urge to talk to others in line is that I really do like people--I've had some very interesting conversations in line at the DMV. You really can learn alot from the little old lady in the flowered hat. The other part is that I hate the silence that typically accompanies standing in line. It's a weird silence, half-humiliating, half uncomfortable. So I make an innocuous comment or a little joke to break the oppressive air. It's the same reason I start conversations in elevators.
Once in a while, these casual, killing-the-time-in-line conversations detour into all-out confessionals--not by me, but by the person I'm talking to. I've been told about shaky marriages, disappointing career moves, lost savings, and medical conditions. Once, while in line at a coffee shop with my sister, the woman I'd been chatting with behind me actually removed her shoe to show me a disturbing growth on her foot. (All I could do was nod politely--I wanted to say, eeeeeuuuuuuwwwwwwwwwww gross! but that really would have been rude. Of course, one could then question how rude it is for her to have removed her shoe in the first place, but I digress.)
These occasional confessionals got me to thinking, though--how many people out there are missing those important connections in their lives that help them get through the day (and night). I suspect that there are many of us out there--with friends, family, even husbands and wives--who feel like that fundamental link to others is frayed or missing. Once you've lost it, it can seem next to impossible to re-establish that vital bond that makes you feel valued. So when someone--even a stranger--shows a bit of interest in you, the need to have someone for Pete's sake listen to you overwhelms you and you end up sharing far more about yourself than anyone needs or wants to know.
(Besides, that's what blogs are for. Wink, wink)
So how to re-establish connections? It might help to really think about why the connections were lost in the first place. In my own life, there have been relationships that have fallen apart for a very simple reason: one or the other person did not put in the effort to keep the relationship going. Seems fairly obvious, right? Think about it though: when you first meet someone and there is that *spark*--and I'm talking platonic sparks, too, like between two people who just know they're destined to be best friends--you do what it takes to keep tht spark going. You call the person, you spend time with them, you have conversations with them about, well, anything. A conversation doesn't have to be "deep" or "emotional" to be revealing--or bonding.
What to do? Uh--duh...seems fairly obvious. Yet interesting how we all need to be reminded of it (including me): put in a little effort! If you feel something is slipping away from you--be it a best friendship, a marriage, a collaboration with a co-worker, what have you--invite that person out and talk. Not about the fraying (or frayed) connection, but just about, well, stuff. Get back to spending time together. It doesn't have to be hours upon hours upon hours of "quality time." Even a 1/2 hour at a local coffee spot can go a long way towards strengthening a relationship.
I know people are busy, but come on! Making time for the people in your life you value most should be a priority. "But I keep connected through Facebook!" Uh-uh. Facebook--and I'm a frequent user and likely it's biggest fan--is a pale substitute for real communication. FB is great for keeping up with the basics of friends' lives (especially if they live a distance away), but if you really want that bond, that connection, that unassailable link, you need to spend time together. Would you conduct your marriage only through Facebook? See....
I remember chatting with my seat-mate on a business flight about 10 years ago. He was talking dispiritedly about how his grown children never called him any more or came to see him. I asked him if he ever called or invited them over. I will never forget the look on his face--total shock. As if the idea of him calling his kids had never crossed his mind. He immediately said, "Nah, they don't want to hear from me." How on earth did he know that? I had recently lost my own dad (a young man, only 49). I told my seat-mate I would have given anything to talk to my dad again, and that he needed to give his kids a call--give them the chance to have him in their lives. I have no idea if he ever did it--we changed subjects, the plane landed, we headed off into our different lives. But I think about that man from time to time. I hope he did call his kids. It's hard work to re-establish a bond, but it will be incredibly rewarding.
So next time you're in line somewhere and the person next to you starts an idle conversation, you may look around and see me standing there. Or you might find someone who may be a little lonely, a little lost. Friendly conversation can go a long way towards making someone else's day better. Then take a moment to call up somebody you care about where the bond that brought you together may be fraying around the edges a bit. And make that all-important plan to spend some time together.