9 Times Talking to Strangers Feels Strangely Good

If ever we needed proof that commiseration is a vital means of survival, surely we could find it in Newark Liberty International Airport. When I was there this past Sunday, I bonded with as many as seven women over its illogical setup, impossibly long lines and comical lack of helpful personnel. There were times I was so annoyed I craned my neck in search of an expression that mirrored my own, just so we could make eye contact, shake our heads and bask in the warmth of agreeing that this shit is terrible.

It happens in the most unlikely of circumstances, this unnameable emotional necessity to connect with other people. I don’t have the proper anthropological vocabulary to unpack the pleasure I get from it. All I know is, when the right moment strikes, my typical wariness of interacting with strangers is all but forgotten.

It’s kind of an adorable human instinct, to bond with the nearest person who’s also surprised, happy, upset, confused. Given the human propensity for dividing, I cherish the breakdown of the we-are-strangers façade. Below are some of my favorite times it happens. Please vehemently agree with me in a public space known as our comments section and then tell me yours.

Train platforms in the midst of nightmarish delays

Nothing brings people together more frequently than the failures of the MTA. That we don’t hold group therapy sessions at the 14th St. Union Square platform where crowds wait in droves for the L train every day is a missed opportunity imho.

Extremely slow grocery store check-out lines

There’s little I enjoy more than exchanging bug eyes at another person in line when someone at the front of it, after causing exorbitant delays, pulls out a checkbook. Once the look’s exchanged, you’re blood siblings for life.

Sudden and startlingly loud sounds

Jumping in surprise at the same time as a stranger is a level of bonding equivalent to spending one hour getting to know each other. Ideally the source of the sound is never discovered and a look of incredulousness is exchanged before both parties move on.

Women’s bathrooms of crowded bars, especially if drunk

The pleasantries exchanged between drunk girls in the bathroom of a bar or club are heartwarming enough to make me optimistic about the imminent downfall of humanity.

Disgustingly, appallingly hot weather

Extreme and mutual discomfort is the perfect primer for stranger interactions. Throw in the weather, small talk’s favorite topic, and you’re looking at a slam-dunk bonding opportunity. Bonus points if sweat is visibly dripping down your faces.

Heart-meltingly good live music

The look passed between two people who are both loving a song at a show is almost as intimate as one between actual lovers. Wear protection.

Entrances to events, if confusing

This one is particularly endearing because an ephemeral team of investigators forms to look for the proper entrance. It’s team building at its finest. Being lost together makes you a family.

Airplanes during crazy turbulence

The crazier the turbulence, the more likely you are to become lifelong friends, per the official rules.

Inexplicably closed stores

Turning up at a department or grocery store, only to find it unexpectedly closed, immediately bonds you with others outside the store, who share your irritation. All store-goers immediately unite against a common enemy (the store) and go home unsatisfied, but humbled by their inherent capacity to love.

It’s all true.

Illustration by Juliana Vido; follow her on Instagram @julianavido.

Get more Humor ?
  • Nat Ch

    OMG I pictured myself in every single one of these situations; I felt very human by acknowledging that I have been there at least once in each of them. It is both hilarious and cozy :3

    The sync surprise jumping is gold!

  • Spanky

    About a month after Trump was elected president, a woman in line behind me at the Santa Monica Von’s (Wilshire) check-out just couldn’t hold in an admonishment toward a headline about Trump and his anti-anybody-who-isn’t-an-old-rich-american-white-man sentiments.
    By the end of our in-line conversation all three of us (the cashier participated as well) we were metaphorically all holding one fist in the air and holding each other’s hands with the other.

  • Spanky

    About a month after Trump was elected president, a woman in line behind me at the Santa Monica Von’s (Wilshire) check-out just couldn’t hold in an admonishment toward a headline about Trump and his anti-anybody-who-isn’t-an-old-rich-american-white-man sentiments.
    By the end of our in-line conversation, all three of us (the cashier participated as well) were metaphorically each holding one fist in the air and holding each other’s hands with the other.

  • Bo

    I had a BIZARRE talking to strangers moment the other day when I was filling my car up and the little elderly woman whose car was parked in front of me had gone in to pay, but was clearly off in her own world, as when she came out, she absentmindedly tried to get into MY CAR instead of hers and SHRIEKED when she saw me sitting in the driver’s seat! It was actually surprisingly very, very jarring, I think because it overrode all of my previous petrol station experiences. You don’t talk to other drivers when you fill your car up, you go there and do it, go in to pay and be on your way; this one alternative experience completely dissembled my existing petrol station-experience neurological pathway. I may never recover.

    • Emily

      i’m really sorry but i laughed out loud at this

  • cecilrahn

    walking around a corner to be met by a stranger’s face 2 inches from my own. something really wholesome about momentarily and mutually terrifying one another, only to walk away giggling apologies

  • Julie

    When you try on clothing in the communal mirror at sample sales and you are trying to decide if it is cute! Normally would not care for other people’s opinion but has guided me to some good clothing I don’t regret buying…. 🤔

    • Natty

      omg YES!

