Collins_darcy_pandp2005Since 2008, when I experienced the singular moment of middle age, I have been striking up conversations with strangers. (I told that story here.)

During the past five or so years, I have met a wide variety of interesting people. It seems it is always when I’m traveling alone, usually in restaurants. I’ll go to the bar (for dinner, not drinking) and say hello to the person next to me.

Actually, I haven’t been saying “hello.” I have been saying something that was scripted to be non-threatening and opt-outable. “Would you like a conversation, or would you prefer your privacy?”

Why I’m Retiring
Here’s why:

  • I am invading another’s privacy. If I’ve learned anything on my journey into introversion, it’s that many people really do want to be left alone. Even at a bar, among a crowd. The clever question doesn’t really allow someone to opt out. Sure, the other person can say, “I prefer my privacy, thank you, you creeper,” but that will lead to a very awkward meal-long silence.
  • My interest will likely be misinterpreted. Who strikes up a conversation with a stranger without any agenda? (Well, I do. Yes, but who else?) The other person is probably wondering: what does this fellow want? And the other person is probably presuming that it is whatever they do not want to give. Or do want to give. Whatever. The other person — of any age, of either gender — can’t be faulted for figuring: this fellow is hitting on me.

Is Sincere Conversation A Form Of Foreplay?
My long life as a happy-go-lucky ding-dong led to a stunning naiveté in adulthood. I figured people can just say hello and dig into the meaning of life. As it turns out, I now believe, the other person might naturally think that any “hello” which leads to conversation, quickly leads to ever more penetrating conversation.

Can’t blame the other person: according to Mother Nature and the original injunction at the Gates of Eden, the mission is procreation.

But the Talmud discourages shopping in a store if you are not truly a potential buyer. It falsely encourages the shopkeeper. I’ve been falsely encouraging shopkeepers.

(No one can make the turn from creepy behavior to the Talmud faster than I can.)

Two More Reasons

  • My intentions are dubious. While banter has never progressed beyond the conversation, it could. I can claim purity of intention. But there is always risk that crème caramel could turn into forbidden fruit. I’m quitting now.
  • I might be grooming someone else’s victim. Consider this: in a world where bad people exist, I’m proving that I am not a dangerous stranger. The other person might learn the worst thing: trust strangers. That’s like winning your first game of poker; it leads to underappreciating future risk. I’m sorry to have to curb my behavior because of the existence of bad people. But bad people exist. And I’m not grooming their victims.

However Will I Meet People?
From now on, I’m going to rely on formal introductions.

This reminds me of the 2005 movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice when, upon seeing Mr. Collins barge toward Mr. Darcy in order to introduce himself, Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth warns, “Sir, he will consider it an impertinence!”

I didn’t understand that when I first heard it. Now I do.

I never cast myself as Mr. Darcy. But I’m Collins? Egad.

Is This Court Ordered?
No. Neither the State nor my family have asked me to stand down.

It comes down to this: I’ve outgrown my behavior.