All throughout my life I was a pretty quiet and shy person. I was fairly chatty around my friends and family of course but I always struggled around new people. What do I say? What do I do? Where do I put my hands? (why have we as a society not figured out what to do with our hands?) Conversations with new people inevitably ended as quickly as they began.
As an English major/avid reader/writer, I felt like conversations had to follow a similar outline to my college essays. You start with the basic introduction/small talk, coming to a connection/thesis that would lead us to the body of the essay and a more fluid, in depth, meaningful conversation. The conclusion would be the exchange of information or pleasant good-byes.
Except what I learned was conversations don’t really flow like essays. Exchanging 4–5 lines with someone doesn’t automatically unlock a connection nor does it lead to a more interesting conversation. To get interesting conversations you had to be interesting yourself. (Shocking, I know. I’m suddenly thankful for all of my friends.)
My move to a city coincided with the rise of the ridesharing industry. I only had to deal with annoying and inappropriate cab drivers that never took credit card for a few months. It was great. And then more recently, the major ridesharing companies created carpool like services, such as Lyft Line or Uber Pool. Each ride is around $5 and you get paired up with people that are going in a similar direction to you.
Maybe it was the fact that I would never see these people again, or maybe it was because I rode in Lyft Lines when I was headed out with friends to a bar or dinner and so I was in a good mood or maybe it was the drink I consumed with my roommate while getting ready that made me me stray from the conversation topics I am used to.
After telling a fellow passenger I was meeting someone for Mediterranean food she told me about the Jewish birthright trip her friend went on recently. I lamented on the fact that India has nothing like that and then we got into a conversation about the traditions and little games that happen in an Indian wedding (she was a photographer who was going to shoot an Indian wedding the following weekend).
There was the driver who asked if I was Indian, and then he told me how his parents and him moved to Fremont from India to work at Tesla. Such a small world to meet someone that has my two homes.
There was the guy who made me watch a YouTube video called Meat Glue, connected to his car speakers and everything, after I told him I was vegetarian (I do not recommend watching this).
There was the passenger with whom I discussed sports and how being a sports fan must be so stressful and exhausting.
There was the driver who heard me watching a video of my nephew so then we started talking about his kids and my nephew.
There was the Lyft line that I got into after a date where the driver and passengers wanted to know all the details. I shared how it was a perfectly fine date and maybe perfectly fine is all I can expect or hope for to which I got back a unanimous “nope”. The driver, an older man in his 50s, and I had a good conversation about life, love, and expectations. It’s one thing to hear reassuring comments from your friends but another when you hear the same words from someone who has only known you for 20 minutes. This man didn’t have to tell me not to settle. He could have just said “Girl, you need to lock someone down ASAP” and I would have said “Yes, OK fair point”. His job was to get me home safely; he didn’t owe me kindness and compassion but he so generously offered it.
There was the Lyft driver who asked if I was going to dinner and said I smelled good. Actually that conversation ended there, so maybe it is not the best example.
Many of these conversations were interesting because they skipped small talk. Something about being in a confined, dark vestibule going 60+ miles an hour inspired openness, honesty, and at times, vulnerability. Sometimes it was easy, like talking about Indian traditions. Other times I shared something maybe a bit more personal and close to my heart — like stories about my nephew or dating.
It is not easy to be open and vulnerable. Some people may not react well to what you have to say. It’s scary and hard to take that risk. But I’ve found when it is accepted and reciprocated, it leads to some great conversations and relationships.
Most of the time I don’t even know the name, age, or occupation of the people I was chatting with in the car. That’s kind of crazy to realize because that’s usually one of the first few things you know about someone. But it is ultimately not surprising since I learned those things have little to no bearing on what creates a connection.
What I thought was just me getting from place A to place B actually was a lesson in what it means to form genuine connections with people, fleeting or otherwise. It helped me be more comfortable around new people. I didn’t feel like I had to ask certain questions or follow a certain conversational path. I could just talk about what interested me while the other person did the same and in some crazy cool way we found a commonality.
I still haven’t figured out what to do with my hands though.