Stop Fearing The Awkward And Just Talk To That Cute Guy On The Subway Already

So someone wrote a Craigslist missed connection, which at some point veers from a possible actual encounter to an adorable exercise in magical realism, but the basic point of the (lengthy) story is this: this guy never talks to this girl he sees on the subway, and so they ride it in silence for 60 years together, growing old together while never speaking.  The whole thing has either the air of a hilarious Amy Schumer sketch or an adorably twee indie comedy.

Underneath it all, it’s a tale as old as time: person sees another person who’s intriguing to them, and is too scared to say anything.  I don’t blame him.  Women are constantly complaining they’d rather not get harassed by strangers.  Rejection is scary.  But you have to wonder, what if this guy had just said hi?  What if anyone in any of these missed connections had just said hi?

I’ll admit that I have a paranoid side that goes, “Yeah, but what if the person I say hi to is a serial killer who actually selects his victims based on random strangers that speak to him?”  I know this is absurd.  The realistic worst case scenario of saying hi to a stranger is that they’ll give you an odd look and ignore you.  Sure, it’ll be awkward for a second, but when did we become so terrified of awkward?  No one, to my knowledge, has ever died from an uncomfortable social situation.  And isn’t the risk of a little awkward worth it for the potential reward?  The unrealistic best case scenario is that 60 years from now, you’ll be telling your grandkids “Yes, grandma was just riding the train, on her way to yoga class, and she saw your granddad and thought ‘That guy’s cute. Maybe I’ll say hi.’  And he said hi back and we realized we’d both been meaning to go to the same exhibit at this museum and we made plans to go, and the rest is history.”  The realistic best case scenario is you’ll make awkward conversation about the weather until someone gets off at their stop, but at that point, what have you lost?  Nothing.  But maybe the confidence you pick up from this encounter encourages you to have another.  And another and another until you do find that person who changes your life.  I have a friend who saw a cute boy on a bus she took every day, and eventually she said hi, and now they’re married with a house and a beautiful baby girl.  True story.

Here’s my challenge:  next time you see someone that intrigues you on the subway or at the grocery store or in yoga or wherever, say hi.  That’s it.  One syllable.  Two letters.  It’ll take but a second.  Sure, if they say hi back then you have to come up with an actual sentence and then things get tricky, but I have great faith you’ll figure out what to say.

But let’s not just limit this risk taking to romantic entanglements.  This is about more than saying hi to strangers.  This is about taking those things you’ve always wished you could do and actually doing them, no matter how hugely intimidating or incredibly insignificant they might be.  I heard something on the radio this morning about the percentage of people who spend more time thinking up reasons to not work out than the time it would actually take to work out, and it’s pretty high.  We can make our lives full of infinite excuses and unfulfilled dreams, or we can get out there and start actually trying stuff.

It’s really challenging not to let this post devolve into platitudes (“Just do it”; ‘You only live once,” etc) but there’s a reason there are so many cliches about getting out there and living your life – it’s the best thing you can do, and it’s the easiest thing not to.  We’ve set up a world when you conduct your entire existence – contacting friends, doing your job, watching TV, ordering food – from behind the confines of a computer screen.  With so many people blogging, it’s easy to live vicariously through other people who are out there traveling the world and running marathons and dating and doing everything else, but that’s not the same as getting out there and doing those things.  Everyone has those adventures you think you’d have if you were braver/stronger/richer/something-er.  Stop waiting for conditions to change.  Stop waiting for the right time.  Stop holding yourself back and get out there.  Yes, you might fail.  In fact, there’s a good chance you will.  But that doesn’t mean whatever you did wasn’t worth doing.  Even if one endeavor doesn’t work out, you never know where the effort might lead you.  In my experience, life isn’t about the moments you plan for.  Life is about the unexpected things that happen because you were out there doing something.

Lest you think I’m just sitting here spewing generalities, I’ll throw in a little bit of proof.  For years, I was friends with a lot of runners who would tell stories of marathons they’d run and I’d think “Wow, that’s amazing, I wish I could do that, but I’m not athletic enough.”  And then one day, pretty much on a whim, I signed up to train for a half marathon.  There was no real reason, the only thing that changed was my attitude: I decided to stop making excuses and just do it.  And now, two years later, I’m training for my third full marathon, and am also living a completely different life on the opposite side of the country because of someone I met through running.  You never know what decisions are going to change your life, but I’m pretty sure that if change is what you’re looking for, choosing to get out of your apartment and try something new always trumps another night on your couch watching Netflix.

So this is my second challenge:  just try something.  Take whatever it is that you’ve been putting off – applying to grad school, submitting your resume for that dream job, redecorating your living room, learning to knit, whatever – and stop coming up with reasons you can’t do it and just try.  Maybe it’ll work out fantastically.  And maybe it won’t, but if that’s the case, you’ve lost nothing.  As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  So get out there and start taking them.

Image via Shutterstock

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