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.

 

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15 Responses to The Talk to Strangers Project, One Year Later

  1. jack says:

    Hey man, I’ve written on here a few times before but just wanted to thank you for doing this. I’ve been reading all year and I’ve loved your stories. This was my senior year in high school and reading about your courage gave me some of my own. You’re a great writer and observer. Keep it up fletcher, and I’ll be here reading. All the best-

  2. todd says:

    Love this blog. Highlight of my day every time there’s a post. Keep it up!

  3. Mirko says:

    It’s been a pleasure following your social experience during that year. I’m glad it turned out to be a positive one.
    Keep up the good work.

  4. NoAmbition says:

    Excellent post … can’t believe it’s been a year.

    I find it interesting that the word happy doesn’t appear in your post; accident, or is there a larger (perhaps subconscious) message that without that one, true connection (i.e., a life partner) all the rest is fluff (no matter how delicious)?

    Congrats on feeling better about yourself and life in general; I’m sure you’ve enriched the lives of (most of) those you’ve stranger-talked even if just a little … you’ve surely made your readers’ lives more interesting.

    Keep it up, Fletcher!

  5. Sheikiah says:

    Whoa! An uplifting article, yep!
    I am still amazed of how much can this kind of things change a person’s life. Taking a different stance in relationships make a huge difference in the long run. I hope you go on growing with this.
    And someday I will stop being the hikkikomori I am, and do this. Probably.

  6. Conrad says:

    wow – I was just thinking, maybe two posts back, how much you seem to have changed since you started this Project just going by what you’ve been writing!

    I think you’ve really put your finger on a feature of modern societies (not just LA) that is becoming more and more prevalent and it’s weird that we have to sort of “relearn” how to engage and connect with people – people we often wilfully ignore, maybe every day, while at the same time wondering why our lives can be so insular… I’m sure many others who have found your blog through Twitter, like myself, or just stumbled across it also can’t stop reading it, for this reason.

    I’ve actually found myself in that “walking on eggshells” head space many times and I think maybe it’s time I shed some “inertia” and started talking to more of the people in MY world – so thank you – you have been an inspiration

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Tam Frager says:

    I just started reading your blog tonight, so I’m trying not to over-post in the comments, but I wanted to let you know that I’m really digging watching your evolution unfold. Thank you for sharing your successes and tribulations, along with your insights. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  8. Jam says:

    Firstly, I am not a fan of blogs. I always thought they were stupid and for people who craved attention, wanting to be taken note of and be heard. But after hearing about your blog Fletcher and casually reading your manifesto because I had nothing better to do, you have changed my opinion completely.

    Your blog really is great in more ways than one. To me and probably most of your readers, it’s more than just a blog, it’s an adventure. And what makes such a connection for your readers, for me anyway, is that the emotions you describe your feeling in certain situations is exactly the same emotions we’ve all experienced when talking to someone we’re not too familiar with, and really helps us relate to your experiences.

    Being someone who is currently in a situation not too dissimilar to the one you found yourself in a while ago, with only a handful of friends, it makes me realise that I should be more courageous when talking to people, and that to want a positive change in our lifestyles, there is hope for us yet…

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