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Episode 16: Strangers on the Bus

I was sitting in the bus this morning during a fairly long commute. Normally, I read and/or listen to music, but lately I’ve had this script that’s been begging to burst out of my brain and materialize itself on paper so I was jotting down notes, dialogues and whatnot in my tiny notebook. Now, I know myself, I probably stared out into space a couple of times while thinking which probably made it very apparent that I was creating something.

A man sat across the aisle in front of me. I had felt him stare at me a couple of times but didn’t think much more of it. As I put my notebook in my bag and saw him try to lock eyes with me, I automatically regretted stowing it away. Like, seriously, is this dude really going to talk to me right now?

“Are you writing something?” I froze. The polite smile that is usually automatically plastered on when someone addresses me was… nowhere to be found.

Let me put you more into context: It’s 10 AM on a humid and sunny Tuesday. On top of being sleepy from being sick (most probably from all the late nights and early mornings of the past weeks), I’m drowsy from the cold medication I had just ingested. And well, I’m not really in a chatty mood.

In any case, I answered the guy which triggered a series of questions about my life and work that really felt like an interview. Let’s be clear now: I was in no way encouraging him with details or anything. My answers were uncommitted, muttered, mostly one-word sentences (is it even a sentence in that case?) (Also worth noting, this is not a case of a guy’s flirting with a girl who’s not interested.)

And I’m thinking, “am I just being rude right now? Maybe this dude always wanted to meet a writer, and here’s this girl in front of him who happens to be one, and he’s curious and I just destroyed his idea about writers, or worse, made him believe that all of us are anti-social, mean people, or I’m a bitch.” (TBH, the anti-social part isn’t always wrong).

Sitting near him was another girl, and by the stares she gave my unsolicited acquaintance, homegirl also thought this was weird. So it wasn’t just me. Which prompts me to ask…

When and where is it socially acceptable to approach people?

We’re both riding a communal bus – it’s for the community, we’re in society, so he’s not wrong to wish to approach people he’s curious about. Right?

You eventually talk to people you sit next to on the plane. (Although this happens to me way more often on short flights when you know the small talk will get you through the entire flight. On long haul flights, I think we’re all petrified of starting a conversation because then you don’t know when it’s socially acceptable for you to revert back to an alcoholic hermit and watch 5 movies in a row while drinking all the wine. You risk stumbling upon a chatty Karen who’s more than willing to share just how fantastic the food from that resort she went to 10 years ago with her now ex-husband (who FYI is, like, totally the worst) was, and all you really wanted to ask her was, “excuse me, I need to use the bathroom, could you get up?” Like bruh, nah.)

There are some obvious do’s and don’t’s. For instance, it’s clearly not acceptable to start a conversation with anyone past a reasonable hour (9pm on weeknights because we’re too tired/annoyed for this, 10-11pm on weekends because we’re all a bit buzzed anyway) except if you’re lost. I was on the bus getting home one (early?) night, roughly around 1am and this guy straight up starts hitting on me. We were nearing the end of the line, so there was practically no one else in the bus. Excuse me, are you voluntarily setting yourself up for failure? Yeah, yeah you are.

But it’s 10 am on a sunny September Tuesday. I may not want to talk to people, and I may believe my face reflects that (clearly it didn’t), the man isn’t in the wrong for asking questions, is he? Not wanting to talk to people is my prerogative, his wanting to talk to people is his.

But then, WHY did I feel weird? Why was my automatic thought, “shit, what not?” When I left the bus, I didn’t even say good-bye. And I often say good morning to the people I walk by on the street.

Have we become that anti-social as a whole society that the idea of a stranger inquiring past a simple “how are you” is debilitating?

Should we only approach people with whom we have at the very least a vague connection to? (IE, that coworker whom you only see at Christmas parties, or the barista?) When I was in high school, I’d take the same bus with the same people every morning. Eventually, when we ran into each other at our local grocery store, we’d greet each other sometimes with a nod, sometimes even with a “bonjour.” But I still have no idea what their names are or what they do for a living, or anything really about them. We never actually had a conversation.

Meanwhile, back on the playground, your new BFF was the kid that shared with you half a sand-covered biscuit. #BFF4EVAR

What triggered this change in us that we now are so much more reclusive? And where is it socially acceptable to attempt to make these connections without potentially triggering a negative feeling in the other person? Networking events? Bars? Events in general? Events with alcohol, in general?

OR, am I just rude?

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