One of the first things I was able to do on my 14 things to do in 2014 list was to treat a stranger to a meal. He was a man of 30, suffering from a heart condition. I saw him in the mall, wandering around, looking very unoccupied. Asking a complete stranger if they want to dine with you takes a bit of courage, at least it did for me. This is one of the reasons why I did it. It’s one thing to casually say hello to a stranger, but to outright ask them to take time out of their day for you makes people uneasy. Many people are friendly, but they aren’t as social as they think. This man however was social…or rather he was lonely. I think I knew that as I watched him. He was looking around like he was hoping someone would notice his existence. I decided that person ought to be me.
I approached him with my best smile and went straight to the point, asking him if he wanted to have lunch with me. He looked at me with eyes that undeniably questioned if I was on drugs and shifted back and forth as he (in my opinion) tried to sum me up.
“There’s a breakfast place here, which is really good. Would you be interested?” I asked, as he stood quiet. He then told me he knew of it and ate there sometimes. I nodded and asked him if he wanted to eat there today, with me. After a smile and another sizing up moment he agreed.
Now, I know many people would have tried to make small talk, and perhaps look for the right moment to ask. But I’ve always been awful with small talk. I also know that it can be a waste of time when trying to earn trust. People often decide within 30sec of meeting someone if they want to have anything to do with them. When the man didn’t immediately walk away from me, I knew the probability of him accompanying me to lunch was high. He also, as I said, looked lonely. If he had had shopping bags, or was rushing from place to place in the mall, I wouldn’t have bothered. But he was taking his time, taking everything in. I’ve been there. I’ll go out, often to enjoy the day by myself, but at some point I begin to crave companionship. I start fantisizng about someone admiring me à la distance. Suddenly, the time alone just make you feel as though you’re the only one out without a friend. This man was looking at people, especially couples, with a longing in his eyes. Thus, as odd as he may have thought it was for me to approach him, it may have made him excited.
We entered the establishment, which was relatively crowded, and sat down next to a window which afforded us the opportunity to people watch. I picked this seat on purpose. He looked like he enjoyed people watching (as do I) and if there was nothing to talk about we could people watch. He asked me what I usually order, and suggested we order my favorite and share. I agreed, though I thought it was interesting that he would want to share a meal. He later explained that due to his health, he can’t eat much. He didn’t want to order a full plate that he knew he’d waste since I was paying. I thought that was quite considerate of him. Other’s may have ordered the most expensive thing on the menu just to take advantage of the fact that someone else way paying.
We chatted about the city, the weather, his likes and dislikes and his health condition. As the time rolled on I felt like I was talking to friend. He told a lot of jokes, some of which were actually funny. He also said thank you multiple times. He never once asked me why I had randomly decided to take him out to lunch, and I’m glad he didn’t. I would have hated to say “it’s part of my new year’s bucket list.”
When we had finished, I paid the bill and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind strolling around the mall a bit with him. I agreed, spending the next 30min walking in a circular path around the mall. He didn’t go into any stores. He had no desire to. He simply walked around with a big smile on his face, making jokes. I enjoyed my time with him. We laughed, and I got a chance to make a lonely person feel less alone. I walked away with a new friend.
I’ll admit it turned out much better than expected. Well, to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. Anything could have happened. He could have been a jerk. He could have have said no. I could have made him feel uncomfortable. None of that happened. No one in the restaurant knew I had only met the guy that day. We interacted like friends, and there were times that I myself forgot that he was a stranger (until I decided to change that). We both took a chance that day. I in asking and he when he said yes. Life is an adventure and can lead to some fun experiences when you take the chance.
How have you gone out of your way to make a new friend?