In a previous post about participating in an author signing to promote Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet at my Colgate University college reunion, I challenged myself to break out of my comfort zone and strike up conversations with people whom I had never met or barely knew.
I’m an introvert on the personality tests, but not so far from the extrovert side of the measurement. I just have to be in the right mood, or make a conscious effort to be more outgoing.
My social experiment went pretty well. I hung out with an old friend I had known since middle school and two of his college friends, who I had not known before. I sold one book on the spot just by introducing myself and talking with a classmate, who got out her cell phone and ordered from Amazon before we departed (at least she said she did).
I talked with one drunk graduate 25 years my junior about his entrepreneurial idea to launch a website to help locally-owned retail businesses in small towns to increase their online sales, and a drunk nurse who turned out to be the daughter of the owner of a popular pub in the college town. I’m counting the drunkards even though they tend to babble on endlessly, just because I stuck with it long enough to learn about them.
But the most interesting conversation of the reunion weekend came out of the blue. I was hanging out with my new buddies in a side room where the soda dispenser was located during our class dinner, not feeling much like mingling in the main hall because I was enjoying the company of these guys. A woman walked in who I recognized. I had never known her well, but I knew we lived in the same dorm freshman year and must have had many mutual acquaintances from that time.
I introduced myself and we wound up talking by the soda machine for maybe five minutes. There was nothing spectacular about that. Anyone can chit-chat about the weather, where they live or their job for five minutes. What was exceptional about this conversation compared to any other I had at reunion was the depth of the content in a time so short that it would normally be reserved strictly for small talk.
She told me she was going through a divorce after about 20 years of marriage and three sons. I replied that I had experienced a similar situation, except with younger kids and a shorter marriage. I asked if she was the one who wanted the break or if it was mutual. She responded that she didn’t want a divorce; it was at her husband’s initiative. I said mine happened the same way. She acknowledged that divorce “sucks.” I asked her how her sons were handling it. She responded that the two older ones seemed OK, but the youngest, a teenager, was having a hard time coping with it.
Then she told me what was weighing heavily on her mind as part of the divorce package: she was faced with selling her house and moving within a month or two. Again, I told her I had been through a similar scenario. I wished her the best in handling a difficult time of life. She knew I had participated in the author signing and expressed an interest in the book, so I took down her e-mail to correspond later.
And then we said goodbye and she left the room. I saw her again at breakfast the next morning, but from a distance and only long enough to wave hello. And that was that. I did e-mail her with information about Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet after I got home, but didn’t hear back.
This woman invited me into the most consequential happenings in her personal life during a brief encounter. Why, I don’t know. We could have just as easily talked about nothing for five minutes, or just said a quick hello and gone separate ways. I was grateful she engaged in a conversation with meaning.
I got to know her – the real person with real life issues – just a little, and it felt genuine to make an authentic connection, as brief as it was. Such authentic conversations in which someone dares to reveal something personal and meaningful are all too rare, and makes life and personal interaction so much more lively and interesting.