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Tip for meeting strangers in public

December 12, 2010

I was chatting with a lovely group of people yesterday at one of my Coffees and the topic of meeting strangers in public came up, more specifically, how awkward it can be and how easy it can be to avoid said-awkwardness.  This seems a very applicable topic in this era of relationships birthed via social media rather than in person, and of bar/coffeehouse-gatherings.

One of the Coffeemates recounted an icky experience she had with a Meetup group.  She decided to join a Meetup for a Bears game watch, so she could meet new people and share her love of sports with other fans.  The group was to convene at a bar, which of course, was packed.  She wandered around for awhile looking for the group, but couldn’t distinguish the Meetup fans from the regular-folk fans, so ended up watching the first half by herself at the bar and the second half at home.  First off, we all know how awkward that feeling is of being in a social setting searching for someone; you feel like everyone is staring, everyone is judging.  And second, how disappointing for her!  She had taken time to travel from Wrigleyville down to the Gold Coast, and had expectations of a fun day of new connections and rah rah rah! spirit.  Stories of people pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and challenging themselves only to be thwarted by others’ lack of foresight are frustrating and twinge of the heart-inducing.

I myself encountered a similar situation last weekend, when I went to a CommuniTeach event at a coffeehouse.  I’m very comfortable in situations where I know no one and have no qualms about going up to strangers to start a conversation; in fact, I thrive on such scenarios.  That said, I had a very uncomfortable and awkward five minutes at Leitza’s.  I arrived at 3PM, right when the event was supposed to start.  Twelve or so people had RSVPed, so I scanned the tables for a good-size group.  They were all individuals or groups of two or three.  I discreetly peered at faces, looking for visages that looked like they’d meet at some random coffeehouse with a group of random strangers to talk about a random topic.  I walked to the back, I walked to the other room.  I asked a barista if there was another location, thinking perhaps I had written down the wrong address.  I hung out in the bathroom and stared at my overgrown eyebrows.  I walked outside and looked for another entrance.  I went back inside and ordered a drink, this time not caring that a small non-fat latte with sugar-free vanilla syrup takes a half hour to make, this time hoping he’d actually have to travel to Ethiopia to go get the needed espresso beans.  Everyone was whispering about me.  I knew they were talking about how lost and lonely I seemed and my acne scars.  About the time I got stood up for a date because I was chunkier than he had thought I would be.  About the time my front-closure bra popped open and broke as I was racing to an interview, leaving me with the choice of go home to get another bra and be late to the very important interview, or be interviewed with two boobs flopping around and possibly hitting the interviewer in the eye.  About my inability to do simple math.  And just as I was about to chalk it up to a failed attempt to try something new and return home with my tail between my legs, I saw a group congregating at the end of the bar.  I went over, asked if this was the CommuniTeach, stuck my hand out, introduced myself and sat down.  And had a lovely time.

All this is to say, for the love of god, when you’re meeting strangers in public, if you’re the creator of the group or if you initiated the meeting, a) you should get to the location at least fifteen minutes before the start time to stake out an appropriate space, both in size and in visibility, and b) you should tell people to look for a distinguishing something [for Coffees, I tell people to look for a red pipe-cleaner flower in a Cola-Light bottle] so that they’re not wandering around, kicking themselves for every stupid thing they’ve done in life and wondering if this was Stupid Thing #307.

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