  • Stella

    Commiseration is the right word. I usually avoid talking to strangers especially when I’m on my way home from a long day and just want to be alone with my thoughts. But when something bad or crazy unusual happens and it’s a shared experience, it becomes a moment that can’t be kept to one’s self. There is a need to commiserate with people right there and then about what just happened to us (you and them). I feel like it could be our minds seeing this one shared unusual moment as a sudden but real relationship you now have with a stranger. And that makes you feel open enough to talk to that stranger because as of this moment you are not strangers anymore but people with a shared experience. Talking to this stranger now in this moment is not and will not be the same as telling somebody the story of what happened when you get home.

    But then that moment was too short and fleeting that that single conversation is all we can really have with them.

    Haha this article got me. I was just thinking about it the other day because it just happened to me.

  • Gracie

    Love this!

  • Oh yes … I love those, too. Once I saw a car hitting the one in front of it at small speed. Both drivers got out, it was not too bad, but the driver of the car hit in the accident was shocked and cried a bit. So the second driver went up to her and hugged her, wordlessly.

  • Jessica

    Seeing cool, unusual nature always causes big conversation. Any time I’ve been hiking or camping and stumbled on something particularly unusual (like a bear, bird of prey, wolf, etc) hyper-excited conversation starts with anyone near me. But for some reason, that rule seems to apply anytime you pass anyone hiking, there’s always a very pleasant exchange of hellos. It always makes me laugh because I never greet perfect strangers when I’m just waling down the street in the city.

  • belle

    I unfortunately live in a city where strangers will strike up a conversation for NO REASON, despite the fact that I wear all black with sunglasses and headphones on. It’s insane. So on the rare occasion that I truly do appreciate interaction with a stranger, it always sticks out in my mind. Usually I end up bonding with the salespeople behind the counter at various Nordstrom beauty brands, which leads to not only pleasant conversation but fun lunch breaks and lots of free samples / insider info!

  • Emy M

    Laughing at the sheer dorkiness of the fitness instructor’s admonishment to “high five the person next to you.” The high five first works on the level of shared silliness, as in “come on, this is so nerdy, do we have to…” and then instructor be-damned, it actually feels motivating and great. You got this, stranger!

  • kaitlin davis

    This article is very much where im at, I had two customers spill their heart to me yesterday. This is something that happens a lot in new york, I can cry and laugh with strangers for a good 20 minutes+

  • yesss that is true.
    Waiting for a late plane is a very exciting thing especially if people around us do not understand our language

  • Meg S

    I bond with strangers at a handful of places:

    1. dressing room mirrors
    2. airplanes (only before take off, then it’s every man for himself, or to let my very polite row mate out to use the loo on my last long flight)
    3. elevators (and I always talk about the weather unless it’s something interesting like the guy with two giant wrenches in an elevator with me, my boss’s boss and someone else I didn’t know)
    4. whole paycheck (if I want to ask someone what they think of something they’re buying that I’m considering)

  • Katie

    Haley, ya nailed this one. I haven’t experienced some of these specific train stations or airports personally, but the experiences transcend location and still stand true. I very much appreciate that you feel the same hope for humanity as you tell another girl how beautiful she is as she tells you how much she loves your shoes and you both spill your drinks trying to hug each other. I’ve also experienced the bond with strangers when there’s a dog in literally any situation, it doesn’t matter where. The same goes for cute kids, although it’s not as socially acceptable to try to interact with someone’s actual human child.

  • EllieG

    These are hilarious and true. I especially love the “team building at its finest” when looking for the correct entrance.

  • Kelsey Moody

    Best place to talk to strangers is the MR comment section…..

  • Priyanka Raveendran

    This was simply hilarious and so relatable!!! Superb!!

  • Maria

    I walked out of my house to go to work one morning while eating a banana. A few seconds into my walk I crossed paths with a couple, the guy was also eating a banana and we locked eyes. Next thing I know he was raising his banana in the air, so evidently, I followed. We did a BANANA HIGH FIVE and then just kept on walking like nothing happened. It absolutely made my day.

  • Maria

    I once left my house to go to work while eating a banana. A few seconds into my walk I crossed paths with a couple. The guy was also eating a banana and we locked eyes (I know, very intimate). But then he slowly raised his banana in the air, so I did too. Next thing I know, we were doing an epic BANANA HIGH FIVE. The three of us just kept on walking in opposite directions like nothing even happened. It absolutely made my day.

    • Shelley

      That is amazing and reminds me of my own similar experience when I was walking to work. I stopped at a cross walk, started to yawn, looked up… directly into the eyes of man also yawning on a bus that was passing by. I smiled, he smiled, we chuckled, we blushed. So much was communicated in that two second mid-yawn eye contact it was divine.

  • Heather Chambers

    My favorite bar wins out over my second favorite bar largely because of the bathroom. It’s not any cleaner, but it has better graffiti (almost all either really encouraging, or naming local abusers and rapists) and I have the best, most positive spontaneous drunk girl chats there.

  • Kristine Khieu

    I never post on things like this, but I had to let you know that this is one of my favorite stories on Man Repeller. It is literally bookmarked on my computer. A few years ago, I kept thinking about that feeling you get where you fall or trip in public and immediately look around to see if anyone’s noticed. Having that instant awareness of your surroundings seems so hilariously childish. I was just reminded of that and other “adorable human instincts.”